James ‘Jim’ Henry Chalkley and his twin brother George born on the 18th July 1929 in Stepney, London, this is as far as I know the truth but Jim Chalkley’s life is full of suggested ‘facts’ and contradictory reports, however one thing is clear, he certainly lived a colourful life and even his death seems steeped in conjecture, that being said below are the ‘facts’ and stories connected with this larger than life East Ender.
It seems that Jim spent some of his childhood in a children’s home with his brother George and by all accounts had an elder brother who first introduced the 15 year old Jim to speedway when he took him to West Ham in 1946. Jim recalled that they queued for at least 20 minutes to get in which irritated the young man but once the meeting started he was completely sucked into the whole atmosphere, the crowd, the cheers, the chanting, the rattles, the smell, the noise of the machines and the dusty glamour of the riders – according to the man himself he was hooked on speedway and remained so for the rest of his life.
Around 1952 Jim started to be seen at a couple of tracks, Southampton where he had trials and West Ham where he rode as a junior; even at this early stage of his career he was no stranger to track accidents or tragedy and was involved in a second half heat at Custom House when another junior, Harry Eyre, received fatal injuries and Jim a broken leg that kept him off the track for a long while.
In 1956 Jim Chalkley became a member of the Rye House team known as the ‘Roosters’ they were competing in the Southern Area League the team became the Southern Area League Championship winners and the Knock Out Cup winners in that Jim’s first year with them. He remained with the team for 1957 but lost interest half way through the season and retired, this may have had something to do with his dropping points average that was 6.09 in 1956 dropping to 4.94 in 1957 something that many riders will have experienced but it was perhaps not acceptable to Jim.
Jim reappeared on the U.K. speedway scene in 1961 as a part of the Wolverhampton team although I can find no report of what he was doing in the interval nor indeed if his twin brother was in anyway involved in the sport. Anyway back to the track, the Wolverhampton team was a member in the Provincial League and it seemed that Jim was settling back into racing quite well but once again his career was beset with injuries and he only achieved six meeting in the 1961 season and just the one meeting taking part in two heats which resulted in no points and yet another injury that ended his speedway racing career in in the U.K. but that is not the end of the Jim Chalkley story.
Having ridden with a number of Australian riders Jim had developed a strong urge to visit that country and early in 1968 he arrived in Sydney, Australia complete with a new JAWA and a contact number for Bob Sharp who was the promoter at Rockhampton in Queensland. Bob Sharp said he was driving from Sydney to Rockhampton the following day and suggested that Jim should follow him. So bike in the boot of his newly acquired Holden he set off to follow Bob the next evening. Apparently the first 500 miles proved no problem but then the metalled roads ran out and Jim found himself on a dirt road and although used to dirt tracks this was his first experience on a dirt road, another six hours and they camped overnight continuing the journey the next day arriving in Brisbaine the following evening and overnighting with Jack White, continuing the following day when the dust became a real problem Jim losing sight contact with the back of Bob’s car only to find him again at the next town buying provisions from a road side shop. Having travelled 1,333 miles they reached Rockhampton at night with Bob agreeing to show Jim the track the following day – he was good to his word and Jim was impressed.
Jim learned that as well as Rockhampton he would also be riding at Mackay, Townsville and Bundaberg, understanding that this would be his last chance he was determined to put his past ill fortune with physical injury behind him and do his best to become one of the stars of the sport, despite Jim’s determination it was all to come to an end in June of that year when yet another accident led to a broken femur in his right leg and with it an end to his speedway career, after hospital treatment he returned to England on the "Southern Cross".
Normally that being the end of Jim Chalkley’s speedway career I would be ending this here but because his life was both interesting and surprising right to the end I will continue – apparently when he returned to the U.K. he changed his name to James White and began a new career in the theatre first as a stand-
At some point he and his brother George moved to Spain to live, where Jim continued to appear as an entertainer now adding singing to his repertoire and performing in various clubs around his home town Fuengirola and at the town’s Salon Varieties Theatre. I don’t know when he moved to Spain but he remained there until his death at 83 but even that was not as might have been expected, at least not if one is to take the reports as true, Jim ended his life in the same dramatic manner he lived it.
It is reported in The Olive Press, a web based expat newspaper that neighbours alerted the police in May 2013 when an unpleasant smell was thought to be coming from the flat occupied by the brothers. On entering the premises the police found both brothers dead in separate rooms, heads in plastic bags and their mouths taped shut. The police decided that it was suicide and took no further action but local people were not so sure thinking it strange that their mouths were sealed, odd if it were indeed suicide and the fact that although Jim had had a heart attack in December of the previous year he was back in his home and recovering well and both brothers seemed happy and pleased to be back together. We will never know but the members of the WSRA remember him and his cockney humour warmly.
Photos kindly supplied by Stu Towner -
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Book shown on the left
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