Stanley Woods: Forgotten Hero is the captivating story of one of Ireland’s greatest sportsmen. The pre-war motorcycle racing champion boasted a lifetime total of 26 European Grand Prix wins and 10 Isle of Man TT’s and held the world stage in motorcycle racing during the 1920s and 30s, bringing great honour to his country. Accompanied by his glamorous wife, Mildred, the sporting legend also enjoyed a superstar lifestyle with continental holidays and glittering social occasions, many of which were captured on film and in photographs.
Stanley had a long and fascinating career that began in unlikely circumstances. Born in Dublin in 1903 and educated at Dublin High School, his first job was with his father who worked for the Mackintosh Toffee Factory. The precocious young Stanley talked his way into a works racing team, Cotton, and incredibly, on an inferior motorcycle, the teenager achieved an impressive fifth place on his first attempt at the Isle of Man TT in 1922.
In the 1920s and early 30s his reputation grew with race wins locally in Ireland, the Isle of Man TT and abroad. He secretly married a French woman whom he divorced in 1936 and then married Mildred Ross, a beautiful young artist born in Canada of Irish parents. Capturing many of their trips abroad on cine film, Mildred’s recordings have remained undamaged for over 70 years and provide an insight into their high-profile life including their honeymoon in Egypt and Australia.
His racing took place against a backdrop of a poverty-stricken Ireland and a rapidly changing, pre-war Europe. In 1939, when road racing was suspended for the war, he joined the Irish army as a Commandant in the 4 Cavalry Motorcycle Riders and his last duty in 1945 was to help organise the Cavalry Motorcycle display at the RDS in Dublin. Too unwell to restart his road racing career after the war ended, he concentrated on scrambling and trials riding for both fun and competition. Latterly, he was guest of honour at many important events and races in Ireland and abroad, before being honoured for his achievements at a testimonial dinner in Dublin in 1989. Despite amassing a fortune during his racing career, his fortune dwindled and he sold his collection of trophies to the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum in Co. Down. He died in 1993, just short of his 90th birthday.
Providing the visual backbone of this programme is the unique archival footage recorded by Mildred and friends throughout Stanley’s life, as well as his diaries, meticulous race notes, financial records and correspondence. Also included are personal memories from those who knew him, such as his lifelong Irish friends, Leo O’Reilly and Harry Lindsay; Tommy Robb, former TT winner who competed against him in trials; Murray Walker, the legendary commentator who was a personal friend; motorcycle historians, Mick Woollett and Ivan Rhodes and his niece, Charmaine Wheeler who brings a family perspective.
Stanley Woods: Forgotten Hero is produced for RTÉ by Waldovision with funding support from Sound & Vision – a Broadcasting Commission of Ireland initiative.