I recently learned about the Dangerous Sports Club, a wonderfully heady mix of English eccentricity and a thirst for the spectacular, the untried and the downright lunatic and dangerous.
It immediately appealed, being a fan of hopelessly optimistic dreamers like Maurice Wilson (a fellow Bradfordian), who died trying to ascend Everest in the 1934, despite having no mountaineering credentials or equipment – you can read a fantastic acount about his amazing journey in ‘I’ll Climb Everest Alone’ by Dennis Roberts.
Starting its colourful life in the 1970s, the DSC’s founder members invented the now popular sport of bungee jumping in April 1979, when they leapt off the Clifton Suspension Bridge tied to the now familiar large piece of elastic cord, clad in something appopriating morning dress.
This band of champagne-swigging toffs, who often wore top hats and tailcoats during their exploits, also pioneered early forms of zorbing and BASE jumping, as well as a surrealist form of skiing, in which competitors were required to devise a sculpture mounted on skis and ride it down a mountain. One famous photo shows a giant red elephant careering down the slopes.
And their mascot? A bandaged mannequin in a wheelchair, sporting red Y-front and displaying an ‘excited’ state, shall we say.
The club enjoyed a lot of media attention in its prime, staging a stunt for Noel Edmonds’ Late, Late Breakfast Show. At one stage Monty Python star Graham Chapman was a member, helping tout a film about the exploits of the DSC round Hollywood. His untimely passing brought that to an end.
Founding member David Kirke still runs the Club, and is apparently seeking £200,000 funding to fly a 100-feet wide inflatable horse from Mount Olympus to Libya. You can read more about him and his endeavours at his endearingly basic and slightly shambolic web site.
Of course, there were plenty of mishaps and failures; the fine for flying a hue kangeroo-shaped helium balloon without a licence, nearly drowning while trying to zorb down the Thames. A TV stunt saw Kirke fired from a 700ft cliff using a catapult, causing him spinal injuries and pain even to this day.
In 2002 two former members brought the club back into the headlines. A trebucket that fired volunteers 100ft into the air was built. Unfortunately, despite dozens of successful and safe tests, in November of that year an Oxford student died after missing the safety net. The pair were charged with manslaughter but the case was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence.
And that was the last the world heard of the DSC until an article in Esquire earlier this year, which bought the collective to my attention.
Unortunately, despite the £20,000 advance Kirke for in 1989 for a book about the DSC, it has never appeared.
However, a former member Martin Lyster pubished his account in 1997, and it is still available via Amazon. The reader reviews – reveal how upset Kirke was about this, claiming several inaccuracies. The author disputes this.
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