The Great Knaresborough Bed Race | The first time…

by Northern Life

By Wendy Tapsell

What an occasion that was! The summer of 1966.

How it all began…

I was working in a bank at the time, in Leeds. A male colleague was a member of the Knaresborough Round Table who were organising this initial event for charity. He asked me if I would like to enter for the Bed Race and outlined as to what that would entail. It sounded like fun and so I was eager to be a part of it.

The next step was for me to submit a photograph of myself. I chose one which I thought might be suitably appropriate as I was perched provocatively on a rock, in a bathing suit, wearing a sombrero and a natural tan (yes, natural), taken on holiday in Spain two years before. I was chosen along with another ‘ordinary’ girl like myself – and two beauty queens! Hence the word ‘ordinary’. To be chosen was, for me, a morale booster as I certainly didn’t consider myself to be beauty-queen material. One beauty queen was Miss Lancashire Rose and the other, whilst I can’t remember her title she did, in fact, eventually go on to become Miss United Kingdom. I remember feeling slightly daunted by the thought of ‘competing’ alongside beauty queens but they proved to be two pleasant girls and the four of us hit it off immediately.

Lots were then drawn for which team of guys would pull who in which bed. There were four teams: Army Cadets, Navy, Airforce and the American Army based at Menwith Hill – wow! Instructions were given and we were all familiarised with the routes through the town of Knaresborough. The officials had made sure at the outset that we girls could swim as this race was to end with our crossing the River Nidd with the likelihood that we girls would be tossed into the water.

Saturday came. We were all assembled at the starting point and duly introduced to our respective teams. What handsome, strapping guys they all were! (the word ‘eye-candy’ springs to mind).

The Race started. Off we hurtled, through the streets, some of which were cobbled – ouch! There was a reasonably good turn-out for our first event, the crowd being very supportive. What a journey! It was fun but it was also tough. I don’t know which rattled more, the bed or my bones and teeth!

By the time we reached the river the beds weren’t in very good shape as they’d bent and buckled along the way. We entered the river. It was indeed fortunate that we four girls were wearing swimsuits under our negligees and that we could all swim as we did, in fact, end up off the beds and in the water. We all made it to the opposite bank with what was left of the beds and our energy. My team were last but the cheers and enthusiasm of the crowd made up for that.

After the public reception for us we dispersed to our respective destinations for a clean-up, change and back to a riotous evening party hosted by the Round Table at a local pub. And I got myself a date with one of my American team mates!

This was short-lived, however, because he had only three weeks left before his unit was being sent back to America and I-know-not-where after that. Inevitably, we lost touch.

The following year I was in this Race again (being a glutton for punishment!). I was with the Navy, well, Fleet Air Arm to be exact, and this time I wore a flying suit with my swimsuit on underneath, in anticipation of yet another dip in the river.

Off we went, the same rocky journey through the streets of Knaresborough town and across the River Nidd with another swim involved. Again we rounded up the day with a party and, again, I landed a date!

This time it was with a handsome sub-lieutenant. This team was based at Linton-on-Ouse prior to them being posted down to Helston in Cornwall for helicopter training and eventually on to HMS Bulwark. Again, inevitably, we lost touch.

I often look back and think, ‘did I really do all that?’ Yes, I did!

The Bed Races are still going strong – but without me.