A recap on our Raleigh Road Trip with Paul Fillingham

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Beers with Ideas welcomed Creative Technologist, Paul Fillingham to the OB offices for a presentation on the social history of the Raleigh brand which he helped to shape – telling the story of a proudly local Nottinghamshire company which would come to harness the rebel spirit which seemed to permeate the county’s most creative talents.

The famous Raleigh crest is one of the most evocative corporate logos, representing a brand steeped in years of innovation and sometimes radical products.

Good branding surely understands and reinterprets the culture and social rhythms which surround it – perhaps both consciously and unconsciously –  and it’s here where Raleigh provides a fascinating tale of life imitating art.

Paul was keen to highlight Nottinghamshire’s rebel past as a metaphor for the Raleigh narrative, citing folklore hero Robin Hood and real-life creators such as DH Lawrence, Alan Sillitoe and Lord Byron.

True to this rebellious lineage, the iconic Nottinghamshire brand would eventually spawn one of the most radical yet popular consumer products ever produced – the Raleigh Chopper.

En-route to the Chopper, Paul guided us through Raleigh’s earlier history when the company was a mass producing traditional brand, in contrast to the somewhat cult-like status it enjoys now.  The company went from a production peak of one million traditional steel bikes per annum in 1951, to severe difficulties throughout the early 60s when cheap imported bikes would provide competition, and the impact of low cost cars would relegate the bike to a lesser form of transport.

At the start of the 60s, rumblings of social change were starting to emerge across Britain, and Alan Sillitoe’s anti-establishment 1960 film ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ was filmed at the once daunting 40 acre Raleigh factory.  A few Raleigh executives seemed aware of this growing anti-establishment culture and would reinvent the brand accordingly.

In tandem, the consumer gaze would cross the Atlantic to a US culture which epitomised the optimism of the time, with its space programmes and affordable consumer goods.

In response to this desire for American alternative culture, Raleigh designer, Alan Oakley was sent to Orange County, California in 1967 in order to investigate.

Oakley became absorbed in the motorcycling and drag racing pastimes popular in the region.  The film Easy Rider was due to be released, romanticising this ‘life on the road’ culture, where the motorbike was a symbol of freedom.

Taking inspiration from Peter Fonda’s Harley Davidson – which was built in a customised chopper style with lengthened forks and long, low slung seat – Oakley sketched and presented the iconic Raleigh Chopper design.  The bike went on to sell over 1.5million units in the 70s, at a cost of around £32 each (which now equates to around £350).

The original Raleigh company created in the 1880s by Frank Bowden has little in common with the public image of the brand we have today, making for a fascinating story of brand evolution.  For many people in 2016, Raleigh and the Chopper, represent a prevailing symbol of youth – and Paul Fillingham was fortunate enough to have worked with the company during this transitional era.

See the video of Paul’s presentation here:


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