R Spencer Oliver Newcastle East End Photographer


A Russian Trawler Captain? No it's Spencer Oliver


Spencer was a very well known figure in motor sport circles in the north east of England.  He was also a general photographer in the east end of Newcastle.  My family used him for family photographs nothing to do with speedway.  His extensive motor sport and speedway photo collection is now owned by his friend Richard Nicholson whom has written the following pen picture of Spencer.
Richard Nicholson says: Robert Bruce Spencer Oliver was born in Walker on 24th February 1910 and died on 4th June 1984.
Spencer was educated at Rutherford College in Newcastle upon Tyne and he trained as an engineer.  He developed a passion for motor cars and motor cycles that fortuitously combined with his discovery of the camera.  He would be seen somewhat in the style of Russian Sea Captain at most meetings where vehicles raced, especially at Brough Park Speedway.
Spencer can not be remembered without also remembering his wife Gloria, tip-tapping behind him, always ready with a new film or the right lens and a handy pen to takes notes of the rider and mark the programme in preparation for a weekly sporting article in the Chronicle or the Middlesbrough Gazette.  Behind the activity on the course, she burned long hours of midnight oil developing, printing and enlarging the photos.
Few people knew that Spencer was awarded a diploma of merit in the Sport photography section of the 1951 Olympics in Rome—one of a very small number in England who received such an honour.
Throughout our childhood and teenage years a vast succession of riders, ranging from novices to world champions visited our home to share friendship engendered by a common enthusiasm for the sport.  At Spencers funeral, Walker Parish Church was packed with the many riders and associates who came to remember his contribution to their sport.
Since Spencers death, Newcastle Speedway race for the Spencer Memorial Trophy once a season, usually in September.  When Newcastle closed down the trophy was transferred to Middlesbrough speedway and then back again. 
The article below was written by Tony Copeland the Middlesbrough promoter, and was printed in the programme on the night the trophy was presented.
The late R Spencer Oliver was a “big” man in every sense of the word, his imposing figure was a familiar sight at Brough Park and Cleveland Park as he went about the business of capturing for prosperity those dramatic ‘once in a lifetime’ moments which are the hallmark of a truly great photographer.
It was Spencer’s incredible passion for motorcycle racing , coupled with his precise technical ability, which set him apart from the crowd.  He could read a situation before it developed, which enabled him to capture the exact moment which lesser mortals would all too often miss. 
He was a pretty good talent spotter too, singling out a young Eric Boocock as a tip for future stardom and he also prophesised that one-time failure Ivan Mauger would eventually come good if he “got stuck in and worked hard at it”.  He had an awry sense of humour and described Diamonds Norwegian heart throb, Dag Lovaas, as “ too bonny to be a World Champion”.
Spencer was also a big road racing fan and did much to champion his career of the great Geordie sidecar racer Mac Dobson, Hutton Rugby’s Ken Redfern was perhaps his all time favourite racer.  He described Ken as the “ only true gentleman” he had ever met, and also the “most determined rider”.  Of a young Barry Sheene he was once heard to say “that kid’s got too much talent for a ——- Cockney !”.  Spencer sadly died in 1984, and his wife Gloria, who was very much part of the team, survived him for several years but she, too, has since passed away, Spencer was THE ULTIMATE  PROFESSIONAL.

Ellie McFadyen says, Hello John,  I believe that I have contacted you before. In case I haven't, I will repeat my story.  Spencer Oliver's grandfather, George Spence, was my grandmother's brother. I live in Australia and am now visiting Newcastle in order to donate a trophy won by Spencer Oliver's great grandfather to the Newcastle Discovery Museum. I have tried to contact Spencer's daughters to let them know but have been unsuccessful.  I am interested in my family history. I believe that in Spencer Oliver's photographic collection, there are some photos that relate to his family. Would it be possible for me to see these photos?  I am happy to pay to see them.
John says: If you want any photos from the Spencer Oliver Collection contact Richard Nicholson here. 

A Few Of Spencer's Photos Are Shown Below With Owner Richard Nicholson's Permission
Ivan Mauger & Fan
Courtesy of Richard Nicholson
Picture 1: Ivan Mauger with the Silver Sash in 1964.  This was raced for by the holder (Ivan in this case) and the leading scorer of the opposing team.  If the holder kept winning he would retain the match race championship until he was beaten and then the Silver Sash was passed over to the new champion.  Do you know the name of the lady fan?  John
Richard Nicholson says: The rider Ivan raced against for the Silver Sash on this occasion was Alby Golden from Newport. The lady with Ivan is Helen Percy who was a Newcastle Supporter.
Ivan Mauger 1964
Courtesy of Richard Nicholson
An excellent shot by Spencer of Ivan in 1964.  Newcastle fans knew they were watching a very special talent and this was 3 years before Ivan won his first world crown.  This picture was taken on the same night in 1964, as the above photo with the Silver Sash.
Peter Kelly
Courtesy of Richard Nicholson
Peter Kelly sporting a mid 1960s Newcastle Utd top under his Diamond race jacket
Ivan Mauger At Brough In 1964
Courtesy of Richard Nicholson
Victory Over Newport At Brough Park In 1964
Courtesy of Richard Nicholson
Ivan Mauger Newcastle v
Courtesy of Richard Nicholson

North East Motorsport
John says: Richard has a book of Spencer's work out entitled North East Motorsport.  I have the book and it has a good variety of Spencer's camera work...If you want to order a copy go to  www.thehistorypress.co.uk

John says:  I will wait patiently in the hope that Richard will decide to show more of Spencer's photographs via my website to the public domain!  In the meantime email me if you want to speak to Richard about his photo collection John
Philip Joisce says: Dear John, I googled Spence Oliver’s name and after discounting someone of the same name connected with the Watergate affair in the USA, found the one I was looking for!  My father and Spencer were good friends and may have even been at Rutherford College together as there was only a year between their ages. My father, Philip Joisce used to rebuild speedway magnetos for riders and we had visits from may riders to drop off or collect their mags from our house in Bedlington. They usually had Mk 1 or 2 Cortinas with the bike hung on the back… I have just ordered a copy of North East Motorsport and have fond memories of Spencer and his wife meeting up with my parents from time to time. My father was also responsible for the preparation of  a Lotus Eleven sports racing car and a Britannia Formula Junior for George and Joe Robinson, the two brothers who ran Byker Hill Garage.   I don’t know if your interest is solely speedway, George’s son Brian was successful as an amateur racing driver in saloon and sports racing cars and appeared at Brough Park driving the film car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when the film was on release in the North East. I think Spencer took a number of photographs of him that day. Spencer also took a lot of Brian at Croft including the one attached – I’m the youngster on the left of the shot.  I don’t know how long the Newcastle Speedway History website has been up, but I found it very interesting.

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