Sad news today as we learned that the legendary Arthur Francis has passed away. There can’t be many in the world of scooters that do not know his name, the former scooter shop proprietor having his initials painted on the panels of classic Lambrettas the world over.
Starting out riding motorcycles, it was a Lambretta LD that the teenage Arthur turned to for commuting to his work in London as a commercial artist in publishing.
He later became a salesman for a scooter shop in Watford, Hertfordshire, rising to Sales Manager in a short space of time. With no local Lambretta club in the area to match the Watford Vespa Club, Arthur formed the Ace of Herts club that was open to any make of scooter. His next move was to set up his own scoter shop with associate Keith Woodhead, trading as Francis & Woodhead until eventually Keith resigned the long hours required to run it and Arthur took over it all. He sold both Vespa and Lambretta scooters, although today the name Arthur Francis is more often associated with the latter in regards to the dealer specials the shop produced in the 1960s, the S-Type.
Believing in the products he sold, Arthur not only took part in social events with the Ace of Herts but also competitions like road trials and circuit based ‘reliability’ trials too. Extreme promotional events included Ken Peters riding an AF Lambretta from London to Milan in record time, while Gill Roper and Mary Donovan rode the same trip on an AF Vespa SS90. Ken worked for Arthur for many years and later rode his Model A Lambretta to Milan as well.
The S-types were probably the most successful of the dealer specials to come from the workshops of Arthur Francis Scooters Ltd, the Lambrettas featuring anything from sporty paintwork to a fully-tuned engine, 12v conversion, accessories and more. AF scooters won events at the Isle of Man Scooter Weeks on a regular basis, all helping fuel scooter sales, with the Team S Equipe riders like John and Norman Ronald, Nick Barnes and Nev Frost keeping the Arthur Francis name in the scooter press at the time. Meanwhile the growing economy here the UK during the 1960s also helped the Arthur Francis Fiat dealership in Watford fare well.
In the late 60s Ray Kemp was recruited by Arthur as both an employee and a successful racer, and it was Ray who took over the business when Arthur moved away from scooters. Arthur worked for Caterham Cars in Surrey for a number of years. Later in the 1970s Arthur was head-hunted to work with Lambrettas again, promoting the Indian made scooters for British importer Two-Four Accessories who were then owned by Heron after Peter Agg had sold the business (and Suzuki concession) on. His friend Mike Karslake was also involved. But it didn’t last long for Arthur and he soon returned to publishing. Ray bought the scooter shop business and eventually moved it from Watford to Yorkshire where AF Rayspeed remains today.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ray Kemp for many years now. I’ve also interviewed both Gill Roper and Ken Peters, among others, and as result have a wonderful insight to the Watford shop. I met Arthur himself at Ray’s ‘Lambretta S-Type Anniversary’ event back in 2014 and we spent time talking about anything and everything from scooters and cars to riding in the London Eye.
I’m not one who usually has his photograph taken with a celebrity, and I have been fortunate enough to meet and work with many over the years, but was starstruck enough to ask someone to take a photo of myself with Arthur. The last time we spoke was by email and was in regards to an idea for a project involving him and Ray, but sadly that will never see fruition now.
Arthur Francis the legend will live on for decades to come, as indeed it has for decades already. He was a great innovator, a great businessman and a true enthusiast for what he did. Anyone can sell scooters, but Arthur created scooters that people wanted for much more than getting from A to B. He also created a brand that sat alongside the two famous marques of scooter, Lambretta and Vespa, that still resonates today.
A true legend in the scooter scene, RIP Arthur Francis. Our thoughts are with his family at this very sad time.