Thought Police in action! Actually the Vincent Owner’s Club using brand new Black Prince models for the first BBC production of ‘1984’ in 1955. [The Motor Cycle]
In the waning days of the Vincent Motorcycle Co, 1955 to be exact, the producers of the film adaptation of George Orwell’s classic ‘1984’ utilized the services of the Vincent Owner’s Club to provide a chilling mobile Thought Police force, filming their nearly-new Vincents in a bombed-out area behind Guildhall, London. The photograph above is from the September 1, 1955 issue of The Motor Cycle, which has a small feature on the motorcycles in the film.

More than a little menacing, and a terrific casting job for Thought Police transport – the Vincent Black Prince. [Bonhams]
The Thought Police, keepers of order and maintaining correct speech, thought, and behavior: the ultimate P.C. brigade They rode the most sinister and imposing motorcycle available; Vincent Black Knights or Black Princes.  One can’t tell the difference in the film, as the maker’s identity has been removed, as was common before the days of ‘pay for play’ product placement in the movies. Vincent’s new-for-1954 models had full fiberglass enclosure and fairings, and in their all-black guise from the factory certainly gave an impression of menace, which may look ungainly now, but in the day, was certainly futuristic and slightly unnerving.

George Orwell (the tall one!) with the Burma Imperial Police. [Wikipedia]
George Orwell was born Eric Blair, son of an English civil servant in Bengal, India. He was sent home to England for school; his prowess shone and he was given scholarships, landing him at historic Eton, where he evidenced a disrespect for the authority of his teachers (later writing the essay ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’ about his early school days). With his ‘poor attitude’, no scholarship for university study was forthcoming, and he joined the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma, both India and Burma being colonies of England at that time.

The 1918 Henderson 4 of the type used by Allied military forces in WW1. [Mecum Auctions]
He grew to hate Imperialism, writing several essays deeply critical of the hypocrisy and brutality he witnessed; his first novel was ‘Burmese Days’. He took the pen name George Orwell after the patron Saint George of England, and the Orwell River in Suffolk county. While in Burma, he learned to ride a ‘four-cylinder’ American military motorcycle, which must have been a Henderson, and is reputed to have hunted tigers on it, using his Luger Parabellum pistol! According to ‘The Unknown Orwell’ (Stansky and Abrahams, 1972), the bike had ‘four cylinders fore and aft’, and as this would have been 1922, the selection of possible machines is limited – perhaps an ex-military Henderson such as the 1918 model above? Back in England, according to the same book, Orwell caught pneumonia while delivering the manuscript for ‘Burmese Days’ to his publisher, in the freezing rain on his motorcycle, December 1933.

George Orwell (the tall one again) in Spain fighting with the POUM Anarchists. His wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy Blair sits behind the gunner, and American Harry Milton (holding a rifle, behind the machine gun) who saved Orwell after he was shot. [Orwell Archives]
The life of a writer has always been a difficult financial path, and Orwell experienced waves of impoverishment, summarizing his experience in the 1930’s, during the worst of the Depression, in his book ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. During this period of impecunity, he was occasionally homeless, contracted tuberculosis, refused to wear a warm overcoat, and was dogged by ill health for the rest of his short life.

George Orwell’s press photo. [The Vintagent Archive]
In 1937, he volunteered to fight on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War, against Franco’s Fascists; Orwell joined the POUM (Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification), an anti-Stalinist fighting group, which allied with the Anarchists to fight both the Fascists AND the Communist party, which was supported by Stalin and his secret police, and regularly attacked the Anarchists and POUM.  In June 1937 he and his wife fled Spain, narrowly beating the Soviet secret service which sought to kill him for being a Trotskyite. He shortly published the book ‘Homage to Catalonia’ about his experiences in Spain.

The BBC Eastern Service in Burma, where Orwell worked during WW2. [BBC]
When WW2 began, he worked for the BBC Eastern Service (above, with fellow writer T.S.Eliot), an easy fit due to his early years spent in India and Burma, writing copy to convince Indians and East Asians to support the British war effort. He spoke of feeling like ‘an orange that’s been trodden on by a very dirty boot’ for his distaste at working as a propagandist. He quit the BBC in 1943 to write for the left-wing Tribune, and published ‘Animal Farm’, an allegory of Stalinist repression, in 1944, which was his first literary success.

Orwell’s home in Barnhill, on the Scottish island of Jura. [Jura Tourism]
From 1946-48 he lived in the village of Barnhill, on the island of Jura in Scotland while writing the novel ‘1984’, an allegory of totalitarianism, and an examination of the uses of language to shape thought and behavior. While living on Jura, he apparently rode an old Rudge, which was noted as being unreliable in the extreme.  A search by Orwell fans for the Rudge on Jura in later years produced contradictory stories; one claimed the Rudge was scrapped after being sold to a boat captain. Another tale by writer and cartoonist Jock Macneish claims the Rudge was left in a hedge when Orwell left, and it sits there on Jura, rotting, to this day! (It’s a great story, click here).

An image from that 1955 BBC film version of ‘1984’. [BBC]
‘1984’, of course, became Orwell’s best-selling and most famous book, with much of his language, peculiar to his vision of totalitarian English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the novel’s ‘Newspeak’), becoming part of everyday use even today – ‘big brother’, ‘thought police’, ‘war is peace’, etc, and the implied (and chilling) analysis that in modern war, “Victory is not possible; the war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous…”. Orwell died of complications of tuberculosis at the age of 46, in 1950. He didn’t live long enough to see the film adaptation of ‘1984’, nor the début of the Vincent Black Knight.


Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


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