The Triumph Gaffer’s Dodgy Double Life

December 4, 2013
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

Embezzlement, bigamy, decadent luxury, a man eaten by tiger… Nigel Winter knows how to catch the reader’s attention. He certainly had mine after emailing a story lead about an intriguing figure in British motorcycle history.

Albert Douglas Masters went to
India after World War I, and after
that back to the UK – claiming a
new name and intriguing footnote
in British motorcycle history.

Winter is the author of “Travelling with Mr. Turner” a book chronicling the history of Triumph Motorcycles, with the author retracing the memorable 1953 ride of Triumph’s three “gaffers” – senior managers who piloted their motorbikes cross country from Land’s End in Cornwall all the way to Scotland’s John O’Groats. One of the gaffers was Triumph’s great engineer Edward Turner, with this PR-savvy trek credited by Winter as helping usher in the great leap forward in British mass transit.

But Winter’s lurid correspondence was not in regards to Mr. Turner. Instead the dodgy tale belongs to one of the other “gaffers” on that famous ride – Triumph’s Service Manager, Alec St. John Masters.

Masters was the recent subject of the New Zealand show Family Secret – which, as the name implies, investigates unresolved family stories (similar to America’s History Detectives). As it turns out, prior to 1932 Alec St. John Masters was known as Albert Douglas Masters. The family of his surviving daughter, who now lives in Australia, tasked the show with tracking down the story of a man who disappeared in 1931 leaving behind a wife and three daughters.

An Englishman who went to India after World War I, Albert “Dougie” Masters vanished in Jorhat, India. Family tales related in the show regarding his whereabouts are quite colorful. One grandson’s vivid childhood memory is that he was eaten by a tiger, while another granddaughter recounts being told that he trained horses in the desert and simply disappeared…

The truth is Masters disappeared from India amidst an embezzlement scandal. In Jorhat, he resided in relative opulence throughout the 1920s as a mechanic – as Winter put it, living a “luxurious existence in the dying days of the Raj”. Masters reputedly resided in a spacious bungalow and was tended to by several servant. He also owned 14 horses for racing and polo. He also served as Secretary of the Jorhat Racing Club, but before the 1931 horse races Masters skipped town with in the equivalent today of about $60,000 in the club’s money.

Masters returned to England  fleeing scandal and becoming Alec St. John Masters and rising to become an important manager at Triumph Motorcycles during the British marques glory years.
Masters with Triumph’s famed engineer Edward Turner on the highly publicized 1953 cross-country ride.

From there Masters returned back to the UK, retaining his surname but changing his given name. He also remarried and took up work with Triumph – rising to Service Manager and taking part in the famous cross-country run with Mr. Turner. Hardly laying low with a secret identity.

In fact, Masters not only saw his face attached to one of the more memorable public events in British motorcycling history, he also affixed his new name to a handful of books. Masters is the published author of “Motor-Cycle Sport” and “Do Your Own Spray Painting” – copies of which the show’s investigator gives to the stunned family left behind.

So the disgraced mechanic Albert Douglas Masters transformed into Alec St. John Masters, changing his name, remarrying and living a relatively public life as a key figure during Triumph Motorcycle’s golden age. A tale even more curious than getting eaten alive…

Watch the TV segment embedded below courtesy of Winter, who has permission to host the footage on YouTube until December 31. Read more on the subject at the Gaffers Gallop at and check out Winter’s book “Travelling with Mr. Turner”.