the birth of a British catchphrase: ‘mind my bike’

The British-English phrase mind my bike, now dated, was used with various meanings—sometimes with no meaning at all—opportunistically so to speak, depending on the context in which the words bike or bicycle appeared. (It is, in this respect, comparable to another British-English phrase, don’t forget the diver.)

This phrase occurred for example in the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Saturday 10th June 1978, in an article about Joe Spilling, who was to attempt a marathon bike ride from Land’s End, in Cornwall, to John O’Groats, in the north of Scotland—the caption to a photograph of Joe Pilling riding his bicycle was:

MIND MY BIKE! Joe Pilling in training.

This phrase was coined by the British actor Jack Warner (Horace John Waters – 1895-1981) in Garrison Theatre, a BBC radio comedy series devised to entertain wartime audiences; first broadcast in November 1939, this show ran for over a year. Each week, Jack Warner arrived on his bicycle, which would end up in the way, to cries of “mind my bike!”.

This is how Jack Warner invented his catchphrase, according to Barry Took in Laughter in the Air: An Informal History of British Radio Comedy (London: Robson Books, 1976):

‘Mind my bike’ was a cheerily inconsequential remark which cropped up almost by accident when Warner, seeking a new and aural way of making an entrance, thought of the sound of a bicycle bell, and the phrase ‘Mind my bike’ to go with it.

Jack Warner’s catchphrase immediately became popular. For example, the Middlesex Advertiser and County Gazette (Uxbridge, Middlesex, England) of Friday 2nd February 1940 reported that, among the artists who had participated in a show organised by the War Entertainments Committee at the Savoy, Hayes, was:

Jack (“mind my bike”) Warner.

The catchphrase had become so popular by February 1940 that it served as both the reference and the caption to the following cartoon published in the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Wednesday 21st February 1940—this cartoon depicts “new tax burdens” being put onto a civilian’s bicycle and crushing the wheels:

'mind my bike' - Daily Mirror (London, England) - 21 February 1940

MIND MY BIKE!” (With Apologies to Jack Warner.)

The phrase occurred twice in the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Thursday 21st March 1940:

1: In Nelson’s Column, by the columnist Frank Nelson:

Morning, noon and night Soccer trainer Laurie Barnett cycles between his home and the Manchester City ground—more than thirty miles a day.
Pedalling, he says, keeps him fit.
No wonder he tells the players to—
Mind my bike!

2: In the caption to the following photograph:

'mind my bike' - Daily Mirror (London, England) - 21 March 1940

MIND MY BIKE!

Well, just look at this!—Do you recognise him? . . . It’s Wing-Commander Douglas Farquhar, the ex-stockbroker flying ace, who was decorated by the King for putting finis to three German Heinkels. But, blow me down, he’s riding a BICYCLE, and a three-speeder at that—do you think he notices the difference to the speed of his Hurricane?

The phrase was very soon adopted for advertising purposes. Published in The Yorkshire Evening Post (Leeds, Yorkshire, England) of Friday 15th March 1940, this advertisement contains an enigmatic use of mind my bike:

STILL NO ANNOUNCEMENT.
BUT LISTEN.
38 A/C and Battery Sets are to be sold to-day and Saturday. Ridiculous prices, but they have got to be cleared.
5-V% All-Wave PHILIPS …………. 79/6.
4-V. BATTERY SET ………………. 20/-
AND 36 OTHERS.
Snap these up quickly, and MIND MY BIKE.
AT
CURRY’S LTD.,
80, VICAR LANE, LEEDS.

This is an advertisement for Sims’ Dances, published in the Dances & Entertainments section of The Midland Daily Telegraph (Coventry, Warwickshire, England) of Saturday 23th March 1940:

“Hi! Mind My Bike!” I shall need it to get to Sims’ Dances, Easter Monday and Tuesday, St. John’s Hall, 3 p.m.-6 p.m., 1/-. Dance Matinees.

The following advertisement appeared in the Gloucestershire Echo (Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England) of Thursday 28th March 1940:

MIND MY BIKE” it’s a B.S.A.
I got it from
THE CHELTENHAM CYCLE CO.,
82 STRAND                    167 HIGH STREET

The phrase soon became invasive to some—to ‘Tatler’ for example, who wrote the following in the column Gossip of the Week, published in the Eastbourne Herald (Eastbourne, Sussex, England) of Saturday 23rd March 1940:

Inside The Egg
We religiously make New Year resolutions every January 1. What’s wrong with packing a few hopes and dreams into an Easter egg, even if we crack it all too soon and lose the good things we put inside it?
I’m going to risk it to-day. Let’s hope for a few things, serious and gay, sensible and silly, possible and impossible.
Why not hope for:—
The name, in advance, of the winner of the Grand National?
A Ministry of Laughter to help us to see the funny side of things and save us from the sin of being deadly serious?
A reduction of income tax in the next Budget. (What a hope!)
A B.B.C. announcer hiccoughing when he reads the news.
Mr Lloyd George saying something kind about the Ministry of Agriculture.
A ban on errand boys who imitate Jack Warner saying “Mind my bike.”
A public dinner at which a well-known local orator forgets to tell the story I have heard him tell at every function of that sort for the past four years.
[&c.]

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