Saturday 2 March 2024

Britain says "Goodbye" to its much-loved Hairy Biker, Dave Myers

Dave, who has died at the age of sixty-six, found fame alongside Si King, his best friend and work partner of 30 years as part of the motorcycle-riding cooking duo, the 'Hairy Bikers'. Together, they toured Britain and the world in search of new recipes which they then, with their wit and charm, discovered and imparted to their millions of television followers. 

Dave was born in the port 
town of Barrow-in-Furness in the historic county of Lancashire in the north of England in the autumn of 1957, the son and only child of Margaret and Jim, a papermill foreman. Dave said : "I was something of a surprise to my parents. My mum, was 42 when she had me and had been told she couldn't have children. So when she went to the doctors, they thought she had an ovarian cyst. And it was me!" 

Motor bikes figured early in Dave's life and he recalled : ”My father used to go to work on a BSA Bantam, when I was about two, three years old I used to toddle down to the bottom of the back street, he’d be there coming home from work, and he’d let me sit on the tank holding on to the handlebars and pretending to ride the motorbike up the back street". He said : “I loved the smell of oil and machinery and rubber; just one whiff would set my pulse racing”.

Back home, of his mother’s cooking he said : “The smell of fresh cakes and pies always filled the room when I was a small boy. It was magic". Unfortunately, his world started to fall apart when he was seven and he had to put his “Mam” to bed after a fall which was the first sign of multiple sclerosis, a disease which would eventually lead to her death. 

Meanwhile, while at Cambridge Street Primary School, he started to suffer from alopecia-related hair loss 
and was cruelly branded “baldy” and “Uncle Fester” by the other kids. He began to do his paper round with his hood up, using a concoction of chimney soot and Vaseline to cover up the balding areas. He recalled : “One time, I got an air pistol to shoot myself in the knees, just to get a few weeks off school, but I was wearing jeans and I hit the seam, so the pellet didn’t do any damage at all”.

Things improved when he was eight years old. His father was sixty-three in that year, and in his increased spare time, Dave said : "We became inseparable. Our favourite pastime was longline fishing in Morecambe Bay. We'd ride out on his motorbike, attach 100 worms to 100 hooks suspended from a long line staked in the sand, and see what the tide brought in. Sometimes, we'd collect as many as 40 plaice". 

Another happy time was a holiday to see to see the TT races on the Isle of Man, a dream come true for the bike-mad boy who badgered every rider he could, to sign his autograph book. Equally sharp were his memories of the meals at the Metropole Hotel, as he reflected : “Bikes and food were vying for my attention, even then”.

In 'part four' of what was to be his last BBC TV series with Si King, 'The Hairy Bikers Go West', which was aired this week, they visited Liverpool and Wirral, Dave recalled : 
"I once came to Liverpool to stay in a bed and breakfast for a week's holiday when I was a kid. It was funny because they took me on the ferry across the Mersey and when I come back, you know when you do your school diary, me I was always pretentious, I put : 'So Mam and Dad took me on a cruise'. I said we went to New Brighton and they burst out laughing, I was really humiliated. Because I thought the New Brighton ferry was a cruise". To which Si replied : "Well I mean it is, if you want to get to New Brighton that is".

Back in the 1960s, with his mother now in a wheelchair, Dave and his father became her full-time carers. He said : "Bedtimes were the worst. Dad would take her arms, I'd take her feet and we'd bounce her up the stairs. But the first time it hit me that she was really bad was when I was nine. She went to bed and couldn't get up again". Kitchen staples were now tinned mince with mashed potato and marrowfat peas. On one occasion his father mixed them all together and claimed to have created a risotto. Ironically, Dave’s love of food flowered for the first time in this period and he said : “I got tired of my father serving us tinned mince and Smash and peas, so I started cooking myself. It wasn’t a burden. I loved it”.

In 1968, Dave, having passed his 11-plus exam, took his place at the 1930 built Barrow Grammar School for Boys with its stirring school song : Westaway the seas lie open, east away the sun rides high, outward bound in morning glory, free and ready here am I.  It was here that he was taken under the wing of his art teacher, Mr Eaton, who arranged for him to visit the art galleries in Manchester and Liverpool. Dave recalled : "He encouraged me, especially in art club, which we had once or twice a week. I’d do some painting and he’d give me advice and put them up on the wall. He had an incredible imagination and would always broaden my ambition, never stifle it". Money was obviously tight at home and at the age of sixteen Dave said : "I applied to get a job as a photographer after O-levels, but I didn’t get it. It’s just as well because I stayed on and got qualifications in general studies and art".  

By now this was against the background of having to look after both his mother and father, since, when he was seventeen, his father suffered a bad stroke and sometimes fed them fillets of fresh plaice he had caught himself. Dave recalled : "I put Dad in his bed, Mum in hers and wondered : 'What I was going to do ?' When the district nurse came round, she realised I couldn't cope and asked which parent I could manage best ? It was awful to have to choose, but I said Dad because I knew he had a chance of recovery. Mum went into a geriatric ward and never came home again".

By now this was against the background of having to look after both his mother and father, since, when he was seventeen, his father suffered a bad stroke and sometimes fed them fillets of fresh plaice he had caught himself. Dave recalled : "I put Dad in his bed, Mum in hers and wondered : 'What I was going to do ?' When the district nurse came round, she realised I couldn't cope and asked which parent I could manage best ? It was awful to have to choose, but I said Dad because I knew he had a chance of recovery. Mum went into a geriatric ward and never came home again".

At the time he was in the sixth form at school Dave undertook culinary adventures when he created a 'mini curry-club', inviting his friends home after their visit to the pub for some grub, which was concoction created from whatever he found in the kitchen cupboard. Many years later he relived those “30p pub-grub days”, cooking a 'Hairy Bikers' chilli con carne recipe enriched with dark chocolate. (link)

At the age of eighteen he made his way south to London where, when arriving at Euston Station for the first time, he was stopped by police suspicious about the contents of his tobacco tin. With the encouragement of Mr Eaton, he had applied for and now took his place as an undergraduate student studying for a Fine Art degree at Goldsmiths College. In addition to his studies, living and eating in South London broadened his culinary horizons and he discovered the pleasures of south Indian food. 

In his first vacation as a student he recalled : "My first trip abroad was with a mate at the age of 18. My Dad gave me some money, so I booked a package holiday to Paris for £65, but had to hitchhike to Calais because I couldn’t afford the train fare. It was a disaster. I fell out with my mate and got pickpocketed outside the Sacré-Coeur, so I only had £25 to last me the week. But I love art, so I spent my time sitting outside and sketching. I really was a starving artist". For the rest of the
 holiday he returned to Barrow, to earn money by cleaning out the steelworks’ furnaces during the annual shutdown. It was about this time that he bought his first motor bike, a Cossack Ural Mars Mk III, with a sidecar.

After graduating in 1978, he stayed at Goldsmiths for a further year to study for his master's degree. When his father died, he said : "It was left to me to tell Mum and she was heartbroken. By the time I graduated, I'd lost both parents and twenty-three was a young age to deal with a double loss like that. I felt rootless. I remember clearing their council flat, putting some stuff in storage and tying the rest on to the back of my motorbike. I was like one of the Beverly Hillbillies".

Dave said : "Ambition kept me going" and working on the the principle that : “If I can paint a picture, I can paint a face”, he successfully applied to join, as a trainee, the BBC TV Make-up Department, which he described as : "A vibrant, exciting and caring place". However, the caring element wasn't present on his first day he was ordered "to get a wig" to hide his alopecia. Dave responded by deciding to not spend the money on a wig, which would have cost more than a month’s salary and instead shaved his head and bought himself a nearly new Honda 185 Benly motorcycle. 

As the corporation’s only known male make-up artist, Dave appeared on the cover of the staff magazine 'Ariel' with Hamble, the rag doll from 'Play School'. Before long, he was preparing guests for Blue Peter, arranging Des O’Connor’s copper-tinged highlights and painting Adam Ant’s white stripe for 'Top of the Pops'. 

Gradually he branched out into prosthetics, making casts of Patricia Hodge and Julie Wallace’s breasts for 'The Life and Loves of a She-Devil' in 1986 and when filming finished, attached one of the artificial breasts to the back of the catering truck and watched it being driven away. On another occasion he was called upon to trim Roger Moore's hair when he was filming in Luxembourg. (link)

Going freelance he became a regular make-up artist on 'Coronation Street' before moving on to larger-scale dramas with actors such as John Gielgud. In 1987, when Timothy West played Mikhail Gorbachev in the TV movie 'Breakthrough at Reykjavik' Dave had to replicate the Soviet leader’s famous red birthmark, ensuring it looked exactly the same for each day of filming.

After a brief, misguided foray into making money in the antiques trade, Dave returned to his face paints and at the age of thirty-eight was head of make-up for the Catherine Cookson drama, 'The Gambling Man' in 1995. It was now that he met Simon “Si” King, who was nine years his junior and who he described as : “A big, blond-haired Geordie” even though  he was, in fact, from County Durham. They started their twenty-nine year friendship and hit it off with their shared enjoyment of a curry, a pint and motorbikes and before long were riding and cooking side by side as though they had been childhood friends. 

Dave's health problems had continued into adulthood and his hair thinned even more after a bout of pneumonia and pleurisy. In his personal life when, after the failure of his first marriage, in 1998 Dave became engaged to Glen Howarth, a script supervisor whom he had met during filming of another Catherine Cookson tale, 'The Tide of Life'. However, his life was once again blighted by illness, when four months later she died of stomach cancer. He himself now had an emergency operation to remove a cyst the size of an apple from his brain with the curious side-effect that his hair began to grow back in tufts.

It was six years later, in 2004, when Dave was forty-five, that he and Si, a locations manager on the Harry Potter films, pitched their idea for a TV show focusing on motorbikes and food to the BBC. Dave later said : “It was midlife crisis time and you can’t have more of a midlife crisis than going off on a motorbike”.

Dave recalled : “As soon as we came up with the idea, a lass in the production office just yelled out ‘Hairy Bakers’ and the series was born!” Even so, it was two years before the two burly, hirsute motorcyclists who visited foreign locales, often getting off their bikes to cook by the roadside, would reach the screen. In the first episode of 'The Hairy Bikers’ Cookbook' the pair motored through Namibia, stopping off to cook crocodile satay and oryx rolls. Their culinary travelogue ran across three series and took them to Portugal, Vietnam, Turkey and Mexico. The series was renamed : 'The Hairy Bikers Ride Again' for the third series (link) and 'The Hairy Bakers' for the fourth series. It became such a hit with the viewers that a memo circulated the BBC praising the two men for winning over : “A difficult-to-reach audience” to which Si said : “Basically a ‘difficult-to-reach audience’ translates as ‘normal people’”.

It was in 2009, that Dave and Si firmly cemented their partnership when they hosted a 30-part daytime series for BBC Two, 'The Hairy Bikers' Food Tour of Britain' (link), which aired on weekdays and saw them visit a different county each day and cook what they considered to be that county's signature dish. Dave recalled : “As soon as we came up with the idea, a lass in the production office just yelled out ‘Hairy Bakers’ and the series was born!” 

The following year their six-part series titled 'The Hairy Bikers : Mums Know Best' (link) was aired and invited guests were asked to bring along their favourite family recipes and cooked examples which were compiled for the 'Mums Know Best Recipe Board' for the other mums to copy down. In addition, they were encouraged to bring along their indispensable, old- fashioned, dependable and sometimes unidentifiable kitchen gadgets : potato peelers, soda streams, meat mincers and pastry cutters. 

With their popularity now in ascendance, they were commissioned for a new 40-episode series, 'The Hairy Bikers' Cook Off' (link), which included a cook off between two families and celebrity guests. Then in 2011 they had signed new contracts with the BBC for another new series which saw the two of them doing what they loved best : a 5000 mile gastronomic road trip across Europe, the 'Hairy Bikers' Bakeation' (link). Their mission was to discover
 the best baking on offer across Europe, from Norway, the Low Countries, Germany, Eastern Europe, Austria, Italy and France to Spain.

At this stage in his life, Dave said of his school art teacher, Mr Eaton : "I often think about where I’d be if it wasn’t for him. There were three of us in Mr Eaton’s art school gang and we’ve all done alright for ourselves. One became a professional artist and the third is a successful photographer in Hollywood. As for me, he got me into the industry I’m in now. I’ve got him to thank for opening the door to art school, the BBC and for allowing me to do all the bonkers stuff I do now. I’m a very lucky man".

Dave recalled : "I met Lili, my wife, while we were filming 'The Hairy Bikers in Romania'. She was the manager of the hotel where we stayed. As she escorted Si and me up a spiral staircase, I whispered : "Cor, I really fancy her." And he said : "Nah, leave off, mate. She's dead scary". But Lili and I became pen pals and got married in 2011. The cultural difference has never been an issue – we just get on – and she wasn't in the least fazed by the saucy attention I got competing in 'Strictly Come Dancing' In fact, at my age, she thinks it's vaguely ridiculous".

More series abroad followed in 'The Hairy Biker's Mississippi Adventure' (link) and 'The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure' (link). Dave recalled that when they were in Japan : "I fell in love with Kyoto, which feels like old Japan, full of elegant temples and waterways. We stayed at a traditional ryokan guesthouse, where you sleep on a futon mat, but we were banned from the bathhouses because we had tattoos. There are lots of rules like that and I found it fascinating culturally". They were, incidentally, warmly accepted at a “sumo stable” in Kyoto, where they trained in loincloths alongside the wrestlers, who consumed 20,000 calories a day.

In 2013, Dave appeared on TV's 'Strictly Come Dancing', performing a “Tartan tango” to the tune of The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) with his dance partner, Karen Hauer. (link)  He became, in the words of the show’s judge Len Goodman : “The people’s champion”, winning the weekly popular vote despite sometimes low marks from judges and armchair critics deriding his “ungainly boogying”. He didn’t win, but received the longest standing ovation for his Meat Loaf-themed paso doble.(link)

In 2014 with Si, he launched 'The Hairy Bikers Diet Club', which included recipes and tips and tricks to help people to live a healthier and trimmer life, while not starving to be "skinny minnies". In 2015, they co-presented 'The Nation's Favourite Food' on BBC Two alongside Lorraine Pascale.

Dave said, with his usual enthusiasm : “We'd spent two-and-a-half years going around the world investigating other people's cultures. We wanted to get back to our roots and celebrate the food culture we have in Britain. It's just as much an exploration of wonderment for us as it is for the viewers to discover all these local foods. There are some amazing cultural dishes in the UK that have been cooked for hundreds of years that have nearly been forgotten about. We want to revive those great old recipes. Have you heard of Shropshire's fidget pie, for instance? (link)  It's based around gammon and cooking apples with potatoes, sage and onions. Delicious. We've discovered lots of great dishes like that”.

He continued with his eulogy : 
“In Cornwall, we made proper Cornish pasties at the Edenproject; we have made Malvern pudding, Cheshire cheese soup in the jaguar house at Chester Zoo; Cullen Skink soup in 
Moray.(link)  In Scarborough we made my mum's Yorkshire pudding with Si's Mam's gravy; in Wales we made Carmathenshire cockles, laver bread and Welsh salty bacon; in Somerset we cooked Somerset chicken, a traditional dish heavy with apples.(link) These are dishes born out of the land and generations of cooks perfecting the recipes”. He said that by the end of the series : "We had ridden 15,000 miles on our motorbikes – a proper food tour of Britain”.

In 2022, Dave revealed that he had been diagnosed with cancer and had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment. (link) 
He had recovered sufficient strength to handle his motor bike, by the summer of 2023, to take part in this seven-part series for BBC which saw him reunite with Si to make 'The Hairy Bikers Go West'. They traveled together down the west coast of Scotland and through Lancashire, Merseyside, North Wales, Bristol and finally Devon and Dorset.(link)

It was to be, in part, a valediction that took the bikers to places that had shaped them, with Dave even making an emotional homecoming to the county where he was born. Along the way they explored these changing areas through restaurants, recipes and inventive new food entrepreneurs. It was appropriate that they traveled their last 600 miles together on their quest to explore and reveal hidden culinary gems and as usual, the series was replete with recipes : from Chicken Balmoral with truffle mash, poached lobster served with Scottish Bucatini pasta, to Lambchop pakoras with traditional Persian rice and a Lancashire Butter and Potato Pie.

With Dave's passing Si said : 

“I will miss him every day and the bond and friendship we shared over half a lifetime. I wish you God's speed brother. You are and will remain a beacon in this world. See you on the other side. Love ya”.

When once asked how he would like to be remembered ? Dave had replied with perfect self-effacement : 

“Oh, just as a bloke that 'had a go' really. I’ve been lucky enough to do the dreams. And sometimes the nicest thing about our programmes – you look at our shows, and it’s like going away with  your best mate. It takes you out of yourself and you learn a bit and  if people remember that about me, I’ll be well happy".


  1. Again - a beautiful tribute with a nice nod to Romania from someone who's still here in the country after more than 15 years

  2. Brilliant👌