THE TRIP: THE BEGINNING
Updated: Nov 10
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
– OSCAR WILDE
In 1975, Ken Potter undertook an epic 8-year round-the-world adventure. He made the transition from being a bored London croupier with an unfulfilled dream of escaping the rat-race to embarking on the trip of a lifetime. The desire to communicate with people of diverse cultures was a strong, driving influence. Donning pinstripes and a bowler-hat festooned with Union Jack flags, he adopted a diplomatic British public persona and became, in the eyes of the international media, 'Sir' Ken Potter, self-dubbed 'Knight of the Road' and self-appointed British ‘Ambassador to the World’ . He has now written a play about the adventure – 'BEYOND BORDERS: The Quixotic Adventures of Sir Ken'.
Okay, let's get something straight from the start. Ken Potter is not a Sir. Well, he is in a sense. He's a 'Knight of the Road'. If you're a Knight then it follows that you're a Sir, doesn't it? What we're really trying to say is that he hasn't got down on his knee in front of the Monarch.
So how did Ken come to be classed as a 'Knight of the Road'?
It's an intriguing story.
It all started when he was working as an American roulette inspector in a London casino. He'd been working in casinos for five years and was due for a change. He poses the question:
"Have you ever sat at your desk and wished that you were somewhere else?"
In 1974, he did. Well, he sat on his inspector's stool, wishing he was somewhere else. For ages he'd had an unfulfilled dream of escaping the rat-race. He wanted to travel.
The Casino was an exclusive one. Under the chandeliers, he was exposed to the smart set – celebrities, film stars, bankers, high-rollers, demure ladies in long evening dresses kissing the air about each other's cheeks...
However, for him, the glamour of casinos had faded. He was bored. But he didn't know what to do about it.
One day, Alan Llambias, a fellow croupier, told Ken of his intention to give up the job and go travelling. For six months! His destination? Well, anywhere really as long as he ended up at the Rio carnival.
Let's let Ken take up the story...
"When Alan told me of his decision to travel to the Rio carnival it inspired me. Images of palm trees and white beaches sprang to mind. It was something I'd always wanted to do. Give up the job. Go travelling. Freedom. Adventure. Live on the hoof for a while."
Ken joined Alan for the trip.
Alan was the consummate salesman. As he started explaining his intentions
to travel, thoughts of distant horizons filled Ken's mind.
'Genuine beginnings begin within us, even when they are brought to our attention by external opportunities.'
–William Throsby Bridges
Sun, Sea, Soccer, Sex, Samba
Alan and Ken met in Alan's flat in Herne Hill to discuss the travel plans, surrounded by maps, books, bottles of red, and half-filled ashtrays.
Alan had artistic ambitions. His paintings, inspired by René Magritte and Vincent Van Gogh, hung on the walls and were littered randomly all over the place.
He explained his proposed trip to Ken.
He was taking time out. Six months. Anything went. His face was getting redder and redder with booze and enthusiasm.
"I want to be an artist," he said. "That's going to be part of the trip. A new lifestyle. New identity. Life should have some meaning. Creativity. Fulfilment. Rolling a ball around a roulette wheel..." He shrugged.
"Alan," I said. "I've just got out of debt. I need to get my career sorted."
"We won't need much," Alan replied. "We'll hitch everywhere. On the road like Jack Kerouac." Ken could feel his resistance crumbling.
"It's funny this," Ken said. "My Old Man always wanted to go to Rio. But he couldn't. He was never in a position to."
"He couldn't. You can." said Alan. " If you've got a dream act on it. Otherwise you'll never do it."
"The world's my roulette wheel," he said. "Could be yours too. Just think about it. Rio! Sun, sea, soccer, sex, samba."
Ken was sold on the idea.
Surrounded by maps, guides, bottles of red, and half-filled ashtrays, Alan and Ken discussed different aspects of the trip. They adopted new identities: Alan
became the artist and Ken the writer.
Alan painted this picture of Ken in 1974. Creativity was all part of what
had affectionally become known as 'THE TRIP'.
A Columbus Odyssey in reverse.
Alan's flat became the office. The centre of organisation. They packed in their jobs and arranged to leave the following January. There was only one problem. They knew they wanted to go to Rio but which route would they take? Ken's imagination started to run rampant.
"I've got a great idea," he said. "What about we fly to New York. Then we could cross the States first, travel down through Latin America, and get to Rio that way."
Alan wasn't impressed. He wanted to fly straight to Rio.
"Come on, man," said Ken. "Where's your sense of adventure? Just think about it. Mexico. Guatemala. Columbia..."
"Listen," said Alan. "I know the States. If we go there first, we'll spend what little money we've got and never get any further. "
The disagreement rumbled on into the night. With the help of bottles of red wine, it becomes quite heated. They reached an impasse.
Neither wanted to give way. They realised that if they continued arguing, the trip would never get off the ground.
"Let's think laterally." said Ken.
A few moments of silence and then...
"Hey, I've got an idea," said Ken. "Improvisation! A third option."
"Tomorrow, we book on a ferry to Calais. That gets the trip started. From Calais we travel through Europe and Asia to get to Rio that way. We go east to discover the west – a Columbus odyssey in reverse." Alan roared with laughter.
"That's insane," he cried. "But I like it. It's in the spirit of the trip. Asia would be cheap enough. You're on."
Spinning Out Of Control
The simple idea suddenly developed a life-force of its own.
Inspired by Alan's love for René Magritte, they decided to go abroad in pinstripes and bowler-hats. Ken suggested they stick Union Jacks on the bowlers. With the backpacks on as well, they cut Monty Pythonesque-like figures.
They couldn't stop laughing.
For the hell of it Ken contacted the media and toll them they were going abroad as British ambassadors.
The Daily Mirror published a report about them with a large picture showing them striding down the Uxbridge Road in the pinstripes, doffing bowlers to everyone. In the article the Mirror wrote:
"The economy might be on a sticky wicket and our cricketing hopes may have turned to ashes. But, by jove, the British spirit lives on."
LBC Radio invited them into their studios near Fleet Street for an interview.
Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.
– Paulo Coelho
As they entered the LBC studios, the newsreader was looking down at his news sheet.
"Here is the four o'clock news," he said. "The IRA today..."
He looked up and caught sight of Alan and Ken's bizarre, Monty Pythonesque figures. He stopped mid-sentence, stifled a laugh, spluttered, gulped, and cleared his throat.
"Excuse me," he said. "I'll read that again. The IRA today..."
The Clarence public house in Whitehall. The Playboy Club sent Carolyn Moore to see them off. Carolyn was an ex-Miss Great Britain and once had a much publicised weekend with George Best.
The Clarence public house Whitehall
The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Clarence Send-off
The big day arrived. Alan and Ken had a going-away party at The Clarence public house in Whitehall. The manager kindly provided free booze. Lots of their friends were in the bar supping up.
They looked idiosyncratically dapper in Moss Bros pinstripes and bowler hats with brollies, backpacks, and an array of Union Jacks.
The press and radio stations fronted up, taking photos and conducting interviews.
As they were ex-croupiers, The Playboy Club sent along Carolyn Moore to see them off. She was Miss Great Britain in 1971 and once had a much publicised weekend with George Best.
The club also gave them a couple of Playboy T-shirts with the bunny on the front. LBC Radio wanted them to call every Friday at 6pm from wherever they were, reverse the charges, and they'd put them straight on air after the news.
At 3pm they tumbled out of the pub and on to the pavement followed by their bibulous pack.
They stuck out their thumbs in true hitch-hiking tradition. People in bus queues were waving and laughing.
Within moments, a sleek XJ6 Jag arrived and purred to a halt. An attractive blonde stepped out.
"Want a lift?" she asked. She opened the boot and they threw their backpacks in. They then climbed into the Jag and she drove off, accompanied by the whooping and cheering of the crowd on the pavement.
It was a set-up job. She was a friend. After such a reception it would have been silly for Ken and Alan to have to go through the motions of being hitch-hikers; hanging around on the pavement for ages, waiting for a lift.
She delivered them in style to Dover.
They were off!
Leap and the net will appear
– John Burroughs
Alan and Ken left the Clarence and cruised in the Jaguar XJ6 along Whitehall, over Westminster Bridge, and down the A2 to Dover. Nice. But from here on
things would get an awful lot tougher...