8th December 2022
The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast
EPISODE 315: World Champion Transportation Cyclist Beryl Burton — Book Chat With Author Jeremy Wilson
SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles
HOST: Carlton Reid
GUEST: Jeremy Wilson
TOPICS: The amazing Beryl Burton, with author Jeremy Wilson
LINKS: Beryl (Jeremy’s book)
Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 315 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was recorded on Thursday, eighth December 2022.
David Bernstein 0:23
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Carlton Reid 1:02
Liquorice All-sorts. Rhubarb. And a multi-award-winning biography of the hard-as-nails transportation cyclist Beryl Burton who also won a few things, like world championships but not, as author Jeremy Wilson here explains, Olympic medals. I’m Carlton Reid and this episode of the Spokesmen podcast runs long, very long, but listen in and you’ll be as transfixed as I was by Jeremy’s stellar research. His biography of Beryl Burton says it’s in search of Britain’s greatest athlete but, as we discuss, Beryl is probably the world’s greatest athlete, capable in her day of coasting past the best men of her era and, famously, giving them encouragement, brickbats or jersey-pocket-stashed sweets. We talked for two hours and it could have been much more. Are you sitting comfortably, Jeremy?
Jeremy Wilson 2:11
I am, yeah, I’m all good. Thanks.
Carlton Reid 2:13
OK. So let’s leap into it what I loved your book, obviously as as everybody else of course. So congratulations on William Hill sports book of the year. Financial Times best sports book of 2022 Waterstones — you’ve won everything is there anything you haven’t won this year, Jeremy?
Jeremy Wilson 2:32
I don’t know. It’s a bit of a it’s a bit of a surprise and pleasant surprise to to have people say nice things about it. Because obviously, you don’t really know and you’re you’re in a bit of a tunnel when you do these things, you don’t quite know what people are gonna think. And it was really important to me as well. But the family they didn’t they place no sort of requirements or they didn’t ask me to change anything or leave something out or not speak to a certain person. And the big thing for me really was that they thought thought it was a fair portrayal and that they, they learned new things as well, which was nice here because I don’t think barrel was a big talker. You know, it wasn’t that that mentality wasn’t to talk, you know, share your feelings and talk about things that she was always on to the next thing so I think Denise found it interesting to hear what other people thought about her mum and certain stories that she didn’t know as well. So yeah, it’s been lovely to get such a nice reaction to it.
Carlton Reid 3:29
And there’s also Yvonne Reynders also she you kind of like gave her stuff that she didn’t know like you know, the fact she was like you know feeling bad that back that day? Yeah,
Jeremy Wilson 3:41
yes. Yeah, she didn’t it was quite interesting because you could there was such a deep emotional connection between Yvonne Reynders and obviously barrel that you could still see really exists and you can imagine that that would be so because they obviously spent about a decade as main rivals and they would see each other mostly just at the World Championships but maybe at the odd invitation or event you know, even renders could come over to her and heal and barrel might go and do something in Belgium but generally they had this distance and even render speaks no English as I discovered and speaks quite a strong dialect. Flemish dialect which even the people I was with, were struggling with a little bit at time so and obviously Barrow was pure Yorkshire so they didn’t communicate but there was this it was quite touching really because when I got out Barrows autobiography personal best, which I took with me even renders had never seen it and she she thumbed straight away to the photograph section. And of course, she was in some of the pictures. There was a few podiums, and a few pictures of them racing as well. One of them on the Isle of Man and she was quite tearful when she saw them, and she didn’t really know that wider story of what happened to bear or after she finished competing at the world stage, and was quite emotional, really about that and hearing what had happened to bear or very clearly remember Charlie, Beryl’s husband and Denise, Beryl’sdaughter, from seeing them at these competitions. But it got me that I mean, there were so many tangents and that was fascinating about the story. But that one about the sort of the relationship between rivals in sport I found quite interesting to think about, because you can imagine there is a really there, at the time, there’s such ferocious competitors, they probably wish the other one wasn’t there, because they were, you know, they would have had double the World Championships almost without the other one. But I think, over time, they come to almost appreciate the fact that they were racing against someone so good, because it brought them to a higher level, you know, a bit like the tennis now with the Federer-Djokovic era, and you sort of see it in other other sports as well.
Carlton Reid 6:00
So Armstrong and Ullrich.
Jeremy Wilson 6:02
Yeah, that kind of stuff.
Carlton Reid 6:04
I’m sure we’ll get on to Yvonne again, but just kind of like mentioned there that like the shouldn’t know, Yvonne didn’t know her post racing career. And of course, Beryl died young. But what what relatively young, but what you say in the book is you because you’ve gone to interview all of these these people who are racing against Beryl, who are a goodly age and you say in the book, you say, you know, cycling has probably extended these people’s lives, whereas Of course, in Beryl’s case it didn’t. But do you think that you know that the standard thing where you know, cycling is meant to give you an extra 10 years of your life? Did you actually think Beryl’s life was actually cut short by the fact she was so Yorkshire grit and always pushing through? I know you’re not medical so you can’t say that but did you have a feeling there?
Jeremy Wilson 6:58
Yes, I think so. And I think it’s that’s pretty clear because she was she had this illness as a child where she had this attack of the nervous system, and had rheumatic fever, some illness called St. Vitus dance and was in hospital and then convalescing for two years, at the age of 11, to 13. And she was told when she went back home, not to extend herself physically, and she did a medical when she first began work at the age of 15, as well in the tailors called Montague Burton, where she met Charlie Burton. And they again, they found this irregular rhythm in her heart. So she was pushing through that throughout her career, and she did have particularly in her last 10, 15 years, repeatedly looking at the the newspaper and magazine cuttings. She was reporting that doctors were telling her that she must stop she shouldn’t keep pushing herself. Denise, her daughter told me that she and her her dad, Charlie, Beryl’s husband were telling her to stop. I don’t think they wanted her to stop cycling, but they wanted her to stop wanting to go as fast as she possibly could. Because obviously, like, as you said, something that was really nice to see about the book was that so many of her contemporaries, she barely would be 85. Now, if she lived, was still really thriving, you know, her great recollections of what they did a lot of them were still riding their bikes, you know, to their 80s, even 90s in some cases. And so it was a good advert for cycling overall. But clearly Beryl had this competitiveness in her this sort of need to strive to do her very best. And she, she came into the sport with these heart issues that were caused by her childhood illness, and she just ignored it. She just wouldn’t have it. You know, she just wouldn’t stop and that was obviously the spirit that drove her to train so hard and and produce these just extraordinary feats, but it was entwined with her early death, almost certainly, as you say, obviously, medically, I’m not qualified to say for sure that there was a direct correlation. But certainly that’s I think that’s fair to say. That’s how her family feel that’s very likely and she was being told not to push herself and she was still going for it. There was the national 10-mile championships following weekend she was entered. And she wasn’t people assume that because she was in her late 50s. And still riding that she was still sort of turning up in it in a slightly more sociable way. But she was still out there to win in her mind. That was all her friends and people who were cycling at the time said not not not in a sort of nasty way in any way. She was still chat chatty after the races but she couldn’t approach it any other way. She wanted to be the absolute best and fastest she could. And she was still doing huge numbers of miles. There was an interview with her with a BBC that I came across that was from about 94, 95. I think she said, ‘I need 30,000 miles before I’m ready to race,’ you know, because for each season, I think that was the right number. That might be completely ridiculous. I need to do my math. I’m pretty sure that it’s in the book, but I’m pretty sure that was what she said. And that was, you know, when she was in her late 50s. So yeah, and so I found that fascinating that drive that she had, which I think you find in quite a few great sports people. And but it obviously was almost certainly linked to her tragically cut short life really? Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to separate the two because it honestly part of what made her or very much what made her so extraordinary.
Carlton Reid 11:00
So I would like to delve into that that psychology because you certainly delve into it. I also in this episode, I want to absolutely talk about how you took her bike and you put it on in the wind tunnel. That’s that’s also fascinating about you know what she’d do today? If if you can, you can, you could compare those two things. I’d very much like to start where you both started and ended your book with this story. And it is it is the story that I guess everybody in cycling knows in it, there’s a there’s a podcast BBC podcast called You’re Dead To Me. And that has a segment called ‘So what do you know?’ and that is the segment where the presenter says, you know, this is the bit that people will probably know about this particular historical figure, and then they massively expand on it. So that the thing that I think most people certainly in cycling, will know is the Licorice All-sorts. So even even I, you know, know that story. And I’m not I’m not the greatest of a cycle racing fan. I’m like more of a like a Tour de France kind of person instead of following every single race throughout the year. But even I know that, that story. So just for anybody who maybe doesn’t know that story. And I’m I’m kind of like maybe being very abusive to listeners here by saying you know, you do or you don’t know the story. But just tell us about the story, because it’s a very famous story. And that the protagonist, who obviously is involved in this story as well, Mac? Yes?
Jeremy Wilson 12:31
Yeah, a guy called Mike McNamara and he was the top men’s time trialist of the time in Great Britain. So time trialling was the main way that people raced in that period in the really, up until quite recently, where now I think the sort of sportives road racing and track racing is become bigger in this country because of the facilities and because of the just the slight change in culture with with how British cycle cycle racing has evolved. But in that time, it was time trialling was very much the way people people raced. And that’s when you’re set off at one minute intervals. And then you essentially ride alone and have a time at the end over a distance or a particular amount of time. So Beryl was going for this 12 hour ride, which is where you do as many miles as you can in 12 hours, but a big competition at the time in in Great Britain. She started behind the men. So then there was 99 men in this race going off at one minute intervals. They then had a two minute gap to the women, I think there was three or four women Beryl was among them. And she was the first of the women to go off. So she was basically set off two minutes behind the field of 99 men who had all started in the in the two hours before Beryl in the morning, and they would all then go ride around Yorkshire finishing on a finishing circuit for 12 hours and accumulate as many miles as they could. It really suited Beryl, this type of race because she had a great phenomenal endurance, but also really good concentration as well. She could she could ride alone for a long time, high level. And she basically just rode through this entire field of men so she had passed 98 of the men. One person that was left was Mike McNamara at the top men’s time trialist of the time he had started last of the men so he had started two minutes in front of Beryl on the road. And he was on course to break the men’s record for the distance that they cycled in 12 hours. But Beryl had done this sort of incredible ride and was basically catching him and actually caught him with about about an hour of the of the 12 hours to go. So she didn’t when she saw him up in front, she didn’t quite believe that it was him she had caught as I say they both caught the other 98 men, which is astonishing when you think about it. But there he was the last of the men she hadn’t caught. And he was on course for a British men’s record, or a world record as well. I mean, no, no, no one in other countries have gotten faster. And she was obviously annihilating the women’s record but was also beating him. And she put in she eventually passed them on this, this lane, which is just south of Boroughbridge in Yorkshire, and as she went past she would always say something to people when she caught them because obviously she caught people all the time and caught men very regularly in these time trials and she’d say thing and there were so many stories of things she would say like, ‘Hey, lad, you you’re not trying’ or ‘stick in there, Chuck’, or sometimes be quite nice, but sometimes in a sort of dry sense of humour, she’d sort of say something quite cutting to these people. And to Mike McNamara, she reached into her back pocket where she’s carrying her food and she passed him a liquorice allsort so she went past and he said ‘ta, love’ and, and ate the licorice allsort. He confirmed it to me while I was researching the book, but it wasn’t just the kind of fairy tale myth type story that had gone down in legend it really was how it went she didn’t really mean it I don’t think as a sort of put me down she just didn’t know what else to do. She went past them and
and the poor guy would then get handed massive Liquorice Allsorts at events.
Yeah, it became all you ever got asked about. Yeah, there was a an event where Beryl presented him with I think he took it in good spirits. He actually died last year. And but luckily, from my point of view, he was still alive during the early part of the research for the books, I was able to communicate with him before he before he died. And he was obviously a really great figure in on the scene, a really popular popular guy, but he you could tell it did slightly. There was a slight sense from the family that, you know, it was frustrating that his he was sort of remembered principally for this but I sort of said to them, what an amazing thing to be part of you know, it’s a real moment in sporting history where a woman broke not just a women’s best but a men’s as well. And as I say lots of things with Beryl Burton, this was obviously one of them, where she’d done something that just nobody in any other sport you could find a comparison for. So she won something 25 she was the best British or around the 25 times in a row, rode with their daughter in the world championships. They were both in the qualified for the road race. And this that I mean, they were three things straight away that you just could were completely without comparison in sport. So yeah, that that was probably the story that she’s best known for just being the fact that she broke a men’s record, but also just the style with which she did it. And as I say the drama of passing him and giving him a licorice allsort.
Carlton Reid 18:17
As a road historian and I’m also I love the fact that you’ve pretty much pinpointed the exact spot on the road, where there really ought to be a plaque that or some sort of, yeah, hanging there.
Jeremy Wilson 18:29
Somebody said that to me. A guy called John Churchman who was a marshal on the Otley 12 hour, because they were the club that organised it. And it took quite a lot of work to figure it all out. And we really worked hard to make sure we got it right. Someone called Phil Hurt from the Yorkshire Road Club found me the course. Then John Churchman and a guy called George Baxter, who was also a marshall. So they were at different points in the route so they could help me with with knowing exactly where it was that Beryl passed. And also you could there was a lot in the results sheets, and just the media reports at the time and what Beryl and Mike McNamara had said we got it to pretty much the precise stretch of road it was a long stretch of road where you could definitely see somebody in the distance and as I say that was borne out in Beryl’s recollections of it where she could see his jersey in the distance and wasn’t initially certain that it was him. So yeah, for the final chapter, the epilogue of the book, we I cycled the finishing circuit with Denise, Beryl’s daughter, and we sort of pulled over at that point into the had a look up and down the road and just tried to think what you know, her mum might think of what we were doing, actually and Denise sort of surprised me because she took off her she was wearing she had another jersey on top and she took off her and put her Morley she had her Morley club jersey on which is the jersey that her mother always always the club but her mother always raced for and she sort of said I thought I’d put it on for her. And she she didn’t know where it was on the course herself, even though she actually lives quite close, probably only about 10 or 15 miles away. She didn’t she didn’t know where it was, it was another thing because it just her mother was a very sort of Yorkshire person, you know, not much emotion, not much, certainly no showing off or dwelling on anything or no trophies up in the in the house, or she was always on to the next thing. And so she wouldn’t. They weren’t the sort of people that would have really kind of made a fuss about where it was and how it happened. Obviously I did. But, you know, she just didn’t she didn’t know she was that? Oh, I didn’t know this was where the 12 hour happened. I was there. You know, she was there in the car. That day is about an eight year old fortnight. Right? Yeah. 11 year old she would have been but she wasn’t actually she didn’t know which bit of road it was that it happened.
Carlton Reid 21:00
Yeah, that’s fascinating. There definitely should be a plaque. Let’s actually dig into your background. Because we haven’t mentioned that yet. So you’ve obviously been somewhere warm recently, if you want to talk about that. And yeah, and if you could tell us what your kind of your day job is. And then tell us your background in cycling.
Jeremy Wilson 21:20
Yeah, so my day job is, I’m a sports journalist at the Telegraph, but principally doing a lot of football. So I’ve just been to the World Cup in Doha and back after the last 16 phase. So and I’ve been doing that, really, for 20 years, I was at a local newspaper in Hampshire and then worked for The Guardian and The Telegraph for the last 15 years. So look, lots of football but some other sport as well. But I’ve done a few Olympics, and I love doing other sports. But obviously football is so dominant in the kind of sports news cycle, I do end up doing a huge amount of football. And the book really came about because somebody was interested in me doing a book about football and kind of the geo politics of football with the ownership now of teams, obviously from you know, by virtual nation states or some of the richest people in the world that we know about clubs like Manchester City and Paris St Germain and obviously Chelsea before with Roman Abramovich
Carlton Reid 22:26
And Newcastle where I live.
Jeremy Wilson 22:28
And Newcastle now, yeah, that was the premise of this meeting about sort of, and I kind of, I obviously do a lot of stuff around that day to day and I wasn’t that sort of keen to do that for whatever reason and sort of what have you got any book ideas and I was a club cyclist as a as a, as a kid. My family was sort of club cyclists. So I kind of knew the name Beryl Burton, because I was a bit of a sort of stats nerd and I’d look at, you know, records and times and who who’d won the most FA cups and even won, you know, in any sport who’d won an Olympic medals. And, and I remember we had, we used to get this handbook through the post every year, which was the it was called the RTTC Handbook of events for Britain cycling events in Britain, and it had the list of all the champions and records. And I distinctly remember this thumbing through it and, and reading and saying, he’s this, because Beryl Burton won 122 national titles. So the back of this book, it was just B and B. And I remember, I can vividly remember this. I’m not just sort of, it’s not sort of recollection that’s kind of embellished in any way. I remember seeing that 12 hour record that we just talked about, where she bettered the men’s record. And I remember looking at it and seeing it in this book and saying, Oh, this must be wrong. Oh, this is a misprint. And so I think somewhere in my subconsciousness Beryl Burton’s name was, was lodged. And then when, obviously, I didn’t do anything about it for a few decades, and but post 2012 when there was all this publicity, rightly so for all the cyclists that had done so well in the Olympics, and that generation of British cyclists and sort of Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton, Chris Hoy. I was kind of at that time, there were all these lists of the greatest British sports person are the greatest cyclists and I was looking at them as thinking, what about that Beryl Burton, you know, and I just, I knew she had won loads and loads and loads and obviously she wasn’t being given anything like, due billing in these in these sort of lists of sports people even though she would have surpassed any of them if she would have had a Olympics available to her or had a Tour de France available to her. So it got me it got me back interested and I looked at her her book, which was published in the mid 1980s, Personal Best, and sort of research the story a bit more, and just discovered all these wonderful tangents and sort of subplots because I mentioned her childhood illness, just her relationships with her husband who sort of gave everything up to support her, her daughter, who she ended up competing with just how she went on and on and kind of the circumstances of her early death. You know, when I, when I came back to it and look to hadn’t even realised I wasn’t sure whether she was alive or dead, I just knew that she was this phenomenal athlete. And so I suppose when the more I looked into it from a sort of journalistic point of view, I thought, wow, there’s some fascinating subplots here that you could really get into, you know, the competition with the Soviet Union riders was another one. You mentioned the wind tunnel and you know, how trying to work out how far she is. So there was all this extra stuff from a journalist point of view that I thought, wow, that’s amazing. I think if she just won loads and loads and loads, and there wasn’t a sort of fascinating human interest story, I would have sort of thought, well, you know, is there a book in all of that, but there was just so much else and my eyes were kind of widening, and my jaw was falling closer to the ground, when I sort of the more I learned about her really just thought, this is just an incredible story. And then fortunately, because it wouldn’t have been any fun. And it wouldn’t, I wouldn’t have done it, if the family were sort of very resistant to the idea. And it’d be wrong to say that they were sort of out there, encouraging it, or say, you know, looking for people to sort of amplify her achievements. They’re very sort of humble, not on social media, and not sort of shouting about barrel, but quietly, very proud. And it was a relationship where you sort of build trust over months and years really with them, because it was a four year process, from starting the book to being published, and more than a for just over four years. So they weren’t, as I say, they weren’t looking for it. But equally, I think they liked that they liked the fact that someone seemed to really appreciate what she had done, and really just thought she was as incredible as obviously, privately, they, you know, in a very, as I say, in a very sort of understated way they, they basically agreed that, you know, that she was she was just this incredible athlete that hadn’t got the recognition that she deserved. And they’re just sort of lovely, as I say lovely, kind of humble people that didn’t, they weren’t sort of bragging about barrel, but really proud of her. And also kind of got got this was really important, they understood that you kind of needed to tell the whole story. And we needed to deal with the more difficult parts of her character, like anybody would have, you know, in the difficult parts of the family relationships like anybody would have, but they didn’t, they didn’t shy away from that or say, you know, and, and not want you to speak to someone who might be critical of her, they kind of got that you had to tell it as it was, in fact, I almost got the sense from Denise that she probably got a bit weary sometimes just reading very sort of short superficial things saying you know, that Jan barrel burned, she was amazing, wasn’t she wonderful, full stop sort of thing. She, she, you know, there was a lot more to her story than, than that and a lot more to her personality than that. And fortunately for me, they were they were happy with me sort of delving into that as well as all the fabulous achievements because it’s all interlinked, obviously, and it wouldn’t make sense to do it in any other way. But you never really know how a family member is going to react and to you sort of asking things that you know, quite might feel quite personal but they kind of have that Yorkshire honesty about them, you know, and we’re quite happy to deal with it in the round but obviously they want it they felt it should overwhelmingly be a celebration of her life which hope hopefully it is but it still in that context of of dealing with it as a whole and trying to tell the whole story. So that was that was so important to the project that they were as they were and it made it such a pleasure as well and I’ve said this a few times and I’m on it I truly mean it you know it’s lovely to get on people saying nice things about the book but to have a sort of friendship now with with them and you know, get nice messages from them and Denise is you know, always happy to come to things where we talk about it and the book as well and that’s like the nice been the nicest part really of getting to getting to know them and that that part of Yorkshire so I’m really lucky on that sense that they were as they were about the book.
Carlton Reid 30:01
In those four years of writing, you must have been thinking, from a commercial point of view, perhaps even from a professional point of view, you really ought to be doing a football book, that book you talked about. And this is like, you might be thinking, you know, this is so nice, okay, you might win, you know, cycling of the book year award. But, you know, this is just not mainstream enough. But you’ve made it mainstream. So did you have that inkling of this is so niche, why am I doing this? Or was it always I want to get this story out there. This is really mainstream, and I can make it mainstream. What were your feelings?
Jeremy Wilson 30:34
I did. I mean, that did it did occasionally crossed my mind that you because obviously, it’s quite a lot of, you know, without sort of tunnel way all about the process of it. There’s so many little obstacles or tricky bits or hard moments or parts where other things are going on in your life, when you think, Oh, am I sort of, you know, being a bit hard on my family? And I’ve got two young children and you sort of doing job as well? Are you sort of, you know, is it a bit of a sort of it should I be doing, you know, keep ploughing on with this. But that genuinely just that I didn’t think that much about how it would be received, or whether it’d be mainstream or niche, whether I kind of just stuck with the fact that I thought it was an amazing story. So I kind of hoped that other people would agree. And also, I just felt genuinely such a passion for it myself. And so interested in it myself, I just wanted to do it, I wanted to find out more, I wanted to write about it. So it wasn’t a hardship really to, to do that, rather than something that might be more obvious commercially, because I just thought, wow, this is such an amazing sports story. You know, I’ve been doing lucky enough to do sports journalism for 20 years. And to me, it’s like the most amazing story that I’ve ever come across. So why wouldn’t I want to keep going with it. So that was what keeps you going. It’s just like, wow, this is amazing. And I don’t think you can worry too much about it. I didn’t quite know how it would turn out. But I didn’t sort of think that much about it. Because I was so sustained by my own passion for it really, and just No, of quite, it sounds a bit funny, but it’s quite sort of, you know, you think about it all the time. And you think and I feel quite emotional at times just thinking about the 12 hour record of certain rides, or certain the way she carried on and stuff like that. So it just completely got me, you know, at so many levels that it just wasn’t there, I wasn’t going to stop and I wasn’t going to not do it. Because I was just so into it. Funnily enough, Denise said something to me the first time I met her in it. And I thought about it often. Because I think she sort of met me and thought, Well, we’ll see whether he completes or not really, you know, which is fair enough. I think the same if some stranger come and met me and said, I would like to do this. And she said something about her mother. And she said, and then she says related it to me. She said, Well, if someone really wants to do something they’ll do it. Sounds quite simple, really. And she said that about her mother as well at different times that you can’t really someone really wants to do something, they will find a way to do it. And, and so it wasn’t in a way it wasn’t that hard to get it done. Because I just love the story and so much I really wanted to do it. So yeah, it obviously does take over your mind at different sections. And it was important to balance my day to day work with it. But yeah, just such a fascinating story that I think that was what sustained me, you know, it wasn’t anything to do with whether it did well or not really, it was just it was just I wanted to tell that story. And I think if you have that sort of passion for it, you’re probably on the right tracks because nine times out of 10 other people will find it interesting as well. And there’s so many people that had stories about Beryl as well that you know, even today, even though this last week, I get messages literally every week from people who haven’t read the book sort of have it prompts them a memory or prompt something because she was so out there she was so as Maxine Peake would put it, ordinary extraordinary so so there was all these everyday encounters that people had with her. And I just loved I loved hearing them I still do you know sometimes sometimes wish I wish I knew that before I wrote the book, but mostly
Carlton Reid 34:31
I’ll just jump in there because Maxine Peake of course is the person who wrote the play about Beryl which would brought her back much more into into public consciousness, you know, those those few years ago? So had you seen the play before?
Jeremy Wilson 34:46
No. Do you know what I didn’t know what people thought it might have been prompted by the play. It absolutely wasn’t. But I was delighted when I the first thing I did was listen to the radio play on Radio Four and then I went to see it And I’ve seen it to twice now I went once with Beryl’s, brother, Jeffrey, it was on in Beverly. And we went along and watched it. And then I watched it when it was on in London as well. But I was delighted when I discovered that there was a play because it was kind of like another thing that I thought, well, that’s interesting that people have sort of outside of cycling, have connected with it on that level. And it’d be good to speak to Maxine Peake and understand why she was so interested in the story. So I discovered the play, obviously, fairly early on in the research. And it was just an as I say, another thing that I thought, Well, that’s good, you know, that shows that it’s got a sort of a pool outside of cycling. But it wasn’t it as I said, it wasn’t it wasn’t a trigger to do it. But it was, it was something you couldn’t obviously you couldn’t help but stumble across it fairly quickly when she’s once I started researching. And it was just a really nice extra thing, because it was just fascinating to talk to people who weren’t into cycling the actors, and Maxine Peake herself about what it was about Beryl that had sort of touched them and connected with them. And it definitely has brought it to a wider audience because quite a few of the people I’ve spoken to someone like Dame Catherine Granger, who was a Olympic medalist, as most of your listeners will know, in five Olympics in rowing, she found she discovered Beryl Burton via the play, and sort of was really moved by the these folks, singers O’Hooley & Tidow And did they have to get that right? They wrote a song about they’re all on the back of seeing the play. So it definitely was something that connected with quite a lot of people outside of cycling.
Carlton Reid 36:49
And coming back to you again. Are you a transportation cyclist as well as having that club background?
Jeremy Wilson 36:56
Yeah, to some extent, probably is not as much as I should be. But I do. Yeah, I’ve got a couple of bikes. And I do kind of got ones that I will get out on the road a bit further on in a sort of mountain bike to get around on but I love I love cycling as well. I do love cycling, but not not fast and not competitively, but do a few sport teams. And my my kids are in a cycling club in Hampshire as well. So I go along and and sort of watch them do cyclocross and stuff like that. So, yeah, I love I love cycling. And it’s, as I say, it’s something that my dad was a sort of touring cyclist. So I suppose that’s how we that’s how we came to it. But yeah, I think it’s a it’s a, it’s a brilliant sport. And obviously a real great, healthy, pursuit. When you look at as a discovered from big, big difference from footballers, you can’t you don’t meet many footballers, sadly, that farewell in you know, really late older age above the age of 80. But cyclists there, there are numerous those that are
Carlton Reid 38:04
quite going on, vary, but it’s true. So the transportation cycling in the book is fascinating, you know, that those, you know, long distance ride, she would do the opposite the ride when she died was was a transportation cycling, and then, you know, taking Denise as a baby and then in a trailer, and then on the back all quite modern things to do. Now, you know, this is a middle class, you know, thing to the, you know, like a Copenhagen style, Dutch style thing to do. But, you know, she was doing that, you know, in effect ahead of the curve. So her transportation cycling was just amazing. feats of cycling, amazing, of course, but just she went everywhere by bike and the family and there’s beautiful pictures in the book of you know, Denise, and Charlie, and Beryl, you know, riding together so she, she really lived cycling, did everything on the bike, didn’t she, I mean, she, if she got on the bike, those three hours of ironing she had to do every day, I’m sure she’d love to, to go on a bike.
Jeremy Wilson 39:08
It’s a brilliant thing. Not that many people pick up on that. But it’s such a great point because I think there’s probably a link to why she was so good as well, because she was doing lots of sort of easy miles on the bike, as well as the kind of what she would consider serious training. But she rode her bike everywhere. And she would, she would sort of say I don’t I have a break from cycling in the winter. And she’d really start again in January after the season when sort of end around September. But of course she didn’t stop at all really it was just in her mind. She stopped because she she very much differentiated between those kind of casual cycling and when she was training, but she would at the end of September every year when the world championships were done, and she’d won the British best all rounder for the time trialling when all the races are done, they’d go off on holiday and and Denise would miss the first two, three weeks of the school school term. I didn’t really think much of worrying about that. And they’d go to the, especially when you think of the late 1960s, early 1970s go to Morocco, Sicily, around Italy, France, really quite Canary Islands really quite far out places for for that, you know, for that for that time, and just incredible stories of these touring holidays where they’ve just cycled sort of 30, 40 miles a day. And yet, Denise, that one one daughter, who was Beryl was 18, when she had Denise, she just became part of the cycling routine. So should there be start off on a on a sort of sidecar side carriage kind of thing. Then she was on the seat on the back, no helmet on No, not much strapping in that thing in those days. And then she was on something called a Rann trailer, which looks a bit like a tandem, but it’s slightly different than a tandem. And then when she was about eight or nine was plunked on her own bike and basically it was right there you go if you want to, if you want to go to anything, that’s how you get there you go on your bike and wet and quite often Beryl and would be away for the weekend cycling and Denise it from about the age of nine which simply cycle you know, 11 miles from Woodlesford where they lived to Morley just sort of south of Leeds, both of those two places on her own, you know, to our grandmothers for the weekend. And they went everywhere by bike so if Beryl raced in London she might 50 mile time trial on a Sunday morning, she very often cycle home at the A 170 miles, or she would if you went to a dinner dance. At the end of season all the clubs held their dinner sort of dances should should take a dress in the saddlebag cycle there, go to this event, you know, help wash the dishes afterwards and cycle home again at night. So just went everywhere by bike, she never learned how to drive. So all her shopping trips to work. She worked on a rhubarb farm and she had cycled to work. Everything she did, she’d go for a month, early, early season sort of February, March time to Spain every year. And she would just fly to it was near sort of Mallorca type. No. Gonna get this wrong. Sort of Benidorm, I’m sorry, that’s what’s in my brain, she would sometimes go to Mallorca, but Benidorm was her normal one, and she would just fly there, get off the plane, have a saddle bag full of stuff for the next month and cycle to, you know, very sort of basic apartment. And she would and just train there for a month every year. So she did everything by bike. And as I say, sports scientists were quite interested in that as well, in terms of the kind of easy miles you know, we know the stories of the great African runners and how they kind of walk everywhere and go to, from a young age go to sort of job to school. So it’s the kind of easy, easy activity miles that she was doing, were probably a great foundation for for why she was so good. I mean, she must have we I tried to wake it work it out at one point, how many miles she might have accumulated in her life. And it wasn’t much of a million when you added it all up, because she was riding three 400 miles a week. And as I say, even when she was out of training, she was cycling the whole time. But she had a very clear dividing line, she would sort of say, oh, no, I’m not training at the moment. But she’d still be out on our bike every day. Yeah, that was a real big part of what she did. And they would, that’s one of the things that the older cyclists would regularly point out to me how different it is now because when people race now they’re in the car, to the bike on the roof or bike on the back, get out there, get on the back of it get on some rollers, or a turbo trainer, which is a stationary thing to warm up. And then they will race that’s kind of how how nearly all people who raised do it now whereas Beryl’s generation, you’d, you’d have these hooks on the front of the of the handlebars, and they would put their race wheels on there. And so they’d have these wheels sort of dangling off the handlebars, and they would cycle out to the race, change their wheels race and cycle back. That, you know, that was just how how they did it in that time. But as I say, it’s interesting because I think from a sports science point of view, quite a lot of what she was doing was obviously helping her hugely without quite knowing it as an athlete as well as just the fact she obviously just loved riding her bike everywhere.
Carlton Reid 44:56
And of course, famously and from a narrative you know circularity point of view for somebody writing a book she died on a bike as well as she’s delivering birthday invitations in going through Harrogate. She basically keels over. I actually read from your book here now, rather than you know, flicking through and finding it so this is a bit where you describe how she dies on our bike basically. So “it is a unique and yet instantly recognisable sound, the wearing of a bicycle wheel freely rotating until it slowly stops not because a brake has been applied, but because the momentum from that last push up pedal has gradually ceased. It was the dading — this is beautiful this — it was the fading sound that accompanied the last breath of Beryll Burton, after she collapsed on the side of the road in May 1996, while riding her bicycle on the outskirts of Harrogate while delivering invites for her 59th birthday.” So that’s kind of evocative, but also so circular. It’s almost perfect, but I know nobody wants to die, of course, but as her has Denise pointed out in the book, I mean, if she wanted to die, or you know, she would definitely want to die on a bike and she wouldn’t want to get old and be infirm. She kind of … it’s almost too perfect. It’s weird but it’s perfect.
Jeremy Wilson 46:16
Yeah, no, and I was a bit there was a sort of hesitation in almost describing it in those terms, because obviously you’re describing such a tragic event. But they did that was very much how the family felt obviously they wished it would have been decades later. But they definitely that there was a comfort that she died doing what she loved. And you know, a moment where she would have probably been lost in her thoughts because she just loved she would say that she loves cycling for the mental side as well how it just freed her of the sort of stresses and worries of the world which I think a lot of people exercise and cycle for that reason. So you’d imagine she would have been in a in that that mode whilst whilst whilst that happened and there was a quote as well from her when Tom Simpson famously then sort of France cyclist died on his bike going up Mt Ventoux in the Tour de France has different circumstances because he was racing to the point of exhaustion, exhaustion at the time, but it was reported that his last words were put put me back on my bike. There’s no again, it’s a story that might not be 100% accurate, but Beryl, there was a quote from Beryl that I found where she said he could have no finer epitaph than than saying that so I think it gave you a clue as to how she might view the circumstances of her own death, but obviously, just decades, sooner than everybody would have wished. But that yeah, there there is a sort of Maxine Peake said there’s a poetry to how that happened. And and as I say, the family different I know, both her brother and daughter do take some comfort from the fact that that was that was how she how she died, the jockey AP McCoy that he was the 20 times champion jockey I spoke to him about Beryl because I was interested in how the longevity it was very similar to him to keep going that number of years. And he he was very taken with the circumstances of Beryl’s death, and he said, it’s perfect as well, you know, because, and he said that if he felt the same, because obviously he’s stared down the barrel in a different way, when he’s fallen off horses, and you know, it’s a sport where there are fatalities and he he was very quite moved by that and taken by that and said that as well. And it was that that stuck with me as well that sort of mindset of somebody who’s so passionate about their sport but as he and Denise said it was just sort of you just was wished it would have been when she was in her late — thirty years later — was but yeah, very, very sort of that that does really you know, get to me to think about that you know, is is very evocative as you say and moving.
Carlton Reid 49:18
It’s quite unusual and not not just in the you know, the fact you didn’t get to 80 years old, but when when cyclists die as we all know it tends to be you know, when when motorists knock into them and kill them so you know, Davide Rebellin, Italian cyclist is just died by getting hit by motorists. So that’s how cycling stars tend to die. Many cyclists tend to die is getting hit by by by motorists, but she’s just keeled over at the side of the road. There was no other involvement. Nobody, nobody saw it happen exactly. But there was no talk of it. You know, she was not knocked from her bike, her heart gave out.
Jeremy Wilson 49:54
Yes, yes. Yeah, absolutely. There wasn’t like an early media report that sort of assumed that that was the that there must have been some sort of road traffic incident. But no, that wasn’t that wasn’t the case. And no, she was that there was a sort of full post mortem. And now it was she had anaemia as well. And it was her cause of death was heart failure and anaemia. But I think from the, I mean, Denise was kind enough to let me see the medical report from the post mortem. And, you know, it was it obviously, her heart had, there was this defect in it from, as I say, from a from a child, and that was very evident in the, in the post mortem so that she had reason she had reason she was risking her life every time she went out on her bike that there was no she was she and she was told that repeatedly through her life. So it wasn’t, in a way, it wasn’t a surprise that she should have that problem. It was one of those situations, which was a horrible shock. But, you know, rationally wasn’t a surprise because she had she had been told this throughout her life that she was, she was taking
Carlton Reid 51:06
Say it was it was it was part and parcel of her life as a cyclist, because it’s it’s, you know, her formative life in the convent that that that illness you had as a child, which would use, you know, quite expertly pick out in the book about like how super athletes, super-elite athletes often have some form of trauma in their childhood, which, which then drives them on to be these amazingly single minded hyperfocused and never satisfied with just one when they’ve got to keep on winning. So that heart problem she had as a child, which obviously, sadly died from was also probably the reason she actually had that career in the first place as a side. Yeah. So in that, that illness, and that, you know, time in the convent drove her and changed her mental makeup.
Jeremy Wilson 51:58
Yeah, absolutely. I think it was absolutely key, I don’t think it was the only thing. I got to the point with it, because it really interesting that that there was some research done in British Olympic athletes. And they found that they grouped them as elite or super elites, and the super elites were the kind of repeat winners, the absolute relentless winners, which barrel would have been one of those. And they had found this sort of staggering proportion that had had some sort of childhood trauma, which could be quite different. It could be sort of parents separating some sort of, you know, violence in the family, or some very, very different types of trauma, potentially. And Beryl’s was that she had this awful illness as a child. But it was really common in these high achievers that seem to galvanise or give them a driving force or sort of need to win a need to succeed and need to do their very best. And she obviously had that I think she also, she, her brother talked a lot to me about her childhood and their family. And she obviously came into it with a great sort of, she already had a kind of perfectionist type personality and a stubborn stubbornness. He, he called it the Charnock way, which was her her maiden name and and said, It was evident in a lot of family members very sort of stubborn, determined people. And then I think the other I think the other factor was what Beryl then was fortunate to discover coming out of the illness because she met Charlie, her husband, who was a club cyclist. And she was fortunate that this group of cyclists in Morley in just outside Leeds, were just so welcoming, so supportive, so but very competitive, as well. So she, the people who are the experts on this childhood trauma, say that it’s kind of three factors, you’ve usually got some inherent characteristic, and you’ve also got a supportive structure around you at the end of it. So it’s kind of not something you recommend, you wouldn’t recommend trauma to people obviously. And it can, it can be very destructive, but but with with those things around it with those inherent characteristics, and also the right support around you afterwards, it seems like it can be this added catalysts that can drive someone to amazing things. And with barrel you can vary, and that was kind of a theoretical model. But with Beryl, you can very clearly identify those other components that they talked about. Because she she she found this brilliant environment to to cycle in that was very progressive, because a lot of cycling clubs wouldn’t allow women but she She, at that time, but she she happened upon one that was welcoming to her and then they obviously became to love the fact that they had this incredible person in their club, and they were really proud of her and really supportive of her. So I think that was important as well.
Carlton Reid 54:58
She was very clearly proud of them too. Because I mean there was a quote but that you mentioned the book where and this is this is her words she’s one of another one of her amazing victories and she said “I have knocked up another victory for Morley and Great Britain” so not you know victory and for Great Britain I’m so it’s like she mentioned have cycling club first, my Great Britain is almost as a as an afterthought.
Jeremy Wilson 55:21
Yeah, that oh, she was was she never she was offered many times to be professional. But there it wasn’t professional in the terms of we think of professional cycling team. Now there was no races or team that you could you didn’t it didn’t open the door to some continental scene of earning lots of money and riding in better races, being professional just meant that you became an advertising tool for a bike company. And there were certain records placed to place records that you could go for. But you wouldn’t you would then be not allowed to race in any of the time trial events, any of the World Championships that she went for, because it was very strict that the line between amateur and professional, so going professional would have been financially quite good because she would have advertised bikes but she would have made no she would have had no very quickly ended her competitive career. So she very firmly stuck with writing for Morley Cycling Club and never went to a kind of a bigger club or anything like that. And she was incredibly loyal and would always talk about them. And I loved meeting all the personalities from the Morley Cycling Club because a lot of them were still alive. And you know, they were Beryl’s, they were Beryl’s team, they were Beryl’s support structure at that time and just again, very, very down to earth. Club minded, brilliant Yorkshire people who are so so so proud of Beryl you know, some of them have got one of them still have one of her world championship, jerseys, rainbow jerseys and
Carlton Reid 56:56
hidden away that nobody knew.
Jeremy Wilson 56:58
He had it under his bed. He went and got it. It was like it was it was still pristine. And he said, I’ve never worn it because when Beryl gave it to me, she said, You can have this but mind you never wear it because you didn’t earn it. And that was the kind of she wanted him to have the jersey but she was like, it’s it’s you haven’t got the right to wear it. But he was so it was in a in a plastic bag. And they kept it look, it looks, although it looks of the age 1960s and was made of sort of cotton, sort of silk it was still it was still perfectly maintained. So they were so proud of her and she was very you’re proud of Yorkshire she would in one of the World Championships, it’s very noticeable. She’s got this too, too. Russians either side of her with the CCCP or Soviet Union jerseys and she’s got a jersey, she hasn’t got a British jersey on that podium. She’s just got the Yorkshire rose on it on it thing she’s wearing. So yeah, very, very proud of that. Of her of her club and, and background. And Morley was very supportive to her because the archives in Morley at the local library have kept one of the really interesting sort of discoveries that kept all this correspondence between Beryl and the Morley town council because they would organise these civic receptions for her when she came back, and they’d raise money, that it was a mill town so that all the workers in the mills and social clubs would club together and sort of raise 100 pounds or something for Beryl. So that to help with her being able to go and cycle abroad in these World Championships. So she had this great relationship with Morley, and they’re wonderful these letters, because they’re very formal to, you know, to and from the town council and Beryl, you know, inviting her to different receptions or, you know, helping with the kind of fun, you know, raffles and, you know, very basics of funding that you could tell that the town really got behind her in that way.
Carlton Reid 59:03
And some of that funding, which which she couldn’t spend any other way was was, didn’t she spend it on, in effect, a record player?
Jeremy Wilson 59:10
Yeah, yeah, for a long time it got to a point where, and Denise that was one of the things that Denise was sort of she was I wondered where that had come. She goes, Oh, that record player still, I think she went and got it for me. She that was in every one of her houses. But it there was a letter from about 19. There’s about 1964 There was some money left over from an event that they had funded Beryl to go and do in Italy. And they were sort of like, well, what, what should we do with it? And they and they weren’t allowed to give the money to Beryl there was this great exchange of letters and they’d written to the British Cycling Federation, and they were like, no, if you give her that 50 pounds or 40 pounds or whatever it was, that was leftover. It might have been a bit less than that. Yeah, that will break that will convene her amateur that will break her amateur status and she will never be allowed to So called for Britain again. So they had to find but they said it is okay to buy her something. And so she chose a record prayer. And there’s a letter she wrote back to them saying, you know, really polite to sort of graciously thanking them for this this gramophone record player that she wanted. And as I say, Denise, wondering how they afforded it.
Carlton Reid 1:00:29
you knew more about the family for certain things.
Jeremy Wilson 1:00:32
Yeah, yeah. Cos, as I say, Beryl wasn’t one for talking about things that much when she she had, she got cancer later in life and had to go for an operation and for mastectomy, and Denise said, Oh, she didn’t tell me till she was in hospital. And she was kind of like, Well, why didn’t you come and see me sooner? And she’s like, well, I didn’t. I didn’t know. So that was, that was just how, how, how it was, I think, that was the way they, you know, they were the way they were. So yeah, she did. She did learn a bit from from from the book as well, which was nice. Obviously, I learned much more from her, but did learn something from the book.
Carlton Reid 1:01:16
And it was amazing what she’s, she’s turning down to to keep that amateur status, you know, things like contracts with Raleigh. And they got to like, the Cycling Industries Federation, you know, gave them an early version of the Reliant Robin, which was, which was like a Raleigh-branded car originally. So they got that. So that that was that was one thing, which they were but they were basically she could have got massive, like Reg Harris style contracts, if she had have gone, you know, one way, but she was very adamant that she didn’t want to go that way.
Jeremy Wilson 1:01:51
Yeah. And Reg Harris was trying to get her to because I think he saw an opporunity, I sense the saw an opportunity to, to sort of represent her because he wrote this great article about, you know, she should turn professional and she could have a future on the on television and after dinner circuit and sort of earn money in that way. But that was when she was only about it was after she had won about her fourth world title. So she would have only been in her mid 20s at that point. I mean, she cycled for another, she was winning titles for another 20 years after that. And it’s so misunderstood what she stood for and what she loved doing this idea that she wanted to be a celebrity rather than a racing cyclist just couldn’t have been anything further from the truth. She never she never had a TV in the in her house because she thought that it might distract her from a cycling you know, never had a phone in the house. Because she thought she didn’t want to be distracted from what she needed to do for her cycling. So the idea that she wanted to be a sort of use it to be a kind of sporting celebrity was just so far from what she wanted to do. I imagine the money at some point must have been tempting they came there was it’s as I say it’s in she describes it in some Cycling Weekly articles of the time, you know, Raleigh would turn up they were living in a two bedroomed council house in Morley. You know, Charlie would do the bikes in the corridor of this council flat. It was a it was a I had a look at it, it was just blocks of house you know, house flat. And he would do the maintain all the bikes in the in the sort of freezing cold corridor in the winter of the of this of this place in Morley, where they lived up until she was a fight that a move when she was she had already won five world titles when they moved and Raleigh kept coming to this to this address with, you know, different contracts for her. But she always she always said no, but it must have been I imagine there must have been some temptation because they they were living very much week to week in terms of being able to afford to cycle, they both worked. And the working was just to facilitate being able to pursue her passion. So I guess there must have been a temptation, but she knew that it would have as I say, because of this strict enforcement between amateur and professional, she knew that it would have been the end of her ability to race basically, in all the things that were meaningful to her. So it was absolutely the right choice for her and just so again, kind of there’s something so noble about her career now where we see sort of modern sport, it would be so different now is something so pure and genuine and about it and actually, in fairness or you know, modern sports people, I think roots still have that basic passion for what they do. It’s probably not their fault, but there’s all the other stuff that’s attached to it now, but I think that can change how they view their sport with some I’m for sure but never Beryl never face that because she just, she just was completely amateur completely did it for the love of the love of it.
Carlton Reid 1:05:11
We do share a sponsor in that she got a bike from Ron Kitching. And I also was sponsored in the 1980s by Ron Kitching who gave me stuff but then Ron Kit gave you know lots of cyclists Yes. stuff in obviously a Yorkshire and Rudding Park in Harrogate, which was, which was very much wereRon Kitching was from so she got she got a Ron Kitching bike. So she she rode that, but really didn’t get a great deal, said she, she wasn’t she wasn’t like, you know, no, absolutely dripping with with she just couldn’t
Jeremy Wilson 1:05:47
know the only things that she could get she she got she got this Reliant Robin car in 1960. Or the family did three wheeler, which Charlie would use to it wasn’t a Reliant Robin, as you say it was a three wheeler it was an early version of a three wheeler the Reliant Robins came later. And they would use it and there’s photographs in the book of it, you know, parked by the side of the road in Belgium and and Denise and Charlie were sleeping in the back of it. While Beryl’s becoming world champion in the age extraordinary kind of stories and this car went in became a bit of a sort of renowned sort of thing around the country because it would it would easily tip apparently, so it will quite often, it will quite often capsize in sort of ditches when Charlie was driving around the the roads trying to keep up with where a Beryl was. And people would have to come and sort of push it back up, right and stuff like this. So I heard lots of funny stories about this car was very well known to everybody. So they got that car in 1960 as a sort of reward it was for becoming she was double world champion that year. And other than that, there was a shoemaker that would that would, I don’t know if they were made any cheaper she’d have these quite often read shoes by someone in Northampton can called Peter Salisbury who would make these custom beautiful leather red shoes for her I don’t know the exact arrangement, as I say in terms of paying but Ron Kithcing. Charlie worked when they moved to Harrogate in 1976, Charlie worked in his bike shops, and I think she more or less had the run of things there, it wouldn’t have been a formal relationship, because you can be sort of sponsored, as I say, because of these rules about amateur and professional. But from what Denise tells me, I think I think she pretty much you know, she could she could borrow whatever she wanted from the bike shop by then. And obviously, Ron Kitching was pretty happy because his, his, his bikes were always in the sort of cycling magazines, because he would nearly all her records were on the sort of Ron Kitching bikes. So yeah, I think she had some help later on in that regard. But other than that, nothing, you know, absolutely nothing, and it would in fact, be have contravened the rules if she had. So she would know that there was there was some receipts at the BBC archive of her sort of, you know, claiming very precise expenses when she went in did sort of record breakers or something like that. And she wouldn’t, you know, very fair with what she claimed she wasn’t, there was no sort of making any money out of out of cycling. And she did tonnes of things for nothing. That was sort of promoting cycling, in terms of sort of TV appearances, or even, you know, she did a load of promotional stuff for the AA bizarrely, and she currently got paid nothing for it. But at that time, it was kind of like the prestige of being invited to shows or being invited to things was she’s she would say, Well, I want you know, I’ve got to I’m representing cycling as a sport and cycling was quite a minority sport at that time. So she thought that it was important that cycling was represented and it was a sort of honour for cycling to, to go to these things. So it was very much that way around in career.
Carlton Reid 1:09:12
Don’t I very much like to talk about some sexism in cycling, and that’s absolutely stands out in the book how staggeringly high the challenges that all women were facing in that era, not just bearable all women. But for now I’d like to actually cut to a commercial break. So let’s take this way with David.
David Bernstein 1:09:33
Hello, everyone. This is David from the Fredcast, and of course, the spokesmen. And I’m here once again to tell you that this podcast is brought to you by Tern Bicycles, the good people at Tern build bikes that make it easier for you to replace car trips with bike trips. Part of that is being committed to designing useful bikes that are also fun to ride. But an even greater priority for Tern is to make sure that your ride is safe, and worryfree. And that’s why Tern works with industry leading third party testing labs like EFBE, and builds it bikes around Bosch ebike systems which are UL certified for both electric and fire safety. So, before you even zip off on your Tern, fully loaded and perhaps with the loved ones behind, you can be sure that the bike has been tested to handle the extra stresses on the frame and the rigours of the road. For more information, visit www.ternbicycles.com to learn more. And now back to the spokesmen.
Carlton Reid 1:10:43
Thanks, David. And we are back with Jeremy Wilson. And Jeremy as as I’m sure you if you’ve been listening to the the rest of the show, you’ll know has wrote this incredibly fantastic multi award winning book on BB Beryl Burton and and before the break there I was I was kind of mentioning to to Jeremy if he could talk us through some of the amazing sexism you know, we think of today is it being fairly bad and it still is bad, you know, you know, the parity in prizes, all this kind of stuff. But back in the you know, the heyday when when Beryl was raising 50, 60s and early 70s it was off the scale, the sexism and the challenges that women riderss had to had to face back then. Even though they were clearly as as Jeremy talked about with the licorice allsorts story, she was as good as if not better than many of the top men of the of the day. So Jeremy, tell me about the kind of challenges she faced with officialdom so with the with the British Cycling Federation, with the UCI, famously, you know, what, what did she have to get above and beyond before she even had to, you know, athletically win?
Jeremy Wilson 1:11:57
Well, she was she was very unfortunate in one respect, because she was came along in a sport that where women weren’t allowed in the Olympics. So if she was an athlete, a runner, athletics, or swimmer, she would have they were into the Olympics 50 years before cyclists but for whatever reason, the UCI, which was the world governing body was very sort of male dominated body and wasn’t much interested in in promoting women’s cycling. And it was only it was actually a British woman called Eileen Gray, who was the great champion for getting women’s cycling recognised, and Beryl was, well, she was unlucky in that sense that she didn’t have those competitions available to her Commonwealth Games as well, it wasn’t it was the same position. Eileen Gray was successful in lobbying the UCI to have a women’s world championship events from 1958 onwards, and Beryl kind of first reach world class level in the late 1950s. So she was fortunate in that she at least coincided with World Championships, but only very basic amounts of World Championships. So it was a road race, a pursuit on the track, which is a timed three kilometre race and a sprint on the track. So there’s just three events open to women, which meant Beryl could go for two of those, which was the road race and the time trial. She wasn’t a fast sprinter. It’s a completely different discipline. They weren’t actually her best events, because now there’s a time trial had there been a time trial, she would have been invincible for 25 years, maybe 20 years, something like that. I mean, she was way better at time trialling than the shorter three kilometre pursuit or a road race, but she had those events available to her. And she was seven times world champion in those events. Still, no British cyclists has ever been a double world road race champion apart from Beryl, and no British and no cyclist in the world as one as many perceived medals as her so she’s still excelled. Even though these two events weren’t her absolute best events, but the sort of surrounding stories of the challenges women faced even in these events, even though they had them were vast because they would always sort of not be given the the tires or the kit that the men would they were always given less money for accommodation, less riders were allowed to go, who were women. And also the schedule, the UCI schedule would just shut the women’s races whenever there was a gap in the programme for the men, so they never knew when they were going to race. So when they were riding they would spend let arrive at the track sort of seven or eight in the morning and often be there till like midnight. And Beryl might not know when her sort of World Final would be exactly because it was always done at sort of discretion of the organisers and the organisers were this sort of male or in male committee And they kind of saw the women’s races as sort of an add on that weren’t really that important. So she had that throughout her world. World Championships career, I think where she was fortunate was the club scene in in in Britain as we touched upon the club that she joined Morley. It had women in it and it was very sort of family progressive club in in Yorkshire. Other cyclists at the time would tell me very, very different stories. A lady called Val Baxendine, who rode with Beryl in the World Championships in East Germany. She wrote a letter to try and join her local cycling club and was told well, you can you can you can come and make the tease for us at the event that you can’t join the Club. Eileen Cropper, another lady from Bradford, she knew Beryl very well, she said that she was allowed to join the club but she would they would put that because they didn’t like getting faster she said the lads would put bricks in my my saddlebag when we went out cycling to to slow me down and the prize is for women as well. You know, it’s almost quite comical now looking back, but there’d be things like hair curling tongs, a pouch of washing powder, and stuff like that would be what the women were given if they won if they won something, which and just the way that women cycling was reported as well was was you’d be I’d be sacked on the spot if if I sent in anything that was resembled what you would read in that sort of cycling magazines and national newspapers at the time. You know,
Carlton Reid 1:16:31
you’re the Yorkshire housewife and Yorkshire has that kind of thing?
Jeremy Wilson 1:16:36
Yeah, but also sort of, you know, slender legs that will be easy on the eye for any man or stuff like you know, vivacious bubbly, you know, good looking bubbly personality it was all very commenting on on, on the appearance of the cyclists as much as what they actually were doing. But that was obviously normal at that time because there it was in in sort of print and wasn’t really you know, it was sort of accepted of that’s how it was so very, very different times but obviously Beryl was vital because although she wasn’t a great one for sort of, she wasn’t out there campaigning all the time to for for inclusion in the way that Eileen Gray as I say she was her great champion was but what were Beryl was so crucial was just cuz she was so good, athletically so extraordinary, she completely changed perceptions of women, women’s athlete, women, athletes, and women’s sport and what they were capable of, because this was a time when women weren’t allowed to do marathons in in athletics. They didn’t think that it was almost safe for women to push themselves in long endurance sport. And then there was there was this woman that was actually beating the men in these events. So it completely changed how women’s endurance sport was viewed and respected as well, because you couldn’t obviously not respect somebody who was better than the better than the men at the time. So you had I suppose this kind of mixture of things I did, but I did in fairness sense that that British Time Trial scene was was in the context of a lot of sport was quite quite progressive in its sort of welcoming way. And now actually, the men who who rode with barrel that they love talking about her love her, you know, love, she’s sort of figure that, you know, on the sort of Facebook pages of this sort of oldest cycling in the 60s are these you know, they Beryl was a sort of absolute legend to these men that were sort of regularly kind of beaten by her. There was one guy that said that he was a good, very good cyclist in himself. And he was quoted as saying, if if Beryl Burton ever beats me, I’m gonna bury my bike, you can bury my bike in the garden, and his brother was a very good, good, very great rider Ray Booty who is the first rider to cycle under four hours for 100 miles. And he, there was a speech he gave, and he was telling the story of what his brother said about Beryl Burton, and he sort of just ended his speech with both events came to pass. I, he got beaten by Beryl and he had to bury his bike. I don’t know if the second is strictly true, but they had to get used to you know, they had to get used to the fact that there was this woman who was stronger than them and there was so many stories that I would hear. Along those lines, they’re kind of like folk hero type stories. There was a guy called Roy Caspell, who was the national 12 hour champion men’s champion, and he and Beryl did 100 mile time trial one morning and they were both they were first and second in the event, but Roy Caspell just beat Beryl they were both under four hours. For 100, which was very, very rare for a man or a woman at that time, and he narrowly beat Beryl but Beryl didn’t like the fact that she had she had lost and so she challenged him to to go for another ride through the Yorkshire Dales on the same day, and apparently he sort of they went and he sort of felt for his honour, he had to say yes. And he came back and one of his club mates said that when he came back, he was just begging for mercy. So it was an absolute, it’s actually said, He’s, she’s can’t remember the exact words, but it was, it was a
Carlton Reid 1:20:35
mess or something.
Jeremy Wilson 1:20:37
She’s not a wreck. Yeah, or something like that. And she was five foot six inch women, not, you know, eight and a half stone through this guy was six foot two at the absolute peak of his powers. So she’s just in terms of the respect that I think women’s sport gave, she was hugely important. And the other thing that she did do, she campaigned to have men’s and women’s races in the time trials together. So I mean, it was probably quite as from Beryl’s point of view, a selfish thing, because she wanted the competition, she wanted to ride in the men’s races as well. She was successful in that sort of campaign that she had, but that, mostly she was mostly she was important, I think, in that fight for equality, just because she was so extraordinarily good. As I say, someone could, Eileen Gray was this amazing campaigning figure in the committee rooms of the British Cycling Federation and the UCI, but there were lots of Beryl would have lots of problems throughout her career with the BCF the British Cycling Federation, they were, they were always quite awkward with what she wanted to do, and would try and get her to do different events and things like that. But quite interesting. And quite another thing, I think that’s a characteristic of someone who’s hugely successful, even when she was very young, she really stood up for herself, and she’d do what she wanted to do what she believed was right. And I think that’s it, you know, wasn’t worried about fitting in and doing, you know, not not ruffling feathers, she would, she would do exactly what she thought was right. And if they didn’t like it, you know, hard luck. And they would threaten a few times with her sort of the selection from World Championships because she would insist on doing lots of time trialling, and they wanted her to focus on other events, and they would back down in the end, because it would have looked ridiculous if they didn’t select her for these races. So she actually had sort of fractious relationship with the the governing bodies at different points in our career.
Carlton Reid 1:22:44
So in the book, you’re very, very, incredibly well demonstrated how amazing she is, as as a sports person, in general, compared to other sportsmen or how she ought to be up there with, you know, all the sporting greats. And then you mentioned in in the book about how, in 2016, the telegraph, your paper is one of the culprits of not because it’s they placed her at fifth in the list of Greatest British sports people, you know, behind Gavin Hastings, and Sandy Lyle. Now, do you think and this is a very, very difficult question for me to ask or for you to answer. But do you think with your book now, especially as we’re winning so many awards? Do you think she’ll be much, much further up that list? Now that you’ve been elevated?
Jeremy Wilson 1:23:33
I would hope so. I think obviously, you know, it’s going to have passed, it’s not going to have sort of it not everybody’s going to have noticed notice this and and other things that have been done to promote what she’s, you know, to amplify her achievements. But I think she would be now I do think I do think people and something that’s really interesting. I don’t know if people are just being polite. But when the title in search of Britain’s greatest athlete, I sort of thought I’d have a few people going sort of Yeah, right. Or no, no, that’s ridiculous for this reason, or, you know, whatever. But just isn’t. Nobody’s even tried to argue with the tough times and the Financial Times, reviews of both, both of them said, it’s not hyperbole that the title, and I haven’t come across anyone that sort of really sort of thought no, when you stop and think about it, sort of is a fair case to make there. So I think she would be a lot higher. There was a sort of poll of the sports journalists Association a couple of years ago for the greatest British women’s athlete, and she wasn’t even mentioned in this poll, and I was sort of do I sort of kick off social media about it? And I thought, I’ll wait till after my book, I don’t want it, you know, so it’s a bit early to sort of, and think Jessica Ennis Hill was sort of named as the sort of greatest ever British Britain’s greatest ever sports woman. And you know, as much as Jessica Ennis, who is is fantastic. And I’m not trying to knock what she’s done. If had Beryl had an Olympics open to her shoe in a time trial, she would have won the time trial, in my opinion every years from 1960 to 1980, which is six Olympics. At in adding the pursuit road race, you would have won a few of a few pursuits for sure, maybe one road race, something like that, you know, you’re looking at sort of Redgrave times Wiggins, and then a sort of Tour de France, if a women’s Tour de France was available to her, she would have annihilated the field in a in a, in an in an endurance event of that type day to day being having to ride along miles day after day. I mean, that would have suited her perfectly. So
Carlton Reid 1:25:51
on that on that subject, but let’s talk about you’re bringing her into the modern day, let me tell tell me about the the wind tunnel, and you put a you know, the rider on on the same bike, because you got you got the bike, and you’ve made conclusions from that. So just tell us about that bit.
Jeremy Wilson 1:26:07
Yeah, well, I wanted to try and find a way to sort of benchmark what she had done. And I knew that what she’d done was so phenomenal her times, because her times at the time, her records at the time were the 12 hours we touched on was was actually in excess of the men’s record of the day. But the 100, the 1500 miles, 50 miles, 25 miles and 10 miles, were all very close to the men’s record of the time, way closer than you would normally get not just in cycling, but in athletics swimming record. So she was obviously highly unusual in terms of how good she was. And her record lasted between 35 and 50 years, which again, is just completely unheard of, particularly in a sport where technology advances were so so big, you know, be completely unheard of in athletics, but you’re only really changing the shoe there or swimming where you’re just changing the trumnks, you know, it’s fairly marginal differences. Here we’re talking about a sport with the carbon fibre bikes, the aero bars, the helmets, the clothing, vast, vast improvements, and yet her records still lasted, you know, the 12 hour record lasted half a century. So I knew that I knew that she must be athletically completely out of the park. Unusual. So I was speaking to Chris Boardman about it. I interviewed him and we were talking about Beryl Burton, and he you know, he knew he got he got our autograph as a kid, he got approached to a race. And he said, Well, why? And I said, Is there a way of modelling it because he did a he did the our record on a super bike. And then he did he did the what they call the athlete’s Hour, which was on an old school bike with dropped handlebars, and there was about six or seven kilometre difference in an hour in the two records. And I sort of said how, you know, could you in any way there’s a wind tunnel at Silverstone which which the a lot of the professional teams in top amateur riders use to measure different bits of equipment because they can objectively just analyse the difference in times of various changes you can make to the bike or your position. So a guy called Xavier Disley does this for for some professional teams and as I say top athletes and top and he’s trying to invent things as well all the time to make the bikes faster. And he was like yeah, we could do that you know, it’s not not that difficult really. You just need to get somebody in the wind tunnel on barrels old bike or a bike similar to Beryl’s old bike similar build of person, old clothing, you know, he even said jokingly he said if you can get a wig that’ll be good and I was like okay, we’ll get it didn’t think I was but I did we I had to leave it down to get it to the right Beryl look, but I was pretty look at the photos they’re pretty close. And so we’ve got a cyclist called Jessica Rhodes Jones who’s a good time triallist now and she rode Beryl’s bike with the wig was kindly put the wig on and some of the old Morley cycling club let me the kit and and we did the same with her super bike now with all the carbon bike, Aero Club clothing and handlebars and everything. And he was you basically just measured the drag effect in the wind tunnel of the two and he from there he could then calculate what Beryl’s times would have been on the modern kit. And she came up faster still in the current record at 25 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles and 12 hours. So we were doing was literally changing the kit and nothing else. So you would have literally if you You could have picked up Beryl Burton from 1967 and plumped her in a time machine and plonked her on a super bike. And you know, she might have needed a day or so to get used to it. Although Jessica told me it is much easier to ride the new bikes than the old the one Beryl was riding, they’re much less comfortable. She would have still been beating the records that are out of date, despite changes in training, diet, Sports, Science, everything else, which is literally all we’re doing is picking Beryl up as an athlete and plunking her forward. So the 55 years, which I think is and he said to me, Dr. Disney, who did it, he said, I don’t think you could get an athlete in any sport where you could do that he just couldn’t believe that that was possible. Because even as I said it in athletics and swimming, the technological advances are much, much smaller. But the improvements in 50 years are still absolutely massive now, so it just kind of underlined again, I stayed out of the calculations, I wasn’t like I said to him, it just do it. I kind of expected it to show something amazing, but because because of the reasons I said at the start, but you obviously don’t know what he’s gonna come back with. So I was selfishly I suppose I was pleased that it showed how remarkable she was, but not not completely surprised. I would have been more surprised. If if it was I mean, you know, the 12 hour record was only first beaten five years ago. So I couldn’t see anywhere in the world that that that wouldn’t wouldn’t be much faster if she wasn’t on the if she was on the same kit that they use now. But yeah, as I say, I sort of stood back and let him Let him work it out. So great. And it’s actually that’s got quite a lot of interest as well, you know, that you could do something a bit different and something that’s sort of fairly objective, obviously, there’s going to be you can’t do something absolutely perfect to the second but it’s, it’s a fairly good, good, good guide, I think to how good she was.
You know, it’s a fascinating part of the book. There’s tonnes of fascinating parts of the book of course. So I’ve made 1000s of notes here and I could absolutely talk all day with you. And I am very very aware that we have actually been talking for an hour and a half Jeremy which is an awfully long time so thank you for that. Let’s let’s kind of end even though I could talk all day with you about belt but let’s just because she’s clearly hard as nails in in many different aspects of our life. But let’s just just this one I did talk I did say that we would bring Yvonne Reynders the great Flemish rider back in, and that’s just in one of the rides. And this is what Yvonne didn’t know. This particular bit. So just tell me about the ride. Where Charlie, excuse me, Beryl’s husband, she she’s basically had an injury. Yes. And she’s been in effect tied to a track bike. With with a leather toe strap. So tell me about that. Because that that that definitely tells you a lot about her as a person as a rider as an athlete.
Yeah, that was an amazing, amazing story. She said she was warming up for the World Championships. Off the top of my head. I remember it was Paris, I think it would have been 65 but but she was warming up with a lady called Val Rushworth who was a sprint one of the British sprinters so she was able to help me a bit with this story as well. But it’s in Beryl does tell this story in her book Personal Best as well. And so one of the male cyclists that they were warming up with actually just moved out across and wiped her out when they were do riding around the track to warm up, Beryl went down and great pain in a wrist and they didn’t know what it was is a good a good example of the sexism, Eileen Gray, the British team manager wanted to take her to the medical centre to get this looked at and they wouldn’t let her go in because she needed to be accompanied by a male doctor and need to be accompanied by a man. So the British women’s team manager was not good enough to accompany Beryl to get this checked out. So in the end, she found a medic from another team who sort of looked at it and they didn’t think she was gonna ride and it was obviously really painful. And in the end, it was what do we do, and they gave her an injection which numbs the pain, but she lost all feeling in a in a in her hand. So she couldn’t, she couldn’t clinch the handlebars with one of her hands. So she could with one. So she’s effectively riding one handed in a way. And they kind of thought, well, she won’t, she won’t be able to ride, you know, there’s no way she can ride. And she she, I think from memory, she did this in this it was before the semi final. She rode the semi final with it strapped and got and won. And then she was into the final against Yvonne Rynders. And that was one of the times where she didn’t win, she was silver medal that year. But obviously, she was at a huge disadvantage because of the fact that she had no feeling in one of her arms, but nobody could believe that she would actually ride, Val Rushworth couldn’t believe that she would she was going to ride but that was I think that was just that mentality of you sort of you get on with it, you get get on with it as kind of like what she would say about things. And you know, she had many crashes in life and was always she was always back on her bike as quickly as possible. But just amazing, really, because you would because it’s not just the the being one handed, it’s not just the steering, that would have been difficult. A lot of the power where you grip kind of comes from comes from your arms, it would have said would have must have been really difficult to not just control the bike, but go full out, and then just probably the whole shock of it. But that was what they
So when you say strapped, you know, people might think, oh, you know, people have put bandages around it. But this is actually literally strapped to the handlebars with a leather toe strap.
And yeah they just that was that was I guess that was that those sort of straps were what they used to kind of transport a lot of things at that time, like related things, you know, on the sort of roof racks and stuff like that. They were able to hold her that one thing I didn’t do was find a picture of this, which I would have loved to have found the finding the photography of the era was a whole nother kind of journey of discovery as well, which was which was great fun, but hard work. And I didn’t find I wanted to find a photo of that race, but I don’t know if there’s one out there. So I’m going by the kind of how it was told to me it but as I say Val Rushworth was there. And I met her and it’s recorded in Beryl’s book as well. So but she wasn’t one that would make a thing of it. She knows she didn’t Yvonne Rynders didn’t know, really what what was happening in another race where she had a knee injury when she she didn’t she was going for this record for 24 hours. She didn’t tell people that about the injury afterwards. It was almost deemed bad sportsmanship to kind of talk about talk about why you didn’t win in the immediate aftermath. So a lot of these stories would come out some time later. Because it was that was just the way you just sort of got on with it. And but Yeah, amazing story. There was another one where she did a two uptime trial where you ride with somebody else. And she had a guy called Malcolm Cowgill, who’s the guy that’s got her rainbow jersey preserved and she touched his back wheel and went down on a dual carriageway. And there’s blood sort of pouring down her face, legs and on a bike. And he went, went went stopped to check she was okay and kind of thought, you know, there’s no way we can fit, you know, said should we get an ambulance, what do you want to do? And she was like, No, we’re gonna finish and she got back on the bike and they said she was like cycling in front of me and shouting at me to go faster while bleeding away on the road. And they actually won this two up event where you did you do a time trial with somebody else. So that was her. That was her mentality. You know, there was an anecdote when her daughter Denise was they were warming up together for the world championship road race, and daughter crashed across quite a busy road and knocked herself out on the side of the road. And I said to her What did you know what did your mum say? Say she said all night she completed a warm up, which was a bit like, crikey. That’s pretty, pretty hard. It’s really tough mentality. But I think that was that was kind of the approach to sort of injuries and crashes. And that if you can, if you can physically find a way of carrying on you just get on with it basically. And
There’s so much we could talk about because because clearly there was there was much more we ended with rivalry with with Denise later in our life and you know, events and you showed the photographs in a book where she’s not even looking at her daughter says there’s tonnes of stuff, where we could we could carry on going, but I’m gonna recommend people just gonna have to go, we can’t just carry on talking all day. But I recommend people to go and get your book and read it cover to cover and just be amazed by the the life of Beryl. But now my friend Dave, who were riding a few weeks ago, he has read your book. Okay, he recommended it to me anyway. And you know, at that point, I hadn’t read the book. But the only anecdote I could tell at that time was the Licorice Allsorts anecdote. That’s the one I knew very well. And now I’ve got so many more anecdotes. So thank you for absolutely going, you know, so deep into into life of Beryl Berton that we now have all these anecdotes, including strapping being strapped to a track bike in a championship, which is which is amazing. So your book has absolutely open many people’s eyes, I’m sure who weren’t aware of her story, hopefully outside. Absolutely outside of cycling. But just for now, as we wrap up, can you please tell us where we can get this book? And and how much it costs? Give us the give us the biography of your book.
Yeah, I think it’s available. You know, from all certainly independent stores, Waterstones, Amazon, Profile Books was the publisher. So I think all the kinds of outlets that you would expect to be able to, to get a book. It’s it retails at 20 pounds, but I think that it is a hardback book, and it’s pretty, it’s fairly a lot of photos and a lot a lot in there. But I think it’s sort of 15.99 or something like that on Amazon, I noticed. So it varies slightly the price, the exact price of it. So yeah, but it’s pretty widely available.
Thanks to Jeremy Wilson there and thanks to you for listening to what has been a much longer than normal episode of The Spokesmen podcast. A click through to Jeremy’s book and a transcript of our mammoth conversation can be found on the show notes at the-spokesmen.com And this has been episode 315 of the Spokesmen podcast brought to you in association with Tern Bicycles. The next episode will be Milan flavoured but meanwhile get on out there.