Friday 30 November 2012

BBC (Beryl Burton Cycling) on the BBC

In recent times the BBC has become more generous in its coverage of cycling on TV, now regularly covering the World Road Racing Championships and international track cycling races on free to air channels.

Of course in this Olympic year cycling hit the jackpot with the Beeb, with tens of broadcast hours dedicated to cycle racing.
It seems that the BBC's new pet sport has really been taken to its heart since they have started airing a cycle show on Radio 5 Live.

But what has shown how much cycling really is in  the BBC psyche was when cycling became the subject of the highly esteemed Radio 4!

I was very impressed to hear that the theme of the "Afternoon Drama" on Radio 4, would be my favourite two-wheeled activity - and, it wasn't even predictably about Bradley Wiggins or Victoria Pendleton. This time it was on one of our greatest unsung heroes - Beryl Burton OBE! Beryl: A Love Story on Two Wheels is the story of the life and times of Britain's most decorated female cycle racer.

BB, as she was known in her native Leeds, dominated cycle racing in the UK for almost 30 years between the late 1950s and 1980s. She won the female Best British All Rounder in time trialling for 25 years, and set the still unbeaten 12-hour time trial record in 1967. For a few years this time was the record across both genders!

Mrs Burton's success was not just confined to the UK. She was twice the World Road Racing Champion in the 1960s, and she won the World Individual Track Pursuit championships five times. And what was her success down to? A passionate love of cycle racing, combined with her husband's equal love for her, and his commitment to supporting her.  

I really enjoyed listening to this play - not just because of the excitement that Radio 4 was showing an interest in this subject matter, but also because of the personal way in which it portrayed Beryl Burton's determination and her personal battle to success.

From the childhood illness which doctors said would prevent her from doing strenuous exercise, through the hard labour of working on a rhubarb and beetroot farm, travelling around the country in a 750cc 3-wheeler Robin Reliant car packed with people and bikes that she would sometimes have to push up the hill when it broke down - these were all just part and parcel of Beryl Burton's humble everyday life. There were no National Lottery bursaries or British Cycling coaching teams in those days!   

The "Afternoon Drama" has commentary from Beryl Burton's husband Charlie as well as her daughter Denise - who was also a cycle racer.
According to Charlie "If Beryl had been born a French woman she would have replaced Joan of Arc!"

Sadly BB died one week short of her 59th birthday in 1996. Beryl Burtons's memory is still very much alive, especially among female cycle racers. Every year the Beryl Burton Trophy is awarded to the best female all rounder in time trialling, and there is a Beryl Burton cycle way in Yorkshire.

Despite all her success, the British media gave very little coverage of Beryl Burton's achievements, and even though no other female cyclist has matched her range of titles Beryl Burton's name has remained largely unknown.

I am glad the BBC decided to raise her profile in this way, and it was a well produced programme too.
Anyone who wants to listen to Beryl: A Love Story on Two Wheels can download it from BBC i-player

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