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Beryl Burton Play Set To Hit Radio 4 Airwaves

| Blog, Cycling Plus | 16/11/2012 16:33pm

With the curtain set to come down on 2012 in just over six weeks time, this final part of the year will be time for reflection on what has been arguably the greatest few months for Britain’s cyclists ever.

Bradley Wiggins’ historic victory at the Tour de France was followed up by a bagful of gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics and cycling is now more firmly established in the broader national consciousness than it ever has been before.

But later this month BBC Radio 4 are giving us all a chance to remember a heroine from yesteryear – a woman whose exploits on her bike make her undoubtedly one of Britain’s greatest ever sportswomen. Beryl: A Love Story On Two Wheels will be broadcast as the afternoon play on Tuesday 27 November and its writer and star Maxine Peake, who spoke exclusively to Cycling Plus, is hoping that the production will introduce a new audience to the legend that is Beryl Burton.

Burton’s achievements far outweigh her fame and include two road world championship victories (1960 and 67), five track world championship gold medals and twelve victories in both the national road race championships and the national pursuit championships on the track. Possibly her most astonishing performance came, however, when she broke the 12-hour world time trial record in 1967: that record was not bettered by a man for over two years. Yet in an age where Victoria Pendleton is a household name, that of Beryl Burton – who achieved considerably more – is largely unknown. What is even more amazing is that as a child Burton was struck down with rheumatic fever and spent 15 months in hospital. Doctors told her that she would never be able to live a normal life, let alone become a sporting champion.

“As I read through her autobiography, Personal Best, I found myself wondering why I’d never heard of Beryl Burton,” said Peake, who is best known for her acting roles in Shameless and Dinnerladies. “My boyfriend gave me the book. He’s really into bikes and into cycling and he gave me an old racer that he’d restored for my birthday. Alongside it he gave me the book and said ‘get your hair in a curly perm – there could be a film role in this for you.’

“I wouldn’t say that I’m into watching competitive cycling but the enormity of Beryl’s achievements should mean that more people should have heard of her. So I thought that it might work well on the radio and people told me to write it. I’ve never done any serious writing of this type before so it’s quite a leap for me. But I just wanted people from the younger generations to be aware of her.”

Peake has been aided in her research and writing by Burton’s widower (she died in 1996 of heart failure while on a training ride and had battled illness all her life), Colin, and her daughter Denise. They have enabled Peake to produce a very human story to run alongside all the drama of Burton’s success in the saddle.

“The story is about the human spirit as much as it is about cycling,” Peake said. “We met with Beryl’s family, some of whom feature in the play. The anecdotes they told us were really fascinating and we had a good three hours with them. They were so open and candid about Beryl and it really inspired me during the writing process.

“It’s been a real challenge but I’ve absolutely loved it. I’ve always had respect for writers but I have even more respect for them now. I hope people enjoy it but mostly I hope Charlie and Denise think that I have done Beryl justice. She needs to go down in history as one of the greats. It’s an utterly inspirational story.”

Listen to Beryl: A Love Story On Two Wheels on BBC Radio 4 at 2:15pm on Tuesday 27 November.

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