BRITISH CYCLO CROSS CHAMPIONSHIP (1962) film no: 3466
This film is part of the Jackson collection and captures footage from the men and women's competitions at the British Cyclo-Cross Championship. This particular race features famous Yorkshire cyclist, Beryl Burton.
Title-Morley Cycle Club
Title-British Cyclo-Cross Championship 1962.
Title-Filmed by: R. Barraclough
The film opens on a field in Tingley near Wakefield, which is full of spectators and cyclists who are wiping mud off their legs. The voiceover says that this is the women's competition, the first time that it has ever been held, and they check their bikes before the race starts. The voiceover also says that less than half the competitors who applied are taking part and that it is probably due to the bad weather.
The competitors line up at the starting line, and the voiceover mentions some of the cyclists: Beryl Burton, Valerie Rushworth and the Croucher sisters. The race starts and some of the cyclists ride their bikes while the others carry their bikes down the track. They run up a hill and then jump onto their bikes and ride off. The voiceover says that the course is about 4.5 miles long.
The camera is on a low section of a field looking up at a cyclist who rides down the hill, then gets off her bike, lifts it over a stone wall and runs down the rest of the hill carrying the bike. A couple of other cyclists do the same thing.
There is a sequence of shots showing the cyclists running along muddy ground up to a large puddle of water. They throw their bikes across the water, jump across and continue on. Some of the cyclists jump across the water while carrying their bike and some of them fall in the mud. There are more shots of the competitors as they run along the track past the spectators. Beryl Burton, runs towards the finish line and finishes first. She smiles at the camera and then gets a kiss on the cheek from a young girl. Other competitors cycle over the finishing line and there are brief shots of the winner putting her jacket on and talking to the spectators.
A large group of competitors wait at the starting line for the men's race; they talk and smile at the camera. The Lord Mayor of Morley, Councillor Laurie Finnegan walks across the grass to the starting line and says a few words. Then the race begins and the voiceover mentions last year's champion from Coventry Road Club, John Atkins who is also taking part this year. He continues on to say that this year has a record 127 men competing, and that the course length is four and a bit laps of the course. The voiceover says that the Yorkshire Champion, Harry Bond, will challenge John Atkins for first place.
The cyclists take off from the starting line and there are many shots of the crowd of competitors running along the muddy track pushing and carrying their bikes. They jump down into a stream bed and continue on up a hill where some of the competitors run up the hill while some of them cycle. There are shots from a variety of angles.
In the next section the camera captures the cyclists from the side of a narrow country road as they ride by. Then back to the grassy field and the competitors come running up the hill towards the camera. They jump off their bikes and jump over streams carrying their bikes. There is a long sequence of shots of the cyclists running along the grassy track, carrying their bikes.
Back on an open country road, the cyclists ride down a hill and up another one. Spectators line the course as the riders run along a grassy track with their bikes on their shoulders. Another long sequence of shots following riders as they jump into streams, run down hills; some of the riders fall down in the mud. The next section follows the competitors as they make their way across fences and along a road past farm buildings.
There are more shots from the top of a hill looking at the riders as they make their way in the direction of the camera, jump down over a wall and continue along the track. They make their way down a hill towards the finish lane, cross over another stream, and some of the competitors slip in the mud beside the huge crowd of spectators. The Lord Mayor shakes hands with some competitors as they cross the finish line. John Atkins wins the race and poses with some of the cyclists. The final shot is of one of the very muddy bicycles.
This is one of a collection of films made by members of Morley Cycle Club, donated by Peter and Beryl Jackson and Peter’s brother, Tony. As well as capturing the Club on cycling runs, there is also film of Club members going on day trips and on holiday together. As can be seen from the credits, Peter Jackson was involved in the making of the film, although the commentator – either E.C. or B D. Lockwood – isn’t credited. Lockwood was the father of Arthur Lockwood, another cyclist from that time, who can be seen in the North England Cyclo Cross Championship of 1960. As can be seen, the film is quite professionally made, filming from various vantage points around the course, and adding a soundtrack which gives the impression that the commentary is live – although the choice of background music, Tchaikovsky et al, is possibly questionable.
Cyclo cross may be considered something of a cinderella of the cycling world, behind the track race, road race and time trial, and now mountain biking and even BMX racing seem to have overtaken it, even though cyclo-cross long predates these (it doesn’t even get a mention in the Encyclopedia of World Sport – References). Both of these latter are now Olympic events (beginning in 1996 and 2008 respectively), whereas cyclo-cross never has been – although there is a campaign to make it so. In fact it seems to have become less demanding over the years than is seen in this film – mountain biking now perhaps having taken over as the really tough sport.
Competitive cycling dates back more or less to the beginnings of cycling, starting in France, with the first recorded bicycle race taking place on May 31st, 1868 at the Parc de Saint-Cloud, Paris, won by Englishman James Moore riding a wooden bike with iron tires. Racing took off in Britain a decade later, and at first Britain was dominant in cycling. It is one of the few sports that have been in every modern Olympic Games, although its format, and the distances raced, has varied considerably over the decades.
It was in France too that cyclo-cross began in the early 20th century. Daniel Gousseau, a young private in the French army, would accompany his superior, who was on horseback, whilst he rode a bicycle. Gousseau invited a few cycling friends along on the rides, through farmland and over fences, walls and ditches, and soon dozens joined in to ride the trails. Before long competitive races were organised, culminating in the first French National Championship in 1902. Gousseau became secretary-general of the French Cycling Union and organized the first French cyclo-cross championship in 1902. Konrad claims that the sport's popularity "exploded" when Octave Lapize credited off-season cyclo-cross with his 1910 win in the Tour de France (References).
Many cycle clubs were formed from early on, beginning with the Pickwick Cycle Club in 1869. Shortly after the Cyclists Touring Club was formed in 1878 it had 189 member clubs and 50,000 members. Soon others followed: the Anfield Bicycle Club was formed in 1879 – by brewer John Houlding, later founder of Liverpool football club in 1892 – and Manchester Athletic Bicycle Club in 1883, becoming Manchester Wheeler’s Club in 1890.
Cycling was taken up as much by women as by men, providing a new found emancipation for late Victorian and Edwardian women by enabling greater freedom of bodily movement and mobility of travel. It became a social pastime, with local groups being formed to go out riding collectively. Before long, by the early 1890s, with the coming of the ‘safety’ cycle and pneumatic tyres, some women became involved in racing and time‐trialling, with a few even turning professional.
The National Cyclists' Union was formed in 1883 – in a merger of the Bicycle Union and the Tricycle Association – and soon after, in 1890, they banned road racing out of fear of the reaction from the upper classes to the sudden increase in working class mobility – to become law in 1896 (H G Well’s novel of that year, Wheels of Chance, indicated the danger). A new body, The Road Racing Council – later to become the Road Time Trials Council (RTTC) - promoted time trial races, done in secrecy, instead. In 1942 a leading rider of the time, Percy Stallard, defied the ban and formed the rival, and dissident, British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC). This was to eventually merge with the NCU in 1959 to form the British Cycling Federation (BCL), who lifted the ban, although Stallard apparently remained disgruntled. Thus the ban on road racing had only recently been lifted when this was filmed in 1962; the year when Tommy Simpson became the first Briton to wear the yellow jersey on the Tour de France.
Many of the participants – such as Jean Smith, Barbara Conway and Pauline Hunter – have since been largely forgotten, although the Croucher sisters, Brenda, Maureen and Carol, of the East Bradford Cycling Club, are perhaps better remembered. Valerie Rushworth was national road race champion in 1964 and won 11 British Championships between 1959 and 1966, going on to represent Great Britain internationally, as a rider and later as coach and team manager.
Of the men, both Bob Metcalf and Dave Robertson (the big fellow in a white jersey with a red stripe) were members of the Morley Club (of which Bob Metcalf is still active in, as is Dave Robertson’s son, David). Another cyclists in the Morley CC colours is Bob Mortimer, still cycling. The winner of the men’s race, John Atkin, dominated the event, becoming 12 times national cyclo-cross champion, having won his first the previous year at 19. His father, Ron, himself a well-known cyclist, was joint founder member of the British Cyclo Cross Association in 1954. The runner up, Yorkshire Champion and fellow Bradford Racing Cycling Club member, Harry Bond, won the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross that same year (and on three other occasions). Keith Mernickle regularly came either second or third, having to wait until 1976 before eventually winning it.
But the real star of the film is the Morley club’s most famous member, Beryl Burton – who appears also in some of the other films, such as Club Run and Hill Climb in Yorkshire Dales (1964). In his excellent article on Beryl Burton, Dave Russell describes her as “one of the greatest athletes of all time” (see References). She was born Beryl Charnock in Leeds on 12 May 1937, and suffered from rheumatic fever as a child, resulting in speech difficulties. Her list of feats can hardly be listed here, winning fifteen world championship medals, 120 British national titles, and in total winning 72 national individual time trial titles.
Burton dominated cycling for fifteen years, competing in road races, cyclo‐cross and time trials. She was noted for her extraordinary physical stamina and mental resilience. In September 1967 she was the first ever woman cyclist (and one of the first woman athletes in any discipline) to beat a national record that was also available to men. In a twelve-hour time trial her 277.25 miles beat the leading male competitor, Mike McNamara, by 0.73 of a mile – and apparently offering him a stick of liquorice as she overtook him.
Her Times Obituary notes that, “Even though technology has improved the performance of machines, no woman has ridden faster than Burton at 25 miles (1976, 53 min 21 sec), 50 miles (1976, 1 hour 51 min 30 sec), 100 miles (1968, 3 hours 55 min 05 sec) and 12 hours (1967, 277.25 miles), and no British woman has won a world track pursuit title since Burton's last championship victory 30 years ago.”
Russel claims that she was, “the first women from a working‐class background to rise to national sporting prominence and achieving a record of athletic excellence while being a wife and mother”, and having suffered a complete nervous collapse during her 11 plus exam, resulting in the onset of St Vitus's dance and rheumatic fever. This led to her becoming partially paralysed for several months, spending fifteen months in hospital and convalescence. Despite having the opportunity to turn professional, Beryl wanted to remain an amateur, and continued working in menial labouring jobs, including a rhubarb farm in Morley. The Morley Community Archives notes that, “She also stayed loyal to Morley cycling club, even though it was never sponsored by the cycle industry.”
Her career is well summed up in this extract from the Times obituary: “Determined in her aims, but modest in her claims of success, Beryl Burton reigned over women's cycling in this country and on the international stage for more than a quarter of a century. Indeed she could compete with men on more than equal terms as her beating the British men's record for a 12-hour time trial in 1967 testifies. This pre-eminence over such a long period in a field of activity which makes relentless demands on physique surely has no parallel in any other branch of sport.”
Unfortunately, women's Olympic cycling was not introduced until 1988 (and the 3,000 metres pursuit not until 1992). Beryl was world champion five times in 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1966. Veteran cyclist Harold Bridge opines that had it been an Olympic event, “it is probable that her Olympic golds would have covered Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Mexico 1968 & Munich 1972.” (see Pro-Cycling Tribute, References) She won her last national title in 1988, at the age of 51. Her love of cycling was such that she even died (of natural causes) during a training run on Skipton Road, Harrogate, on 5 May 1996. Her daughter, Denise, also went on to become a top cyclist: they were both selected to represent Great Britain in the 1972 world championship - they were to have a falling out over one event (Denise can be seen on the back of her father's bike with Beryl in the film The Campers.
Despite being awarded the MBE in 1964 and an OBE four years later, Beryl Burton remains remarkably unknown outside of sporting cycling circles. Had she been alive today there can be no doubt that she would be a household name, leading the present generation of British cycling champions: Chris Froome, Victoria Pendleton, Shanaze Reade, Chris Hoy, the newly crowned Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, and Britain's first medal winner of 2012 Lizzie Armitstead from Otley. Watching this film it is a wonder that cyclo‐cross isn't more popular: as gruelling as the tour de France, and much more enjoyable to watch!
David Levinson et al., Encyclopedia of World Sport, ABC-Clio, Oxford, 1996.
Dave Russell, ‘Mum’s the Word: the cycling career of Beryl Burton, 1956–1986’, Women’s History Review
Vol. 17, No. 5, November 2008, pp. 787–806. Online
Beryl Burton and Colin Kirby, Personal Best, Springfield Books, 1986.
Konrad, Gabe (1996). "Cyclocross: History & What You Should Know". Bicycle Trader Magazine
Ken Nichols and Maureen Nichols, Mud Sweat and Gears: A History of the British Cyclo-Cross Association, Mousehold Press, 2011.