Cycling News

The Greatest, by William Fotheringham

The greatest?

Title: The Greatest – The Times and Life of Beryl Burton
Author: William Fotheringham
Publisher: YouCaxton
Year: 2019
Pages: 286
Order: YouCaxton
What it is: William Fotheringham’s self-published biography of Beryl Burton, seven-time World Champion
Strengths: It’s a biography of Beryl Burton
Weaknesses: Fotheringham doesn’t half like speaking for people, doesn’t like to give them much opportunity to speak for themselves

The greatest?

“[Burton] did receive recognition for her achievements – she was made an OBE and an MBE, she was honoured by the British sportswriters in 1960 and 1967, and she was given civic receptions in Morley – so it would be inaccurate to say she remained in complete obscurity.”
~ William Fotheringham, The Greatest

Behind every great woman is a man, desperate to be seen to be saving her reputation.

That William Fotheringham should be the man seeking to save Beryl Burton’s reputation is not without irony. But he it is who has assumed the role of the gallant, galumphing in to rescue the damsel in distress from the dungeon of obscurity to which she has been consigned.

Obscurity? Yes, obscurity. This is from the inside front cover of The Greatest, Fotheringham’s self-published biography of Burton:

“Burton was a seven-times world champion and multiple national champion and [her 1967 British 12-hour record] was the greatest feat in her 30-year career. The Otley ‘12’ should have been a groundbreaking moment in women’s sport, but along with the rest of Burton’s achievements, it has slipped into relative obscurity.

“This new biography from best-selling writer William Fotheringham tells Burton’s story in full for the first time, from the brutal illness that left her bedridden as a teenager to her quarter century at the top of women’s cycling in the UK, and her premature death in 1996. It is a unique portrait of a champion who has been cruelly ignored for many years.”

Cruelly ignored. Do I again have to list all the ways in which that is wrong? The OBE and the MBE. The sportswoman of the year awards. The TV appearances, the radio interviews, the newspaper articles, the magazine articles. The autobiography, this biography, the other biography. The radio play, the stage play. The question on Pointless. The race horse. The song. Apparently I do.

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