Profile snaps up 'eye-opening' Beryl Burton biography

Profile snaps up 'eye-opening' Beryl Burton biography

Profile Books will publish a biography of “legendary” Yorkshire cyclist Beryl Burton, through its Pursuit imprint in 2021.

The book by award-winning journalist Jeremy Wilson “will appeal not only to cycling and sporting fans, but also to an audience keen for stories of brilliant and forgotten women,” Profile said.

Pursuit publisher James Spackman acquired the biography of Burton, from Max Edwards at Mulcahy Associates, following a three-publisher auction. The book, which is currently untitled, will be published in spring 2021.

Burton “is arguably the best cyclist, and perhaps athlete, Britain has ever produced,” Profile said. “Disparagingly dubbed the ‘Yorkshire housewife’ by the press at the time, she challenged outdated views on women’s capabilities in elite sport. Had she been a man, she would now be a household name like Tommy Simpson and Bradley Wiggins,” the publisher said.

She was struck down by an illness aged 11 that kept her in hospital for nine months and out of school for two years. Burton's doctors warned her to avoid any form of strenuous exercise for the rest of her life. But when her partner Charlie, introduced her to cycling in her late teens “there was no stopping her”, according to Profile.

The sportswoman still holds the longest elite sporting streak in history – having won the British Best All-Rounder title for 25 consecutive years – and remains the only sportswoman in history to break a men’s competitive record, when, in 1967, she broke the men’s distance record over 12 hours. It was a record she claimed for two years – and it wasn’t broken by another woman for 50 years. Burton managed all this while also working doing daily shifts at a Yorkshire rhubarb farm.

“She fought the unbelievable sexism of the cycling and sporting world and overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to become a legend in her sport despite receiving no financial support or sponsorship,” a Profile spokesman said of the cyclist who died in 1996, aged 59.  

Author Wilson, who is chief sports reporter for the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph, has access and insights from the cyclist’s family such as her daughter Denise, a fellow elite cyclist, and Burton’s husband as well as featuring interviews with various sporting figures. 

“I can vividly remember first learning about Beryl Burton through reading the Cycling Weekly magazine during the late 1980s and, even then, I could not quite comprehend the depth of her achievements," Wilson said. "My fascination with the story was rekindled last year and I am in no doubt that she is one of the most important figures in British sports history.”

Spackman described it as an “eye-opening and remarkable book about an extraordinary character”. He commented: “We were all immediately taken with Jeremy Wilson's fierce determination to restore Beryl Burton's legend to the absolute top rank of British sport, and - beyond that - for her significance as a female pioneer of matchless resilience and will.”