6th May 1954. Glory Days.
All rounder C.B. Fry considered that ‘partisanship had dulled the idea of sport and warped its moral sense’.
Athletics once the preserve of the amateur saw Roger Bannister on the athletics track at Iffley Road Sports Ground, Oxford Today in 1954, make an attempt to run the mile under 4 minutes.
Supported by Oxford chums Chrises Brasher and Chataway, as pace-makers, and having sharpened his spikes, he managed 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, and entered the history books.(1)
The early 1950’s which lie under a cloak of nostalgia was a Britain where the sun still shone on Empire apart from India. We had won the war, a new Queen was crowned contemporaneously by the announcement of the Conquest of Everest, we were on the verge of ‘never having it so good’; a new Elizabethan area beckoned.
Now Bannister ran the first official mile in under 4 minutes. Brasher in glasses set the pace for laps 1/2 and dropped out, them Chattaway took over as pace-maker and came second.
Three heroes then we all know about but what about the forgotten others-there were 6 runners altogether- such as Tom Hulatt who came third followed by 2 Oxford runners and last came Brasher.
Hulatt was a miner at Tibshelf Derbyshire who was a rat-catcher on the side who caught the train back after getting his programme signed: the toffs made their celebratory round of the clubs.
However the role models for the comic readers were the likes of welder Alf Tupper, first appearing in Rover in 1949 and who had to contend with the posh boys who made every attempt to keep him from the rostrum, seeing him as a ‘guttersnipe’.(2)
In his autobiography, Bannister said if he was starting today he would choose club level, rather than international level.
Things quickly unravelled as his record only lasted 6 weeks before being broke by Australian John Landy at 3:58. Everest began to be climbed by others. The Empire collapsed and the talent of the under-dogs came forth when amateurism became sponsored professionalism: the gentleman amateur’s days were doomed.
(1) The mile event was part of a bigger athletics competition between 2 Oxford men and the Amateur Athletics Association (AAA), which included the 3 mentioned above and Tom Hulatt.
(2) Roy of the Rovers was his football counterpart.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/new-mag.article.Mary Beard/Pic Image.