Beryl, The Play (Life story of Beryl Burton)

Bereyl (16)The play was Beryl, the life story of Beryl Burton, Champion Women’s Cyclist. The play was by my favourite actress Maxine Peake.  All four actors on stage play different people at times, for instance Rebecca Ryan as a young Beryl and Samantha Power as the grown up Beryl.

Beryl was born in Halton, Leeds, in 1937 and lived in Morley most of her married life. Beryl became 3000m track pursuit World Champion in 1959 the first of 5 victories. Beryl was road racing World Champion twice. Beryl was Road Time Trials Best British all-rounder for 25 years running.

At every stage of the play, one of the actors came to the front of the stage and gave dates of events through Beryl’s life and cycling career.

The actors playing various roles are:

Samantha Power.  Beryl and others

Rebecca Ryan.        Young Beryl and others.

John Elkington.    Charlie Burton and others.

Dominic Gately.    Nim and others.

When the cyclists are in a race or practicing, the bikes are on stands, while the actors peddled away giving the impression the cycles where actually moving to a back drop in some scenes of a race.

The cast of Beryl
The cast of Beryl

The actors usually cycle over 10km per show!

Great use and improvisation of props were used, for example a Dexion trolley found in factories to push goods around, was used as a hospital trolley.

We met up with Nicky after the play and gave her some changes we thought could be made.

For instance, there were a few loud bangs in a crash scene and a bang from a starter pistol, but not showing a pistol been fired?  I suggested that one of the actors could have a starter pistol, so the Dementia Friendly crowd knew the bang was coming at the start of the race. Peter came up with a few, such as the film backdrop could be a bit lighter.

Many people from the Dementia Friendly cafes in the South Leeds Area went to see the show on 14 July. Such as from Parnaby Pals in  Hunslet and the Cop Shop Cafe in Beeston and more.

Nicky says,

“We work closely with people living with Dementia consulting them on the changes needed to the show and to front of house environment. We know how important it is for people with dementia to continue to do things they enjoy, and to share positive experiences with friends and family.

“We hope that by making a few subtle, but significant changes to the theatre experience, we can support people with dementia to enjoy the arts for as long as possible.”

Samantha and Rebecca.
Rebecca and Samantha

On Tuesday 14 July I arrived at the West Yorkshire Playhouse to see the Dementia Friendly version of Beryl.

Again a lovely warm day, so had a seat outside where two ladies were welcoming people from taxis, showing the groups where to go for a drink or meal before the show.

Many people I know from Parnaby Pals, Hunslet and Cop Shop, Beeston arrived along with many others I recognised.

Because the show was Dementia Friendly, there were more ushers today than normal. The ushers told me they were volunteers. So had a chat about the volunteer groups I’ve joined. They asked me if I would like to join the volunteers, at the Playhouse, I answered I’m too busy at the moment with the groups I’ve have joined.

After a while I went inside the theatre and picked up my ticket from the box office, which Nicky had saved for me, and went for a drink in the café.

I met up with Peter Smith, of Memory Café fame and had a chat. Peter was not staying for today’s performance, but was there to give out about 20 or so tickets to the Memory Café members.

Before going into the auditorium itself, took the opportunity to look at some cycling memorabilia on show designed to help people share their memories of cycling and take some photos.

Now to the play


Nicky had managed to get some of the changes made. I thought the show was better the second time round for me, as only about 10 feet away from the stage, you seemed to be part of the play.

Loved the part where young Denise dances away and Beryl tries to quieten her down. Many more, comical scenes to come.

In another scene young Beryl collapses, has a fit and convulses. At hospital young Beryl is diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever with St Vitus Dance. Beryl misses the chance to go to grammar school because of her health. Physical exertion will be out of the question for you Beryl, the doctor says.

Think one scene I enjoyed most was the school room scene when Denise and others taking an exam. Samantha now was playing the teacher in this scene. Trying to get order, she slams her cane down on the desk. Oh dear, who remembers those days.

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As we know later Beryl’s health conditions did not matter one jot to Beryl.

We go further along in the play, Beryl takes up cycling and through guts and determination she wins various races, along now with her newly married husband Charlie Burton.

Beryl is now 27 years old and in Paris training for the world championships.

Beryl crashes, brought down by a male rider. Beryl has injured her wrist, but she carries on with her wrist swollen and in pain.

Beryl does manage in the race to make it through to the semi finals. In the final, riding for Belgium is Yvonne Reynders and for Great Britain Beryl Burton. The starting pistol goes. Beryl comes second as in great pain through the race and receives silver; Yvonne comes first and receives Gold. Later Beryl receives an MBE from a very good looking Queen, (Tom) complete with tiara!

In 1967 Beryl competes in The Otley CC twelve hour race. Only one of the 99 riders had a chance of doing more miles than Beryl, he was Mike McNamara. Beryl beats him by cycling over 270 miles in the 12 hour race.

This is the only time in any sport that a woman’s record has bettered the men’s equivalent.

Many awards to follow, Beryl becomes an OBE in 1967. Beryl also comes second in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Henry Cooper comes first.

In 1969 Beryl and Charlie’s daughter, 13 year old Denise was the fastest schoolgirl in a 10 mile event.

In one race Denise beats Beryl; Beryl is not happy and won’t even shake Denise’s hand, as she didn’t believe Denise had put in the proper teamwork to win the race fairly.

Later on her way cycling to her mothers, Beryl has an accident when a car hits her, and ends up in hospital. Beryl breaks her leg and other injuries. Beryl stays in hospital for three weeks to recover. But it doesn’t stop Beryl and she continues to race.

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Beryl Burton Awards and Bicycle.

It’s now becoming towards the end of the play, and various awards and cups are brought onto the stage by members of the cast, giving details of Beryl’s awards.

After the show, as part of the very special Dementia Friendly version of Beryl the cast said we’re just going off for a quick break, and will then come back into the audience and have a chat.

About 40 people stayed behind to have a talk with the cast.

If you want to know what happens at the end of the play, so as not to spoil it for people why not go along and see the play for yourself, on tour.

Part of my remit today was to get a reaction from people who had watched the show. I managed to have a word at half time with Len and June. They really enjoyed it, not really seeing plays, and going to come to others. I told them that the loud bands had been toned down. We were encouraged  to clap at the end of a race. I did this and Len and others followed suit.

Unfortunately Len and June had to leave midway through second half to catch their bus, so did not get a chance to have a chat at full time.

I spoke to another gentleman (was getting picture taken with Rebecca), he had seen the play three times, but this was first Dementia Friendly version and he really enjoyed it, especially cast coming into the audience for a chat afterwards. He thought this a nice touch, as cast have to get ready for the evening’s performance.

I managed to have photos taken with Samantha Power and Rebecca Ryan. You can see some of these in the blog.

Rebecca Ryan has been in many plays and TV, such as Emmerdale, Holby City and Casualty. More on Samantha, in my interview.

As promised Nicky got Samantha Power to meet up with me in the coffee bar later and have a chat. I only asked 3 questions as Samantha was back on stage later for the evening performance. Samantha has been in many plays and TV, such as Coronation Street , Holby, Heartbeat. The list goes on and on.

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Samantha and Me.

I asked Samantha how long she had been playing Beryl? Samantha said four weeks, and will then go on a two month tour of Beryl, visiting many towns.

My next question I knew the answer to before I asked. What do you like best TV or theatre? Of course Samantha, laughed and says enjoys both just as much.

I asked Samantha, after the tour what’s next for you? Samantha plays Talisa, Dev’s girlfriend in Coronation Street. She has recorded 6 episodes. Samantha does not know when theses episode will be screened, or if there will be an option maybe of a long term contract.

After a general chat Samantha met up with Rebecca Ryan (young Beryl) on another table.

Of course I forgot to get my poster of Beryl autographed. I did manage to get a photo of Samantha reading South Leeds Life Newspaper. I gave her a copy to read.

The next day, I intended to visit Beryl Burton’s Garden in Morley (you can see the photos on the slide show). The gardens are just off Queen Street. In the garden, where you seemed a world away from the hustle and bustle of the main street was very quiet.

There is a very large painting (mural) of Beryl on her bike, forms where you can have a sit down and well attained flowers trees and shrubs.

I could not help noticing the gardens are overlooked by some cottages, now offices, which must be the oldest I’ve seen in Morley, maybe from the 1700s.

Phew, that’s the longest and hardest blog to get right. Hope you enjoy, and you can get to see the play near you soon.

 Additional marital by Nicky Taylor (Community Development Manager), at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

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Mural at Beryl Burton Gardens In Morley


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