It is easy to forget with the string of gold medals at the Olypmpics and the dominance of Team Sky on the road that British cycling in the recent past was not awash with medals, money and household names. The starting point to the current success had much to do with the rivalry between Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman. It’s Chris Boardman who people now know well with his eponymous named bike brand and his gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics. But there was another world record British cyclist at that time who’s remarkable story should never be forgotten.
The Flying Scotsman tells the true story of one of Britains great mavericks, the pioneering cyclist Graeme Obree. A man who defied the odds, the establishment and his own mental health problems to become a world champion and world record holder on his ‘Old Faithful’ a bicycle he built including parts from an old washing machine.
Jonny Lee Miller plays Obree in the film and spent a lot of time with him to pick up his mannersism which resulted in a BAFTA nomination and Obree himself appears in some of the cycling sequences.
You know there’s something deeply wrong from the opening moments as Obree is pictured traipsing through the woods holding his bike and a length of rope. How he got there looking to commit suicide is the story of the film, a true classic tale of the heroic little guy that goes beyond the sport of cycling, told with elegant restraint in this sensitive and beautifully rendered film directed by Douglas Mackinnon. Obree, a Scottish messenger boy and amateur cyclist defied the odds by twice holding the world hour record, one of cycling’s most revered achievements.
Obree battled depression before and after his triumphs (which included other titles including the world championships). But that was hardly the worst of his problems. The greater evil in his life was perhaps the sport itself — or rather, those who made up its rules. Official cyclingdom looked askance at the achievements of the onetime bike courier with few corporate sponsors and the UCI seemed to go out of it’s way to make Obree life difficult and to sully his achievements. There is a real painful cyclical irony to the story in that while turning to the bike helped save Obree it also pushed him into the depths of despair.
So come along and share in the story of this remarkable man, bring your tissues and a sense of righteous indignation !
Date: Monday 20 February at 7pm
Venue: The Reliance, 76-78 North Street, Leeds, LS2 7PN
Cost: £5.50 in advance (tickets can be bought via the Eventbrite link opposite and ticket price includes Eventbrite fee)