Harris - commemorating a cycling hero
Bert Harris -
From W G Grace to Sebastian Coe, Britain's great sporting heroes
have become household names and part of our heritage.
But one of the greatest
sporting stars of his time is now completely unknown.
In the 1890s the new
sport of cycling was big news, and in England the top performer was a young man
called Bert Harris - the David Beckham of his day.
Such was his success
that, having won more prize money all over the world than almost any other sportsman,
people began to refer to 1896 as 'Harris Year'.
was the only man who could consistently beat soon-to-be world champion A A Zimmerman
of the US - and everyone predicted ultimate success lay just ahead of him.
Bert died young and in mysterious circumstances.
The official verdict is
that he died as a result of a racing incident, but speculation still surrounds
his fatal crash.
Harris' descendant Richard Harris |
Inside Out discovered how
this sporting genius from Leicester was the victim of a tragic incident surrounded
by mutterings of conspiracy and race fixing.
We also find out why today
he is almost totally forgotten, but for the efforts of a handful of loyal enthusiasts.
reconstructions to tell the story were filmed on location in Leicester.
a bizarre twist of fate, the Bert Harris look-alike in the film turned out to
be Bert's descendant.
The East Midlands sporting hero who lost his place
in the history is about to be reinstated as perhaps England's greatest ever cyclist.
* Bert Harris was born in Birmingham in 1874, but moved
to Portsmouth Road, Leicester as a child.
* He grew up in the shadow of
the Belgrave cycling track.
* In 1891, Bert won the Five Mile Race at Bristol
and was invited to join the London Polytechnic Cycling Club. Bert turned professional
Harris - England's greatest ever cyclist?|
became the first professional champion of England and gained the nickname "The
Kid" on account of his youthful looks.
* Bert's reputation as a cyclist
grew around the world. He moved to Paris and toured the European circuit, earning
£15 a week in winnings.
* He was invited to Australia in 1895 to
take part in racing. He won almost every event he entered. Bert later planned
to emigrate to Australia.
* Before a race in Bolton on Easter Sunday 1897,
Bert had a premonition that he would die racing, and returned to back to Leicester
before the race.
* Later that weekend Bert was persuaded to race. After
four miles Bert fell and banged his head on the cement and was taken to hospital
* His death is surrounded by suspicion and controversy -
his borrowed front wheel was badly damaged and there was speculation about whether
an experienced professional would have made such a basic steering mistake.
There were also rumours that Bert was going to be "bumped" to fix the
* Bert died aged of 23 on April 21 1897. Thousands of people lined
the route to the Welford Road cemetery for Bert Harris' funeral procession.
a detailed biography of Bert Harris
Roger Lovell for biographical information.
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