London 2012 turned us into a nation of cycling nuts (apparently), and with Yorkshire playing host to the 2014 Grand Départ – the opening stages of the epic Tour de France – what better time to celebrate life on two wheels? This collection looks back to when the bicycle was a new-fangled contraption only just catching on in Victorian Britain, then switches gear for an uphill sprint though silent comedy films, quirky newsreel items, wartime documentaries and dramas. The lyrical possibilities of the bicycle have been mined by filmmakers on the big and small screen, with the Malvern Hills forming an evocative backdrop to bike rides in Ken Russell’s Elgar (1962) and Play for Today Penda’s Fen (1974). One plummy youngster even considers turning to crime to fund his dream set of wheels in the amusing short film Tom’s Ride (1945).
If ‘Le Tour’ inspires you to explore Yorkshire, check out ‘God’s Own County,’ the Mediatheque’s extensive collection dedicated to the region, packed with 100 films and TV programmes from the BFI and Yorkshire Film Archive.
Ten to try
Ladies on Bicycles (1899)
Victorian ladies demonstrate their slalom cycling skills.
Flying the Foam and Some Fancy Diving (1906)
‘Professor’ Reddish demonstrates how to dive from Brighton Pier whilst riding a bicycle.
Fat Man on a Bicycle (1914)
Pimple attempts to teach a large friend to ride a bicycle, with disastrous results.
Cycling the Channel (1929)
Dover to Calais by hydrocycle.
How a Bicycle Is Made (1945)
The recipe for the perfect bike.
Boy and Bicycle (1965)
Tony Scott stars as a Hartlepool schoolboy playing truant in his brother Ridley’s directorial debut.
Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (1968)
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Hampstead-style.
A very young Keith Chegwin shows off his cycling prowess.
A Day Out (1972)
Alan Bennett’s first TV play is a period drama about a Halifax cycling club.
Elgar – Fantasy on a Composer on a Bicycle (2002)
Ken Russell revisits Elgar’s work 40 years after his original film, this time for the ‘South Bank Show.’