The importance of being first is embedded in our culture.
That urge to win, to be an innovator and a pioneer in your field is drummed into us. Whether it is over-zealous Dads on the touchline barking tactics at their 6 year olds or Alan Sugar pouring molten hot buckets of scorn over another hapless preening suit; first is best f*cker!
Yet, there are exceptions to the rule: We’re looking at you Britain First.
And sometimes, being first doesn’t mean you are appreciated in your own time. Take the case of Beryl Swain. Badass Beryl – as she certainly should have been known – was relatively unheralded during her life but her legacy is immeasurable.
In 1962, Beryl became the first female solo rider in our very own TT. It took 57 years of existence for there to be a woman bolt out of the Grandstand (apart from sidecar racer Pat Wise, in 1957) but Beryl broke the mould. In an ultra-conservative, male-dominated era, this unassuming Londoner took her Italian Itom and finished only a few seconds off the lap record for the 50cc class.
“People ask me what I enjoy about racing and I usually tell them – speed” Beryl Swain.
It’s hard to fully appreciate the single-minded bravery of Swain now we reside in more enlightened times. One reporter stated
“Women, the weaker sex, are muscling in on man’s domain, practically no sport is sacred”.
The sport of being a colossal c0ck was, apparently, one he was excelling at nonetheless.
Following that excellent debut, Swain was buzzing about returning the following year. That was until the meddling of reactionary dullards in the International Federation of Motorcycling brought any such hopes to a halt. Fearful of the negative publicity that would ensue should a woman rider die on the course, these anodyne clowns instead, killed off Beryl’s racing career.
Her disarming popularity helped round up support from fellow riders and even the IOM Lieutenant Governor. Alas, it was in vain. The cowardice of the bureaucrats kept the male-centric dominance of the sport in check for another 16 years until Hilary Musson appeared on the scene in 1978. Disenchanted, Swain hung up her leathers for good.
The likes of Musson and more recently Jenny Tidmouth and Maria Costello have Beryl to thank for paving the way for acceptance onto the patriarchal pits of the Manx TT. She was the first and, for that, we should remember her.