Monday, 25 October 2010

Graeme Obree - Book or the Film?

It's been a hell of a four days. Picking up a nasty virus last Thursday, I've been on house arrest. Unable to get out of bed for the first two days, this nasty little virus has hit me for six, no bike for me this weekend.

When you find yourself laying in bed for long periods, inevitably you start watching DVD's and reading books to break the boredom. I took the opportunity to re-watch the Graeme Obree film "The Flying Scotsman," which is a film I only discovered about six months ago, depicting Graeme's achievements. Or does it?

Regular readers will know that I've met Graeme a couple of times now, most recently a couple of weeks back. On that visit, he generously lent me the original hand-written manuscript to his auto-biography, also named "The Flying Scotsman," and taking the opportunity of being stuck in bed, I got stuck into it.

When Graeme first told me that he'd written the entire thing in longhand, I thought it quite incredible. In this computer age, I thought he'd of bashed it out on a laptop, e-mailed it somewhere, the edit would have been done, final approval, off to the printers. What I got put into my hands was an A4 ringbinder with page after page of his handwritten story.

When you see a story written in words on paper, it completely changes the context. It brings this amazing connection to the subject, you can imagine Graeme just sat with a pen pouring his story out.

If that wasn't incredible enough, I then set out to compare the printed book with the handwritten manuscript. How many changes were made? What made the book, what didn't? How much was ghost written? Amazingly, Graeme knocked out almost the entire book with little amendment or editing. I found this simply incredible. Just put yourself in his shoes, someone says write a book about your life. Where would you start? How many attempts would you make? How many pages would have line after line of corrections or tipp-ex through them? The Flying Scotsman manuscript has very few and the book is 95% word perfect to the original manuscript.

Watching the film "The Flying Scotsman," it dawned on me that the film portrays very little of Graeme's life. "It's a drama, not a documentary," was how Graeme described it to me and I have to agree. Much of the surrounding storyline is fictitious. An example, Graeme did not strip his wifes washing machine down on the kitchen floor, he stripped down a disused washing machine, you could argue that this is pretty central to the Graeme Obree story. In addition, the film depicts him getting up late on the day of his record attempt, he didn't, he was right on time. Nevertheless, the film remains one of my firm favourites.

If a proper film were to be made of his life, I think it would need to be an epic like The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Reading his biography for the third time, it's amazing how he just swept up Time Trial records as an amateur, often on bikes he's fashioned from spare parts. How he once rode 220 miles (350km) in one day to meet his family on holiday. How he broke TT records on a fixed wheel bike, when others would need a full set of gears. How he would think nothing of setting off on his bike to ride countries in Europe, with hardly any money to get by. I could go on.

What's obvious to me is that whichever way round you do it, you have to read the book and see the film. The book gives you the amazing story, and it is amazing, the words you read are not a publishers or a ghost writers, they are Graeme's. The film is great to watch as Jonny Lee Miller depicts Graeme brilliantly, I could watch it time after time. The sum part of both is an amazing story, which I think should be told far wider than the cycling community.

I do feel incredibly privileged having the opportunity to read such a manuscript. Perhaps, a once in a lifetime event. It speaks volumes about the man, that on our second meeting, he would entrust me with such an item. For me, it should live in The British Library, it's such an important piece of cycling history.

I've written a couple of previous pieces about Graeme from a long chat I had with him, which you can read here and here. He's currently writing a training manual, which should be a really interesting read if the auto-biography is anything to go by. Recently joining Twitter, I had a look at some of the comments people were saying about him, I've never seen "legend" and "inspiration" quoted quite so often. Within a week, he's attracted 825 followers, which says a lot about how people view him. The Obree story is far from over, that's clear.

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