Title: The Bicycle – 200 Years on Two Wheels
Publisher: The History Press
Order: The History Press
What it is: The bicycle as seen in the archives of the Mirrorpix photo archives
Strengths: A broad selection of rarely seen images
Weaknesses: If you're looking for text, you're in the wrong book
When the Daily Mirror's first incarnation as a women's daily – written by women, for women – was judged a failure within months of its 1903 launch publisher Alfred Harmsworth chose to fire all the original paper's female journalists and relaunch it as an illustrated picture paper, with a man at its helm and photography at its heart. Over the century and more that followed photography has stayed at the heart of the red-topped tabloid and those images – along with those of the Mirror's sister titles – now reside in the Mirrorpix archive. It is from this that the images making up The Bicycle – 200 Years on Two Wheels all come.
Presented with the briefest of descriptive captions, the pictures here are a form of social commentary, the changing way we've seen the bicycle across the course of two centuries. While the pictures are displayed chronologically, let's consider some of them thematically.
One recurring theme throughout the selection of pictures is how people think of the bicycle in times of strife. There's one picture of commuters during the 1926 general strike, another of a pair on a tandem after petrol rationing was introduced in 1939. Later a man rides his bike through rubble strewn streets during the Blitz. Even in heavy snows in 1978 a postman is seen still doing his rounds with his bike while elsewhere the same winter a policeman is seen using his bicycle to break the ice on a frozen lake. There's a boy with his bike in the floods of 1987 and a man riding through floods in 1990.
Another staple is stars on bikes. There's the royal family in Sandringham. There's Jean Simmons learning to ride a high wheeler for So Long at the Fair. You get Morecambe and Wise riding through Blackpool or Larry Adler in Camden Town, Alfred Hitchcock in Claridges, Paul and Linda McCartney awheel, the Goodies on a triplette, the poet Pam Ayers riding through Oxfordshire, and the Two Ronnies during filming of one of their sketches.
Of course, this being the Mirror, there's got to be women – for many newspapers, even today, a sure way to get your event into the paper is associate it with a pretty woman, either a model or a star. The Elswick-Hopper Cycle and Motor Company turned to a pair of models to promote their ultra-modern fibreglass-encased Scoo-ped in 1957. The promoters of the Skol Six in London in 1967 put a pair of models on a Moulton. Parties unknown had Sue Lloyd parking a miniature bike on the Embankment, or had Blanche Webb riding a Moulton in a fur jacket and boots, or Susan Sayer riding a Chopper. Anna Andreucetti is for some reason given high wheeler to pose beside in order to promote Cyril Cullen's Irish sweaters.
The two World Wars provide about a dozen pictures between them with one of the most striking images being bicycle-equipped troops wading ashore on Juno Beach, shortly after noon on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Other pictures can be filed under cutesy (for example, a girl on a bike with her dog in the basket attached to the handlebars) or eccentric (eg bicycle polo). It’s largely only in the final selection of images - many in colour - that bicycles and sport mix, with GB’s Olympic heroes being shown off in all their glory. Overall, this dive into the Mirrorpix archives offers an entertaining take on the way the bicycle is viewed in the UK.