Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and


Basil Heatley's athletic success has been almost forgotten by many people but few British distance men could claim the type of success that he had, over a space of 15 years or so. A Self-Coached athlete, who won the National Senior cross country championships in 1960, 61 and 63, The International (Fore runner of the World Cross) in 1961 the year he ran to a World 10 mile track record of 47:47.0 at Hurlingham; A World Marathon Best of 2:13.55 in the Windsor to Chiswick Poly Marathon on the 13th of June 1964;and a silver medal in the Tokyo Olympic Marathon on the 21st of October 1964:-.(First six were:- 1 Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia) 2:12.11.2; Basil Heatley (GBR) 2:16.19.2; 3 Kokichi Tsuburaya (Japan) 2:16.22.8;; 4 Brian Kilby (GBR) 2:17.02.4; 5 Joszef Sutoe (Hungary) 2:17.55.8; 6 Leonard 'Buddy' Edelen (USA) 2:18.12.4.
   It was on the 9th of December, 1961 Basil Heatley got married to his wife Gill. In that Olympic year of 1964 Gill had twins to go with the young daughter they already had and before one more daughter to make it four so, often Bas had broken nights of sleep as they needed attention. However Basil followed his normal training pattern of 100 to 125 miles a week which included intervals. It was amazing to think his shoes then were Tiger Cubs he wore for road racing which were crape and very thin rubber soles and canvas sides to them but they at least were nice and light but did not compare with the modern running shoes. He got the cobblers to customise some other shoes he could wear for training in " At home before the Olympics I did have broken sleep with three of our four daughters born and absolutely no mod cons. It was very difficult for both of us." he remarked
   The Tokyo Olympic marathon came up on 21st of October 1964. " It was very humid and none of us warmed up much .I fully believed that Brian would be there about's at the finish. His pedigree said nobody would run away from him. He was perspiring before the start and I had a stitch so, I had to start quite slow. When we made the turn i was already 21/2 minutes behind Bikila (At the 25,000m point the order was:- Bikila 1:16.40; Jim Hogan 1:16.50; Ron Clarke 1:18.02; Tsuburaya, Joszef Sutoe, Mamo Wolde 1:18.44; Kenji Kimihara 1:19.21; Billy Mills 1:19.25; Brian Kilby and Basil Heatley on 1:19.35.). Basil continues " We made the turn and Brian was  running with me. I was quite despondent and then, we  were either overtaking jogging runners or one's who were sitting by the roadside at 18 miles. If you are sitting by the roadside at 18 miles somehow, you have got it wrong!. Ron Clarke, of course, could be excused as he was more of a novice than I was at the event.  Brian and I were gradually pulling everybody back. There was a Japanese and Hungarian vest ahead of us. I knew Sutoe, as he was a good 10k runner but I knew he was not better than me at the distance. I focused on those two which took me away from Brian and I could see the worst scenario unfolding, with Japan looking to their only medal of the Games and that was, I was going to catch Tusburaya in the Stadium near the finish. By instinct when I saw him I grabbed a couple of seconds lead on him which I kept till the finish. Coming through in the marathon like that either works for you or it doesn't and it was a help to have had the experience of training and  racing for fifteen years."
                              'I NEVER CALL MYSELF A MARATHON RUNNER'
That was what Basil Heatley told me even though he had achieved an Olympic silver medal.
' I felt really at home doing cross-country more so than road or track. I was temperamentally suited more to being a Winter runner than a Summer racer. I think had there been half marathon races in existences when I was running well that would have been my best road distance. '
   'It was while I was at Melton Mowbary doing my thee years of National Service, I was befriended by an elderly gentleman who insisted I should do the marathon.. I ran one in 1956 in the Midland Chamnpionships and won it at a jog. I defended my Midland title at Coventry in 1957 and, had to run much harder to beat Tommy Buckinhgam of Leamington. Those two times I did in around 2:36 and 2:31. I made up my mind not to run another one after looking around the changing room and seeing the state of the finishers.-NO More! Untill 1963 the year before the Olympics in Tokyo that I came to the reluctant conclusion I was never going to make it on the track so I put my house in order to see about the marathon.'
   Having said that I would like to point out he was not that bad on the track if one realises he won the Midland 3 miles in 13:45.6, 6 miles in 28:16.4 and the 10 miles in 50.30.8 whch was a hatrick in 1961. He ran in international matches, even over 5k, and in London in in 1963 he ran 28:55.8 winning a 10k at the White City with Mel Batty second. That meant that he was the fifth fastest in the World that year!
He was 2nd to Brian Kilby (2:16.45) in 2:19.56 in the AAA's marathon Championship, fourth in the Kosice marathon in 2:20:.22.2. When he broke the World record in 2:13.55 in 1964, the time was such a big surprise for Basil, he did not believe it till he read about it in the paper the next day.. Ron Hill was 2nd in that in 2:14.12 and of course went  on in 1970 to set the world alight with his 2:9 for the marathon.
   Basil Heatley remembers finishing behind brilliant cross-country runners like Frank Sando, Alain Mimoun and Ken Norris but Basil matured and then became just as great a runner. He did love seeing Gordon Pirie and Jim Peters in the famous London to Brighton relay and locally Jack Holden amongst others.
   All the best runners in the UK from 800m upwards would do the ' National' as that was the selection race for the International cross country championships. In 1960 at West Bromwich Basil Heatley won his first senior National but wanted to go on and do it again. He remembers that in 1961 when he won again Stan Eldon did a lot of the early work at Parliament Hill Fields. It was in 1961 at Nantes he broke Gaston Roelants in the closing stages to win and Gaston was the World's No 1 steeplechaser at the time.Martin Hyman of England was third in that one. The following year he told his friend Roy Fowler that if he stuck to Roelants shorts he could win the International and beat him which he  duly did.
   Basil Heatlely's third National came in 1963 with his club Coventry Godiva winning the team title at Cambridge.There were so many good runners near the front after a couple of miles like Juan Taylor, Mel Batty, Brian Craig, Mike Turner, Mike Bullivant ,Gerry North, Alan Simpson, Bruce Tulloh and Don Taylor amongst them but it was not those names who disputed the latter stages " Tim Johnston was the man to beat that day not because I wanted to win which I obviously did. Tim was Portsmouth's No 1 and I was Coventry's No 1. I had to beat him because it was between those two club. Going out onto the third lap it was Roy, myself, Tim Johnston, Tim Briault,  and Eddy Strong. Roy was making the running and I had to stay with him in order to get away from Tim Johnston so Roy and I went all the way round the last lap together and on the fields coming off the mud we went along by the side of the railway track. Stan Ashby, the old Olympian from Coventry Godiva shouted out to me 'Bas you know you can beat him on the run in' I thought yes I can! so, as we got to the last 600 to 400 to go with turn for home I ran like a scalded cat and dropped Roy by 10 seconds."
   At 78 now (Having been born at Kenilworth on the  25th of December 1933) Basil  Heatley lives with his wife Gill in Buckfield, near Coventry.He has always lived in the Midlands. Besides his work in the garden he does swimming currently three times a week and looks sprightly despite a hip replacement. Basil was educated at King Henry the V111 School locally but he found he was not good at ball games but was one of those singled out to run on the parkland which he began to enjoy particularly when he found out he was one of the better one's who did it and as it was an individual sport it appealed to him.
   When he was young he worked on his Father's farm and then, as a land worker he got deferment for National Service till he was 21 and then signed on for three years.He went into the Royal Veterinary Corps at Melton Mowbray and they gave him a job as a dog handler but then changed him to being a clerk.He had never done anything like that before but that training put him in good stead for future jobs, like the one he had before he retired in middle management in the local leisure centre.
   When he fisihed his Natinal Service, he came out with several pairs of Army plimsoles to run in which, these days runners would baulk at if they were asked to run across the street in them!
   There were injuries that he suffered particularly with his achilles tendon in 1962 and like all athletes in their careers injuries come and that would explain why he did not always manage to keep his high standard up at top level but his sum total of success is without doubt exceptional.
   He used to buy comics as young boy that caught the imagination like the stories of 'Tough of the Track'  but it was Sydney Wooderson and his races with Arne Andersson and Gunder Haag that inspired him and then the Olympics of 1948 in London with Emil Zatopek that captured his athletic interest. Zatopek became a real hero of his and he has a book about him specially signed by Emile Zatopek. He saw Jack Holden race locally too.
   How did it all come about  that he joined Coventry Godiva who, he later turned out for every weekend he possibly could. It was that club that set his athletics alight?
   " I was told I should go down to run in a novices race which I won and no sooner had I got my breath back an official of the club quickly gave me a form to sign on.'
   'To think when I was a senior with Coventry Godiva we had 4 runners who could average 2:15 for the marathon which at the time would beat a combined team from the rest of the World!"  

Alastair Aitken

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