Sylvia Vetta on the biography of Roger Bannister, who ran the first four-minute mile

I interviewed Sir Roger and Lady Moyra Bannister for The Oxford Times magazine Limited Edition, so became aware of his energy and the range of his achievements. Talking to me, he emphasised his research into neurology and how he was part of the explosion of knowledge achieved in his life time from which we benefit.

Anyone involved in sport owes him a huge debt. Read his autobiography Twin Tracks and you will discover his passion that no one should be denied access to sport because of poverty and his pivotal role in the idea of ‘Sport for All’. He was the first chairman of the Sports Council.

He describes how Margaret Thatcher asked him to encourage athletes not to go to the Moscow Olympics, but he refused and took a strong stand in favour of participation. If we had not participated in Moscow, there would have been no gold medal for Sebastian Coe, and he would not have overseen the 2012 Olympics, of which the UK is justly proud and which gave the world an image of an inclusive, welcoming and achieving nation. I recommend this book for readers like me, who rarely delve into sports biographies. I was engrossed from the start, reading it from cover to cover over two days (and nights).

We empathise with the years of effort that went into training and eventually to the specific desire that the first man to break the four-minute mile be British. His description of May 6, 1954, is full of tension and suspense. We know that he succeeded with the help of his friends, Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, but the reader realises there was nothing inevitable about it.

Sir Roger transports us to the fifties, breathing the air, eating the rationed food and aware of the lack of knowledge. His description of his love of running is poetic. However, when he writes about science, you sense his passion but you read the facts.

As a medical researcher looking at British soldiers in Aden dying of heat, he designed a heat chamber and injected himself with pyrogens. His wife Moyra told me he turned green: “I’m not exaggerating. . . he could have killed himself.”

Sir Roger writes affectionately and proudly of his family and Moyra brought warmth and an added richness to his life. If Twin Tracks goes to a reprint I recommend adding a few of her paintings or sketches to the blocks of photographs.

Twin Tracks
By Roger Bannister
Robson Press, £20

Engrossing biography of a sportsman and scientist