Archive of Roger Bannister
Appointment diaries, correspondence and papers, literary papers, printed material, photographs, objects and audio visual material relating to Sir Roger Bannister's athletic, medical, Sports Council and Oxford college careers.
- Creation: c. 1900-2021, n.d.
38.975 Linear metres (112 boxes)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Some material is closed.
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish material must be obtained from the rights holder.
Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. 11527/3].
Full range of shelfmarks:
MSS. 11527/1-101, MSS. 11527 Photogr. 1-11
Collection ID (for staff)
CMD ID 11527, 13009, 21639
The archive of Sir Roger Bannister (1929-2018), neurologist, first chairman of the Sports Council, Master of Pembroke College Oxford, and world record breaking athlete who in 1954 became the first man to run a faster-than-four-minute mile.
Biographical / Historical
Sir Roger Bannister (1929-2018), middle-distance runner, neurologist, and Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, was born on 23 March 1929 in Harrow, Middlesex to civil servant Ralph Bannister (1894–1971) and his wife Alice, née Duckworth (1899–1977). He had an older sister called Joyce. Shortly before the Second World War Ralph Bannister was posted to Bath and Roger transferred to City of Bath Boys' School and then from 1944, University College School, Hampstead.
A talented runner even at school, Bannister graduated early and in 1946 at the age of seventeen he came to Exeter College at Oxford University to study medicine. He won the 1947 inter-varsity mile race the day before his eighteenth birthday and was under consideration for the 1948 London Olympics team but, not feeling ready, he turned that opportunity down and served instead as an assistant to the Headquarters Staff. He served as president of the Oxford University Athletic Club, leading the club on a tour of American colleges in the summer 1949 and instigating the redevelopment and resurfacing of the Iffley road track where he later won a world record. He was also president of the university's sporting club Vincent's.
In 1949, in his first international event representing Britain, Bannister finished third in the European Championships 800m final and having been invited to a competition in New Zealand, ran his best mile time of 4:09.9.
Known for a limited training and racing regimen, Bannister did not appear often in major athletics events but by 1951 he was ranked first in the world over the mile. In 1952, he concentrated all his effort on the Olympics in Helsinki, and while considered a favourite, the organizers' late decision to include a semi-final round in the 1500m meant that he now had to run three days in a row, which burned him out. Although he ran a British record of 3:46:0, he finished a crushing fourth.
Resetting his ambitions, Bannister decided not to retire from athletics but to aim instead at the mile record. The world record was 4:01.3 (held from 1945 by Sweden's Gunder Hägg) but two other men were drawing close to it: Australia's John Landy, and America's Wes Santee, who both ran 4:02 minute miles in 1952 and 1953. Bannister acquired a coach in Franz Stampfl and training partners and pacemakers in Chris Brasher (who later won an Olympic gold medal in steeplechase) and Chris Chataway (later 5000m world record holder) and they trained together from 1953, very nearly succeeding in breaking the record on 27 June 1953 at the Surrey Schools athletic meeting.
The next attempt on the world record was set for 6 May 1954, at a meeting between Oxford University and the Amateur Athletic Association at the university's Iffley Road track. About 3000 spectators watched live with stadium announcer Norris McWhirter, while people at home were able to listen to the BBC's live broadcast commentated by 1924 Olympics 100 metres gold medallist Harold Abrahams.
High winds made the decision on whether or not to make the attempt touch-and-go, but the wind dropped just before the race and Bannister decided to try. Chris Brasher held the lead, pacing Bannister for just over two laps, and then Chris Chataway took over until about 200 yards from the finishing line, when Bannister accelerated into the lead.
He crossed the line at 3:59.4, smashing the world record, and running the first ever sub-four minute mile.
Instantly, and internationally, famous, Bannister was sent by the Foreign Office on a tour of America, while also finding time to qualify as a doctor, but 46 days later his world record was broken by rival John Landy. In August 1954, the two met in one of the most anticipated races of the twentieth century at the British Empire Games (now called the Commonwealth Games) in Vancouver. The 'Miracle Mile' put Bannister's famous finishing kick on fully display. Landy, who was in the lead, made a famous mistake of turning to look for Bannister over his left shoulder and was overtaken immediately on the right. Bannister beat his own British record with a time of 3:58.8 but Landy retained the world record. In 1967, a statue was erected in Vancouver to commemorate the race.
On 11 June 1955, Bannister married the Swedish artist Moyra Elver Jacobsson (b. 1928), daughter of Per Jacobsson (who became managing director of the International Monetary Fund). They had four children.
Bannister practiced clinical medicine in neurology at St. Mary's Hospital in London and the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases. He did his national service with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Aden from 1957-1959, which included writing an important report on preventing heat illness.
From 1971-1974 Bannister served as the first Chairman of the Sports Council (now called Sport England) and was knighted for this in 1975. He oversaw an increase in central and local government funding of sports facilities and he also introduced the first testing for anabolic steroids. He was subsequently appointed the president of the International Council for Sport and Physical Recreation (ICSPR).
Between 1985 and 1993, he served as master of Pembroke College in Oxford, while continuing his clinical and research work in London until 1989, and from 1994-2006 serving as a chairman of St Mary's Hospital Development Trust.
(For further information see the Dictionary of National Biography.)
A large portion of the correspondence and papers were arranged and numbered by or on behalf of Sir Roger Bannister prior to arrival in the Bodleian, and his lists are included with the files.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Deposited by the Bannister family, 2015-2022.
- Catalogue of the papers of Sir Roger Bannister
- Charlotte McKillop-Mash
- Language of description
- Script of description