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Les Graham: A life in Racing

Author: Bill Snelling
Posted on: Saturday, Dec 02 2006

Les Graham started motorcycling in his teens, in the late 1920s, when traffic was sparse, regulations were few, and informal races on beaches or grass tracks gave a young man opportunities to develop his skill and compete with more experienced riders on 'real' racing machines.
Les quickly showed that was one of the fastest riders in the Wallasey area; he also became a skilled mechanic, with the help of his elder brother, whom he later joined in running a cycle and motorcycle shop. He raced a variety of motorcycles, fettled by himself, including Dot-J.A.P., Rudge, Velocette and OK Supreme. Success with the latter caught the attention of OK Supreme's owners, the Humphries family, who offered him a place as works rider and engine builder.
This was Les' step into national racing and the TT as a works entry. Though unlucky in the TT, his press-on style won major races at Donington, Cadwell and the fast and fierce grass track events that were very popular until the outbreak of the war.
During the war Les served in the Royal Air Force, training as a bomber pilot. His control and 'feel' for his Lancaster on active service, and his courage in several perilous incidents earned him the DFC, promotion, but above all, his crew's respect. When racing restarted after the war Les joined AJS as a works rider, and experienced the highs and lows delivered by the mechanically temperamental racers. His cheerful and positive personality helped him through some dismal seasons, but in 1949 everything came together and was the first 500cc World's Champion Rider.
In 1951 Les joined MV Agusta in Italy as works rider and racing development advisor. In twelve hard months he transformed MV's unreliable four cylinder racer into a balanced machine that carried him to second place in the 1952 Riders' World Championship. He helped MV to re-enter the aviation business with the construction of helicopters, and the Agusta family welcomed the Graham family to live near them on Lake Como.
Early in the 1953 racing season, Les was killed in a terrible accident in the Senior TT. It was a loss with which many people have still not fully come to terms.
Les' two sons, Stuart and Chris, his elder brother and nephew Jim shared Les' enthusiasm for racing, and there is a short account of their racing achievements.
Hardback A4, 110 black and white photographs,
Available from Bill Snelling, Lossan y Twoaie, Glen Rd, Laxey, isle of Man, IM4 7AN.
20.35 (UK), 24.45 (Europe) 25.45 (Rest of World)

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