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Clem Beckett: Motorcycle Legend and War Hero (Kindle)


By Rob Hargreaves
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 50.7 MB (.mobi)
This file exceeds the Kindle Cloud 50 MB size limit
ISBN: 9781399098441
eBook Released: 30th March 2022


£9.98 Print price £25.00

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Clem Beckett was fourteen when he first rode a homemade motorcycle over the cobbled streets of his hometown. It was the start of a lifelong love affair with speed and machines. For Beckett, the motorbike was a means of escape from the uncertain future of Oldham’s stricken industries in the aftermath of the First World War. Beckett’s zest for life, his natural exuberance and determination to be a winner, overcame the disadvantages of a poor home bereft of a father. As a pioneering Dirt Track (speedway) rider he broke records galore, and as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War he broke down class barriers. Whether as a tearaway teenager, an outspoken sportsman, or a member of the Communist Party, his life was characterized by broadsides of irreverence towards authority.

To Beckett, the appeal of revolutionary politics was youthful rejection of ‘old fogey’ values and the dominating role of of tweedy gentility in motorcycle sport. Reviving faded memories and anecdotes of his career as a pioneer speedway rider, this book traces Beckett’s extraordinary rise from blacksmith’s apprentice to superstar, in a new sport which typified the energy of the Roaring Twenties, and was characterised by risk-taking and serial injury. Ever the showman, and banned from the Dirt Track for trying to protect his fellow riders from exploitation, Beckett took to riding the Wall of Death.

Observing the rise of fascism on his travels in Europe, Beckett’s increasing involvement with politics led to marriage to the mysterious Lida Henriksen, and inexorably to volunteer service in the British Battalion of the International Brigades in Spain. A narrative spiced with anecdotes and new revelations about Beckett shows why from boyhood to the poignant circumstances of his death in battle, Clem Beckett inspired love and loyalty.

Book review as featured in

Speedway Star

Clem Beckett lived an extraordinary life and author Rob Hargreaves has been spoilt for choice in compiling this biography when it comes to incident and anecdotes. Hargreaves's subject packed an awful lot into his 30 short years; a founding father of speedway racing, a committed left-wing activist in the 1930s and a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War's International Brigades, where he met his early death. Beckett was extraordinarily brave and daring in everything he did, but was also an intelligent observer; after visiting the Soviet Union he was sure bureaucracy would stifle the USSR and he was unconvinced by the infamous show trials.

This is an unashamedly warts-and-all account and all the better for it, full of incident and human details from start to finish. The lively pace in maintained by the brief and punchy chapters, that almost resemble speedway races themselves in their energy and brevity. There is much to recommend this book to anyone interested in motorsport, the Spanish Civil War, the Great Depression and working class activism.

Alex Clifford, author of Hindenburg, Ludendorff and Hitler

Details on radio interview available at:


Rachel's Bookshelf

'Rob tells the tale of baking legend who became a war hero'

Highlight: 'A former teacher, journalist and solicitor has released a fascinating book about a war hero and motorcycle legend... The father of two said: “I have always been interested in the Spanish Civil War which is often ignored by historians and I believe that the sacrifices made by men like Clem Beckett and Maurice Stott have not been properly recognised. I wanted to set the
record straight and also to commemorate a true hero."'

Rochdale Observer

About Rob Hargreaves

Aware of Clem Beckett’s reputation as a hero of the Spanish Civil War, Robert Hargreaves, retired journalist and solicitor, began researching his early life in Oldham and as a motorcycle sportsman. The outcome is Clem Beckett: Motorcycle Legend and War Hero, describing the trajectory of Beckett’s life from obscurity to stardom to martyrdom. In this, his second book for Pen and Sword, Hargreaves gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Alan Hampson, co-author of Beyond Peterloo, echoing the theme of forgotten working class heroes.

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