Dirt track speedway pioneer Clem Beckett’s links to Sheffield celebrated in new book

A motorcycle legend and war hero who reached the peak of his career in Sheffield early last century has been celebrated in a new book .

Monday, 21st March 2022, 10:33 am

From becoming a motorcycling sport star to fighting with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, Clem Beckett lived his life at break-neck speed.

His extraordinary experiences provide a riveting tale of sports history in the early 20th century, set against the background of politics and for fighting what you believe in on a world stage.

Beckett was a pioneer in introducing dirt track motorcycle racing Speedway into Britain in 1928, signalling an unprecedented episode in Britain’s sporting history.

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Clem Beckett was a pioneer in introducing dirt track motorcycle racing Speedway into Britain

Now, Clem Beckett, Motorcycle Legend and War Hero by Rob Hargreaves provides a unique perspective on the role of sport in the turbulent social and political events of the inter-war period.

And it takes unseen archival material from Russia to provide an account of life in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War.

Beckett was 14 when he first rode a homemade motorcycle over the cobbled streets in his hometown of Oldham in Lancashire. 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. His zest for life, and his natural exuberance and determination to be a winner, overcame the disadvantages of a poor home bereft of a father.

Clem Beckett in action

As a pioneering dirt track rider he broke many records 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 characterised by irreverence towards authority.

A spokesperson for publisher Pen & Sword Books said: “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.”

Beckett’s increasing involvement with politics led to marriage to the ‘mysterious’ Lida Henriksen, and to volunteer service in the British Battalion of the International Brigades in Spain.

Clem Beckett: Motorcycle Legend and War Hero

The spokesperson added: “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.”

Author Robert Hargreaves is a retired journalist and solicitor and this is his second book for Pen and Sword.