Rider Of The Week looks at the career of a successful racer and examines the impact they’ve had on the industry. Wallasey native Leslie Graham was a spectacular rider, competing for AJS and Augusta through his career. His greatest achievement came in 1949 when he became the first 500 cc World Champion.
Graham wanted to ride from a young age and his first race took place at Liverpool’s Stanley Speedway. In 1929, he entered the Oswestry Park Hall circuit, riding a second hand Dot-JAP. Even on a second hand bike, Graham proved his skill, coming second to Henry Pinnington.
Graham was a gifted mechanic, as shown when he rebuilt a 250 cc OHC OK-Supreme in 1936. The same year he entered the Ulster Grand Prix. After finishing a lap on the Clady Circuit, the end seized up, but it didn’t stop him from rebuilding the bike. In 1937, Graham competed in the North West 200, only for the valve gear to break. Again, Graham rebuilt the OK-Supreme and went on to win his next race at Donington Park.
Recognising his talent, John Humphries, the son of OK-Supreme’s founder, asked Graham to join his firm. Graham helped assemble the OHC machines alongside Humphries and Andy Mckay. The trio raced in the 1938 South Eastern Championships and Graham took the 20 lap Matchless trophy, setting a new record in the process.
He entered the 1939 Isle of Man TT, running fourth until his Rudge engine CTS broke down. Graham would have rode a Velo in 1940, but WW2 prevented him from doing so. He served as an RAF pilot, flying Lancaster bombers over Germany. For his bravery, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the war, Graham returned to racing as a member of the AJS factory team. During the late 1940s, he enjoyed his greatest success at the inaugural Motorcycle World Championship. He became the first 500 cc World Champion, riding an AJS Porcupine.
In 1951, Count Domenico Agusta approached Graham to ride for MV Agusta. By this time, Graham was becoming frustrated by a lack of development with AJS, so he agreed to join the team. His first win for Agusta came when he won the Swiss Grand Prix. Another win came in 1952 when Graham secured a 500 cc victory at Monza.
For 1953, Graham was the pre-season favourite and he won the Lightweight 125 cc class at the Isle of Man TT. However, the next day he lost control of his bike at the bottom of Bray Hill, dying instantly. As a sign of respect, the MV team withdrew from the event.