Leslie Herbert Josiah Blakebrough (1907 - 1978) was born at Caversham, now a district of Reading in Berkshire. Note: the name is often misspelt as Blakeborough, with a superfluous 'O'.
Les worked as a carpenter with his father in a small factory making handmade doors in Clacton, Essex. Though his schooling had been limited, he had a natural gift for art and mathematics and an inventive mechanical talent.
He didn't have any motorcycle experience until 1926 when a 2¾ Omega graced his stable. This was swopped for a Harley, which he described as a 'Chaff Cutter'. When going at 40 mph, it sounded more like 190mph! Then came a Cotton 348cc Blackburne which had previously covered several thousand miles on the road. In 1927 he entered a grass-track meeting at Hampton Court on the Cotton. Following his victories there, and at other grass track events, he turned his attention to dirt-track racing.
He first rode on the cinders at the opening meeting of Greenford in April 1928. He paid his entrance fees for the races and "Had a go just to see what it was like" said Les. He created the solo record and held it for a month, so the Greenford people offered him a retainer. "Well, that's better than working as carpenter and joiner, especially when I could win prize money on top, so I gave myself the sack and proceeded with the good work, and felt as rich as Rockefeller in about three weeks." In May he won the Southall Cup race there.
At the end of 1928 he was involved in the ill fated expedition to Zamalek in Egypt, where he was reported to be the life and soul of the party.
He started the '29 season using a Douglas while he fitted a JAP engine in his Cotton and experimented with alterations to the trail of the forks and the engine suspension. He was now based in the Kingston area and, because of the mask he used to protect his face from flying cinders, the 'Daily Mail' christened him 'The Bogey Man'!
Les was in the first Stamford Bridge team, helping them win the 1929 Southern League. He had much success there as well as at Crystal Palace, both path racing and on the dirt track. He also had a go at the Wall of Death.
In April 1931 he broke his collarbone at Nottingham riding for the Bridge in a League match. Later that year he invented a novel, if rather strange, back wheel for his racing machine. It consisted of a series of wooden balls mounted on the rim in place of the tyre. He claimed this device made broadsiding more rapid, also making it possible to broadside on hard surfaces. (Casey Stoner might try it!)
In 1932 he is riding for Clapton with limited success. The following season he is with Coventry as a reserve, but in June he dislocated his shoulder in a heavy fall at Wembley when he hit Van Praag's rear wheel. Shortly after, he shattered his right knee in a crash, hitting an embankment. Les decided to retire from speedway as he had a young family to consider and went back to the door factory.
Because of the knee injury, he was turned down for active war service, but worked on radar development as a civilian during the war years. After the war he worked in the motor trade at Bexley in Kent, and then later in the aircraft industry as an inspector of aircraft parts with Morfax in Mitcham, Surrey. He retired in 1973 to Crackington Haven near Bude and had five idyllic retirement years in Cornwall. His daughter remembers him "as a sweet and lovely man".
Les's first son, also Les, was born in 1930 in Kingston, Surrey. In 1948 he moved to Australia and has become one of Australia 's most acclaimed and influential ceramic artists. He is now based in Hobart, Tasmania. You can read about him and see some of his fine work by clicking here.
Many thanks to Jennifer Blakebrough-Raeburn and her brothers for providing information and pictures used in this article.