Arthur Bourne – who wrote under the nom de plume of Torrens – was one of the most important journalists of motorcycling’s first century. He edited Britain’s biggest-selling weekly, The Motor Cycle, for 23 years, from 1928 to 1951, thus documenting the British motorcycle industry as it approached its zenith.
As a young boy Bourne watched German Zeppelins bombing London during the First World War and only just missed conscription. Fresh out of Imperial College London in the early 1920s, he started out as Auto Cycle Union (ACU) Engineer, based at the Royal Automobile Club’s Pall Mall HQ, as the ACU was then part of the Club. His ACU duties were multifarious: from dealing with members’ technical enquiries to observing ACU Officially Certified tests of machines, components and accessories and to scrutineering record breakers and winners at Brooklands and the Isle of Man TT.
At Brooklands he was able to earn a little on the side – two or three guineas per meeting – to help enforce strict silencer regulations, implemented following complaints and threats of legal action from the denizens of the surrounding stockbroker belt.
In 1926 he joined The Motor Cycle, on £300 a year, and soon after received his first speed ticket for exceeding the 20mph limit near Buckingham Palace. This was a crime of such import that he “got a wigging from Chief Constable Basso at Scotland Yard”. They were very different times.
During his years at ‘The Blue Un’, as his magazine was nicknamed, Bourne became personal friends with many of the great names of the British motorcycle industry, from George Brough to Norton CEO, Gilbert Smith, Norton race chief, Joe Craig and renowned Triumph engineer Edward Turner. These names often came to him for advice – Bourne strenuously argued with Norton after the Second World War that they should race multi-cylinder machines, but to no avail.
Young hopefuls also sought out his wisdom. In the early 1920s a bedraggled Cambridge undergraduate turned up at the office of The Motor Cycle, seeking advice. The youngster was Phil Vincent.
During the war, Bourne played a leading role in helping the British military in all matters motorcycling. His suggestions led directly to the creation of the tiny Flying Flea minibike that was used by Airborne Brigades during and after the Normandy landings. He also became responsible for training army motorcycle riders to master tricky terrain on their Norton and Matchless machines. To this end he employed top-class trials riders – including Allan Jefferies, grandfather of nine-time TT winner David Jefferies – to impart their knowledge, with great effect.
Bourne took his nom de plume from Latin – Torrens is Latin for bourne, a small stream. While he was at The Motor Cycle, readers would sometimes write to him in Latin, which would prompt him to reply in Greek. He continued to serve the Royal Automobile Club for many years as chair of its motorcycle committee, and as a member of its public policy committee. In the 1960s he was Deputy Chairman of the Club. He died in 1977 in Fordingbridge, Hants.