WRESTLING HERITAGE

A hobby site created by enthusiasts of 
British wrestling celebrating wrestling and 
wrestlers from 1930 onwards through 
fifty glorious years of British wrestling history

 

British wrestling history in bite sized pieces.

With additional research and graphics by Ron Historyo. 

 

 1932 
The Olympic Games are held in Amsterdam .... The BBC carry out their first television test transmissions .... Publication of Brave New World .... Adolf Hitler obtains German citizenship .... Opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge .... Dow Jones Industrial Average reaches the lowest level ever.

 

By 1932 the growth in popularity of professional wrestling was beginning to gain momentum, and with it tensions and rivalries were beginning to arise inside and outside the ring. Atholl Oakeley claimed the British heavyweight championship, a claim disputed by Douglas Clark,  a rival of Oakeley not just in the ring but as a promoter also. In 1931 Clark had beaten Oakeley on points in the final of a championship tournament at the London Club. 

Another critic of Oakeley was William Bankier  manager of Bert Assirati, who publicly claimed Oakeley was avoiding his wrestler. Bankier, better known as Apollo, was the erstwhile manager of Yukio Tani and had promoted wrestling at the Alhambra Theatre. These rivalries were destined to last for years.

It was claimed that twenty wrestling shows were taking place each week. Not just in the big cities such as London, Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow, but smaller towns around the country: Shrewsbury, Swindon, Derby, Devizes, Taunton, Wootton Bassett, Oxford, Ilkeston,  Blackpool, Hull and even rural villages such as Craven Arms in Shropshire.

Nottingham established itself as one of the main provincial centres of wrestling, with crowds of over 4,000 reported to watch the biggest names: Norman the Butcher, King Curtis and Carver Doone appearing regularly.  In August "The Elstree Adonis" Len Franklin defeated Irish champion Barney O'Brien in an eliminator contest to face (and lose to) Oakeley for the British title on 29th August.

The violence displayed in some rings, which was proving increasingly popular amongst the public, was receiving criticism in some quarters. The local and national press, which regularly reported wrestling contests, often complained about the worst excesses of the matches. In March, 1932,  Mr R. Jennings, M.P., questioned the Home Secretary in Parliament of any plans to ban All-In wrestling. The Home Secretary, Sir Herbert Samuel, replied that he had not received any written objections to wrestling and  there were no such plans for legislation. Furthermore, in response to another question, he stated that prohibition of boxing and wrestling between white and coloured men could not be justified.

Not that all wrestling was as rough as is often portrayed. When Atholl Oakeley beat Jack Pye at The Ring on 13th December the Daily Mirror reported that those fans wanting to see "rough stuff" had been disappointed. The match was apparently  an exhibition of clever  locks and holds fought in good spirit. Pye was courageous and skilful, but began to tire visibly after fifty minutes, leaving the stronger Oakely to gain the decision.

The British press were generally fair to wrestling in their coverage, with the Daily Express writer Trevor Wignall being one of the sport's staunchest critics. Although critical of excessive violence Wignall was supportive of Catch wrestling, which was also thriving,  and all legitimate styles. Wrestling reports were usually included in the sports section of newspapers, as was the announcement in May that Laurent Giestmans and Atholl Oakeley had signed to wrestle for the European Heavyweight Championship.

The press acknowledged there was more to wrestling than the ability to endure pain, but there was a need to get referees who were  able to enforce enforce the rules.  Newspapers urged  promoters to drop the "All In" label and all suggestions that wrestling in Britain had any links with the disreputable American spectacle. Despite the cynicism of the press injuries did occur, of course, and on 31st October South African Bill Sike broke his jaw when thrown from the ring by Percy Smart at London's Lime Grove Baths, ironically on the press table.

Wrestling was spreading rapidly to towns and cities throughout the country. Some were destined to remain great wrestling venues for almost half a century.  The foundation stone for Liverpool Stadium was laid by Lord Lonsdale in July, 1932.   Another famous venue opened it's doors to All-In wrestling on 14th January, 1932 when two thousand fans filled the Granby Halls, Leicester, previously used for boxing matches. Ringsiders surged around the ring to congratulate Atholl Oakeley who took 51 minutes to defeat the French champion Francois Berthod in the main event. Cordite Conroy was badly cut under the right eye as he lost to King Curtis, Alexandre Poizni of France defeated Bob Gregory and Walter Magnee drew with Jack Pye.

Catch wrestlers such as Billy Moores, Billy Riley and Jack Carroll were now making their way as professional wrestlers.

Professional wrestling returned to Hull after a gap of a  quarter of a century in March, 1932, when Billy Moores fought Alec Munroe in the main event at Madeley Street, Baths. Another famous boxing venue that opened it's doors to wrestling for the first time was The Ring in Blackfriars. On February 25th a boxing and wrestling show began many years association between The Ring and  All In Wrestling.

A quarter of a century earlier wrestling had take place in the music halls and variety theatres of Britain with men such as Georges Hackenschmidt (left), and Jack Carkeek issuing nightly challenges to any member of the audience brave enough to take them on. Strongman Apollo, otherwise wrestling impresario and promoter William Bankier revived the tradition with a troupe of wrestlers travelling around the country, issuing their challenges in theatres and fairs. This wrestling as a vaudeville attraction returned to the Victoria Palace, London, in  March, 1932.

For the week beginning 7th March All-In wrestling shared the stage with other variety acts, an event ridiculed in the national press, dismissed as utterly silly and hideous. The stage curtains opened to reveal a wrestling ring. Amongst the audience in the stalls a man jumped up. He was Apollo (William Bankier) himself, who loudly and publicly issued a challenge to Atholl Oakeley to wrestle "his man," an Anglo Italian named  Bert Assirati.  Conveniently Assirati was  present and entered the stage ready for combat, only to be told by the Master of Ceremonies that the match would not take place. Members of the wrestling troupe that did perform that evening were Jim Wango (who did wrestle Oakeley), Cordite Conroy, Barney O'Brien and  King Curtis. 

Assirati  set sail from Southampton to New York on 23rd April, 1932. He was to remain absent from Britain until December, returning with a reputation as one of the great heavyweights and world beater. Read more about Bert's tour in our Shining Star item "No Angel of Islington"

The attraction of the new style wrestling was greatest amongst industrial workers, with the low cost of admission making it a viable night out. The working class weren't the only people at ringside, though, with more well heeled ringside observers included the Countess of  Oxford, Lady Asquith, and Oswald Moseley. In May wrestling, along with boxing and fencing, was part of the Noble Art Ball, held at Grosvenor House, a charity event in support of the  Invalid Children's Aid Association.

Benny Sherman's victory over Norman The Butcher at the Ring, Blackfriars, was reportedly one of the best exhibitions of wrestling for years, with Sherman demonstrating one of the cleverest exhibitions of wrestling. Shame that Norman the Butcher attacked the referee!

It wasn't just in Britain that things were happening. The Daily Mirror forecast that if the match between Benny Sherman and Jack Pye, due to take place in Paris on 14th September, was as good as their meeting at the Ring then Parisien fans should be very pleased.

The rivalry between two great lightweights, Harold Angus and Alec Munroe came to a head when wrestling was presented for the first time at the Music Hall, Edinburgh, in February 1932. Promoter of the show was the local boxing promoter Harold Bownas. Local man Munroe faced Doncaster's Angus over three ten minute rounds, winner decided by the best of three falls or on points. At stake was the British lightweight championship. The match was contested under Catch-As-Catch-Can rules with referee H.Harrison declaring a draw on points after thirty minutes of wrestling.

Towards the end of the year Karl Pojello (left) appeared in British rings. A fine wrestler by anyone's standards, Pojello was a Lithuanian who had been charged with training Oakeley when the British wrestler toured the United States. Pojello had come to Europe to promote wrestling in France, but was coaxed to Britain by his friend Oakeley.  Pojello's victory over Jack Pye at Nottingham in November, reported as ".... an outstanding revelation of scientific wrestling"  was the start of a string of victories – King Curtis, Carver Doone, Sam Rabin, Golden Hawk, George Clark, Atholl Oakeley and Heinrich Froehner for the European heavyweight  championship.

By the end of 1932 professional wrestling had continued to make in-roads into British culture. But they were in-roads of a fragmented nature. Two codes of wrestling existed side by side, Catch and All-In, and All-In itself varied between those contests where rules were more or less enforced, and those where it seemed anything short of murder was permitted, whilst elsewhere  music hall challenges put wrestling on par with acrobats rather than sportsmen. And then there was the issue of champions, no national recognition and disputed claims.

Wrestling was winning fans, but losing so many opportunities.

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