A Man with a Passion
We never cease to be astonished by the number of times we come across former wrestlers who two or three decades after retiring from the ring still enthuse passionately about the business of which they were once a part. Les Prest, the Teeside mat man of independent and Joint Promotion rings is one of those. Such is his continued love of the sport we half expected Les to confess to handing over his ten bob as a punter on the nights he wasn't wrestling. Come to that, we think he might even have been willing to hand over his cash to get into the shows on which he was wrestling!
Les, who now lives about ten miles from his home town of Middlesborough, became interested in wrestling as a teenager. A visit to Castle Howard when he was fourteen was to prove one of those life-changing moments. Amongst the stalls and rides was a wrestling booth, and amongst the wrestlers accepting challenges was the mammoth Klondyke Bill. Les was totally fascinated by the spectacle and after that visit to the fairground booth his weekly spending money paid for a seat at the Middlesborough Town Hall wrestling shows.
When he was sixteen the brass band in which Les played performed in a local gala. Also at the gala were amateur wrestlers from the St Luke's wrestling club putting on an exhibition. Les was intrigued by the amateurs and saw an opportunity to get involved in the sport he loved. A couple of weeks later he turned up at St Lukes and signed up at the club which also introduced Ian Gilmour, Tony Elsdon, Ray Leslie and Eddie Fox to the world of professional wrestling.
Another regular in attendance at St Lukes whenever his wrestling commitments permitted was the local champion, Norman Walsh. Norman took an interest in the sixteen year old and was to become a big influence in the years to come.
Three years later nineteen year old Les made his professional debut, working for promoter Ray Diamond and debuting against Norman Hill in nearby Hartlepool.
In the years that followed Les combined wrestling commitments throughout the country with his work as a heavy goods fitter. Bouts were mostly limited to northern England and Scotland, but many of his fondest memories are of the week long tours of the south west working for Allan and Taylor Promotions. These were harduous weeks, not just involving long distance travel but often wrestling seven or eight times in a fewer number of days.
With a couple of years experience under his belt Les was signed up by George de Relwyskow, who he considered “A smashing fellah.” Naturally, Les hoped that signing up for Joint Promotions would lead on to greater things. As it was the anticipated televison appearances didn't materialise and although he did get regular bookings Les found that he wasn't quite as busy as when he worked for the independents.
Eventually Les decided to return to the independent promoters. Working for all the main promoters in the north and Scotland Les again found himself very busy.
It was all to end abruptly. A 1980 booking by Brian Dixon for a contest at Middlesborough Town Hall against the ex White Eagle Terry Jowett seemed pretty routine. The ending of the bout was anything but routine. Les fell awkwardly and broke his leg. Recovery took ten months and then the doctors delivered the most hurtful blow of all, that his career was at an end.
Saddened but undeterred Les was determined to continue in the business and bought a ring to promote his own shows. With his contacts and reputation as an honest and reliable collegaue Les was able to book some of the bigger known names in wrestling for his shows. Les Kellett, Mal Kirk, Peter Preston, John Cox, Barry Douglas, Lee Sharron, Johnny Saint and others were soon regular workers for Les Prest Promotions. Some of these big names were willing to work for Les unadvertised to avoid the disapproval of their Joint Promotion bosses.
Les speaks highly of most of those he has met in the wrestling world, but as a wrestling promoter he knew all the tricks that any roguish workers might try to pull. “I knew all the tricks,” said Les, “because I'd tried most of them myself.” When pushed for those wrestlers he mostly respected Les came up with three names, Barry Douglas, John Allan and Eric Taylor.
Les continued to promote until the late 1980s. By then the writing was well and truly on the wall for just about all the promoters. Les decided that his memories would have to be enough, and he certainly has enough of those to keep him happy. Les still lives near Middlesborough where he works as a long distance lorry driver.