An Artist of the Canvas
The multi talented facets of welterweight Roger Green lend themselves to a plethora of plays on words. Put aside such trivial notions because when it comes to artistry Roger was not just an artist of the wrestling canvas kind, but also a student of art at the Leeds School of Art and Reading University.
Not many wrestlers, and we can think of only one other, can list amongst their achievements public exhibitions of their paintings and drawings around the world. Roger Green can do so, and has had exhibitions of his work in the UK, Austria and Portugal. We accompany this piece with a selection of paintings from his one man exhibition in Lisbon.
If that wasn’t enough, and for Roger it wasn’t, he is also a man of words and began his working life as a journalist working for regional and national newspapers.
These many talents proved both advantageous and disadvantageous to wrestling fans. Advantageous because his studies took him northwards, to Leeds for a while, which meant that fans far away from his southern base were able to enjoy his wrestling, but disadvantageous because it meant that Roger probably drifted out of the sport sooner than we might otherwise have expected.
It wasn’t wrestling, but body building, that attracted Havant born Roger to a local gym as a teenager. Not just any old gym, mind you. Roger trained at the world famous gym of Bob Woolger, a man recognised as the founding father of British bodybuilding, who also helped get Arnold Schwarzenegger into shape, so to speak.
It was at Bob Woolger’s gym that that Roger trained alongside his friend Bob Kirkwood. The two of them shared another interest, watching professional wrestling, and they would go along to the local Drill Hall, paying particular attention to the career of Spencer Churchill who had already made the transition from body building to wrestling.
When Bob told Roger about a new boxing and wrestling gym that had opened in North End Portsmouth it was no surprise that the two youngsters decided to give it a try.
The gym was owned and run by the fearsome Pompey heavyweight Big Bruno Elrington. Having introduced themselves the boys were invited onto the mat by big Bruno for an opening session. Whatever you may have read elsewhere in Wrestling Heritage about Bruno’s generosity and gentle nature outside of the ring this aspect of his character did not extend to “trying out” a couple of youngsters who had walked through the doors declaring their intention to wrestle.
Unsurprisingly Bruno tested the youngsters stamina and courage to their maximum. Undeterred the two of them vowed to return which they did, and slowly began to learn the rudiments of professional wrestling. When asked to name those who had influenced him the most Roger had no hesitation in naming Big Bruno, the man who had not only shown him the ropes, but thrown him through them on occasions. He also paid tribute to Paul Lincoln, for reasons that will become clear.
This was towards the end of the 1950s, a time when the demand for new blood in professional wrestling was great but entry into the profession nevertheless highly competitive because so many youths wanted to become a wrestler.
When the time was right Bruno introduced Roger and Bob to the independent promoter Paul Lincoln, and the two of them were asked to demonstrate their skills in the ring one night at Hayling Island before the doors opened to the general public for that evenings show.
The youngsters impressed Lincoln sufficiently enough for them to be booked regularly for bouts around the country.
Roger’s professional debut was as a last minute substitute at Wimbledon Palais, and he found himself matched against the experienced Eddie Capelli.
“I was nervous as hell. I had never performed in front of a big audience before. Capelli won, but the crowd gave me a big hand so I returned to Portsmouth that night feeling a new way of life had opened up for me.”
Before the archivists and historians get too far scouring their records we will let on that Roger was not named on the published programme and was introduced by the MC (for the one night only) as Calgary’s Hal Moreton.
Roger was right in thinking that a new way of life had opened up for him and from then on three or four nights a week he would finish work on the Portsmouth News, pack his bag, and head off to wrestling halls around the south.
Looking back at Roger’s list of opponents during those first two years might well look like a who’s who of the lighter weights, but remember that men such as the Cortez brothers, Al Miquet (above about to be slammed by Roger), Alan Sergeant, Bob Kirkwood, Reg Trood, Linde Caulder, Zoltan Boscik, Peter Rann, Young Robby, Bob Anthony, Johnny Saint and Kim Kendo were also in the fledgling years of their career.
Mixed in with these youngsters were some very experienced men from whom Roger learned a great deal; Fred Van Lotta, Pat Kloke, Ken Joyce, Eric Sands, Tony Zale, Harry Fields, Danny Flynn and Fred Woolley.
Working for Lincoln also meant opportunities to meet overseas visitors that included Judah Ischa Israel, Jean Corne, Inca Peruano and George Passalaris,
Although he preferred singles bouts to tag contests Roger occasionally flirted with a variety of tag partners, the exception being a successful long term pairing with Bob Anthony.
Working mainly, though not exclusively, for the progressive Paul Lincoln Management, did give Roger the experience of appearing in some of the country’s biggest and prestigious venues such as the Sophia Gardens, Cardiff; The Edgware Road Metropolitan, the DeMontfort Hall, Leicester, and the Granada Cinemas in Tooting and Edmonton.
Not one to miss an opportunity Paul Lincoln offered Roger the job of writing publicity materials and so he began work in the Lincoln Old Compton Street office.This growing involvement in the wrestling business suited Roger not only because it was work he enjoyed but also offered convenient arrangements, and money, to support his artistic ambitions.
Roger enrolled as an art student at Reading University. The two activities, wrestling and painting have more in common than we might initially realise:
"The ritualised drama of wrestling, played out within the space of the square, canvas-covered ring, with opposite corners coloured blue and red, ha interesting parallels to the process of abstract expressionaist art. Both are about the interaction of elemental forces within the parameters of the arena..."
During the summer months Roger would travel to Spain working for promoter Gil Esparzo, appearing throughout the country in Barcelona, Madrid Valencia, Zaragoza, Benidorm and other Spanish towns. It was in Spain that Roger endured his toughest ever contest, a sixty minute no rounds contest against the Spanish champion Modesto Aledo, which resulted in a draw.
In January 1966 came about a major re-organisation in British wrestling, and as a Paul Lincoln mainstay Roger was well placed to benefit from the merger of the Paul Lincoln and Dale Martin operations.
He was one of a group of ex independent wrestlers to find their way on to Joint Promotions books, meaning new venues, the lure of television appearances and new opponents. Suddenly Roger’s opponents included better known names who were well known to fans around the country through the benefit of television exposure. In the first couple of months of 1966 opponents included high profile wrestlers that included Brian Maxine, Stefan Milla, Chic Purvey, Bernard Murray, Bob Archer O’Brien, Kalman Gaston, Leon Fortuna, Al Nicol, Adrian Street, Julien Morice, Terry Jowett and Pasquale Salvo (top left, about to be posted by Roger).
The biggest names of them all, Jackie Pallo and Mick McManus followed soon afterwards. Roger's athleticism and speed worked well with both the old timers and matches with the two Londoners were not infrequent in years to come. He met both on television, and actually wrestled Mick McManus no fewer than four times on the small screen (right).
A move to Leeds to continue his art studies led to a fresh new face for northern fans and new opponents and venues for Roger. The big Northern halls of Liverpool Stadium New St James Hall, Newcastle; Belle Vue, Manchester; City Hall, Sheffield; and the Town Hall, Leeds saw Roger facing Northern favourites. In April 1968 he narrowly missed taking the British welterweight title from Bradford's Jim Breaks in front of the champions home fans at the St Georges Hall, though no doubt they gave Breaks as little encouragement as did fans elsewhere in the country.
In the early 1970s Roger cut back on his wrestling appearances to concentrate on his many other interests. He made his final break with wrestling in 1975.
In 1982 Roger moved to the Algarve, where he continue to paint and write in both English and Portuegese publications from his hilltop cottage.
Add to his energetic working life a passion for antique bottles, a love for exploring and learning about the countryside in which he lives, and a recent venture into renting out rooms that open onto a patio of fig trees, views of the rolling countryside and the sound of a friendly nearby dog.
The photo on the right tells the tale.
Roger Green, a contented man whose achievements deserve celebration on Wrestling Heritage.
Roger Green died in December, 2015.