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In the 1940s when fan rage too frequently resulted in crowd violence one of the men who often caused the mayhem was a Mancunian by the name of Man Mountain Bill Benny. The red beard and the girth made Benny a fearsome sight. He would stand centre ring, taunt the audience, roar at his opponent and then dart across the ring to seize his luckless opponent.
If a smaller object, such as a referee, was to get in the way then that was just unfortunate. The fans were incensed but always went home feeling that it had been a good night out.
If this gives the impression that Benny had little to offer in terms of wrestling skill then that is far from the truth. The man was a villain of the first order, but he was respected by his compatriots and we remember Accrington’s Jack Taylor reminiscing longingly about the contribution that Benny made to wrestling.
Belle Vue was Benny’s local venue and he encountered fellow villains like Jack Pye and Black Butcher Johnson on his local turf. We understand that in the north west during the 1950s 1960s a common nickname for oversized men was "Man Mountain Benny."
Following a wrestling career that began as a teenager in the late 1930s, and coming to an end in 1960 (he did a few matches in the early sixties), Benny went into club management and wrestling promoting. In 1960 he bought the Hulme Hippodrome, a theatre built as a music hall in 1901.
Bill owned the theatre for two years until he sold it and it was turned into a bingo hall. Amongst clubs owned by Bill were the Levenshulme Sporting Club, The Cabaret Club on Oxford Road, and the Devonshire Club. It was he that encouraged a young judo expert named Al Marquette to enter the world of professional wrestling.
Bill was highly respected as an impresario and his death at the early age of forty-four was reported in the American entertainment magazine, Billboard. On occasions the bearded giant pulled on a mask and entered the ring as the Vampire.
Former wrestler Al Tarzo told us: “I was on a bill early 60's and on the same bill was The Ghoul (Bomber Bates) who was a very good story teller in the dressing room, the conversation got onto the subject of travelling to and from shows in the early days. He then told a story about Bill Benny who at the time of the old steam trains used to have in his travelling bag some railway guard kit ie;- Cap, Signalling lamp and Jacket which he would use to get free travel on the trains”
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Belgian middleweight representative (Graeco Roman and Freestyle) in the 1948 London Olympic Games was Jean Baptiste Benoy. Not only that, but at 21 years 351 days he was the youngest member of the Belgian team. Five years later he was back. Now a professional and billed as Belgian light heavyweight champion Baptiste faced the likes of Vic Hessle, Emile Poilve, and Jim Foy. The Belgian returned the following three years and again in 1960. Maybe he liked the food. Or the weather!
Austrian heavyweight Adi Berber born in Vienna on 4th February, 1913. He was an imposing figure when he came to Britain in the autumn of 1953; at 6' 6" and weighing more than twenty stones he towered over Mike Marino, Al Hayes, Tony Mancelli and other big name British heavyweights. In Vienna Adi not only wrestled but also owned a hotel and restaurant (his father had also been a hotelier). Following his retirement from the ring Adi Berber appeared in around forty films, mainly in minor roles, but including epics that included Ben Hur. His physical stature did result in him being typecast as a villain. Adi Berber died on 3rd January 1966, aged 52.
Although he is now remembered mostly as one of Britain' s top wrestling promoters, and founder member of Joint Promotions, Huddersfield's Ted Beresford was a top class professional wrestler of the 1940s before turning his hand to promoting in the post war years.
Ted Beresford, his birth name was Walter Leonard Beresford, turned to wrestling following a stint in the army and working on a farm. Always a sports fanatic he was encouraged to take up wrestling by the Scottish wrestler George Clarke.
During the war Ted, based in Aldershot whilst serving, organised wrestling tournaments for the army. As one of the top names in the light and mid heavyweight class Ted wrestled the big names of the day such as Norman Walsh, Vic Hessle and Mike Marino.
He retired from wrestling in 1952 with his influence on the wrestling scene continuing to grow for another quarter of a century. He put the skills learned organising tournaments during the war to good used by turning to promoting, usually in partnership with Bradford's Norman Morrell.
Ted's niece, Jennie Sherwood, is seeking information about her family, which includes both Ted and middleweight Steve Clements, and anyone who can help should contact Jennie via this website.
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Sammy Berg was billed as Mr Canada, and had the body to prove it.
Standing 6' 4" tall and weighing a muscular nineteen stones the Canadian made a short visit to Britain in 1960, facing the British heavyweight hopeful Billy Robinson on television.
At the time he was in his early 30s (born in 1929) and had around ten years wrestling experience. Unlike many North American visitors Sammy did have a considerable amount of technical skill to back up his power.
His visit to Britain was towards the end of a wrestling career as he moved into acting, and was set to appear in many films during the years that followed. In the 1980she moved to Hawaii and worked on tv series Magnum, P.I. until it ended in 1988
Swiss heavyweight champion Paul Berger was born on 11 February, 1923, in the town of Thun.
Paul Berger turned professional in 1948, visited the UK in the during the winter of 1954-1955 and again in 1956, including a one fall apiece drawn encounter with Rebel Ray Hunter at the Royal Albert Hall in London, a good result considering Ray Hunter was an Albert Hall favourite who was at the peak of his career.
Paul wrestled around Europe and in the late 1950s worked in the United States. He was also a major promotional force in Germany, and founder of the Association of German Professional Wrestlers (VDB).
With a career that had spanned more than twenty years Paul Berger retired from professional wrestling in 1969. He died on 13th January, 1992, aged 69.
A regular on Independent shows in the North and Midlands in 60s & 70s. Six foot four, sixteen stone, dressed in dungarees, a whisp of hay in his mouth and a stone jar of "moonshine" in his hand. He always wrestled barefooted, too.
Bert was an amiable guy with a ready smile and took on the likes of Hans Streiger, Jack Cassidy, Lord Bertie Topham, Bert Nuttall, Big Bill Blake, Bill Coverdale and a clutch of masked heavyweights. He did not demonstrate the complete repertoire of wrestling moves but was a likeable good guy and enjoyed a lot of support from the younger generation.
He was another graduate of the Black Panther gym in Manchester and popular with the lads. Bert retired to a houseboat on the Norfolk Broads but, unfortunately, he died at a comparatively early age and the pallbearers at his funeral were Ian "Mad Dog" Wilson, Peter Lindberg, Eddie Rose, Danny Clough, Alec Burton and Mark Wayne. One of the good guys...
We've said it before, and we'll say it a hundred times again. There was just so much wrestling talent in the 1960s and 1970s, it was so difficult to stand out in the crowd, that good men were lost but to all but the more ardent fans.
Such was the case with Bradford's Steve Best. We saw him in the sixties, and enjoyed him as much as anyone, but he remained the Johnny Saint that never was.
A class act indeed, a fast and skilful technician, popular welterweight Steve Best combined wrestling and teaching careers.
Trained by Ernest Baldwin he made his professional debut in 1964 whilst still a university student. A television debut against Jim Elder in September 1965 was good enough to earn a second tv outing against none other than World lightweight champion George Kidd. Steve lost, of course, but it was the foundation of a successful tv career against more than twenty opponents including Mick McManus, another inevitable loss. As well as being a successful solo performer Steve Best formed a popular tag team with Johnny Saint, known as “The Elite.”
When it comes to the genuine article amongst the old timers the name Ted Betley is right up there alongside the names of Billy Riley, Billy Chambers and Billy Joyce. Immersed in catch as catch can wrestling from his youth Ted turned to professional wrestling whilst serving in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Twenty year old Ted began to squeeze wrestling bouts into his wartime commitments as promoters in the major towns and cities kept the business going to maintain a climate of normality during the hostilities.
Early opponents, often at Belle Vue in Manchester, included Norman Thomas, Val Cerino, Bert Mansfield and Bill Ogden. Following the war Ted's career upped a gear or two and he could be seen around Britain, though mostly the midlands, northern England and Scotland against other post war shooters Billy Joyce, Count Bartelli and Jack Beaumont.
Those in the know testify that when it came to shooting Ted could hold his own with any of them. Ted continued wrestling until the early 1960s, his name often associated with a northern England version of Dr Death, but we have not had this confirmed by anyone with first hand knowledge. However, it is as an inspirational trainer of a new generation of wrestling stars for Ted he is mostly celebrated. Based at his Warrington gymnasium Ted Betley was responsible for creating international wrestling stars Dynamite Kid, Davey "British Bulldog" Smith and Wonderboy Steve Wright. Claims made by others that he trained Dave “Fit” Finlay are erroneous. Highly respected in the wrestling world Ted turned down an invitation to move to Japan and teach his wrestling skills. Instead, at the age of 59, he sold his grocery business, locked up the gym for the last time and moved to Port Erin in the Isle of Man where he lived until his death, aged 79, in February 2001. Promoters frequently distorted Ted's surname to Beckley.
One of the grand old men of wrestling Leigh's Jim Bevin turned professional in 1949, worked mainly in the north for the independent promoters regularly until the mid 1960s and must have been in his sixties when he made his last appearance.
Eddie Rose told us, "Ian Wilson and myself were on a bill with them and Ian reckoned their aggregate age at that time was 128 years!!"
In the later years many of Jim's matches were against another veteran, his brother in law, Joe Reid. Sam Betts (Dwight J Ingleburgh) Joe and Jim very well, "Into the 1960s when they were both getting on in years they were capable of regularly putting on entertaining eight round draws."
Another ex wrestler, Mike Agusta, told us: "I always saw Jim entering the ring with his flat cap (called a ratter in the north) on. He would then hand it over to his second and begin to wrestle.His fights with Joe Reid were extremely entertaining and to say the least very fast, even in their late fifties and early sixties!"