Bob Gregory was a handsome, colourful champion wrestler; a Dazzler Joe Cornelius of the 1930s at a time the world was still in black and white. A larger than life personality who the nation at large knew never suffered from headaches, or at least would know if they believed the long running national advertising campaign for Vita Grape Juice and Alka-Seltzer in which Bob proclaimed, ?I don't know what I'd do without Alka-Seltzer, I used to get the most terrible headaches and nothing would get rid of them until I tried Alka-Seltzer.?
Teaching jiu jitsu on the fledgling BBC channel, and a contributor to BBC radio programmes, and a technical adviser to film makers on fight scenes, Bob was known well beyond wrestling circles. The Radio Times of 2nd April, 1937, said of him, "Bob Gregory is one of the most versatile men in the country: he is a boxer, wrestler, swimmer and authority on physical fitness generally."
Add to all this ownership of a number of physical culture clubs and the story we are about to relate and you will start to appreciate the versatility and creativity of this successful man. Bob owned a sandwich shop in London, unlicensed as you would expect. In August 1931 Bob and his sandwich bar made the national news when he not only served alcohol, but served it throughout the night, way beyond the permit of Britain's stringent alcohol laws. A loophole in the Act of 1921 permitted alcohol to be consumed (but not purchased) in any unlicensed establishment at any hour of the day or night. Bob's solution was to meet customers' requests for alcohol by telephoning a nearby wine merchant to make the purchase. It was reported that throughout the night, until nearly breakfast time, errand boys on bicycles were delivering wines and spirits to the sandwich bar.
Bob Gregory was a favourite with the media, a celebrity before the days of celebrity culture. His courtship and marriage to Valerie Brookes, Princess Baba of Sarawak, was avidly reported by the national press, a story to be read in The Princess and the Wrestler.
An all round sportsman he saw the potential of professional wrestling from the outset of the 1930 revival, with the charisma and confidence of a nineteen year old to take advantage of the opportunities opening up. He always said that wrestling was a means to an end, the end being that he would one day qualify as a doctor. Whether or not that was true he certainly seemed to excel as a wrestler. Few living people could now tell us just how good a wrestler he was, but he certainly had enough skill to lay a credible claim to European titles at welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight at various times. Opponents included Harold Angus, White Owl and Tony Mancelli, all of whom he beat, and full blown heavyweights Bert Assirati and Charlie Green.
It would be a disservice to this great heavyweight to refer to him as the father of two Mountevans stars, which he was. Much fairer to state that he was one of the fathers of modern day professional wrestling.
A man of many talents. Francis Gregory was one of the greatest Cornish wrestling champions of all time. The Daily Mirror of 24th August, 1934, reported that he had won the Cornish style wrestling championship (heavyweight) for the seventh successive year. Simultaneously he was also one of his county's finest rugby union football players, playing for Redruth and his county. And let's not forget four contests as a professional boxer in 1929.
Francis was born in the village of St Wenn. He took up Cornish wrestling whilst working on a farm, and entered his first competition, at Bugle, when he was thirteen years old. He was runner up in the youth competition. It was the start of a long and succesfull Cornish wrestling career. In 1927 Francis was one of a troupe of wrestlers who appeared for two weeks at the London Palladium in a demonstration of Cornish style wrestling. The following year he was a member of the Cornish team that travelled to Brittany to take part in the inaugural Cornu-Breton Inter Celtic championships. He wrestled undefeated in the Cornu-Breton tournaments seven times, four times in Brittany and three times in Cornwall.
In 1934 Francis joined the growing number of sportsmen capitalising on the boom in professional wrestling. His background of wrestling, boxing and rugby gave him a good foundation, and in the West country at least he already had star status. Within a year he was re-named Francis St Clair Gregory, the creation of an enterprising promoter, and St Clair said to refer to a village in Brittany. In 1935, with victories over Gaston Gheveart, Jack Wentworth, Jack Pye, Bill Garnon and the Iron Duke Francis was rewarded with a World Heavyweight Championship challenge. On 5th August, 1935, Gregory was Sherry's challenger for the World Heavyweight Championship at the Penzance Cricket Ground. Referee for the match was erstwhile British champion, Atholl Oakele. In the fifth ten minute round, shortly after Francis had been thrown from the ring and fallen heavily Sherry went on the offensive and Oakeley stopped the contest, Sherry retaining his title.In February, 1938, Francis was given a second chance. Posters described Gregory as “The Perfect wrestler. Clean, classy, clever. A masterpiece”
In August, 1936, there was another watershed moment in Francis Gregory's life. He gave up amateur rugby union, moved to Lancashire and signed for Wigan Rugby League club. Two seasons with Wigan he was then signed by Warrington and in 1939 was capped by England, playing against Wales.
All of this and establishing himself as one of the top professional wrestlers of the 1930s. What a remarkable life. The end of the decade did not, of course, mean the end of Francis Gregory's sporting achievements.
Beginning In the 1940s he was one of the most prolific and successful wrestlers in the Mountevans era. Starting out using the family name of Gregory it was one of the promoters who decided the family name was too plain for the wrestling business and suggested the name St Clair which was a town in Brittany visited by Cornish wrestlers for wrestling tournaments. Francis St Clair Gregory had the honour of appearing in the first televised wrestling show on British television; a bout against Mike Marino on November 9 1955 from West Ham Baths. Other tv opponents included Kiwi Kingston, Billy Two Rivers and Masambula. Francis retired from wrestling in 1963, bestowing to the wrestling world our memories of a great heavyweight and those two sons who were destined to become even more famous than their dad, Roy and Tony St Clair.
George Gregory was one of the best. Don't take our word for it, even we are not that old. In 1962 the venerable wrestling historian Charles Mascall rated George as Britain's second best heavyweight of all time, above Ernie Baldwin, Billy Joyce and Dave Armstrong, ranking only Bert Assirati ahead of the stylish Boltonian. In world class terms Mascall placed Gregory alongside Frank Gotch and Joe Stetcher.
George Gregory only began wrestling after he had left school and started work. Each Sunday afternoon he and a group of local youths would gather together to swim and fight catch style by the banks of Rumworth Lodge near his home in Bolton. When he was seventeen years old he took up more formal training, but his real interests lay elsewhere; farming and a yearning for travel. So it was that in 1929 George travelled to Australia to pursue his farming interests. His first professional wrestling matches were whilst he was in Australia, often in travelling booths.
When he returned to Britain the popularity of professional wrestling was gaining momentum and George took advantage of the situation, learning much of the trade from the master Billy Riley. George's knowledge of Catch as Catch Can style, tutorship by Riley and a willingness to rough-it led to him becoming a star of the 1930s under both Catch and all-in rules.
On numerous occasions George Gregory criticised the lack of control in British wrestling during the 1930s and made more than one unsuccessful attempt to form a board of control. He was critical of promoters who allowed unskilled men to come into the business, working for a pittance, and taking work from the experienced and skilful men.
George opposed world class opponents Karl Pojello, Bert Mansfield and Jack Sherry; and was acknowledged as British heavyweight champion in some quarters from 1941. That recognition came to an end on 27th January, 1945, when he was beaten by Bert Assirati at Belle Vue, Manchester. It was variously reported that between 6,000 and 7,500 fans witnessed Assirati take the only fall in the fourth of the six ten minute rounds they wrestled. In another match at Belle Vue, and another of his toughest, he fought Rik de Groote for the European heavyweight championship, wresting for 100 minutes before the match was declared a draw.
George continued wrestling until the mid 1950s, moving well and truly into the modern era and a main eventer for the fledgling Joint Promotions.
An interesting aside we discovered whilst researching George Gregory was that for six months whilst wrestling in the 1930s he turned vegetarian. He later said the lack of meat made him feel fitter but “with less fire."
Fondly remembered by fans nearly half a century after making his debut Steve Grey was a popular lightweight known for his slick moves and speed of manoeuvering around the ring.
In the 1970s when Steve was ascending wrestling's greasy pole there was an enormous amount of talent denying youngsters the way to the top - Breaks, Kidd, Miquet, Saint, Morice and others were all in their prime.
Nevertheless, the Peckham youngster overcame the odds and battled his way to the top, becoming a highly respected British champion on no fewer than seven occasions, the last coronation being in 1998, some twenty years after he had beaten Bobby Ryan at Blackburn to take the vacant championship.
In 1988 Steve added the European lightweight belt to his collection of honours, that being the first of four occasions on which he acquired the title. We all know that success in wrestling cannot be measured by championship belts alone, success for Steve Grey meant that he was an enormously talented wrestler who remained a popular figure until well into the twenty-first century.
Read our extended tribute: The Colourful Monochrome
Canadian heavyweight Don Griffin spent almost all of 1964 and early 1965 in British rings but didn't seem to venture further north than Norwich.
He substituted for Syed Saif Shah at the Royal Albert Hall in March 1964 and knocked out the French wrestler Guy Lamarre.
The Little Things We Remember
I remember Jack Pye walking into the ring while Abdul the Turk was on his hands and knees praying to Mecca. Jack pushed Abdul over and kicked the prayer mat out of the ring.
A mild punch up occurred. Jack was never one for a face to face punch up, he was more of a sly hairpull or punch behind the back of the referee. He liked running his opponents eyes along the top rope.
I also remember Jack tying up Chick Knight up in the ropes and when referee Les Kellett tried to stop Jack, he got tied up in the ropes on the other side of the ring so tightening the ropes round Knight's neck. Jack then went to a 3rd side and stretched the ropes to tighten everything a bit more. The two seconds had to intervene.
We didn't have public warnings then but at a tender age I was convinced of the sincerity of Kellett's rebukes.
Jim Grosert is a man fondly remembered by those who watched wrestling in the north of England during the 1960s.
Living in York the north East was naturally his main stamping ground, but Jim would regularly make the hundreds of miles round trip to the Scottish venues of Relwyskow & Green, and at other time would be tempted across the Pennines to work for Norman Morrell and Ted Beresford.
He was a very accomplished wrestler and welcomed by fans on any bill. He had a good trainer. Ernest Baldwin was a one time British heavyweight champion, and it was he that prepared young Jim for his exploits in the professional wrestling ring. Not that Jim was a novice where combat sports were concerned.
He already had a judo background, having learned the sport whilst in the army. Jim signed up for three years in the army in 1951 when he was seventeen years old. When he was discharged from Jim was undecided what to do with his life. A wrestler from York, George Adams, suggested that his athletic credentials could be put to good (and valuable) use in the wrestling ring, as the sport in Britain was enjoying a boom period at the time.
Jim joined an amateur club and took time to ensure he had good wrestling skills before even contemplating the professional side of the business. It was only when the time was right that Ernest Baldwin took over the reigns and prepared Jim for his professional debut in 1961. Jim hit the ground running; opponents in those first few months including Alan Dennison, Tommy Mann and a contest at his local venue, the SS Empire, against Al Nicol.
For two years Jim was a busy worker for Joint Promotions. By 1963 a tidal wave of wrestlers were on the move from Joint Promotions to the independents in search of better pay and conditions. Jim joined the admittedly more well known names of Mike Marino, Al Hayes and George Kidd, and made the move to the opposition. Jim continued working mostly for the opposition promoters, on occasions under the guise of the masked Golden Phantom. Our final sighting of Jim was a match against Tony Kaye for promoter Cyril Knowles at Pudsey in January 1972.