The Lancashire town of Wigan is famous for wrestling, coal mining and Uncle Joe's Mint Balls (with apologies to fans of rugby, Northern Soul, and the multitude of entertainers hailing from the town).
Bill Harrison was born in Wigan, three miles east of the centre in Hindley to be precise, and shared his time between wrestling and working down the coal pit. Born on 27th August, 1927, in a town steeped in wrestling heritage Bill was brought up learning of the exploits of Wiganites Jack Pye, Harold Angus and Charlie Green who had left the town and were making money in a sport in which the men of Wigan excelled. Life was hard in the 1930s, and nowhere was it harder than in the mining towns of south Lancashire, a time recorded in George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier.
Bill took to wrestling and began learning the trade alongside Jack Dempsey, Billy Joyce, Joe Robinson under the tutelage of Billy Riley. In 1947 he started to earn money from the sport and turned professional. Shortly afterwards Bill joined the army and left Wigan. He joined The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own) and was based at the Inglis Barracks in Mill Hill, London.
In the army Bill pursued another of his sporting interests, boxing (above right), whilst continuing to wrestle professionally for Dale Martin Promotions. It wasn't long, though, before he was travelling further afield when, in August 1950, Bill's regiment was called to serve in the Korean War as part of 27th British Commonwealth Brigade. Injured in combat Bill was discharged from the army and returned home. The photo on the left shows Bill (on the right) shaking hands before a match in the Far East, where he wrestled in Hong Kong and Singapore.
When recovered Bill returned to the ring, with top rated opponents in the early 1950s including Granville Lawrence, Fred Unwin, Stan Stone and Vic Coleman. Bill also returned to Lancashire and worked at Bickershaw Colliery in Leigh. Tragedy struck on October 10th, 1959. An accident at Bickershaw Colliery left five miners dead. Bill was one of the fortunate ones who escaped with his life. The mental scars took their toll and Bill didn't return to the mine again. He did continue to wrestle, now mainly in the north, but the physical demands became increasingly great and he retired from the ring in 1963.
Bill Harrison passed away on October 27th 1996, aged 69.
No, not the film star. This Rex Harrison was from Doncaster, Yorkshire. Rex was a well known figure amongst wrestling enthusiasts of the 1940s and 1950s.
He was trained by Doncaster's Chic Booth at Chic' gym in Balby, Doncaster. Rex wrestled extensively throughout the world thanks to his “day job” as a crew member of the HMS Orion. Mixed it with the big names like Count Bartelli and Billy Joyce.
Bernard Hughes told us, "I remember Rex Harrison,a heavyweight, wrestling at Newcastle in the early 1950's. I once asked Norman Walsh why Rex's legs appeared to be much less well developed than his upper body. The answer was that Rex had been in the merchant navy for many years and had done lots of bodybuilding exercises at sea.This meant that it was much easier to do presses etc on a bench rather than squats or other standing leg work."
Londoner Ron Harrison turned professional shortly before the outbreak of world war 2, and it was to be a career that lasted more than twenty years. One of the craftsmen of the ring Ron was well respected amongst fellow wrestlers. In the 1940s Ron was a lightweight, though over the years his weight increased to put him towards the top end of the light heavyweight division.
Ron had a reputation as a calm, evenly tempered wrestler who would not become ruffled whatever the provocation. Opponents included just about everyone - Kidd, McManus, Logan, Dorazio, Howes, Hussey the very best in the business.
Ron travelled extensively throughout the country and further afield to India and the Far East.
He accompanied Bert Assirati on his tour of India. Bert's wife, promoter Marjorie Assirati remembers Ron as "A very good, no-nonsense middleweight who worked on many of my shows and made some of the Indian and Pakistani boys look fools in the ring."
He continued wrestling until the early 1960s, attracted to the opposition to work for Paul Lincoln Management. Ron passed away in 2001, aged 88.
Founder member of the Black Knights tag team with Honey Boy Zimba, Ezzard Hart was a sixties mid-heavyweight from St Andrews, Barbados and on the way up when he sadly passed away after illness in 1971.
Hart was the first black wrestler in Britain to dye his hair blond, fashioned after the famous American wrestler, Sweet Daddy Siki. Ezzard was a versatile wrestler who, until he stepped into the ring, fans were unsure whether he would be wrestling clean or dirty.
Falling naturally in the mid heavyweight division he was comfortably matched with the fastest and cleverest of middleweights to the roughest and toughest of heavyweights. Like so many others his in-ring experience began in another ring, that of the schoolboy boxer.
Ezzard had a swagger that some would call arrogance and a hard edge that would always prevent him from being a fans' favourite. None of that could detract from his not inconsiderable skill and fans knew that here was a man who knew the business. But they still booed him! Despite his illness fans were genuinely shocked when his untimely death was announced in September 1971.
Not the most readily recalled wrestler of the Mountevans era, but certainly one of the hardest; we have heard no less a man than Billy Robinson talk in respectful tones of this skilful and ruthless Lancashire heavyweight.
Here was a man who learned all that he could from the hard days at Riley's Wigan Snakepit. The journey from school to coal pit to wrestling ring was a well trodden one by the young men of Wigan, and it was one that Jim Hart chose to take. After learning the trade alongside Ernie Riley, Karel Istaz, Billy Joyce, and Jack Dempsey, trainer Billy Riley unleashed the latest of his boys on an unsuspecting wrestling public.
For the next decade the young light heavyweight gained a reputation as a highly respected, more than capable worker who failed to catch the imagination of the public.
As soon as the opportunity arose Jim gave up his job in the pits and took over a grocery shop, (in the street where Billy Joyce lived) which he ran with his wife, Margaret. Jim appeared on television eleven times in the early 1960s. After retiring from wrestling Jimmy took over management of the Monaco Ballroom in Hindley, venue of many a wrestling event.
"Norman Hart was a very hard man," according to one of his contemporaries, Jimmy Boy Devlin, who has nothing but praise for his deaf mute colleague and friend. Heavyweight Norman, who worked the 1950s and 1960s rings of the North East, came from Stockton on Tees and was trained by Jim Stockdale. Norman's career was curtailed when he emigrated to Australia where he pursued his involvement in wrestling by opening a gymnasium and training youngsters for the professional ring.
A young looking Roy Hart was featured in the last ever issue of The Wrestler magazine in October 1972. Roy was a lightweight from Norwich who trained with his friend, Robin Howard. We wonder what became of him?
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Moroccan born lightweight based in France made two short visits to Britain, the first in the 1960s. During his 1977 tour he unsuccessfully challenged Johnny Saint in a World Lightweight championship clash that was televised from Maidstone.
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REGRETS, I'VE HAD A FEW
One bout I really regret missing was Bill Howes vs Ricky Starr. When it was billed I was either working or on holiday and never did get to see it. Romeo
It was around September 1983 at "The Corn Exchange" in Norwich, it was Brian Maxine V Rollerball Rocco. Suffolkpunch24
I would like to have seen Kendo against Finlay.Paul Kaye
I've never seen the first Masked Marauders bout where they beat Colin Bennett and Eddie Riley. I'm sure it wasn't that hot, but the Masked Marauders WERE an inordinately large piece of my childhood. David Mantell