See Jon Lapaque
Johnny Howard (Sean Doyle, Rasputin)
The wild Irishman is mostly identified with his character Rasputin, known throughout Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. Trained by Dave Finlay Senior in his native Ireland, the two of them were recently seen in “The Fit Finlays” documentary Mind you, when we first came across him he was a far cry from an unruly mad monk, wrestling a decade earlier as clean cut welterweight Sean Doyle. With the clean cut image cast aside Johnny was able to enrage the fans with his dubious tactics and all action style. Although he worked for the top independent promoters as well as Joint Promotions much of Johnny's career was spent working overseas, around Europe, Africa and the far east. Johnny Howard passed away on 19th August, 2013.
Norwich teenager Robin Howard, a protégé of Brian Trevors, seemed to have a glittering future ahead of him in the early 1970s. Having progressed from fan, to second at Norwich Town Hall, to trainee wrestler, he made his debut, in 1969, when he was just fifteen years old. That first match showed his potential and Robin was quickly gaining a following in Norfolk when tragedy struck. Robin's fledgling career was put on hold when he suffered serious injuries in a car accident.
Less than a year later he was back in the ring and began to show real promise, even billed as the Eastern Area Lightweight title. Robin picked up where he left off and was soon once again being tipped as a future star. He was featured in the June 1972 issue of The Wrestler as a youngster with promise, but any promised success remained no more than just that.
Gravesend wrestler started out in the early 1970s, working for independent promotions in the south of England. He worked for Dale Martin Promotions between 1975 and 1977. Opponents included Bob Kirkwood and Johnny Kwango, Robby Baron and Iron Man Steve Logan.
Claimed by fans of Bristol and Lancashire as one of their own, and not surprisingly so. Bill Howes had that gritty technical ability seen only in the men of the North, and yet possessed a touch of flair that they often lacked. Bill Howes favoured punishing holds, with a fondness for the Boston Crab, combined with flurries of action with attitude to antagonise the crowds. When Billy Howes lost his temper you could see it in those wild eyes, though his flying fists and feet hurriedly confirmed the matter. Fans would be convinced he really had lost control because all the signs were there of a man with a deranged mind. Lost control? Almost certainly not, because the wrestling skill of Bill Howes established that here was a man with a disciplined mind. He was a wrestler that even the know-all dads seemed to like and respect. In the same minute he could impress with his textbook ability and, seconds later, enrage those same fans with his disregard for the rules. He was the wrestler with the perfect temperament to make it believable, which it may or may not have been, when he ripped off Kendo Nagasaki’s mask in the masked man’s television debut, in the days when a Nagasaki without a mask was actually worth something.
Chopper Len Howlett
Chopper Len Howlett was a busy worker in London and around southern England in the 1930s, a frequent opponent of George De Relwyskow, Bull Coleman and College Boy. He was one time southern area light heavyweight champion and billed as Central Mediterranean Forces lightweight champion in 1942. He was one of the first professional opponents of a young Mick McManus. His wrestling career continued until the end of the 1940s. The name was revived in the independent rings of the 1970s.
The Butlin redcoat who in addition to organising the glamorous grannie competitions also found time to M.C., referee and then make his wrestling debut against Johnny Kwango. In some of his early contests he was known as Roy Levacq, the name he was using on the stage at the time. Roy began wrestling in the late 1950s and worked on a fairly infrequent basis for the next ten years or so, transferring to Joint Promotions in the early 1960s.
“I don't want a childhood. I want to be a ballet dancer.”
These were the words uttered by Billy Elliot in the film of the same name. There's probably little need to remind anyone that Billy struggled to find success in the world of ballet whilst keeping his interest hidden from a disapproving father. Mark Hudson had no desire to put on the ballet shoes, but he was just as determined as Billy, wanting to swap his childhood for a life in the professional wrestling ring. There were other similarities also; like Billy he too had to keep his passion hidden from a disapproving father.
Nevertheless he was successful and became a full time professional and regular feature on the bills of Wryton Promotions. Many readers will be wondering why, should that be the case, Mark Hudson is not a name that they recollect. Well that is because our fairytale story does not have a happy ending and Mark's career was abruptly cut short by a serious injury less than two years after his career began, and that was more than fifty years ago.
It was inevitable that Mark knew about wrestling from an early age because he came from Liverpool, and in Liverpool everyone knew that Friday night was fight night at the stadium. However, it wasn't wrestling but the Stadium's other sport, boxing, that interested Mark. Mark declared that he wanted to be a boxer and his father enrolled the eleven year old at a boys' club to learn how to box.
Mark enjoyed his nights at the club but things didn't turn out quite as he planned. He found that he didn't quite take to boxing in the way he had dreamed, and he soon realised Rocky Marciano would have nothing to worry about: “After a short time I realised that I would have been better off if I had used the soles of my boots for advertising space!”
Other boys at the club were learning how to wrestle and it seemed to Mark that they were having more fun than he was. So Mark asked if he could join them and started to learn a few wrestling moves. To his surprise he found that he was more suited to wrestling and was having much more fun.
Unfortunately Mark's father didn't quite see it in the same way and soon let the twelve year old know that he disapproved of this new interest. Undeterred Mark continued to wrestle at the club and about the same time became aware of the professional shows at The Stadium.
Those were great days at the Stadium. Every Friday night the likes of Jack Pye, Man Mountain Benny, Anaconda and Dave Armstrong would top the bill. Mark made his way to the Stadium but on the first night found to his dismay that children were not admitted without an accompanying adult. Not one to admit defeat Mark would hang around the hall waiting for a kindly adult to take him in, which they invariably did.
Mark remembers Jack Pye doing all sorts of dastardly deeds on that first bill. Although he can't remember Jack's opponent the youngster did recognise, and still remembers, one member of the audience. Bessie Braddock, Member of Parliament for Liverpool Exchange, was an ardent fan and ringside regular at The Stadium. “At one time, Jack came to the edge of the ring and Bessie Braddock let fly with her handbag, hitting him on the foot. It was said she carried a brick in her handbag. Seeing his reaction, that was believable. She was the only person who could get the Dockers back to work when they took their often strikes.”
Mark's father frequently reminded him that he disapproved of his new found interest. Tensions rose at home and as soon as he had left school, fifteen in those days, Mark left home and moved to Wales to live with his mother in Abergele. The youngster managed to get a job at Gwrych Castle. In January, 1951, Randolph Turpin set up his training camp at the castle in preparation for his world middleweight championship contest against Sugar Ray Robinson in July of that year. Not surprisingly the presence of Randolph Turpin was of great interest and excitement for the fifteen year old. Mark continued: “One day his trainer/sparring partner was taken ill. Randy asked me if I would like to spar with him. I agreed but made him agree not to hit me! We went three rounds, me trying to hit him without much success and getting well out of my depth.”
Mark stayed in Wales less than a year before moving to Manchester where it would be easier to pursue his wrestling interest.
In Manchester he joined the YMCA wrestling team. One night following a competition, after he'd been beaten, he was approached by a man who asked him if he'd ever considered turning professional. Needless to say Mark had thought about it many times, and it took no time at all to give his answer. The man asking the question was Arthur Wright, of Wryton Promotions.
From that time on Mark became a regular at the Wryton gym training alongside the likes of Chopper Conroy and Red Callaghan. The wrestler that did most to help the youngster learn the professional trade was Tiger Freddy Woods. He spent many hours showing Mark the differences between a good amateur and a promising professional. When he was just sixteen years old Arthur Wright decided that it was time to give Mark the chance to show what he could do in front of the paying public.
Aware of his his father's continued disapproval of his new career the name Mark Hudson was chosen for his ring debut, dropping his real name of Geoffrey. “I was scared stiff! I was just 16 years of age. I was matched with Tiger Woods who had trained me. I think he was very kind to me and virtually 'took me through it'. This match was at the Tower, New Brighton. I was billed as the youngest professional wrestler in England and coming from Liverpool, was a favourite with the crowd. I felt a little more confident after that.”
Within a few months of stepping into the professional ring Mark was signed up to work the summer season holiday camp circuit. “I liked travelling to the different parts of the country to matches but the most I liked was Butlin's five Holiday camps. We had a lot of fun there, mostly messing about but some good fights too.”
Mark's enthusiasm and growing knowledge meant that Arthur Wright began to match the youngster with more experienced wrestlers. Just sixteen years old he was inevitably the fans' favourite when he opposed the likes of Tommy Pye, Alan Colbeck and Chic Purvey. “I had been matched with Alan Colbeck, European middleweight champion, a couple of times and several times with Chick Purvey, Scottish middleweight champion. I would have loved to have had a tittle fight with either, perhaps a little later. My main regret is that I was injured after about 20 months and had to retire from the scene.”
Which brings us back to the start of our story and the reason why our Billy Elliot of Liverpool wrestling did not find lasting success despite ambition, determination and a promising start to his professional career. With his ultimate goal now out of his reach Mark had to find a new ambition. For a short time he was unsure which way to turn, but not for long as he chose to join the army. Still only seventeen years old he knew that National Service would be beckoning when he turned eighteen and so chose to be proactive and sign up for three years.
Fifteen years later Mark left the army and move to Australia. Having got wrestling and the army out of his system maybe Mark saw his new career, twenty years as a private investigator as a quieter life!
In the 1950s and 1960s Frankie Hughes was the Sydenham Cyclone. There was no doubt about it. Watch him flash across the ring and you would understand why. Born in 1931 Londoner Frankie turned professional in the early 1950s, shortly afterwards being called up for two years national service. Following national service he continued with his professional career, becoming a top middlewight title contender with great matches against the likes of Johnny Kwango, Eddie Capelli and Jackie Pallo. Alongside Chick Osmond he opened the Sydenham AWC which trained many of the stars of the 1960s and 1970s. Frankie was one of those wrestlers that inspired others. When we spoke to ex wrestlers Tony Granzi about the highlights of his career he chose his greatest moment as the night he watched Frankie Hughes take on the former world boxing champion Randolph Turpin. During his career Frankie didn't just wrestle around Britain but was a popular visitor to the continent. His career seems to have ended around 1965, brought to a premature conclusion with a back injury, after which Frankie continued driving a London cab and writing for Cab Trade News. Following Frankie's death in 2002 a memorial service was held for him led by his good friend Billy Two Rivers on Billy's Canadian reservation. When Frankie was cremated at Elmers End friends and many ex wrestlers paid their respects. Grown men were moved to tears, with smiles restored with the playing of "You Are My Sunshine," which everyone agreed was most fitting. Frankie's daughter told Wrestling Heritage, "He did have a great send off, and many, many people turned up, saw many men cry over him.......he was a wonderful, funny man."
World famous French boxer turned to wrestling after his career ended. He wrestled in Britain in October and November 1960 for the independent promoters, opponents including Tony Zale, Eddie Capelli and Ken Joyce.
Eddie Humphries was a promising wrestler from Dagenham when he appeared on the scene in 1937. With his career interrupted by the Second World War he returned to the ring following the cessation of hostilities only to leave Britain in 1948 to set up home, wrestle and referee in South Africa.