The Uncrowned King of the Mat
Whatever definition is applied to the word legend we would contend that Jack Pye is one of the few wrestlers that could legitimately be called just that. Here was a man who achieved national fame, amongst the public at large and not just the wrestling fans, without the aid of television. Jack Pye was a main event performer, probably the biggest draw of them all, around the country for the entire 1930s (and two and a half decades to follow), devoting most of that period to entertaining British fans. Reports from the early 1930s suggest that Jack was initially a sporting yet aggressive wrestler; but he soon learned that an even more aggressive style would prove more appealing to fans.
Jack Pye was a blueprint for professional wrestling villains for the following half century, one of that small and exclusive group that can be said to have changed the face of their chosen profession. When it came to charisma he had it in bucketloads; his arrogance and tactics made Jack the man that fans loved to hate. But the man could wrestle, and elsewhere around this site we quote newspaper reports that compliment his wrestling skill.
John "Jack" Pye was born in Bolton in 1903, and on leaving school took up work in the south Lancashire coal mines. In 1924 twenty-one year old Jack, and his wife Eileen, moved to south Yorkshire, where housing conditions were considerably better than in Lancashire, and Jack taking up work in the relatively new Hatfield Colliery. Jack was one of hundreds attracted to the area from Lancashire (and from other mining areas), and they brought with them Lancashire style Catch-as-Catch-Can wrestling. Jack was well known in Catch wrestling circles and was encouraged by Atholl Oakeley to turn professional around the time Oakeley had also decided to do so.
Jack Pye was in at the beginning of the professional wrestling revival, though we have found no evidence that he took part in the first Belle Vue show in December, 1930, as is widely claimed elsewhere. By 1931 he was certainly taking his first steps as a pro wrestler in Newcastle, Manchester, London and around the country. For a man who wrestled the likes of Carver Doone, Jack Sherry and King Curtis the Doncaster Panther, as Jack became known, was relatively small and weighed under 14 stones. Within a short time Jack established himself as one of the country's top wrestling stars and throughout the decade secured bookings most nights of the week, leaving time for only occasional jaunts overseas.
In 1932 the Daily Mirror forecast that if the match between Benny Sherman and Jack Pye, due to take place in Paris on 14th September, was as good as their meeting at the Ring at Blackfriars, then Parisien fans should be very pleased. Well Jack obviously made an impression, because when he returned to Paris the following year one irate fan took out a revolver and fired shots towards the ring!
Bernard Hughes witnessed Jack's antics (though not in the 1930s we hasten to add) and testified to his ability to engage the fans, "For working a crowd you need look no further than Jack Pye. Even in the days when audiences were supposed to be non-violent (that came later), Jack could have the crowd at screaming pitch. It wasn't just the constant little illegal moves when the referee was on the blindside, but the sneering belligerent attitude that Jack adopted toward the whole audience. He made a point of howling whenever he was thrown as if his bottom was especially tender. Then of course the crowd would be shouting 'Throw him' and Jack would hold the top rope and call them all sorts of ignorant uneducated peasants, glaring down from the ring to the seats below. It was as if he would take the whole lot on if they fancied it."
James Morton said, "If ever there was one to work a crowd, even by just staying in the dressing room, it was Jack Pye."
These were the tactics that made Jack a highly desirable commodity to promoters and the highest paid wrestler in Britain. Rough and irreverent he might well have been Jack did, nonetheless, possess great wrestling skill, lacking only the power to put him in the class of Assirati, Clark and Sherry.
In December, 1932, when Jack wrestled Atholl Oakeley for the British Heavyweight Championship, the Daily Mirror reported those who went to see some rough stuff must have been disappointed; "It was an exhibition of clever locks and holds, and was fought in a good sporting spirit by both men, so that the bout was really worth watching." On another occasion Karl Pojello's contest with Jack Pye at Nottingham was reported as ".... an outstanding revelation of scientific wrestling." Scientifically able or not Jack was astute enough to know that illegal moves, such as eye gouging, use of the fist and all sorts of trick on the blind side of the referee were the tactics that gone the fans' blood boiling and coming back for more.
To say that Jack Pye was one of the great wrestlers of the 1930s is to tell not even half of the story. Following the Second World War Jack Pye went on to become one of the greatest post war professionals.
Wrestling Heritage reader Palais Fan told us, "I remember him grabbing the second's (Syd Crowhurst) metal water bucket and putting it upside down on the head of his opponent and banging the sides before being disqualified. Great entertainment! if not good wrestling."
Another long time fan was reader Beancounter, "On 30th October 1967, Jack was guest of honour at a Charity Night at my then ‘local’ The Hamilton Arms, Cabus. His role was to shove over a massive pile of pennies which had accumulated over the past year or two. I was able to speak to him at length on the current wrestling scene and he stated that without doubt Billy Robinson was the best heavyweight of recent times, disagreeing with my choice of Billy Joyce. (Naturally, I did not argue)."
Such was the esteem for Jack Pye that when he retired in 1963 he was presented with diamond cufflinks and a gold watch from the fans of Blackpool Tower and Liverpool Stadium respectively.
Jack Pye retired from wrestling, aged 59, in 1963, returning to the ring for a short time in 1971.
Jack Pye died in 1985.