M: Mancelli - Manning
Wrestling Heritage A-Z
Most readers recall Tony Mancelli as one of the finest referees of the sixties, a man who helped bring credibility and respect to the sport. Only those of more mature years remember Mancelli as one of the country’s most popular heavyweights, universally known as the Blackfriars Thunderbolt, a name which accurately reflected his all-action style. Born in South London, where he lived for most of his life, Tony was a friend of Tony Scarlo's father and Tony told us that his father and friend Tony began taking him to the wrestling when he was about five years old.
Tony turned professional in the 1930s All-In days, and was a regular at Lanes Club, a historically signifcant venue in the history of British professional wrestling. As early as 1932 Tony could be seen regularly working against the likes of Jack Pye, Bert Mansfield, Bob Gregory and Tony Baer. In fact Tony faced just about every heavyweight of note, not just in London and the south but extensively throughout the country. When Whipper Watson came to Britain in 1937 Tony featured in a series of exciting contests with the Canadian around the country.
During the war years Tony served in the Royal Air Force but continued to wrestle whenever possible, and during the years of hostility won "The Ring" allied service championship. When wrestling emerged from the war years and re-invented itself Mancelli’s style fulfilled the requirements of the new Mountevans rules and he was soon established as one of the country’s most popular and successful heavyweights. A long time holder of the Southern Area Heavyweight title Mancelli met all the national and visiting international stars in a career that lasted from before the Second World war until the 1960s, and onwwards as one of Dale Martin Promotions main referees.
Unknown to many wrestling fans Tony did have a second sporting interest and was a successful stock car racer.
Watching the wrestling on his parents tiny black and white set in the early 1960s generated a passion for a sport that he knew he wanted to be his life. For Brian Manelli the dream came true, though his was not one of those names that would appear top of the bill and be known by all and sundry.
Born in Chertsey, Surrey and brought up in Orpington Brian was nineteen years old when he stepped into the professional ring for the first time. That was back in 1964 in Leysdown, a coastal village on the east side of the Isle of Sheppey, and fans cheered as the MC introduced, "The Anglo Italian Glamour Boy, Brian Manelli."
Most of Brian's life was spent working in the south of England, not just wrestling, but putting on his own shows under the name Phoenix Promotions.
Towards the end of his career a night at the theatre inspired Brian to pull on a mask and create the Villainous persona of The Phantom. Away from the ring Brian was a kitchen and bathroom designer, with many television and film personalities amongst his customers.
Brian Manelli died, just 68 years of age, on February 5th, 2013.
Gori Ed Mangotich
Read our extended tribute: A Right Transatlantic Villain
Londoner Tommy Mann was always associated with his adopted home of Manchester, the city in which he lived for most of his adult life until his untimely death aged just fifty. He was a rugged, all action wrestler who knew all the holds in the book and a few more besides. He was arguably the modern era's greatest British middleweight champion.
Tommy began his wrestling career in the rowdy rings of the 1930s, a regular worker for promoter Atholl Oakeley, amongst others. The outbreak of war, during which he reached the rank of Sergeant Major, naturally delayed his career development and he was only to reach his peak following the outbreak of peace.
His remarkable success started to reach a climax in 1952, when he beat the great Jack Dale to become the first holder of the Lord Mountevans British middleweight title.
It was a roller coaster championship career from then on, until Tommy vacated the title in 1963 due to injury. The 1952 victory was set to be the first of his eight reigns as British champion. Fans of the time still recall his memorable bouts with Scotland's Chic Purvey.
In addition to national success Tommy was twice holder of the World middleweight title, between 1954 and 1955 and again from 1961 until retirement. A stocky, thick necked man he looked more the part of pro wrestler than that of his "other job," proprietor of a highly rated Italian restaurant in his Manchester home town.
Like many others of the time Tommy's success as a wrestler found him work in the wider world of entertainment, He appeared in films and television as a stuntman and also cropped up regularly on popular television shows that included the Benny Hill Show, the Mike and Bernie Winters show, numerous drama series and television commercials. Tommy appeared in the Benny Hill 1969 Christmas tv special. He complimented Benny on how quickly he learnt wrestling holds during fourteen days of rehearsals, not hurting himself at all. Until Benny tripped over a cable and sprained his ankle. Following his death a television advertisement for a furniture company was removed to avoid unnecessary distress to Tommy's family.
At the time of his death Coronation Street producer, Harry Kershaw, said "Walking along Deansgate with Tommy was like taking part in a royal procession. Everyone knew him, from matrons in mink coats to tramps, and he was Tommy to them all."
The black jackets worn by the stocky, unruly Marcel Mannevau (he was the one with the moustache) and tag partner, Claude Gessat , as they swaggered towards the ring gave a far from subtle hint about their wrestling style. The two Frenchmen were disliked by the British fans from their first venture across the English channel at the invitation of independent promoter Paul Lincoln to later 1960s bouts in Joint Promotion rings. Inevitably promoters lined up a range of popular teams such as Ken Joyce and Eddie Capelli, with whom they had many tussles, and the Cortez brothers. British fans couldn't be bothered with the linguistic niceties of translating their "Les Blousons Noirs" name and knew them as The French Teddy Boys.
Wakefield heavyweight trained by Ernie Baldwin turned professional in 1962 and was seen around northern rings until 1967.
See the entry for Spiros Arion