Topham - Toth
Wrestling Heritage A-Z
Lord Bertie Topham
Wrestling codology told fans he was “a real live millionaire.” However unlikely the truth of that statement Lord Bertie was all part of wrestling’s rich tapestry, and what an enjoyable and precious part of that tapestry he was. Lord Bertie, complete with top hat, cane, monocle and cloak would walk unhurriedly to the ring, nurturing every second of the fans’ hostility. He was preceded by his faithful valet, Ponsonby, dressed just as immaculately in pin striped trousers, tailcoat, bowler hat and white gloves. Ponsonby carried a silver tray, decanter and wine glass, his Lordship’s refreshments between rounds.
Once in the ring Ponsonby would titivate his Lord's corner post, dusting it down with the silk cloth produced from his pocket, preparing it for his Lordship’s arrival. Ponsonby would make it his business to check the cleanliness of the referee, often demanding that he washed his hands in the water he provided. Having folded his master’s coat and returned it safely to the dressing room Ponsonby would return to the ring to fulfil the remainder of his duties, which were caring for his master between rounds and interfering with the bout at every opportunity.
With some inevitability Lord Bertie would grab his opponent in a headlock, thrust the head through the ropes and Ponsonby would oblige by clobbering him with the silver tray. Apart from such antics, the wrestling itself was pretty routine stuff, a more than able rule bending heavyweight who generated a huge amount of animosity from the fans.
Nevertheless, the fans went home happy. They hadn’t just paid their money to watch a heavyweight villain, they’d paid to see Lord Bertie Topham, and he always gave value for money.
Eddie Rose remembers:
"Bertie was a bill topper at the first Independent show I watched; Marple Baths just outside Stockport. His valet, Ponsonby, was Alec Burton who later made a name for himself as a good wrestler. Lord Bertie was one of my favourites after a shaky start. I worked for him on a bill at some out-of-the-way agricultural show in mid Cheshire. He blithely paid me by cheque at about £2 over the going rate. I was too new and nervous to challenge him and waited with misgivings for a week for the thing to clear - which it did to my great relief. He always addressed me as "Edward" rather than Eddie in his laconic way and booked me on his shows with some frequency. He was an amusing character on a personal level but imagine my surprise when Monty Swann told me that Topham originated from the Ellesmere Port area and used to work painting the huge oil containers at Stanlow terminal. Hardly an aristocratic heritage for Bertie. Jack Atherton told me that Bertie had a trial for Joint Promotions in the mid-60s but there were doubts about his physique when matched against top heavyweights. Jack lent him some weights with orders to perform a set routine every morning and thus get some bulk and definition. Jack said Topham wrestled as if he was sitting in an armchair, he was so relaxed and non-aggressive looking. The plan faltered: Jack said Bertie preferred his buttered crumpet to weight training so early in the day and Topham never made it with Joints.
I lost track of Bertie after I gave up wrestling and he pursued his work with show business (he once booked Buddy Ward in as a male stripper! Buddy wowed the audience, according to Buddy). However, I was working in Blackpool at the time and I was walking round the junction of Waterloo Road and Lytham Road one day and I heard a familiar voice call out "Ah Rose! How are you Edward my boy?" None other than Bertie. We had a chat about how life was treating us and away he sauntered. Same old Topham but a couple of weeks later I heard, sadly, that he had passed away.
Not a top class wrestler but a top class ring personality and suited to the shows on which he regularly appeared. Never short of work and in his heyday he worked six nights a week and sometime twice a night. Bertie was a top class gent and is fondly remembered by those who knew him."
Through the years the role of Ponsonby was played by a number of men. One of them, cited above, was the late Alec Burton, whilst another is a member of Wrestling Heritage.
He told us
“I was Ponsonby, manservant to Lord Bertie Topham in the late '60s. I was a Law student at the time at Manchester University. I met Lord Bertie in a pub (called College Arms?) on the corner of Brunswick Street/Oxford Road. He offered me the part time job. I was given some basic training in how to land safely when body slammed etc. My job was to act like a short-arsed, snotty-nosed ponce who mocked and sneered at his opponents, and the spectators.
I entered the ring well before his Lordship so that I could clean and dust his corner and spray it with air freshener etc. Much to the annoyance of the spectators (and the ref and the opponent), I would sneer at the opponent and inspect his boots making out that he had something 'umlawful' in the lacing. By now the ringside was going hysterical with anger and at that point Lord Bertie emerged.”
Maniacal Greek American who arrived Britain 1963 and to the promoters' surprise was not a full-blown heavyweight. Thus he had to fulfil some interestingly mis-matched initial bookings, typically against Maori giant John Da Silva and bizarrely, in a 1964 preview, as first opponent for The Outlaw. He then squeaked his way through 17 years of diligent service with a gradually developing repertoire of self-deprecating antics and failures, but status alone ensured that the promoters insisted upon occasional unlikely victories. They say the Chicago Express was a lovely fellow, always with time for the fans: this writer could never understand a word he said! Bill famously resembled tv contemporary Peter Falk as another cigar chewing Amercian, Columbo, and ultimately died a tragic dressing room death in Peterborough in September 1981. We remember him fondly, but, objectively, his unbelievable routines did as much or as little for the game as Catweazle or Big Daddy. However, Tornado Torontos claims the posthumous award as the most atrocious autograph signatory of all time.
Son of the original White Angel (see L'Ange Blanc), Torres also wrestled in France and Spain as the Little Angel. Though he toured Britain only briefly in 1971 and topped the Royal Albert Hall bill when going down to Mick McManus, the speed and agility of this Spanish welterweight left a very favourable impression.
A measure of his stature was in his sole televised bout: he defeated the former British Lightweight champion Zoltan Boscik by a straight fall.
Hungarian welterweight visited Britain in 1966 and 1967 working for Dale Martin Promotions. Results were not particularly impressive, going down to Len Hurst, Peter Rann, Bobby Barnes, Dick Conlon, Joe Queseck and others.