The Unforeseen Revolutionary
For the wrestling fans of the north Alan Serjeant was the revolutionary who tore from their grasp a British title they considered their own. They just didn't see it coming. This was a revolution of the Cuban kind. Well, that's what we thought in Lancashire.
Hindsight tells a very different story.
A quiet, unassuming and modest man no one would ever call Alan Serjeant a revolutionary. It was evolution not revolution that television viewers witnessed on 26th November, 1966, when Alan Serjeant was crowned British welterweight champion at the Pavilion, Hemel Hempstead.
Evolution of a most satisfying kind.
For many years the British championship belts had remained under almost exclusive ownership of wrestlers from northern England. Rugged men like Mel Riss, Jack Dempsey, Alan Colbeck, Tommy Mann, Ernie Riley, Eric Taylor, and Billy Joyce were the type who could really hurt when they had a mind to do so and their tenacity, along with the protective northern promoters Morrell, Beresford and Relwyskow ensured that the Lord Mountevans Belt stayed firmly in the north. We are certainly not suggesting that the new breed consisting of the likes of the Cortez brothers, Tony Scarlo, and Alan Serjeant were any less talented than the northerners, any lack of northern grit was more than compensated for with speed, agility and athleticism that was rarely matched by their northern counterparts. Men like Alan Serjeant were just as skillful, just as pleasing to the fans, and just as industrious, but they also encountered the challenge presented by the protective cartel of northern promoters.
Such was the context when Alan climbed through the ropes on that November day in 1966. In the opposite corner was Lancastrian Alan Wood. Both men were present as a result of reaching the final of the British welterweight championship tournament caused by the retirement of Jack Dempsey. Wood had defeated Mike Bennett and Brian Maxine on his way to the final, whilst Alan Serjeant had ovecome Sid Cooper and Linde Caulder. It seemed that Dempsey had been champion for ever and a day. A rugged, tenacious wrestler from the Wigan gym of Billy Riley, Dempsey epitomised everything we have said about the northern champions. Alan Wood was of another generation but from the same mould, trained at the same Riley gym alongside Billy Joyce, Billy Robinson, Ernie Riley, and erstwhile champion Dempsey of course.
Alan Serjeant was not only of another generation, he was of a different world. A twenty-something from the south his professional wrestling skills had been nurtured in the Paul Lincoln family, and he had been wrestling for Dale Martin Promotions for less than a year. It seemed to us at the time there could only be one possible outcome of this match; everything pointed to Alan Wood being crowned the new champion and continuing the line of northern welterweight champions going back to Harold Angus, albeit for a brief respite when Mick McManus was champion.
It would take a revolution and a stick of dynamite for Alan Serjeant to succeed, or so we believed at the time. Of course it took neither. All that was required was a smooth as silk wrestling style that countered everything the Lancastrian could put forward and was to make Alan Serjeant a more than creditable and popular champion.
Hindsight has also taught us that neither was Alan’s win the revolution that it seemed at the time. Wrestling was changing. Young Jim Breaks had already succeeded Wigan's Mel Riss, speedy Bert Royal had replaced Mel Riss, and the likes of lighter men Adrian Street, Jon Cortez and Vic Faulkner were beginning to steal the limelight that had been the preserve of the heavyweights. Taking nothing away from Alan's momentous achievement in November, 1966, his victory was part of wrestling's evolutionary change.
Alan's style, clean and skilled, didn't appear as rugged as some of his contemporaries, but he was a young man who was accustomed to overcoming challenges. Born in the East end of London in March, 1937, the family moved to Essex whilst he was a child. If growing up in wartime Britain wasn't hard enough for a yougster Alan had the additional challenge of poor health. He spent a long period in hospital, a patient at the Black Notley Hospital in Braintree which specialised in the treatment of tuberculosis. It was a grim existence for a child, with little to occupy him other than gazing out across the fields and watching gliders towed by Dakota aircraft in the sky above. Alan missed years of schooling, but did acquire the tenacity and courage that was to serve him throughout his life
With a determination to overcome his illness and a love of sport which he pursued at Suttons Secondary School in Hornchurch Alan grew into a fit and healthy teenager. Swimming was a passion and helped to develop his stamina, general health and fitness, as did joining the Forest Gate Physical Culture Club.
From 1945 until 1960 all eighteen year old males were subject to two years National Service. Alan, who had gained an apprenticeship as an electrical engineer when leaving school, was called up for his National Service in 1955. He was stationed at the Army School of Physical Training at Aldershot and became a Physical Training Instructor posted to Portsmouth. Alan trained junior officers in survival swimming, teaching them how to cross open water with their equipment.
On leaving the army Alan worked for The Ford Motor Co. Ltd at Dagenham. It was here that he trained the ladies netball team, which included a young lady who was to become his wife. Alan and Carole married in 1961.
By now Alan was smitten with the wrestling bug. Wrestling promoter Paul Lincoln was creating his wrestling empire at the time and on the look out for youngsters with potential. Alan Serjeant certainly displayed that potential and joined Paul Lincoln's roster of regular workers. He left Ford's in 1963 to concentrate on wrestling, working for Lincoln and wrestling on fairground booths around the country. Alan learned a great deal on the booths, not only the technical skills required as a professional wrestler but also the ability to engage an audience. Paul Lincoln had a fairly small group of regular workers and he certainly kept them busy. They were enjoyable days, and half a century later Alan still considers his time working for Paul Lincoln amongst the happiest of days, referring to the Lincoln family and the camaraderie between the wrestlers. Alan was matched by Paul Lincoln against the likes of the Cortez brothers, Zoltan Boscik, Johnny Williams, Bob Anthony and Ray McGuire, all of whom went on to have successful careers.
In January, 1966, Alan was one of the wrestlers who moved across to Dale Martin Promotions when Paul Lincoln Management was absorbed into the Joint Promotions group. Working for Dale Martin the magic of the Paul Lincoln family evaporated, but many of his old contemporaries like Bob Kirkwood, Roger Green and Zoltan Boscik were now working for the big promoters also, and the move did bring the opportunity to work with the biggest names in the business, McManus and Pallo, and class acts such as Clayton Thomson.
Alan was certainly in the group of Paul Lincoln men that flourished once they had moved across to Joint Promotions. In April, 1966, Dale Martin Promotions gave him the break he had been looking for, a television debut at the Brent Town Hall against none other than the country's number one villain, Mick McManus. It was an opportunity to shine that Alan grasped. McManus, as was to be expected, began the rule bending from the start. Unexpectedly Alan retaliated with some rule bending of his own, and the fans loved it. Of course they did. They erupted even more when McManus's trademark forearm smashes were returned by the newcomer with forearms of even greater force. Inevitably misfortune awaited Alan, and following a failed flying tackle, McManus body slammed him and he failed to beat the count. Alan Sergeant may have returned to the dressing room with a painful back, but he took with him the cheers and respect of the fans.
A star was born that day, and the McManus defeat was the first of no fewer than 52 televised contests, including six more against McManus and others against the big names of the lighter weight divisions, Jackie Pallo, Clay Thomson, Brian Maxine and Vic Faulkner.
The next milestone for Alan was winning the British welterweight championship. He held the title for a year before dropping it to Jim Breaks in Leeds, and re-gaining it until Brian Maxine came along in September, 1969, to remove it from his waist once again. In professional wrestling, as we have said before, the acquisition of a title is a clear indicator of the esteem in which a wrestler is held by the promoter. By 1969 Alan Serjeant was well established as one of the country's top welterweights and fans did not need a championship belt to measure his worth.
Other highlights included appearances at the Royal Albert Hall, making his debut with a fifth round pinfall win over Mike Bennett in January, 1967.
Throughout his career Alan travelled extensively. Whilst some were content to limit their appearances to one part of the country Alan worked nationwide, mostly for George DeRelwyskow in northern England and Scotland. For more than a year he worked three weeks out of four for George DeRelwyskow, staying with the promoter's family in Leeds. Further afield Alan travelled to Ireland, France and Belgium.
With more than twenty years at the top of his profession Alan moved back to the independents, still facing the best in the business like Jon Cortez, Keith Hayward and Jackie Robinson who had also moved across. By the mid 1980s he was nearing his fiftieth birthday and decided to call it a day.
From wrestling that is, as he was employed as a Sports Centre Manager where he taught “Fitness in Retirement” classes and coached trampolining. Always on the look out for something new Alan became a parish councillor, school governor and Chair of the local scouts.
Now retired Alan is a member of his local sailing club and meets up once a year with his old pals at the Wrestlers’ Reunion (below in August 2016 with Bob Kirkwood).