A breath of fresh air and a much needed dash of colour came to British wrestling in 1973 when genuine overseas visitors were far less in number than during the previous decade. Chief Thundercloud was a head dressed native American, oft seen partnering Whitecloud, another Hispanic.
Londoner Peter Kinch wrestled as Little Toby and was a good friend and student of Dangerous Danny Lynch, a neighbour of his when he moved to Ashford. Toby learned his wrestling at an amateur club in Woolwich, and it was after he moved to Kent that the two men became friends in 1970 and Danny offered to train Toby in the professional style. Three years later Toby was deemed ready to hit the rings, and turned made his pro debut in 1973.
Toby and Danny would often travel to venues together and Toby became a popular wrestler around the south in the 1970s, unsurprisingly naming his local Stour Centre in Ashford as his favourite venue. Toby unfortunately mislaid all his wrestling memorabilia some years ago, and would like to hear from anyone with any photos, programmes or posters featuring him. Now retired from wrestling Toby runs a driving school in Kent, and is a near neighbour of another Wrestling Heritage friend, Romany Riley.
Less than two decades following the end of the second world war the Oriental features may well have been enough to make The Great Togo a hate figures amongst wrestling fans in the non politically correct Britain of the 1960s. Mind you, the rule bending tactics no doubt helped to make him a first class villain. Not to forget his salt throwing good fortune ceremony where salt could oh so easily find its way into his opponents eyes.
Togo, real name Toshiyuki Sakata , was actually born in Hawaii, though he began to use the Westernised name of Harold Sakata after moving to mainland USA. His sporting career began as a weightlifter and he represented the USA in the 1948 Olympic Games. In North America he wrestled under the name of Tosh Togo where he tagged with his wrestling brother who was confusingly known as Great Togo. If three names, or is that four, wasn't enough Harold added another when he achieved worldwide fame starring as Oddjob, the bodyguard to James Bond villain Goldfinger.
The steel-brimmed bowler hat became a familiar trademark for the wrestler and was much parodied by later villains. Following his British wrestling tour Togo, now commonly known as Oddjob, wrestled around the world took part in numerous film and television series. Toshiyuki (Harold) Sakata died on 29th July, 1982 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Tommy the Demon, a real old time villain who the crowd enjoyed booing. It was the wrestling name used by Tommy Hooton in the 1950s, an opponent of Masambula, Eric Taylor and Jim Lewis. He also wrestled under a mask (as The Black Mask, Black Knight and Blue Flash) at times. When he was unmasked in 1952 the Black Knight Tommy Hooton’s face was revealed and he then too the name Tommy the Demon.
Tommy had a good background in the sport, learning to wrestle at Pop Charnock’s gym in Wigan. He was only forty years old when he died. By then Tommy had retired and gone into refereeing. One night a promoter was a man down and asked Tommy to step in. Tommy did so, was thrown from the ring with the result that he needed two operations on his kidneys and died soon afterwards.
Wrestler Al Tarzo told us "I remember Tommy the Demon very well. Once I travelled to a show in Redruth, we travelled in Red Callaghan's VW caravette. When we arrived in Redruth Red went to collect a brand new caravette. Not getting much sleep due to the fact we left Thursday evening for Friday night and travelled back after the show Red's nerves were a bit ragged. We really aggravated Red by telling him that Tommy was putting his feet on the seats of his new motor. That journey almost ended with a knock out. But Tommy was an all round joker and decent in my book."
Following Tommy’s death the name was used again by independent promoters in the 1960s and by promoter Max Crabtree for wrestler Tommy Stewart in the 1980s.
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 from 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.
Away from the ring Lord Bertie was heavily involved in club management in northern England and ran a large agency for those he described as "exotic dancers."
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.
See Bill Torontos, right, sticking it to Frankie Howerd, flanked by Dazzler Joe Cornelius and Dangerous Danny Lynch.
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.
Ricardo was another Continental visitor who made a favourable impression in the early 1970s. The family credentials were first class as he was the 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.
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.
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