A: The Angel

The Angel

Maurice Tillet

In the twenty-first century there would certainly be questions raised about the morality of The Angel’s presence on our wrestling programmes. Questions surrounding the possible  exploitation of a man’s misfortune or whether it was a case of bringing happiness and financial gains for him that would otherwise have been beyond him. We have never seen a hint of a suggestion that The Angel was unhappy with being catapulted to stardom or treated unfairly by his mentor,  Karl Pojello. Pojello  trained Tillet to wrestle and he proved a sensation wherever he appeared, with huge numbers of fans turning up to see him wrestle Carl Reginsky, Bert Assirati and Bill Garnon.

Maurice Tillet was The Angel, a man befriended  by Karl Pojello and unleashed on the British wrestling public by Atholl Oakeley. Unleashed is a word we use because in a physical  sense he was certainly one of the oddest wrestlers to appear in the ring. Mind you, even though Tillet did suffer from a physical condition we have little doubt that promoter Oakeley made the most of his disfigurement, and claims that members of the public fainted when they saw him we do take with a pinch of salt.

Here's what Oakeley had to say about Maurice Tillet thirty years after he had been introduced by his friend, Karl Pojello. "No human being I had ever seen had looked like this creature, ambling along like a grotesque ape. It's overlong arms trained down by the shrunken sleeves, it's arms were thicker than a man's ankle." Photographs of Maurice Tillet in his out of ring attire testify that this was patently untrue.

All sorts of nonsense was regurgitated by the British press, not just the wrestling propaganda but the press in general told lurid tales of a man without a name, who could neither read or speak, that could not communicate with others. More balanced accounts are of a thoughtful, kind and generous man who shared much of his wealth with a Montreal children’s home.

Maurice Tillet suffered from acromegaly, a condition which results in the thickening of the bones and enlargement of the head and hands, "The things head was longer from forehead to chin than that of a horse," went on Oakeley.
Wrestling journalist Charles Mascall presented a more balanced picture of the man, "This gentle giant was the finest of men, though, I must admit the first time I met him in the darkened passageway of a Bayswater rooming house, his appearance (he had a head the size of a horse, so publicity material often read) certainly caused me some surprise.”
Oakeley introduced Tillett, now renamed The Angel, onto the British public. The advanced publicity caught the imagination of the fans, and disdain of the critics, but Angel certainly proved a sensation wherever he appeared, with huge numbers of fans turning up to see him wrestle Carl Reginsky, Bert Assirati and Bill Garnon. 

When  The Angel returned to Britain in August, 1948, Charles Mascall reported that 12,000 fans filled Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium to see him lose to Bert Assirati.  A controversial ending to the contest resulted in the jeering of Assirati and sympathy for The Angel.

The two wrestlers were well matched in size and strength and Assirati struggled to throw The Angel, who made frequent use of his Body Crush hold to weaken the British wrestler. Assirati fought back with front headlocks that caused the Angel to protest to the referee. Tiny Carr smiled and told him to get on with it. Assirati grabbed the Angel’s legs, swiftly turned him to take the lead with his speciality Boston Crab submission. On many occasions Assirati’s Boston Crab has ended the contest but the Angel came back into the contest, using more Body Crushes to weaken Assirati and take the equalising fall. The end came with Assirati pinning The Angel. Unfair was the verdict of the fans and The Angel as the referee failed to notice that The Angel’s legs were hanging over the ropes outside of the ring.

Angel and Sherry left for  America in August, 1939. In May 1940 The Angel beat Steve Casey in Boston, leading to some recognition as World Heavyweight Champion, though by  then Casey’s claim to the title was tenuous, having had it removed by the National Wrestling Association. Nonetheless, we can conclude The Angel made his mark.

The Angel Maurice Tillett returned to Britain in 1947. Although he was advertised to  take part in the 1947 World Heavyweight Title Tournament (February 18th and March 4th) he did not take part.  Our earliest 1947 find was at the beginning of October, defeating Chick Knight at Belle Vue.  The Evening Telegraph declaring “He’s No Angel” as he outmatched George Clark in strength at Aberdeen. Clark was forced to submit when clasped in a bear hug, but The Angel was consequently disqualified for refusing to break the hold. When the Angel faced Abdul the Turk in November at Dundee newspapers reported that more than 1,000 fans were turned away when the hall was full. 

We have a first eye witness. Heritage member the late Allan Best told us of the night he saw the French Angel. “He wrestled Pat Curry at King’s Hall, Belle Vue, Manchester. Curry was a good, clean fast wrestler but on the light side for handling the really big boys. Nevertheless he ran rings around Maurice but it was The Angel the punters had come to see and he obliged by applying the inevitable bear hug, a front waist-hold, using his undoubted power and letting Pat fall in a heap. Job done.”

Maurice Tillet, born 23rd October 1903, died on 4th September, hours after his friend Karl Pojello. They were buried side by side. The inscription read “Friends which even death couldn’t part.”

Page added 29/08/2021

Reviewed 06/02/2022