O: Bill Ogden

Coalman Bill Ogden

(Also known as Joe Savoldi and Baron Nedgo)

Everyone was someone’s favourite.  That’s very true of Bill Ogden. A man who falls into the category of forgotten names, yet a man  who played  an important part in the history of professional wrestling for so many years. By no means unique  Bill is one of those unsung heroes who made wrestling great by entertaining us fans for almost forty years.

William Arthur Ogden was born on 13th July, 1913, the eldest son of four children born to Arthur and Gertrude. Arthur and Gertrude were from Congleton but the family moved to Mow Cop, a village on the Cheshire-Staffordshire border, when Bill was eight years old. He  joined the village school, Woodcocks Well, and was a pupil until he left aged fourteen.

Bill’s son, John, tells of his father’s interest in fighting from childhood days. Dad wasn’t averse to a bit of fighting himself in the school playground. He was just following the example of the adults he saw as he sat on the wall outside the Oddfellows Inn, “We'd be already perched on the walls round about by the time the pub door suddenly flew open and two men would stride towards the open space in front of the chapel, taking off their coats as they walked. ... The fights were fair in those days. If a man got knocked down his opponent would wait for him to get up - if he wanted to - and the fight would start again.  I do remember one ferocious battle between two brothers, Shirley and William Mountford, which lasted a full half-hour. We were all talking about that one for weeks. The fights didn't usually last anywhere as long as that, but they always ended the same way, with everyone going back into the pub to continue drinking. ”

Whether it was that which led Bill to a life of wrestling we wouldn’t know. We do know he began to challenge the wrestlers in the fairground booths that visited Staffordshire. Unlike most of the challengers, usually loud mouthed youths fuelled by alcohol and ego,  Bill demonstrated  some skill and actually gained respect from the men working the booths. 

At the time Bill was already working for his father, selling coal. Bill’s father started a coal delivery service, unusual in those days when customers normally collected the coal and took it home themselves.

He watched the wrestling at the Ideal Skating Rink in nearby Hanley and decided he could have a go. Bill went along to a wrestling gym at the Blackboy Pub in  Cobridge, where he got to know Jim Mellor and Stan Rylands.

With a determination to improve his wrestling Bill turned to the Belshaw brothers. Genuine catch wrestlers there could have been few harder tutors than the three Belshaw brothers at their Wigan gym.  

Coalman Bill Ogden  turned professional and we find  him in 1939, described as a “clever wrestler” when he beat Kid Burton at the Ideal Skating Rink, Hanley. It was the start of a long and successful career, a reminder once again that the men who made the business tick were not the names most readily recalled.  

Through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s Bill wrestled many of the big names in wrestling, including Bill Joyce, Norman Walsh and Jack Beaumont.  All great names but reality is that Bill was to remain a talented utility worker, mostly in supporting contests, that invaluable group that enabled the stars to shine.

Bill’s entire life was devoted to wrestling in one capacity or another.  When he wasn’t performing he worked as a referee or MC. When needed he would transport up to eight wrestlers to shows in his van. He even built wrestling rings! We’re not talking about erecting them, we mean actually building them from scratch. 

Naturally, he did put them up when required also. Here was a man devoted to the business; a professional with a wife and five children to support.

Coalman Bill Ogden also transformed himself, in the way that only wrestlers could, into the villainous Gypsy Joe Savoldi. He continued wrestling until the early 1970s, thirty-eight years after making his debut. It was a lifetime devoted to wrestling, and we remain grateful. 

Bill Ogden  died in March, 1992, aged 78.

Page added 24/08/2019

Reviewed 11/03/2022