WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

E: Bruno Elrington


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Bruno Elrington


In days of old, or at least before the 1970s when so called giants were merely oversized immovable objects British wrestling was roamed by real giants. Giants who were warriors possessing enormous strength, who could be evil or good, clever, cunning and could terrorize all those around them, should they wish. Giants who could wrestle.


Enter Big Bruno Elrington.


Bruno was an imposing figure, weighing near 20 stones and standing 6'5" tall. He might well have been a big package, but it was a package that packed in all the necessary ingredients to be a top rated wrestler. Whilst some loved to jeer him as a rule bender others loved him because he could, and did, wrestle. His speed and agility was surprising for a man of his size. Wimbledon wrestling enthusiast Palais Fan recalled: "He was never less than excellent in his role as the bad tempered, scary big guy, who was there to fight. His barrel chest, beard and height, set him apart from the average heavyweight and he gave the impression of being a great bloke to have on your side at a fight at a pub, on a Saturday night."


Frank Elrington was born in Barnsley on 13th December, 1929. Wrestling media claimed he was a former Royal Marine and professional boxer. For once in wrestling both claims were true.


We have it on good authority from one that would know that when Charlie Glover encouraged Frank to take up wrestling he had an ulterior motive. And that was? Glover disliked Bert Assirati with such intesnity that he was set upon finding someone who could bring about his downfall. Whether that is true we couldn't possibly know, but have no reason to doubt it, and the fact that it is feasible tells us something about Frank Elrington. We have no knowledge of the two actually meeting in the professional ring. Charlie Glover concentrated mostly on the boxing side of his gym, leaving the wrestling training mostly to his son, Brian, and Sam Betts. It was Sam that took the lead role in training Frank.


No longer Frank, now Bruno, he turned professional in the late 1950s, our earliest find a match in August, 1959 in Leicester, opponent Ed Bright, promoter Jack Taylor. Within a couple of years Bruno was working for Joint Promotions, living in Portsmouth and had opened his own gym, which went on to produce a number of talented professionals, the Wilson brothers and Roger Wells amongst them. 1962 was a big year in which Bruno established himself. A television debut against Billy Joyce was to be the first of around fifty televised contests. He also made his first appearance in the Royal Albert Hall Heavyweight Tournament and made his way through to the final In the quarter final and semi final he knocked out the Italian Mario Matassa and Frenchman Michel Chaisne. In the final Bruno faced Hungarian Tibor Szakacs, a more difficult proposition, with Tibor taking the trophy.


Bruno had an enormous ring presence and he made a fearsome site as he climbed into the ring. In the early 1960s with short cropped hair and pre beard he looked fearsome, or as Dave Sutherland vividly recalled, "Likely to become unhinged at a minutes notice and then commit all kinds of unspeakable mayhem." The first time Dave saw Bruno in action was against Ray Apollon, a ten round draw which he still considers the greatest match he has seen.


For two full decades of the 1960s and 1970s Bruno was a force to be reckoned with. Competition was fierce with heavyweights around of the calibre of Dennis Mitchell, Gwyn Davies, Al Hayes and a dozen more, but Bruno was up there with the rest of them. He mellowed later in his career and was rewarded with winning the Royal Albert Hall Trophy in 1969, and succeeding Al Hayes as Southern England Champion. A popular champion, but then Bruno was never a villain that fans could bring themselves to dislike.


Reputed as a man who disliked to travel, prefering to holiday in Blackpool rather than Benidorm, Bruno did have a couple of long distance wrestling jaunts. In 1964 Bruno wrestled in India. He went clean shaven and returned with a beard, grown for a part he played in one of two films. So, was Bruno our first Bollywood wrestler? The Wrestler magazine reported 57,000 fans watching Bruno draw with Dara Singh. Now we wouldn't want to take any credit away from Bruno, or Dara for that matter, but in those days we seemed to be forever hearing of British wrestlers going to India and drawing with the great Dara Singh. Well, that's pro wrestling.


In 1969 Bruno wrestled in Japan, where he met up once again with Shozo Kobayashi, who he had previously met, and been knocked out by, at the Royal Albert Hall, in December, 1968. At least that gave him ten seconds to gaze up at that wondrous ceiling. SaxonWolf has told us the Tokyo match ended inconclusively when Ian Campbell entered the fray, setting up a tag match for local boys Kobayashi and Toyonobori beating Bruno and Campbell.


With a touch of Bollywood in his system Bruno did go on to further acting roles in The New Avengers (1976), The Touchables (1968) and The Nine Ages of Nakedness (1969).


Bruno Elrington died on 19th July, 1993.


But as Bruno left us with so many happy memories it's more fitting to end with a smile. Provided by enthusiast Caulkead: "I remember the incongruous sight of him riding a small bicycle (a Moulton, I think) along Commercial Road in Portsmouth!"