WRESTLING HERITAGE

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S: Dicky Swales

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Game for a Laugh


Dicky Swales

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Spend thirty seconds with Dicky Swales and you will have a smile on your face. Make that just ten seconds, by thirty you will be laughing out loud. Dicky Swales might be small in stature but he's certainly big in personality. Still is. Larger than life in 2019 as we add him to Personality Parade on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Whether he's at home, meeting up with half a dozen wrestling pals as he still does each week, or is enjoying the company of former colleagues at the Blackpool Reunion Dicky is invariably surrounded as he entertains with his tales of more than a quarter of a century in the wrestling business. Invariably they are larger than life tales that include encounters with gangsters, public executioners, mass murderers and the occasional alligator. The story of Dicky sharing a "dressing room" with an alligator is one that we have seen grown men queue up to hear him re-tell once again. 

Dicky was born on 16th September, 1929 in Thornaby, a town south-east of Stockton-on-Tees and four miles southwest of Middlesbrough. Meet him and he would soon tell you he still lived near to the river and you should drop in sometime. The Swales family has been traced back in the area until the early 18th century.

He watched the wrestling at Farrer Street Stadium, Mike Marino and Norman Walsh were his favourites. Steel erector Dick was determined to join them. He went along to the Middlesbrough Amateur Wrestling Club, a grand sounding place that occupied two rented rooms in a house in Newport Road, Middlesbrough. Sadly the club closed in 1950 and Dicky had to find a new club. He enrolled at  Joe Walton's Boys Club,  set up in 1906 by a local barrister to keep young boys off the streets and out of trouble.

Dicky pursued his wrestling education at St Lukes, a  Psychiatric Hospital, in Middlesbrough. It's orgins lay in the days nurses at the club had begun a course of wrestling as a treatment for violent patients. Local youngsters liked what they saw and demanded to get involved. Through the years the St Luke's Amateur Matmen raised many thousands of pounds  for local charities. 

When it comes to learning the ways of the professional ring, how to control a crowd, and make some decent money there was no better place than the fairground booths. Dicky was a favourite on the fairground booths, a regular worker for  Mel Reid and Ron Taylor at the Hoppings Newcastle.

From the mid 1950s Dicky travelled throughout the country, and  never owning a car  relied on the train. A typical week he remembered to us  was starting in Hull on Tuesday, Loughborough on Wednesday, Bristol Thursday, Belfast Friday and Workington on Saturday;  several trains and taxis and two ferries. It was a quarter of a century  wrestling  well known names that included Mick McManus, Linde Caulder, George Kidd, Mel Riss and Bernard Murray. One wrestler he always enjoyed working with was Jimmy Devlin, with the two of them  mesmerising fans with their bewildering speed in the ring (below left). 

Another good friend of Dicky's was the American Ski Hi Lee (above left), who Dicky and his wife visited in hospital up to the time of his death. When Ski Hi stayed at Dicky's home the two would go for a drink in the Station Hotel, Thornaby, attracting inquisitive locals intrigued by the variation in their heights.

For some years he lived in London, landlord of the Common Gate in Walthamstow, a drinking place frequented by some dubious characters. Which brings to mind another story. The local constabulary frequently popped in to The Common Gate for a chat with Dicky and a quick drink (those were the days boys). On one occasion the police were talking to Dicky when they noticed a car and activity at the post office across the road. Unperturbed they continued to enjoy their drink and conversation until a customer entered and announced that the post office across the road had just been robbed. 

Like almost everyone involved in the business Dicky enjoyed told us he enjoyed  every minute of his wrestling career, only retiring in the 1970s  when he stopped enjoying himself. He returned home one day to find  his wife had burnt his boots to make sure he didn't change his mind! 

Sometimes billed as Dirty Dicky Swales Dicky was never really a villain, "A loveable rogue who sent them home happy," said his friend Les Prest.

Page added 11/09/2019