H: Frankie Hughes
The Spirit of Heritage
When his name was on the poster fans knew what to expect. In the 1950s and 1960s Frankie Hughes was the Sydenham Cyclone. There was no doubt about it. Watch him flash across the ring and you would understand why. In an age when wrestling was more mat based than it was to become in later years Frankie Hughes was frequently acknowledged as the fastest wrestler in Britain.
Born on 20th April, 1931 Frank, like all young adults aged over seventeen, was called up for his two years National Service. Following National Service Frankie was back in the ring, certainly no later than 1952, but we have unconfirmed sightings of a year earlier. In 1952 he was learning his craft from Bob Archer O’Brien, Eddie Capelli, Fred Unwin and Jack Quesick.
Frankie and Chick Osmond opened the Sydenham Amateur Wrestling Club to train aspiring wrestlers of the 1960s and 1970s. One man who was aspired by Frankie was Tony Granzi, who set his mind on becoming a wrestler after watching Frankie wrestle former world champion boxer Randolph Turpin at Polplar Baths. That wasn’t Frankie’s only clash with the ex boxer. They were matches that gained the attention of the press, and not for entirely positive reasons; Turpin was largely frowned upon for joining the wrestling fraternity.
Put aside any novelty matches Frankie Hughes was a classical wrestler, respected by his peers and valued by promoters, especially Dale Martin Promotions who booked him regularly for their shows. Frankie worked mostly in the south for Dale Martin, travelled frequently to the Continent and sometimes north of Birmingham; we were amused to see a billing in the south as “Recently returned from a successful tour of the north” as though it was a foreign land.
In December, 1953, on one of those visits to the mysterious north Frankie wrestled renowned Belgian Fernand Bawin in a match that Wryton Promotions advertised as the World Middleweight Championship. We have no result of the match but no more was heard of Frankie’s world title credentials and the title appears to have little legacy. We have unconfirmed reports of a brief flirtation with the British middleweight title in 1954, but nothing confirmed, but as is our usual response, “What the ‘eck? This was wrestling and titles weren’t everything.” More importantly Frankie was working regularly and equalling the best in the business at his weight – Colbeck, Mann, McManus, Capelli.
That Frankie was mostly in the supporting matches should be of no surprise. In the 1950s top billing was reserved for the heavyweights. When George Kidd and Eddie Capelli went across to the independent promoters Frankie went with them, but in the early 1960s he was back with Joint Promotions.
The end came in 1966. It wasn’t a case of the bookings drying up, Frankie was working regularly until the end. He was having trouble with his back and called it a day in 1966. More or less, we have found sporadic appearance for independent promoters following that decision, but they were few and far between. From that time onwards Frankie was most likely to be found as a London Cab Driver and writing for Cab Trade News.
Frankie Hughes died on 4th April, 2002. A memorial service in Canada was led by his good friend Billy Two Rivers and his cremation at Elmers End Crematorium was attended by many ex wrestlers. A solemn moment was relieved by the playing of “You are My Sunshine.” Frankie’s daughter told us “"He did have a great send off, and many, many people turned up, saw many men cry over him.......he was a wonderful, funny man.” She and Frankie embraced the spirit of Wrestling Heritage, “I’m aware that Dad wasn’t famous like the other well known household names, but the important part for dad and us, was that he took part.”
There could be no better reason.