R: Gene Riscoe

Gene Riscoe

Tall Tommy Heyes

Tommy Heyes was better known to professional wrestling fans of the early 60’s as Gene Riscoe, a rather mid Twentieh century across the Atlantic name that we would never have associated with the man known to friends as Tall Tommy.

We will leave it to our good friend Eddie Rose to recall a story about Tommy. Eddie recalled the night that Jack Atherton asked Abe Ginsberg to work as a substitute  against someone Jack referred to as “Tall Tommy.”  Abe had never heard of Tommy, though acknowledged on seeing him that at 6’3” he was tall. It was agreed that Abe should take the first fall and then Tommy do his “bits and pieces.” Those 'bits and pieces' turned out to be a bit more than Abe expected.  Abe told the story, “He did everything to me; Bang! Bang! Bang! I couldn’t do a thing about it. My head was spinning.”

Following the match Abe asked promoter Jack Atherton, “Who the hell was that?” Jack replied, “That were Tall Tommy. Everyone at Riley’s Gym knows Tommy.”

Abe may not have heard of Tall Tommy, but Heritage readers are more knowledgeable.   It was in 1957 that Tommy Heyes walked into Riley’s Gym, he was seventeen years old. Learning from Billy Riley was tough, but Tommy was there to stay.  Three years later Tommy was wrestling in the professional ring, now using the name Gene Riscoe.  Tommy made his debut against former amateur champion Frank Hough.
Riley & Atherton Promotions were obvious employers but Tommy knew his stuff and in 1960 we have found him working for Relwyskow & Green and Wryton Promotions. Opponents included Alan Colbeck,  Keith Martinelli, Jim Hart and Tony Zale. This boy could clearly handle himself. We last come across Gene, or Tall Tommy, in December, 1965, wrestling Jack Fallon, another tough un. Abe really should have known better.

Both Catch-as-catch-can and Pro wrestling were taught at Riley’s gym and Tommy learnt them both. During his time at the gym, Tommy wrestled, and learned from, most of the gym’s great wrestlers, including Billy Joyce, Ernie Riley, Billy Robinson and Tommy Moore (Jack Dempsey).  Tommy Heyes was sometimes referred to as ‘Tall Tommy’ by other gym members because he was taller than Tommy Moore.  The two Tommy’s were regular training partners for many years. Due to family and working commitments Tommy never wrestled outside of the UK.  

It wasn’t just the wrestling. One little known but worthy accomplishment of Tommy’s was that in July 1960 he was awarded a Humane Society Award for his bravery when  rescuing a girl in danger of drowning in the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

In later life Tommy’s interest in catch wrestling continued as a wrestling coach and an avid historian. When Roy Wood took over Riley’s gym Tommy was instrumental in helping to revive the club, passing on his wrestling knowledge to youngsters and keeping the legacy alive.  

He also spent many hours in the library continuing to research the sport he loved. Heritage member Larry McCarthy recalled visiting  the  Museum of Wigan Life with Tommy, “Every now and again he would get up in the middle of the research library and show some wrestling moves.”

A Wiganer all his life Tommy Heyes was born in Aspull, a village that is now part of Wigan, in 1920, and  died in Whelley on 9th March, 2020.