G: The Ghoul
The Ghoul ???
"Rip his mask off."
"Let's see his face."
"Pull, pull, pull."
The presence of a masked man in the ring was enough to bring out all sorts of uncharitable sentiments from those at ringside. Not that we wished him any harm you understand; all we wanted was the mask removed, see the face and hear the name of the man beneath.
That's all. Then we would be satisfied.
Well, that's how it seemed at the time, but the reality was that the removal of a mask often uncovered more mysteries.
For more than thirty years the persona of The Ghoul (with at least four men beneath the mask) was a top of the bill heavyweight who, more than seventy years after enraging fans with underhand tactics, remained an enigma and the subject of much discussion.
The man usually referred to as the original Ghoul was an ex serviceman, nicknamed Bomber, who reigned supreme from 1946 until around 1960, certainly no later than 1961, when it was announced in the London Gazette that John Bates had died on 17th August 1961.
We have earlier reported that the name The Ghoul had appeared on British wrestling bills some years earlier, as early as 1938, facing the likes of Karl Reginsky, Jack Sherry and Dave Armstrong. We are able to state with some confidence that the pre war Ghoul was not the post war masked man. In other words, we have a new original Ghoul.
Historian Ron Historyo has discovered long lost archives that shed new light on the Ghoul, a story told in full in Grappling in New Brighton, and not only that, but Ron has provided the pictures to prove it. What a sight! Even a mother's love would be stretched to the limit!
Clad in black and towering over Karl Pojello The Ghoul is clearly a big man in every sense of the word. The promoter claimed he was 7 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 25 stones. That may have been an exaggeration, but the man was almost a foot taller than Pojello, who we have seen billed as 5'9?, which must have placed him towards the seven feet measure.
For the record The Ghoul was declared victor in his clash with Pojello at The Tower, New Brighton. Having taken the first fall in the fourth round Pojello equalised in the seventh with a Japanese leg lock submission. Without any more falls the referee declared The Ghoul the victor on points. Photographs of the post war Ghoul show that he was a man of bulk rather than great height, and for this reason we believe the 1939 ghoul was a different man and the original Ghoul.
So, who was the pre war Ghoul? That, of course, remains the 64,000 dollar question. His height does reduce the number of possibilities. Contenders would include Bulgarian Assen (sometimes Ivanov) Georgieff, who began wrestling around 1936, Poland's Leon Ketchell, and Britain's own giant Carver Doone. All claimed to have stood over 7 feet tall.
Ron Historyo's research leads to the educated guess that if the original Ghoul was one of these three, the most likely is Carver Doone. Why?
Both Doone and Pojello were Oakeley men. The Doone persona of Jack Baltus was an Oakeley creation, and Pojello had come to Britain earlier in the decade to help his friend Oakeley build his wrestling promotion business. Both Pojello and Doone were main event wrestlers Oakeley during the 1930s, but Doone abruptly disappeared in 1938, around the time The Ghoul came on the scene. The Ghoul was said to be a Canadian, and Doone had worked in Canada in the lumber trade.
As for the result. The invincible Pojello losing to the new masked man. Well, Oakeley had given Pojello and his friend Maurice “The Angel” Tillet a lot of work over the years; Pojello and Tillet were soon to leave for America, so they had nothing to lose and giving a boost to another of the Oakeley stable was just one way to say thank you.
None of this is proof but it does strongly suggest we have discovered a new original Ghoul. Maybe we had two pre war Ghouls? Maybe more. All that we can say with any certainty is that the post war Ghoul was not the original.
Just as things seemed a bit clearer member Mike Hallinan entered the discussion to muddy the waters again. He has produced a photo from a pre war poster at Montrose with a white masked Ghoul. This is around the same time as the giant Oakeley Ghoul. But there the similarity ends.
So do we have two different pre war Ghouls?
Let's move forward in time.
In 1946 as servicemen returned to resume civilian life a Manchester wrestler was demobbed from the Royal Air Force and took up a life travelling the country as a fairly run-of-the-mill heavyweight. His ring nickname was Bomber, on account of him having served with bomber command in the R.A.F. Well, he was wrestler Bomber Bates on the nights that he wasn't travelling the country, pulling on a mask and entering the ring as one of the most fearsome heavyweights of all time, The Ghoul.
We are not talking here of a fly-by-night under-card wrestler pulling on a mask for a short term income boost. Beneath the mask was a wrestler who was to become a career masked man for more than a decade.
Decades later with the identity of John Bates known the mystery of the Ghoul lives on. Even this confirmed information should not allow us sound too confident; once again an element of mystery remains. We have it on good knowledge that the Ghoul that took to the rings following the end of the war was the aforementioned R.A.F. serviceman from Manchester. He trained at the Manchester YMCA and by the end of 1946 was appearing in rings around the north of England. Records mostly indicated wrestling without a mask in 1946 and 1947 with hooded appearances increasing towards the end of the decade.
The first unmasked appearance came in January 1946, with the RAF man donning the mask regularly from 1948.
Post war masked men were something of a rarity. The Ghoul was a true professional, taking his ring persona seriously. He travelled around the north of England and into Scotland, on a pre inter-city rail network and by car in days prior to the construction of the motorway network. It was no easy job to travel for hours, wrestle, and travel home in the early hours of the morning.
The Ghoul and Count Bartelli were the two most famous masked men of time and their reputation spread far and wide, with the Australian Ring Digest reporting in August, 1950
"In England are the Ghoul, another masked man who has won over three hundred contests without dropping a decision. Also in that part of the world is Count Bartelli who is thought to be a local wrestler but has defied the efforts of all his opponents so far and his identity will remain a secret until he is defeated."
The 1950s Ghoul was a fearsome sight, and we have the witness of Palais Fan and Bernard Hughes to testify to this. A big man wearing a white or cream mask that failed to hide the sinister grin beneath. Bernard saw The Ghoul more than forty times at the St James Hall, Newcastle. He remembers,
"The first time that I saw The Ghoul, when I was nearly 13, he was sandwiched in the back seat of a car with a wrestler either side of him. He was bigger than the two of them put together! When he got out of the car wearing his old white mask he was at least two foot taller than me. He was huge! I later saw the Mighty John Quinn, but The Ghoul in his overcoat and white mask struck me as the biggest man that I had seen."
Palais Fan remembers the Ghoul,
"As a very young boy in those days, he literally gave me nightmares! And you're right, he really was huge. As he walked to the ring he was the one wrestler everyone backed away from, even those south London 'would be' tough guys in the crowd, who tried to confront other villains of the ring."
Heroic opponents often took the opening fall against the villainous masked man. James Morton told us,
"I saw the Ghoul at the Palais in probably 1955 against Bernard Vigale. Vignale took the first fall in a matter of minutes and looked as though he could have taken the second any time he wanted but.... of course... "
We can only imagine the deafening sound of the crowd as they cheered on their hero. In their hearts, however, they knew that the result was as predictable as it was inevitable. It was only a matter of time before the opportunity would arise for the Ghoul to administer his dreaded “Guillotine Garrotte,” a rabbit punch which would result in the luckless opponent losing consciousness and slumping to the canvas to be counted out. Following the announcement of the Ghoul's victory the hapless opponent would remain lifeless on the canvas. As concern for the stricken man's welfare mounted one of the officials would appeal to the masked man to use his special skills to save his opponent.
In one of those "smoke and mirror" moments appreciated only by fans of professional wrestling The Ghoul would mysteriously administer the blow again, which resulted in the revival of the hapless victim.
Wrestler Al Tarzo recalled: "The mask he wore used to make his lips massive and puffed up. For want of another description....grotesque."
Throughout the 1950s The Ghoul was consistently one of the top heavyweight wrestlers in Britain. His ring persona meant that television exposure was impossible, but he appeared regularly at the biggest and most important northern venues: Liverpool Stadium, Manchester's Belle Vue and the New St James Hall, Newcastle. With the formation of Joint Promotions The Ghoul worked for the northern members of the partnership but was not, unsurprisingly, invited south by Dale Martin Promotions. He did make the occasional jaunts south, working for Devereux Promotions and Norman Morrell.
With The Ghoul one of the main event wrestlers for Joint Promotions the independent promoters hit on the idea of dressing up a fellow wrestler as The Ghoul and matching him with Bert Assirati, thus allowing Assirati to enhance his reputation even further by defeating, and exposing the shortcomings of, the apparently Joint Promotions star. Bill Coverdale, who Assirati had defeated days earlier, donned the white mask and entered the ring to face Assirati at The Merry Fiddlers Open-Air Venue, Becontree. Assirati was out to expose The Ghoul and give him a good beating, and show the packed out crowd he had no ability. Coverdale realised that Assirati was going to draw plenty of blood which was going to be all his, and decided when the going got heavy, he would throw himself out of the ring, where two friends were lined up to apparently take him to hospital.
Coverdale assumed the persona of The Ghoul for more than a decade, but we understand John Bates also worked for the opposition promoters for a short time, testified by Al Tarzo who shared a dressing room with him. Dave Sutherland remembers the South Shields Gazette covering one such contest, an independent promotion at the Regent Cinema in South Shields in 1960.
"The Shields Gazette made a lot of it the next night and included photographs of the great man who was wearing a white mask ..... they did report on his winning manoeuvre and the subsequent steps that he took to remedy the damage done.?
With Bates and Coverdale most likely appearing simultaneously as The Ghoul in the late 1950s we cannot tell you just when Bates retired though 1958 does seem a likely year. We do know that John Bates died on 17th August, 1961, leaving Bill Coverdale to continue.
Coverdale did an admirable job, working throughout the 1960s for the independent promoters, as a bill topping singles wrestler and tag partner of The Monster. A series of 1969 matches against The Outlaw (or at least the independent promoters version of The Outlaw) seems to have brought this third chapter of the Ghoul story to a close.
Even this was not the end of the story.
The name was revived once again in the 1980s by promoter Max Crabtree. We understand Tiny Callaghan assumed the role for a short time, but this was the 1980s and there may well have been others.
Page revised: 12/10/2019