Harold Angus was one of the pioneers of modern day wrestling. He led the way following the introduction of all-in rules in 1930 and was one of the greatest exponents of the sport until his untimely death.
Born in Wigan, in 1904, he was one of ten children, though only six survived beyond childhood. Harold's mother, Ellen, was a Wiganite, whist his father, William, had been born in Lincolnshire, and after moving to Wigan worked in one of the local coal mines. Both of Harold's elder brothers, James and William, also wrestled, but did not achieve the same level of professional success as Harold.
Facing up to the economic realities of a 1930s Britain that faced mass unemployment Harold made the decision to turn professional in December 1930. The amateur wrestling authority was highly protective of amateur status and took a dim view of wrestlers being paid for participation in what they considered a debasement of their sport. On 19th February, 1931, a meeting was convened and a unanimous decision was taken to suspend the amateur status of Harold Angus (and a number of others) for infraction of the laws of amateurism.
There was no turning back.
We can only imagine the dismay of the the twenty-six year old Wiganite with an outstanding amateur record. Unmistakably aware of the consequences of working for money in the professional style Harold was making a huge sacrifice and taking an immense gamble, not knowing whether the new sport would last six months or sixty years.
Not only was Harold a British amateur champion (in 1928 at Featherweight) but he had represented the nation at international level. In 1928 Harold was selected as a member of the British Olympic Games team in Amsterdam. Following his defeat of Estonian Eduard Putsep in the preliminary round he lost out in the quarter finals to the Canadian Daniel MacDonald.
Two years later Harold gained further international recognition when selected for the European Games in Paris and the Empire Games, which were held in Hamilton, Canada. With the economic downturn beginning to bite and Britain on the verge of the 1930s depression Harold was unable to fund himself for both competitions and withdrew from the European tournament.
Drama unfolded before the Empire Games even started. Fellow wrestler Eddie Rothwell was seriously injured during a work-out with Harold aboard the sailing to Canada, suffering a severely torn ligament and the end of his Empire Games dreams. Harold went on to Canada, competing in the lightweight division, taking Silver medal following a loss to the Canadian Howard Thomas.
Turning professional and now living in Doncaster Harold thrilled fans at his local hall with a win over Tony Dance in March, 1931. During the following couple of years Harold gained an enthusiastic following throughout northern England, but by 1933 with professional wrestling rapidly gaining popularity he began travelling further afield and appeared throughout Britain. Many of his most thrilling bouts were with another of Britain's greats, London middleweight Jack Dale.
By the mid 1930s Harold was consistently defeating many of the names familiar to Wrestling Heritage readers - Black Butcher Johnson, Val Cerino, Doulas the Turk and Jack Atherton. He appeared in the biggest venues around the country such as Belle Vue in Manchester, St James Hall in Newcastle, The Ring Blackfriars and the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Although professional wrestling records are incomplete, and there was no national controlling body, Harold was widely recognised as British welterweight champion by 1938. He successfully defended the belt over the following ten years against all the top contenders, including his London rival Jack Dale. By that same year, 1938, Harold was also recognised as both European and World welterweight champion.
In 1938 Ring Magazine reported that Harold had beaten French wrestler Henri Laurier in Paris, the bout lasting just eighteen minutes. Regarding the world championship we have documented championship contests against Alexandre Poizat and Roger Mollett in February and November, 1938 respectively. In the United States the American Jack Reynolds was recognised as World Champion. In March 1938 Nat Frank reported, "Jack Reynolds has expressed his willingness to battle Harold Angus for world welterweight honours, provided that the ex-British Olympic star visit America for the contest."
Reynolds, like Harold was a legitimate wrestler, and in 1963 was rated by the respected wrestling historian Charles Mascall as the greatest welterweight of all time. In that same listing Mascall judged Harold Angus the fourth best welterweight of all time. The year following the challenge from the American Britain engaged in war and we have no record of any match between the two world title claimants ever taking place.
After turning professional Harold maintained an interest with the amateur code. In 1936, following the Olympic Games in Munich, he wrote in Sporting Arena, "So far as sheer skill was concerned we were the best team in the games. We have the skill and the material but were beaten by better trained men. We take the Games as an ordinary tournament into which we enter for the fun of it. Other competitors start training months, even a year, in advance. That is what beat us this year. I hope the lesson will be inwardly digested."
Although Harold's untimely death has been well documented over the years wrestling historian Ron Historyo made a startling discovery in January, 2014. He provided conclusive evidence from primary sources of the day that Harold Angus had been killed in a shooting accident on Saturday 26th October, 1940, not eight years later as is often incorrectly cited. Harold was shooting rabbits when the gun accidentally discharged. He was rushed to Doncaster Infirmary where he died at the age of just 35.
Harold's untimely death left a void amongst the welterweights, and we can find no record of a successor to his title until after the end of the Second World War. In 1949 Eddie Capelli won a tournament at Maidstone to acquire the belt that had been held by Harold. On winning the championship Eddie Capelli revealed that as a youngster it was a contest at Blackfriars between Harold and George French that had inspired him to take up wrestling. Another well known wrestler who generously acknowledged the part Harold played in his success was the Doncaster Panther, Dirty Jack Pye. Harold and Jack had both made the move from their Lancashire birthplaces to south Yorkshire Doncaster. They trained together as wrestlers, turned professional around the same time, and although Jack was a year older than Harold he always acknowledged the influence of Harold in developing the technical aspects of wrestling, though apparently Jack made little use of these finer skills in the ring.
Few achieve recognition as experts in their chosen field. Even fewer retain respect and acknowledgement as an expert more than sixty years following their death. Harold Angus is one of those rare exceptions.
Thanks to Ron Historyo for providing additional information on the early life and premature death of Harold Angus.