WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

H: Harold Angus, Billy Angus & Another Bill Angus (Gunner Guest)


Harold Angus


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.

With the first appearance of all-in rules in December, 1930, Harold Angus was one of the top amateurs who took the opportunity to earn an income from what had previously been a  hobby. 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.

Facing up to the economic realities of a 1930s Britain that faced mass unemployment Harold made the decision to capitalise on his wrestling skill and turn professional.

Shortly after returning from Canada Harold began accepting money for wrestling, resulting in the removal of his amateur status in February, 1931. 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 journalist 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 contact with the amateur code and held in high regard all those competing. 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, turning 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. 

Billy Angus

Wigan's William Henry was an older brother  (by one year) of the much better known Harold Angus. Born in 1904 he was a diminutive wrestler described as a featherweight. We find him wrestling Jack Walsh of Manchester at Ashton-Under-Lyne in 1932 when it was reported that Billy was more speedy and clever than his opponent despite being fourteen years his senior. We find him involved in wrestling until the outbreak of the Second World War, but to nowhere near the extent of his younger brother.

Another Bill Angus (or Gunner Guest)
A second Bill Angus, this one the nephew of Harold Angus.  

Bill Angus assumed the name Gunner Guest after serving as an artilleryman in the Second World War. He was the nephew of the great Harold Angus  Gunner didn’t assume the glorious heights of his famous uncle. As a demonstration that wrestling wasn't all Royal Albert Hall and Belle Vue shows. Gunner’s son sent us an eye-witness account of a less illustrious post-war wrestling tour. The account was written over sixty years ago by  Ray Atherton, who also wrestled on the tour.

1947 - The Big Top Wrestling Tour

Mr Jarman & Jim Angus were the promoters, Mr Jarman was to pay all wages.
 
A team of eight wrestlers were organised, and in addition to wrestling at different venues, they also erected and dismantled the Big Top.   

The other members of the team were:- Ray Atherton, Bill Angus, Gordon Richards, Glyn Morgan,and a lad from Wigan (cannot remember other names).

The lorry carrying the Big Top was driven by Bill Angus, accompanied by Ray Atherton. A Horrifying incident occurred when coming down a steep hill by Lincoln Cathedral. The brakes failed & Bill pumped the brake peddle and got enough pressure back to stop the lorry at the bottom of the hill----safely!

The places they performed at were :- Rotherham, Worksop, Gainsbrough, Lincoln, Newark, Nottingham, Derby, Tamworth, Evesham, Ross on Wye, Monmouth & Pontypool.

Not only did the team attend to the Big Top twice a day, they were also responsible for all the seating arrangements & Ring. 

This was to be the last venue of the tour. They were to be paid in full on the morning of the last show. They slept underneath the lorry, covered with hessian sacks. They ate when and where they could. The following morning on awakening they found that Mr Jarman and "his lady friend" who had both lived comfortably in a touring caravan throughout the tour had absconded with the money and the team were left penniless, no money either for families waiting at home. 

They abandoned the Big Top and lorry & hitch hiked home!!!

Donkey Work!!! (for nought)

Revised: 20/04/19