WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

D: Harry Duval


Harry Duval


Also known as Paul Duval

Harry Duval was an impressive man. Impressive in so many ways. Admittedly not the first time we came across him. That was in 1965 when the Master of Ceremonies at the Preston Public Hall introduced Harry, who was wearing a heavy overcoat, to the fans and announced that he would be wrestling on the following month's show. We cheered him, as we would any local lad, but he looked nothing special. One month later Harry was back in the ring minus the overcoat. That coat had hidden muscles. Lots of them. Very big muscles. He was an impressive sight to say the least, and no less so once he began to wrestle.

A couple of years earlier fans of Harry Duval were not handing over cash to watch a couple of bruisers knocking each other about. They were patrons of the cabaret clubs of northern England, sipping their drinks, eating their chicken in a basket and listening to a young singer called Harry Duval. In August 1963 entertainment newspaper The Stage picked out Harry as a future star, not for wrestling but as a talented singer. The newspaper did report that he was supplementing his musical aspirations by undergoing training as a wrestler from Ernie Riley.

We firmly believe  that Harry must be a strong contender for the title of Britain’s most under-rated wrestler. “The Wrestler” magazines predicted that here was the man most likely to succeed Billy Robinson, who had a firm grasp on the British and European heavyweight championship  at the time. We were pleased to hear that Eddie Rose agreed, "Harry was a terrific wrestler and a great lad. He had experience also of Riley's Gym in Wigan and could hold his own with virtually any wrestler. He was skilful and very strong and a first rate mate."

Another wrestler who remembers Harry well is Dwight J Ingleburgh, "He could go a bit could Harry, a real shooter. Harry could hold his own with anybody. He was worthy of a title because he could deal with anyone wanting to take liberties."

Henderson Robertson Dyer was born on the Caribbean island of Montserrat on 2nd May, 1935. He came over to the UK as a youngster and settled, like many of his countrymen, in the textile town of Preston. He got a job in the Royal Ordnance Factory at Euxton. Wrestling was gaining popularity in the 1950s and Harry's interest in physical culture led him naturally to the grappling game. Training at Billy Riley's gymnasium alongside Jack Dempsey and Billy Joyce prepared him for a professional debut around 1963. His body was still developing and our earliest recorded matches, for the independent promoters such as Jack Taylor and Cape Promotions are against lighter, well respected wrestlers Pete Lindbergh, Ray Taylor and Bob Sherry. 

Harry's physical cultural regime was paying dividends all the time and he quickly grew in strength and stature. Many of his bouts were preceded by a demonstration of the power of his lungs. Fans would watch in amazement as Harry's lungs inflated a hot water bottle to unbelievable proportions, quickly followed by a loud bang as the bottle exploded. Not impressed? How about Harry smashing a coconut with his fist? We did say this man was impressive. The demonstration would be followed by another impressive display, this time of his wrestling ability against men of increasing weight, experience and skill.

In the mid 1960s Harry was signed up by Joint Promotions and began to work regularly for Wryton Promotions, Morrell & Beresford, and Relwyskow & Green. As was often the case with wrestlers tempted across the divide from the opposition Joint Promotions our belief is that they failed to capitalise on their new acquisition. Admittedly Harry received lots of regular work, travelling up and down the country, but it seemed that  neither his terrific strength, submission style wrestling, considerable ability and wins over Prince Curtis Iaukea, Albert Wall, Pat Roach and Gwyn Davies  were enough to convince the promoters that here was a man with the potential to become one of wrestling’s post war greats. We were dismayed when Harry returned to Preston in January 1966 facing top heavyweight contender Dennis Mitchell and promoter Norman Morrell failed to even mention that Harry (who had been re-named Paul) was our local hero.

Harry's son, Philip, told us: "He was special – a man with an amazing level of focus and commitment to his craft.  I watched him wrestle on several occasions as a youngster – I recall him on one occasion doing a suplex on Giant Haystacks (he was not a happy bunny being lifted up!).  My dad said after the bout he was praying that Haystacks did not fall on him "

Harry retired from wrestling in 1973, fulfilling another of his ambitions by going into pub management as landlord of the Prince Consort public house in Preston. Harry left the Prince Consort to become a well known taxi driver until his retirement. He is remembered by Prestonians for his immaculate attire of chauffeur’s cap, black suit and carnation.

Harry Duval died on 6th September 2013, aged 78 years.

Page added: 02/05/2021