P: Ivan Penzekoff

Ivan Penzekoff

‘e wur a rum ‘un wur our Ivan. 

Those from Ivan Penzekoff country know just what we mean; a rum ‘un being mischievous rather than downright bad. Penzekoff country is Lancashire. Ronald Pennington, that was the name on the birth certificate was Lancashire through and through, untarnished by a few years of living in Portsmouth. The Anglo-Latvian or Anglo-Russian labels on the posters did nothing to hide the reality that Ivan Penzekoff was a Bolton lad, more specifically Westhoughton, a few miles south west of Bolton. 

Ronald Pennington was born on 13th April, 1933, father Albert worked in the colliery whilst mother, Alice, was a weaver in the local mill. A couple of hard working people in hard times.  On leaving school and completing his national service Ron went to work in Chanters Colliery in Atherton.

We could find no East European connections but ex wrestler Paul Miltchell has told us Ronnie's grandmother was Latvian. Paul has fond me memories of his colleague; "Ronnie apart from being a great worker was also one of the funniest guys I've ever met. I recall him being approached by two slightly drunk lads on Piccadily, Manchester, who wanted to know where in Russia he was from.  In his best Soviet accent he replied Vesthoughtonski. When they asked if that was near Moscow he replied 'No cock it's t'other side of Atherton.' "

By 1958 it was the name Ivan Penzekoff on the posters, though our earliest documented evidence is 1960. Well, we say Ivan Penzekoff. Sometimes it was Igor, sometimes Ivar, Penzekoff, Penzecoff, Penzokoss, Tenzicoss, for those independent promoters the letters were endlessly interchangeable. Trevor Rowley recalled: "My local cinema was the Princess in Dukinfield which ceased to function as cinema in 1960. They then flirted with bingo and then incorporated some wrestling. One week the poster went up for the visit of Ivor Penzicof. Two weeks after that visit he was back again but this time the poster was for 'Igor Pentikos.' I wasn’t quite sure how seriously to take this when he popped up some time after that as Ivan Penzecoff (The Wrestling Latvian) who by then was living in Bolton."

Following a thorough grounding on the opposition circuit with the likes of Pedro the Gypsy, Lord Bertie Topham, Johnny Eagles and Basil Coloulias we find Ivan working for Joint Promotions in February, 1962.  By the end of the year he's on the television, wrestling Mal Sample. He was a hit.  A bad 'un that we just liked, he clocked up more than sixty television matches in the years that followed. His second outing even counts as one of wrestling's historic moments – partnering Alan Colbeck he took part in the first ever televised tag team contest, opponents Bert Royal and Vic Faulkner.   Wrestling was big business with  the National Union of Small Shopkeepers asking for wrestling to be moved from  Saturday afternoon as it was keeping shoppers at home. President Thomas Lynch said 'This is serious. Our members are losing a lot of money.' "

Ivan is fondly remembered by wrestling fans of the 1960s and 1970s,  usually black-tighted, and with a lithe suppleness that led to his being billed as The India Rubber Man. Graham Brook told us, "You never quite knew what you were getting when Ivan Penzekoff was on the bill. Against  Mike Marino he was a ruthless villain who was disqualified and, a week later, he was the blue eye against Les Thornton in a bout where he kept blowing raspberries and villain Thornton found it hard to keep a straight face. Penzekoff versus Eric Taylor was a wrestling masterclass which could have been labelled ‘old school’ back then.”

Wrestler Eddie Rose was another admirer: “A great pro and good fun to be with. Another Sunday morning lad from Wryton Stadium. He worked for Independent promotions prior to Joints and was very well liked by both audiences and fellow wrestlers.”

Never a regular on the winning side, that didn’t matter in wrestling, in the 1960s Ivan was a credible worker worthy of a place on the bill irrespective of the opponent. In the 1970s after Max Crabtree took over Joint Promotions his not inconsiderable talent seemed overlooked and he became another run of the mill villain ready to lay down to the flavour of the month.

Last seen working for the independent promoters in 1978 there was more to come from our Ivan. In the early 1980s he moved to Canada and worked for Stu Hart’s Stampede wrestling. A wrestler to begin, he later turned referee (“The referee who turned bad”) and adopted the  name Cedric Hathaway – now you can’t get more English than that. 

Ivan returned to Lancashire where he died towards the end of 2001.

Page added 11/04/2021
Reviewed 07/04/22