P: The Pye Family

Jack Pye
and His Wrestling Family

Jack Pye

Eddie Rose recalls another of his wrestling heroes

The Evergreen King of the Ring

I used to work, as a student, at Belle Vue in 1960 and on Saturday evenings I often  went to the King's Hall to watch the wrestling. It was free of charge to me thanks to Mrs Dixon, one of the senior attendants in the arena. I went out of curiosity at first having seen a couple of bouts on TV (blurred black and white pictures 60 years ago).

On this particular occasion the first bout had already started but it quickly captured my attention; a superb 1-1 draw between Ernie Riley (Wigan) and Eric Taylor (Bradford). I was hooked by the skill, speed and agility of both men and, I'm pleased to say, some years afterwards Eric became a good friend.

Eric and Ernie left the ring to great applause and there was a brief silence before the fanfare and the next wrestler entered the ring to a modest welcome. From memory (it was sixty years ago) the wrestler was Tony Mancelli, the Anglo-Italian heavyweight. The fanfare again and the audience started vigorusly booing and shouting. Nothing happened. Again the fanfare and the spotlight went into action;  again, nothing happened. This intensified the audience's reaction which continued with added ferocity. Third time lucky? No chance and by now the whole 6000 audience was on its feet screaming and booing.

All the lights suddenly went out and music stayed silent. After some thirty seconds a single spot light abruptly shone on the curtain through which wrestlers made their entrances. Nothing happened again the audience was in a frenzy. Then, the curtains parted and there he stood, tanned with combed back black hair and in an immaculate white dressing gown the legendary Jack Pye. 

The crowd immediately went silent. Jack briefly look around then, with a sneer on his face he saluted the audience with a massive “V” sign! Talk about heat! Talk about noise! It was pandemonium. MC Ben Green could not make himself heard and Timekeeper Wright Mallinson  quickly rang the bell for round one.

Pye, in black tights and with his characteristic big bum and belly, walked around the ring “saluting” the audience. Then, the bout suddenly progressed with screams of “Dirty Pye” and unending booing from the fans. Mancelli was subjected to a non-stop attack of hair grabbing, fists to the face, eyes rubbed into the top rope and blows to his private parts despite repeated warnings from the referee, Joe Hill. By round three Joe had lost his patience and disqualified Pye.

Thus it was for most of Pye's bouts I saw at Belle Vue. I used to wonder why his bouts, all top of the bill, went on second event of the evening. It was arranged thus, to allow him plenty of time before the final bout finished to get away to Blackpool and escape the anger of the outraged fans!

I met Jack about twenty years afterwards when I was wrestling Jim Moser at the Mecca in Blackpool. Guest referee? Jack Pye!. The MC announced the two wrestlers and then “And our special guest referee for this bout is Jack Pye!” There was some polite applause and then several loud voices bellowed “Dirty Pye! Dirty Pye!” Jack slowly walked to my corner and I swear there was a tear in his eye when he softly said “They still remember me Eddie. They still remember me!” Like the saying goes, “Once seen, never forgotten.” 

The Evergreen Jack Pye. The Uncrowned King of the Ring!

Jack Pye

The Original Heritage Tribute

Whatever definition is applied to the word legend we would contend that Jack Pye is one of the few wrestlers that could legitimately be called just that. Here was a man who achieved national fame, amongst the public at large and not just the wrestling fans, without the aid of television. Jack Pye was a main event performer, probably the biggest draw of them all, around the country for the entire 1930s (and two and a half decades to follow), devoting most of that period to entertaining British fans. Reports from the early 1930s suggest that Jack was initially a sporting yet aggressive wrestler; but he soon learned that an even more aggressive style would prove more appealing to fans.

Jack Pye was a blueprint for professional wrestling villains for the following half century,  one of that small and exclusive group that can be said to have changed the face of their chosen profession. When it came to charisma he had it in bucket loads; his arrogance and tactics made Jack the man that fans loved to hate. But the man could wrestle, and there are numerous 1930s newspaper reports that compliment his wrestling skill. 

John "Jack" Pye was born in Bolton on 9th July, 1903, and on leaving school took up work in the south Lancashire coal mines. In 1924 twenty-one year old Jack, and his wife Eileen, moved to south Yorkshire, where housing conditions were considerably better than in Lancashire, and Jack took up work in the relatively new Hatfield Colliery. Jack was one of hundreds attracted to the area from Lancashire (and from other mining areas), and they brought with them Lancashire style Catch-as-Catch-Can wrestling. Jack was well known in Catch wrestling circles and was encouraged by Atholl Oakeley to turn professional around the time Oakeley  also decided to do so.

Jack Pye was in at the beginning of the professional wrestling revival, though we have found no evidence that he took part in the first Belle Vue show in December, 1930, as is widely claimed elsewhere. By 1931 he was certainly taking his first steps as a pro wrestler in Newcastle, Manchester, London and around the country. For a man who wrestled the likes of Carver Doone, Jack Sherry and King Curtis the Doncaster Panther, as Jack became known, was relatively small and weighed under 14 stones. Within a short time Jack established himself as one of the country's top wrestling stars and throughout the decade secured bookings most nights of the week, leaving time for only occasional jaunts overseas. 

In 1932 the Daily Mirror forecast that if the match between Benny Sherman and Jack Pye, due to take place in Paris on 14th September, was as good as their meeting at the Ring at Blackfriars, then Parisien fans should be very pleased. Well Jack obviously made an impression, because when he returned to Paris the following year one irate fan took out a revolver and fired shots towards the ring!

Bernard Hughes witnessed Jack's antics (though not in the 1930s we hasten to add) and testified to his ability to engage the fans, "For working a crowd you need look no further than Jack Pye. Even in the days when audiences were supposed to be non-violent (that came later), Jack could have the crowd at screaming pitch. It wasn't just the constant little illegal moves when the referee was on the blindside, but the sneering belligerent attitude that Jack adopted toward the whole audience. He made a point of howling whenever he was thrown as if his bottom was especially tender. Then of course the crowd would be shouting 'Throw him' and Jack would hold the top rope and call them all sorts of  ignorant uneducated peasants, glaring down from the ring to the seats below. It was as if he would take the whole lot on if they fancied it."

James Morton said, "If ever there was one to work a crowd, even by just staying in the dressing room, it was Jack Pye."

These were the tactics that made Jack a highly desirable commodity to promoters and the highest paid wrestler in Britain. Rough and irreverent he might well have been but Jack did, nonetheless, possess  wrestling skill, lacking only the power to put him in the class of Assirati, Clark and Sherry.

In December, 1932, when Jack wrestled Atholl Oakeley for the British Heavyweight Championship, the Daily Mirror reported those who went to see some rough stuff must have been disappointed; "It was an exhibition of clever locks and holds, and was fought in a good sporting spirit by both men, so that the bout was really worth watching." On another occasion Karl  Pojello's contest with Jack Pye at Nottingham was reported as ".... an outstanding revelation of scientific wrestling." Scientifically able or not Jack was astute enough to know that illegal moves, such as eye gouging, use of the fist and all sorts of trick on the blind side of the referee were the tactics that gone the fans' blood boiling and coming back for more.

To say that Jack Pye was one of the great wrestlers of the 1930s is to tell not even half of the story. Following the Second World War Jack Pye went on to become one of the greatest post war professionals. 

Wrestling Heritage reader Palais Fan told us, "I remember him grabbing the second's (Syd Crowhurst) metal water bucket and putting it upside down on the head of his opponent and banging the sides before being disqualified. Great entertainment! if not good wrestling."

Another long time fan was reader William Richmond, "On 30th October 1967, Jack was guest of honour at a Charity Night at my then ‘local’ The Hamilton Arms, Cabus. His role was to shove over a massive pile of pennies which had accumulated over the past year or two. I was able to speak to him at length on the current wrestling scene and he stated that without doubt Billy Robinson was the best heavyweight of recent times, disagreeing with my choice of Billy Joyce. (Naturally, I did not argue)."

Such was the esteem for Jack Pye that when he retired in 1963 he was presented with diamond cufflinks and a gold watch from the fans of Blackpool Tower and Liverpool Stadium respectively.

Jack Pye retired from wrestling, aged 59, in 1963, returning to the ring for a short time in 1971.

Jack Pye died on 8th December, 1985.

Dominic Pye

The Prince of Darkness

Imagine  life as the son of a monarch and spending much of adulthood waiting to assume the crown. Okay, just one of our readers will really empathise. Our subject is not the famous royal, but the heavyweight villain, Dirty Dominic Pye. The mere mention of the name will have brought back vivid memories for those who saw him even just the once. A tiny smile as we remember his luckless opponent finally losing his temper and tying Dominic’s hair to the ropes. Oh, how he snarled. Then more of a smile as Dominic is remembered jumping nimbly over the top rope only to catch his toe in the middle strand and find himself dangling upside down. It was a well-arranged performance but enjoyed over and over again.

Dirty Dominic Pye was the son of the one of wrestling’s greatest post war exponents, the uncrowned King of the Mat, Jack Pye.  Like that famous parallel heir apparent Dominic was not content at spending his professional life in the shadows of his famous parent, but carved a niche of his own in his chosen career. Fans of the 1950s and 1960s remember Dominic Pye and the accompanying frenzy as he barnstormed his way around the rings of Britain and the world. If Jack Pye was the Uncrowned King of the mat then Dominic was most certainly the Prince of Darkness.

Dominic admirably continued the family tradition as a fine purveyor of mat mayhem and his style was reminiscent of the old man. The trademark black tights and brightly coloured cape were similar to those worn by his dad. The unruly jet black hair and the body language as he prowled around the ring, snarling at his opponent and verbally abusing ringsiders, meant that Dominic could easily have been mistaken for a young Jack Pye, though Dominic kept his boyhood features and never developed Jack’s craggy facial appearance.

Verbal abuse was a Dominic trademark. He would punish and taunt his opponent.  Prematurely, of course, as his  own demise was merely seconds away. Between rounds the abuse would be directed against the fans, who were more than willing to return the compliments.

Dominic’s extremely aggressive style should not have disguised the fact that here was a man who could wrestle, from a family background with a great wrestling heritage. With Harry Dominic Pye  coming into the world on 28th June, 1928, four years after the move to Yorkshire, Jack was always looking for ways to supplement the family income. An extension of his leisure pursuit into the world of professional wrestling seemed a logical step. Knowledgeable wrestlers they may have been but both Dominic and Jack had showmanship written through them like a stick of Blackpool rock.

Jack wasn’t the only one to influence the young Dominic. As a youngster he was immersed (in the way that only Northern families seem able to immerse themselves) by his uncles Tommy, Harry and Frank (Bully). Family life was dominated by the wrestling business.

The family set up a small training area in their modern semi-detached home and young Dominic would enjoy being thrown around the mat by both family members and other wrestlers who came along to make use of the facilities. Occasionally Dominic would be allowed to go with his dad to the local gym in Thorne, where the youngster was again the centre of attention amongst the big men as they went about their training routines.

It was hardly surprising, therefore, that Dominic began to share in the wrestling business. In his early twenties  he took up the business professionally and became a regular member of the Pye family troupe that enraged fans night after night across the country. Within a year or two of turning professional Dominic was appearing regularly at major venues such as Belle Vue, Liverpool Stadium and Earls Court, tangling with many of the big names in British wrestling. In 1952 The Liverpool Echo described Dominic as Britain’s brightest prospect with a magnificent physique.

As if fans couldn’t get enough of them the promoters would frequently put on tournaments with the Pye family team, a permutation of any three or four out of the five, taking on teams of all-comers.

Throughout the 1950s Dominic wrestled the best on offer. Count Bartelli, Bill Howes, Bill Joyce, Dennis Mitchell, Sandy Orford, Vic Hessle, Dave Armstrong, and just about every big name found themselves in the opposing corner. A feud with Man Mountain Bill Benny frequently saw bouts ending in chaos and bloodshed, with one or the other getting themselves disqualified by breaking just one rule too many. In 1955 Dominic wrestled in California, USA.

Now living in Blackpool Dominic began working alongside Jack at their wrestling school. Many young men remained forever grateful to Dominic for giving them their start on highly acclaimed international careers, amongst them Jock Cameron, Wild Angus and Rex Strong.  

Apart from passing on to his son the rudiments of the wrestling trade Jack also passed on to Dominic a great deal of common sense, or nouse, as Jack would have been more likely to say. Jack instilled in Dominic the need for a second income on which to rely in the event of injury or retirement. Maybe that was the reason why, in 1959, at the height of his career, with the promise of even better days ahead, Dominic left Joint Promotions to join the independents as both a wrestler and promoter at the Central and South Piers. Throughout the 1960s Dominic would put on shows three times a week in the seaside resort. The publicity campaign of handbills liberally distributed along the promenade, often by mini skirted girls,  on the morning of the afternoon shows may not have been sophisticated but was certainly effective. Dominic was a regular attraction, of course, and he even enticed the established Barnsley heavyweight Harry Bennett to move to Blackpool and assume the role of his brother as Crafty Casey Pye.

Although he had a reputation as a very hard man in his native Blackpool opponents of the ring tell of Dominic as a “light worker” who was easy to work with. Rex Strong told us that Dominic was a joy to work with except for one occasion in Darwen, Lancashire. Dominic was the promoter that night and gave Rex an unusually hard time until part way through the match when he began to smile. All was explained when Dominic whispered to Rex that he’d remembered where he had put the takings. 

Dwight J Inglebergh told us of a night he was on with Dominic  at Morecambe. A fan  threw a bottle at Dominic, It missed him and hit Dwight who finished up in Lancaster infirmary where he received eight stitches in his forehead. The  next day Dwight was on with Dominic again in Blackpool, stitches and all. Dwight said,  "Dominic cradled me through the bout. I worked with Dominic dozens of times nation wide and on his own promotions. He always paid  top money.”

Father Jack was well established in the management of a couple of night clubs in Blackpool. People from throughout Lancashire would go for a night out in Blackpool to “Jack Pye’s Club.” Dominic became heavily involved in the running of the clubs alongside his father. He also set up another business venture, that of second hand furniture dealer, as well as wrestling and promoting. If idle hands do the work of the devil then Dominic must have been nearing sainthood.

Wrestling commitments continued throughout the 1960s, but were now limited to Northern England and became less frequent as the decade wore on. Around 1970 rumour had it that Dominic had donned a mask and was continuing his rule bending ways under the name King Evil. Whilst that can’t be confirmed the source of the information was adamant that it was true. We don’t know, but would like  to think the Prince of Darkness finally became a King. Once seen Dominic was never forgotten. There really was only one Dirty Dominic Pye, the prince of darkness.

In a tragic shooting accident Dominic  died  on 27 February 1979.  He was aged 50. 
Frank Bully Pye
Another of the famous Pye clan, Frank Pye was the original Bully Pye, a nickname later assumed by brother Tommy in the post war years. Born in Wigan in 1916 Frank was one of the eleven children of Henry and Ellen Pye (nee Bennett). Frank moved to Stainforth near Doncaster whilst still a child, and it was here he learned the wrestling business alongside his brothers, the most notable of whom was Jack. All the Pye brothers would train at a local gym and at Jack's home in Stainforth. Frank saw the success of big brother Jack, making money in the wrestling ring which was much more preferable than working down the pit. He was determined to join him and turned professional in 1933 when he was just seventeen years old. From the start of his career he travelled widely, often accompanied by brother Jack. Like his brother Frank was highly volatile in the ring with little regard to the sophistication of the sport's rules and was soon credited with the name Bully. Our records indicate that it was his temperament, prolific appearances and reputation rather than technical ability that justify made him one of the top wrestlers of the 1930s.. Some years ago we heard from Frank's son, James, who told us his father had married Rachel Greenall in Thorne in 1940, fathered James in 1941 and died in 1944.

Harry Pye
Although he never reached the illustrious heights of his more famous brother Harry was a prolific worker and one of the top wrestlers of the 1930s.

Harry Pye followed brother Jack into the wrestling ring. Until then he had worked in a ring of another kind, boxing 63 professional contests. Some sources report Harry boxing until 1935, but he was certainly wrestling as early as 1933. Harry was no doubt attracted to the money that Jack was making as one of the country's top wrestlers.

Yes, he was a Pye, and that's probably enough to tell everyone enough about his style!

Bernard Hughes saw Harry in action, albeit post war, and recalls that although Harry could wind up the fans he could not match the rising fury achieved by Jack. "Trying to look and act villainous, but not really getting there”

When Harry entered the ring fans expected little in the way of scientific wrestling the sort of rough house tactics for which the family were famous. Nonetheless, in February, 1936 the Daily Worker reported, “Another interesting bout was between Val Cerino and Harry Pye. Maybe this will come as a surprise to many fans but Harry Pye is really learning how to wrestle. Harry Pye was the winner by two falls to one.” In November, 1934, we have a record of Harry beating Carver Doone by two falls to one, a giant of a man who must have outweighed him by many stones.

In one match against Harry Brooks it was reported that Pye grabbed his opponent by the hair, kneed him in the groin and tossed him over the top rope into the ringside seats; and all that was before the bell had rung!

Following the end of world war 2 continued wrestling the new freestyle rules until around 1960. By then he and his wife, Vera, had moved to Blackpool, as had Jack, and had a guest house. Harry also went into business with Jack managing the Horseshoe Club. If that wasn't enough in the mid sixties he was still spending his leisure time teaching youngsters how to box.

Joe Pye (1930s)


Rough House Joe Pye

We have two Joe Pyes for you, and only one is definitely a member of the Pye family.

The first of our two Joes remains a bit of a mystery. We are not entirely sure he was a member of the famous family, on balance thinking it likely, but his was a much lower profile than the rest of the Pye family. He wrestled in the 1930s, and we have matches recorded from 1935 until August, 1939.  In September, 1939 it was announced in the ring that he had joined H.M. Forces, and after that we have only one recorded match, in May, 1941. Ron Historyo has found that Jack Pye did have a younger brother Joe. Surprisingly in the  fifty plus adverts we have found for Joe about three quarters state Blackburn as his home, a town not associated with the Pye family. On only one occasion is is stated that Joe is a brother in the wrestling family, in September, 1939 when he is part of a Pye Team alongside Harry, Frank and Tommy.  

The younger generation of the Pye family our second Joe was the nephew of the Doncaster Panther himself, Jack Pye. He had a short lived career in the 1970s, opponents including Max Raeger and Honey Boy Zimba. After losing to Zimba by straight falls at Blackpool Tower in 1975 he reported "Zimba body slammed me eleven times." Around 1970 we did see a wrestler (just the once) billed as Cousin Pye, tagging with Dominic. We've no idea whether he was the creation of the promoter, a family member, or could it have been Joe Pye? 

Tommy "Bully" Pye
Another member of the first family of wrestling, Tommy Pye was brother of Jack Pye. He turned professional in the second half of the 1930s and was a major figure in British wrestling for twenty years, with the same disregard for the rules as the rest of the Pye family. Following retirement he became landlord of The Greyhound Inn, in Boothstown, Lancashire.  Following the second world war Tommy assumed the name Bully Pye, made famous by brother Frank, who had died in 1944.

Crafty Casey Pye
The "wrestling brother" of Dominic Pye was Barnsley's Harry Bennett.

Reviewed 22/02/2022