D: Joe D'Orazio
(Also known as Kito Tani)
The Father of Wrestling
There can be few fans of post war wrestling that do not know Joe D'Orazio. Maybe not all are fully aware of his place in our wrestling heritage, a place that is equalled by few and exceeded by none.
For most of us he may be remembered first and foremost as the dapper referee who kept control of thousands of contests and was a familiar figure on televised wrestling.
Those a bit older may recall a popular and skilled wrestler, or a wrestling promoter, a journalist, artist, poet, and most recently of all a founder, organiser and now Life President of the British Wrestlers Reunion. Some may just know the delight of sharing time with a gentle, knowledgeable man at the annual reunion.
Joe D'Orazio has done it all, and probably more besides.
Take a walk down the Tower Bridge Road in Bermondsey in the 1920s and at number ten stood a chip shop. The owner was an Italian, Emilio Stefano Giuseppe, known to all those who knew him as Old Joe.
Above the chip shop was a flat, occupied by Old Joe's son, Luigi, and his wife Antonio. It was here that on 27th July, 1922, was born Giusseppe Augusto Antonio Loreto Mario Scala, their eldest son. This third generation of the Scala family was to become known to us all as Joe D'Orazio.
Young Joe D'Orazio's father Luigi had been born in Isola del Liri in Italy prior to emigrating to Britain when he was about ten years old. He was to start his own chip shop just around the corner from his father's in the Old Kent Road. Watching a film at the Globe Cinema or a pint in the Old Kings Arms or Bricklayers Arms followed by a visit to Joe's chip shop was a good night out.
Tony Scarlo, who lived in the same neighbourhood as Joe told us of his childhood memories, "When I was about 9 years old I was a regular visitor to Joe's fish & chip shop in the Old Kent Road. The chip shop had been started by Joe’s father and was just around the corner from where his grandfather, Old Joe, had owned a chip shop in Tower Bridge Road."
One of Joe's school friends at the English Martyrs Primary school was a lad called John Logeland. That's a name which may not mean a lot to readers, but once we tell you he changed his name to Steve Logan it will seem more significant. Joe and John (or Steve) became the best of friends, a friendship that was to last until the latter's death in 2003. They even had identical tatoos drawn on the same day. Another friend, a cousin no less, was Mike Harrison. Mike was to become known to wrestling fans as Mike Marino. Others living nearby were Mick McManus and Tony Mancelli. It is clear that the enviroment in which Joe was brought up was one that was steeped in wrestling culure.
After leaving school Joe worked in his father's chip shop up to the outbreak of war in September, 1939. Joe volunteered for the Royal Air Force and served in the Air Sea Rescue, spending much of the war in North Africa.
Wrestling may have been all around but it wasn't Joe's main sporting interest in his teenage years. Following war service Joe was drawn towards judo and joined the South London Judo Society (later London Judo Society) in Kennington. Another member of the club was that school pal John Logeland. Joe became immersed in judo, as a practicioner, researcher and contributor to the club's journal. In 1948 Joe made his first visit to Italy, where he talked about the organisation of judo in Britain, and on his return wrote articles about judo in Italy.
Meanwhile John Logeland and cousin Mike were starting out wrestling and encouraged Joe to get involved. It didn't take too much encouragement and Joe was soon wrestling professionally. Precisely when that first pro match took place we cannot be sure. 1948 against New Zealand's Russ Bishop has been cited in a number of places. Well, that may be half true but no more. If it was 1948 the opponent was not Russ as he arrived in Britain in November, 1949.
Such a detail is not important as we do know that by 1950 Joe was a popular wrestler receiving regular bookings around southern England. Opponents included Bob Archer O'Brien, Tommy Mann and The College Boy.
In October, 1950 the Western Daily Press noted the black belt judoka credentials of Joe D'Orazio and went on to report, "Best bout of the evening was the meeting between Len Britton and the Italian Joe D'Orazio, a ju-jitsu expert who wrestled in his bare feet. Both men were fast and exceedingly clever, with many holds at their command."
Joe's lifetime association with Dale Martin Promotions was established from the start with most of his bookings in their southern Englnd ventures. In 1952 he ventured north to work for Norman Morell and was an early opponent for Geoff Portz and Masambula, disqualified against both of them! Frequent opponents included Johnny Peters, Doug Joyce, Percy Pitman and that old mate John Logeland, now masquerading as Steve Logan.
In December, 1958, we find a new name on the wrestling posters, a Japanese judo exponent by the name Kito Tani. One of his opponents was Al Tarzo, "I was booked to fight a Japanese guy named Kito Tani ... he looked like he had yellow jaundice, it turned out to be Joe D’orazio."
Yes, hard though it might be to believe, Joe became a Japanese warrior for three years, sometimes in tandem with Paul Lincoln, also transformed into an unlikely Oriental warrior, Togo Tani. Kito Tani departed from our rings at the beginning of 1962. Joe D'Orazio was about to return.
There was good reason for Joe's transformation into Kito Tani, and it was all to do with disgruntlement in the dressing rooms.
By 1958 Joint Promotions had secured a contract to provide wrestling to Independent Television.
Attendances in the halls were on an upward trend. Wrestling in Britain was booming. As far as many of the wrestlers could see the promoters were lining their pockets as a reult of their efforts, and they were receiving little in return. A number of wrestlers, Paul Lincoln, Fred Woolley, Danny Flynn amongst them, took positive action by promoting their own shows in opposition to Joint Promotions.
Joe was another who decided he had had enough. In partnership with George Kidd and Eddie Capelli they formed Matsport Promotions, putting on shows around the country. To appear on their own shows and add a splash of colour Joe adopted the identity of Kito Tani.
A young Tony Scarlo, just starting out on his career told us of being signed up by Joe and Matsport for a tour to Scotland, Tony’s first long distance tour and the first time he had to stay away from home. ”My first date started in Glasgow, then Greenock, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and finishing in Dundee, George Kidd’s home town. During this trip I wrestled Kito Tani three times.
The promotion continued until the end of 1961 when the wrestlers returned to the Joint Promotions fold.
When the Matsport men returned to Joint Promotion rings Eddie and George resumed their wrestling roles whilst Joe took on a new role. Whilst working within the independent circuit Joe had started to referee contests, and it was in this capacity that he returned to Dale Martin Promotions.
He was often dressed in a black t-shirt but occasionally spruced up as at the Royal Albert Hall where he became resident referee from 1968 and throughout the seventies. A characteristic of great referees Joe was scarcely noticeable, preferring to let the wrestlers hold centre stage. He was a respected referee, fondly remembered by enthusiasts Ballymoss and Caulkead.
On several occasions we spotted him diving head first between the two top ropes, to straighten up with his legs in the air whilst his eyes were at canvas level and he counted off an invariably winning fall.
Another aspect to Joe's contribution to British wrestling came when he succeeded Charles Mascall in the Dale Martin publicity department. Mascall was a huge loss to Dale Martin Promotions but Joe took his place admirably. He had a genuine knowledge and understanding of the working of the business.
Joe penned much of the Dale Martin promotional material under the name of Bob Scala, and co-authored “The Who’s Who of Wrestling,” a book of pen portraits of many big names.
Poetry was another outlet for Joe's creative talents. In 1971 the "wrestling poet" was featured in the London Weekend Television Arts show, Aquarius. In 2017, at the age of 95, Joe and his family decided to publish some of his poetry with a collection called "Memories" followed by "A Wrestlers Lament: And One Hundred Other Poems."
Yet another outlet for Joe's creativity is painting. He excelled in art whilst at school and was bought his first oil paints when he was nine years old. He resumed his hobby following the Second World War and has continued throughout his life. Well into his nineties Joe taught painting to adults with learning difficulties. Photography, painting, stunt man, this man has done the lot.
In 1992 Joe was the driving force behind the formation of the British Wrestlers Reunion, aided by Mal Mason and Tony Scarlo. From a slow start, that's putting it mildly, of a gathering of six the Reunion grew to an annual celebration of hundreds on the second Sunday of August each year. In recognition of his achievements in uniting the wrestling fraternity Joe was appointed Life President of the British Wrestlers Reunion in 2003.
Our memories of talking to Joe each year at the Reunion will stay with us forever. He always had the patience to talk about the old days and provide the information which has enabled us to present this tribute.
26/07/2021 Page revised