L: John Lees
Wrestling Heritage A-Z
A man with muscles, lots of them. Memories of John Lees are of a capable wrestler who never quite made it to the first division and television commentator Kent Walton drooling over his muscular frame. No offence intended to either man, who were both excellent practitioners in their own field. In another era John Lees could have made a greater impact but alongside Robinson, Joyce, Davies, Wall, Campbell, Cornelius, Hayes and a few others he just didn't stand out.
To say that he was a credible opponent for these men is something of an understatement and unfair. He was more than that. With greater flair the promoters would have given him the push and the limelight. Life can be unfair.
The wrestling was good enough but the physique, though real enough, added no more than an underwhelming gimmick.
John Lees was born in Stalybridge, Cheshire on 17th January, 1930, the son of a builder who encouraged him to develop his body through swimming and physical exercise. Father was a huge influence on John, not just by keeping fit but in developing a love of the outdoors and a good work ethic. Times were hard in the 1930s when John was growing up. The depression meant there was little construction work and dad turned his hand to any work available to provide for his family. Leaving St Peter’s Roman Catholic School school as the war neared it’s end John began to work in the building trade alongside his father.
John did indeed have a muscular frame, the result of an interest in body building from his teenage years. At fifteen years old he invested his pocket money in a Charles Atlas course, which quickly paid dividends.
National success came in 1949 with a third placing in the Mr Britain contest. In 1950 John was called up for his two years National Service but continued to compete and national acclaim came in every year that followed, culminating in the 1957 Mr Universe title. This went one better than his previous years appearance when he was runner up to the American Ray Schaefer. Ray Hulm remembers: “After John won the 1957 Mr Universe Health & Strength serialised his life story and I remember that his efforts to get a tan on wind swept Cheshire building sites were mentioned .”
Turning his attention to wrestling he turned professional. Ron Historyo has discovered the earliest sighting, wrestling Flash Lee Edwards at Halifax in November, 1958. The Mr Universe success gave him a boost and topping the bill from the start against the likes of Francis St Clair Gregory, Billy Joyce and Kiwi Kingston.
For almost twenty years John Lees was a regular worker around the country, familiar to fans from Southend to Aberdeen. He had the qualities that made wrestling respectable and believable, and was generous enough to let others take the limelight. More than thirty televised matches against the very best heavyweights made him a man who was both respected and liked by wrestling fans around the nation. Ron Historyo said, “He was a pioneer. Looked great when he peeled his top off and locked up with the likes of Albert Wall. The game needed plenty like John for the others to be credible. He did a great job.” Mark Reynard recalled, “He didn't have a colourful gimmick like many of the others but he always seemed like one of those proper wrestlers who made wrestling seem real.”
Our final confirmed sighting of John Lees was in June, 1975. He retired gracefully, not fading away on the independents, though he did do one show for Graham Brook some time later, and there is an unconfirmed match against Bartelli in 1979. In conclusion John Lees was a class act and it was a fitting career end.
Following retirement from the ring John opened his own gymnasium in Stalybridge. He remained actively involved in the gym until it was destroyed by fire.
John Lees died 0n 14th November, 2021, aged 91.
Page added 01/12/2021