C:  Johnny Czeslaw

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Johnny Czeslaw

When Polish people emigrate the often-difficult spelling and pronunciation of their names often cause them to be changed. We did find one example of Czeslaw Minkler on the wrestling bill but for all fans of British wrestling he was the best known Polish Eagle of them all,  Johnny Czeslaw.

The outbreak of World War 2 shattered an eleven year old Czeslaw Minkler's childhood, and parted from his family the boy was despatched by train to Siberia. The German attack on the Soviets on 22nd June, 1941, provided an opportunity for escape. The boy travelled across Europe, and was spotted wrestling in Germany by promoter Jack Dale, who invited him to Britain.  We were always puzzled that this man that crossed the Iron Curtain and wrestled around Europe rarely travelled to the far north of Lancashire and Yorkshire, but we loved him nevertheless.  In fact everyone loved Johnny Czeslaw. His sense of fun during contests made him genuinely popular  with all fans and he could breathe life into the dullest of opponents.  

The occasional moments of anger and touches of villainy we struggled to take  seriously. We also weren't keen on his silly backward walking movement quickly around half of the ring.  Kent Walton assured us one one occasion that Bob Kirkwood was good humoured enough to accept all of these antics, and Czeslaw immediately kicked Kirkwood in the back just to test the hypothesis.

But we are being picky. Johnny Czeslaw was a good wrestler. Not the greatest, but always enjoyable and a man who was always loyal to Dale Martin Promotions. He featured on many of the absolute best Dale Martin spectaculars and was earmarked as the opponent not merely for the very first masked man to wrestle at the Royal Albert Hall, but as the Dale Martin trusty to oppose erstwhile rival promoter there, Doctor Death, in 1966. 

Johnny Czeslaw appeared on the posters in 1957. During the early years he did travel northwards, braving Newcastle and Glasgow on occasions, but such occasions were a rarity – surely he couldn't have found it too cold? More likely he just didn't like spending nights away from his home in Bristol and his wife, Doreen, who he had married in 1953.  In September 1958 he made his television debut against Gene Murphy. It was the first of around seventy televised contests over the next twenty years, and right up to the last time we watched him in 1979 he appeared as fresh as ever.

In 1959 another highlight came his way and he must really have felt he'd made a long journey from his hard childhood when he appeared in the ring of the Royal Albert Hall to wrestle Billy Howes. 

An occasional tagster with Ivan Penzecoff, and the most profuse of sweaters, Kent Walton seemed obsessed with his sweating. High volume grunting was another Czeslaw trademeark and his vaguely gestapo-style shouts of "Schwein!" were always well received. 

Not long after the last time we watched Johnny on television he was diagnosed with a  benign brain tumour. Surgery left him blind and brought his career to a tragic end. He was one of the few that did leave his chosen profession whilst still at the top, always working for Joint Promotions and not fading away amongst the independents.

Anyway, we all know this smiling shaven headed matman, so Wrestling Heritage is particularly pleased to post, above centre,  this rarity of Czeslaw with hair. A fall in his nursing home led to his death, aged 85, on 3rd January, 2014. He was laid to rest in the Avonview Cemetry, Bristol.