WRESTLING HERITAGE

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V: Karl Von Kramer


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Karl Von Kramer 

(Also known as Jack Land, Jack Kramer)

One of the great wrestling villains the demonic German Karl Von Kramer looked every bit the part. Until he opened his mouth that is, because Karl Von Kramer wasn't all that he seemed. He was  John Land from Barnsley, Yorkshire, always known as Jack. Jack Land was born on 1st April, 1930, the son of Harold and Mary, one of their ten children.

Whilst at school the family moved to Bradford for a short time until their home was bombed towards the end of 1939 and they returned to Barnsley, where Harold and Mary bought a fish and chip shop. Whilst at school Jack enjoyed playing football and also took up boxing at the Vaudeville Club in Shambles Street. When the club was shut down (for supplying alcohol without a licence) it was taken over by a Barnsley boxer and wrestler, Charlie Glover. 

Charlie was to become a huge influence on the youngster and Jack stuck with Charlie when the club moved to Quarry Street, then to a building on an allotment, to a stable at the rear of the Prince William  public house in Sackville Street, and finally, around 1956, to the famous Junction Gym, behind the public house of that name. 

Changes to the tax system in 1957 resulted in wrestling promotion becoming more lucrative and a proliferation of independent promoters. Charlie moved his focus from boxing to wrestling and Jack Land also made the move from the upstairs boxing gym to the downstairs wrestling gym. Here he trained with other aspiring Glover lads, Sam Betts, Gordon Allen and Charlie’s son, Brian. Brian was creative when it came to identities for Charlie’s trainees and Jack, Sam, Gordon and Brian became Karl Von Kramer, Dwight J Ingleburgh, Pedro  the Gypsy and Leon Arras.

Glover’s wrestlers had mostly known each other from childhood and were to remain firm friends during their lifetime. Sam Betts told us of the good times he had with Jack, who he said was a wonderful travelling companion. Unsurprisingly we learned that Jack was nothing like his ring persona, but were surprised to be told by Sam that Jack was for many years a bingo caller at his local social club.

Jack left  Racecommon Road Senior School when he was fourteen and started work in Monk Bretton Colliery. Jack’s grandson, also Jack, told us that when his grandfather was called up for his national service he served in Minden Germany and continued to pursue his boxing interest, winning the British Army Middleweight Championship. 

Leaving the army in 1952 Jack returned to Barnsley, worked in a flour mill and  was given a trial by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. It was the boxing, though, that drew him to Glover’s gym, and the wrestling that changed his life.

Jack turned professional in the late 1950s, many of his earliest matches being for Halifax wrestler Max Crabtree, who had recently started promoting his own shows. The names Jack Land and Karl Von Kramer were used in parallel  from the start of his career, our earliest sighting being in 1959.

Even without the aid of television, which was popularising wrestling throughout the nation, Karl Von Kramer was a name that quickly became well known amongst wrestling fans. Fans were enraged by his tactics, acknowledged his wrestling ability and appreciated his willingness to travel the length and breadth of the country seven nights a week. Unsurprisingly he was at his best when he opposed the  heroes of the day, men such as Chief Thunderbird, Bobo Matu, Max Crabtree, Blackburn Roberts and Judo Al Hayes. Probably his most regular opponent was  fellow protégé from Glover's gym, Sam Betts. Sam and Jack, both men who knew how to rile a crowd, must have wrestled each other dozens of times around the country.

Around 1963 Jack began working for Joint Promotions , which brought a new set of opponents, men with a much higher profile in British wrestling - braving the fans by facing their favourite Andy Robin in Edinburgh, popular Peter Maivia, internationally renowned Alan Garfield, ballet dancing Ricky Starr and Mr Universe Earl Maynard. We could go on and on, because between his two personas Jack had a style to suit just about everyone. His services were greatly in demand and Jack moved frequently between Joint Promotions and the opposition, which may explain his lack of television exposure. On occasions he even had a third persona, the masked Red Devil, a character created in the 1930s by his mentor Charlie Glover. It wasn't just in Britain that Jack was in demand, making numerous visits to Europe and wrestling in Sweden, Spain and France.

In tag matches Jack could often be seen with Leon Arras (as The Toffs), with Hans Streiger, and with Reg Ray (as Karl and Kurt Von Kramer).

When we interviewed Jack around 2010  he told us that he preferred working for the independents because he enjoyed working and travelling with his good mates Pedro, Sam, Butcher and the other Barnsley lads, and the pay was better. Working for the opposition also allowed Jack to supplement his income further by promoting his own shows, with Max Raeger telling us he made his debut on one of Jack's shows in Birmingham.

Jack's story from pit to wrestling star was  re-told in Grappling - The Musical, which made its debut in June, 2010. Written by 22-year old Barnsley born and bred playwright, composer, actor and director, Jack Land – Noble, the musical took its inspiration from the life of Jack's grandfather.  It portrayed the story of one miner’s journey from the coalface to the wrestling ring in 1970’s Northern England. 

Jack Land died on 30th June, 2015, aged 85.