WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

A: Leon Arras

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Leon Arras
(Also known as Eric Tanberg)

'ow About That?

Bouncing centre ring, shadow boxing with every move overstated; there was no mistaking the effervescent Leon Arras. The grossly exaggerated  fierce expressions, the impatience to get on with the fight; everything  about Leon Arras was just that bit larger than life.

Whilst some perceived him as a comical talented wrestlers other fans would protest at his mock arrogance. Such protests were outwardly only, because Leon Arras always gave an inner smile.

Leon Arras was born in Sheffield in 1934, the son of a well known  boxer, Charlie Glover.  The family returned  to Charlie’s home town, Barnsley, shortly afterwards and in 1939 they  were living in Pontefract Road, Barnsley, where  mother Ida took charge of the family’s grocers shop and  dad, Charlie, stated his profession as  “Professional  athletic wrestler instructor.” 

Charlie Glover  had a boxing and wrestling gym and  young Brian  grew up surrounded by boxers and wrestlers. Yet his career was to take a  very different course. Brian Glover gained a scholarship and  attended Barnsley Grammar School before going on to  Sheffield University. He headed to the classroom as a teacher of for sixteen years from 1954 until 1970. Whilst training as a teacher he took up the opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps and supplemented his student grant by wrestling in the evenings.  

For  many years he refused televised contests and was known only to the pupils at the school where he taught, as Mr Glover, and ringside wrestling fans throughout the North and Midlands as Leon Arras. It was a daytime and evening existence planned never to collide. That all changed when he shot to fame in the 1966 film, Kes.  It was all a matter of good fortune. A colleague and friend of Brian’s at Longcar Central School was PE teacher Brian Hines.  Brian Hines supplemented his teaching salary by writing novels. His first major success came in 1965 when “Billy's Last Stand” , was broadcast on the on the BBC Third Programme in 1965, starring  Arthur Lowe. 

In 1967 Barry wrote a novel,”Kestrel for a Knave,” about a Yorkshire boy and his pet Kestrel. When the book was transformed into a film he suggested that his teaching colleague and  friend, Brian Glover, should play a leading role. As a  larger than life bullying PE teacher, not a million miles from his ring persona, Brian Glover seemed a natural of the screen. Whether it was his natural charisma, or a character that struck a chord with our own school days, Brian’s portrayal of the near sadistic teacher was an overwhelming success. From  that moment on the Barnsley wrestler Leon Arras  became   Brian Glover the television and film star.

He was soon in demand and  performed  regularly in television and film roles. Brian gave up teaching in 1970 and  his wrestling career, which had now lasted twenty years, began to take a back seat, reaching an end in 1978.

The Yorkshire lad had certainly come a long way from his humble beginnings to teacher, wrestler and now tv star. We are told Brian’s wrestling career started as Erik Tanberg, the blond from Sweden. That’s what he told the reporter from  the Liverpool Echo in December, 1980, though we haven’t found the name on any wrestling bills.   He was Swedish until he became the man from Paris, Leon Arras. Wrestling folklore has it that Brian took the name after replacing an absentee Frenchman who failed to show. This story is also subject to scrutiny as no French wrestler of that name has yet been found.  The story was given credence, however, by Brian himself. John Shelvey uncovered an appearance by Brian on Desert Island Discs, interviewed by Roy Plomley,  and broadcast on the 18th October 1980. 

Any flirtation with Swedish or French origins could only have been short lived.  Brian said he started wrestling in 1951, which gives an eight year gap until the earliest  we have found the name Leon Arras on wrestling bills in 1959. Mind you, that was our Brian as Leon Arras from Australia, or the “Dinkum Australian Digger” as the publicity proclaimed. In fact we find Leon the Aussie throughout 1960 and 1961, another reason we are suspicious  of  the French wrestler  story.

Whatever his nationality Leon Arras worked regularly with other wrestlers from his father’s gym – Dwight J Ingleburgh, Karl Von Kramer, Bruno Elrington, Blackburn Roberts amongst them. Sam Betts, otherwise Dwight J Ingleburgh, remembers Brian’s creativity from his days at Charlie Glover’s Junction Gym, and has told us that it was Brian that invented many of the Barnsley wrestler’s characters and names, Dwight J Ingleburgh, Karl Von Kramer and Pedro the Gypsy amongst them.

From his early days wrestling, working for independent promoters, Brian is still remembered for his tag partnership with Jack Land as one half of The Toffs. The two men dressed in black tights, black vests, dickie bows, top hats and tail coats. They would enter the ring carrying crystal drinking classes. Jack Land and Brian Glover; we can think of no less likely pair of Toffs. The two were a great attraction though. Dave Sutherland remembers them and told us, “Complete with top hats and tails it was always a pleasure to watch them and their split second underhand comic timing.”

In January, 1962,  Leon Arras moved across to Joint Promotions, still an Australian when we find him working for Dale Martin Promotions in Coventry. He was soon to become Leon Arras of Barnsley, an unavoidable requirement as so much of his humour was vocal

He mostly worked for Norman Morrell as  teaching commitments restricted his wrestling commitments to northern England. Never a fully blown heavyweight Leon Arras did wrestle some of the biggest men and biggest names  in the business, including Earl Maynard, Gargantua, Kendo Nagasaki and Steve Veidor. Les Kellett was a frequent opponent and Leon's televised matches against the fellow Yorkshireman are considered classics and amongst the most viewed on the internet. His wrestling persona was made to outfox the biggest of villains as we witnessed ourselves in encounters with Gargantua and Prince Curtis Iaukea. After dallying with a variety of tag partners he settled into a memorable partnership with Bobby Graham, known as The Untouchables.

His over animated boxing stance, mock confidence, cries of  “I know the rules”  and gift of the Northern gab made him a favourite with the fans. “Count im ref,” he would cry whenever his opponents shoulders neared the mat, "'ow about that?" as he sought the acknowledgement from the fans for a smart move only seconds before he received his inevitable come-uppance. 

Eddie Rose told us: “I never wrestled him but knew him well and was always amused by his conversation and impressed by his wit. 

Leon Arras’ humorous style of villainy made him one of  wrestling’s great characters and a very popular wrestler.  Wrestler, teacher, actor and author Brian Glover died on 24th July, 1997 at the age of just 63.  Still missed, still talked about.

THAT MAN ARRAS
By John Shelvey

Looking into the French wrestling scene from the early 1900s to the 1980s (also Spanish and Italian, etc. as I have a scatter-gun approach to research and am constantly being lured from the subject in hand to pursue a wrestling pot of gold elsewhere on the web) and after sifting through scores of photos, posters, play-bills and articles it suddenly struck me that among all I had viewed, there was not one mention or sighting of LEON
ARRAS.

Why so?

We all know the story, how one fateful night a French wrestler no-shows one of Charlie Glover’s cards and into the breach steps Brian Glover aka Eric Tanberg, the Blond Bomber from Sweden. Only on this night, Brian/Eric takes on the moniker of the missing Frenchman, LEON ARRAS.

So if there is no-one of that name on a list of French pro. wrestlers, I reasoned I had it wrong, Brian must have made up the name but still played a Frenchman to the crowd.

LEON ARRAS?

It occurred to me that neither names would be on my list of common French names, not even in the 50s or 60s. Maurice (as in Chevalier) or George (as in Carpentier) were far more well known, so how did the young Glover come to think up that name? I had a scour of the web and straight away came across a restaurant named Leon in the town of Arras, France. Hah, I thought, got you, but looking at their web site, the restaurant looks pretty new and part of a chain and no history is forthcoming as is usual when advertising or marketing a long time business. So if the name was made up where did it come from? I thought that maybe Brian, being a smart lad, possibly still at school, or a little later when he was in teachers’ training college or Uni. like a lot of youngsters would do on their annual holidays, would take off to the continent, travelling through France, where he could have come across the apparently splendid Arras cathedral. After all as further research would tell me Leon’s mentor at school was his geography teacher and let’s not forget that Brian, once qualified, taught both English and French. So if Brian had invented the name, then what was the name of the wrestler he subbed for?

Was he French, or was he a home grown grappler who was playing a Frenchman? If the name was made up then we would probably never know.

Deciding to dig deeper I recalled Brian telling his story on both Parkinson on t.v. and on an afternoon BBC radio show, both back in the 80s.

What I wanted to hear was Brian telling the story of how he ‘replaced a wrestler called Leon Arras’ or how he replaced a French wrestler’. The latter would lay credence to the the theory that the name had been made up, probably just before the bout. I couldn’t find the Parkinson interview and had no clue as to the name of the radio show, however after some diligent searching I came across a site that had Brian in all his Yorkshire splendour, Desert Island Discs!

Interviewed by Roy Plomley and broadcast on the 18th. of October 1980 our Brian is in good form and he says that he was LEON ARRAS, the Frenchman who went awol on the night in question. Furthermore he tells the shows’ host that many years later, into a French dressing room walks a very big guy who asks in French ‘Who is Arras’?

Brian replies in French ‘I am.’ 

The big guy says ‘I am Arras, that’s my name’ Brian retorts “You didn’t show up in Wilmslow.” Just for good measure Brian adds that not only did the Frenchman forgive him but they wrist wrestled at the Frenchman’s bar, on French t.v. and Brian adds with a chuckle ‘I won!’ This Frenchie is so famous the boys are featured on t.v.!

According to that interview French wrestler LEON ARRAS did indeed exist. Well how come there doesn’t appear to be a skerritt of proof anywhere on the web, including one French wrestling web-site that has what seems to be hundreds of names. There’s no Leons, no Arrass'. I am now of the opinion that Brian made up that story, probably around the time that he began to attract the media, both local and national, when he acted in the film Kes. Whether it started as ‘I played a Frenchman in the ring one night’ and then became fleshed out as the question about his background became more compelling, we’ll never know. Brian, on the Desert Island show
also claimed the following:  He would leave Barnsley on a Friday afternoon, driving himself to Leeds airport. He would then fly to London, catch a plane to Paris and wrestle there that night. The next day he would travel to
somewhere like Zurich (he didn’t quite elucidate to do what, wrestle I presume) fly back to Paris the next day Sunday and wrestle there in the afternoon. He would then travel back the way he came Paris-London, London-Leeds and be back in his Barnsley local for an evening sup. He said that when he told them in the pub he had spent the weekend in Paris and Zurich they didn’t believe him. Why not???? We are always told the workers were on a pittance and here’s Brian shooting off to Paris, by the way he speaks on the interview, regularly! I think Brian later in his life could afford to nip over to Paris for a
weekend, but maybe just for pleasure, as again, where is the evidence he wrestled there?

On the radio he said that when he wrestled in France he was ‘Grande Brittania’ but didn’t specify if this was where he was from or his wrestling name, I guess he meant the former, however although the names Dempsey, Royal, Faulkner, Mann, Maxine, Logan, McManus and other British boys pop up (Hayes and Hunter on many occasions) I can’t see an unfamiliar British name on a poster, bill, article, or a photo of Brian in France.

I feel I need to say that I don't think any less of Brian, he has not gone down in my estimation just because of a couple of yarns he may have told. although the story that he told of how he took the place of a wrestling Frenchman named LEON ARRAS will probably live in perpetuity as if you look at the Internet it has been regurgitated over and over by the media and civilians alike. I would be happy to be proved wrong in my assumption that Brian was having us on for all these years, as sometimes reality can be even better than fiction. We must remember, that Brian Glover was a teacher, a wrestler, an actor and a playwright and all these professions have, as a major ingredient STORYTELLING and I believe Brian came up with a corker.

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