R: Lew Roseby

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The Manchester Express

Lew Roseby (Len Ross)

For most of those who remember Lew Roseby it is as a first class referee, a man who could unobtrusively control a wrestling match with authority and dignity. He was a referee of many years experience, having combined the jobs of referee and wrestler from the early years of his career. In the 1960s Lew could often be seen refereeing in Manchester, Hanley, Bolton, Liverpool and Blackpool, where he was known as Len Ross.

Little did any of us imagine that thirty years earlier Lew had started out on a wrestling career in which he became one of the top lighter men in the ring,  one of the country's fastest middleweights who was aptly nicknamed "The Manchester Express."  This was a nickname believed to have been bestowed on him by promoter Atholl Oakeley.

For Lew it was a wrestling and refereeing career that stretched thirty years into the 1960s; with a short break during the Second World War as he served in the Fleet Air Arm. Even then he could still be found wrestling when leave was granted. Professional war played a role during the war to maintain morale and a sense of normality.

In the second half of the 1930s Lew can be found a very busy worker throughout the north of England.We find Lew in 1935 wrestling at Preston, where he was said to be a clean and scientific wrestler. Other pre war opponents included Billy Riley, Jack Alker, Joe Reid and Jack Wentworth. Here was a man who could clearly look after himself.

Post war his his wrestling commitments continued to take him around Britain and further afield across the channel to France, Germany and Spain.

Bernard Hughes saw Lew five times at Newcastle in the early 1950s and commented "They didn't make it easy for him. Always a solid, reliable, trustworthy performer without any gimmicks."

Lew's nephew Fred recalled, "He was my mum's brother, from a family of seven, they lived in Dulgar Street, Clayton, Manchester, close to City's ground now.

My mum used to say they all went to Belle Vue to cheer him on, tripping his rivals over on the way to the ring!  He died late 1960s if I recall, possibly early 1970s.  A gentleman by all accounts. He used to say I needed donkey muck in my shoes if i wanted to grow to his size !!" 

Following his retirement from wrestling, the last time we find him working regularly is 1963, Lew  could still be seen in the ring every night as a referee for Bill Best and Wryton Promotions.  There was a notable match three years following his last bout, reported in The Wrestler magazine by Eddie Caldwell. By then a regular referee at Belle Vue Lew became frustrated by Irishman Frank O’Donnell and challenged him to a fight. Eddie described the match as a classic, one fall apiece until O’Donnell was disqualified by referee Neil Sowden.

Sounds like it was a night the fans of Lew Roseby the referee had a glimpse of  what they had missed.

A Strong Personality

Remembered by Eddie Rose

One of my first friends in professional wrestling was Tommy Mann, often billed as from Manchester, though his roots were much further south. 

Tommy was getting past his prime in the early sixties but he was a formidable opponent and has some memorable (and often blood splattered) bouts with the likes of Chic Purvey and Bert Royal. He was an army sergeant in the Second World War and an unarmed combat instructor. Many other wrestlers had interesting and distinguished WW2 careers like Martin “Chopper” Conroy and Bill Coverdale who both took part in the Arnhem campaign as paratroopers and Stoke's Jim Mellor who was an assistant to the hangman at Changi Jail after the trials of Japanese war criminals in Singapore.

On this particular night I was in Tommy's famous Club Roma Ristorante in city centre Manchester after a show at Belle Vue's Kings Hall. Amongst the other diners I spotted Lew Roseby at a nearby table and just across the way was Les Kellett. 

Like a good host Tommy was circulating and chatting to guests when Les shouted loudly for him to come over. Les had a complaint about an item on his plate. “What's this, he shouted. “It's like burnt Yorkshire pudding!”

The whole restaurant went silent as both men faced each other. 

There was real tension in the air as their angry eyes met. Then up stepped Lew Roseby and placed himself, like the referee he was, between the two men and spoke to them very seriously and very quietly. After about twenty seconds both Tommy and Les began to smile. They shook hands and sat down and began to chat in a much more friendly manner. 

Lew resumed his seat to a gentle but very appreciative round of applause from the diners! Perfect refereeing or what?  

I later asked Lew what he said to calm the situation but he was very guarded about the whole affair Whatever it was, he defused what could have been a very serious situation between two explosive characters.

Page added 07/02/2021