L: Lawrence - Leddington
The image often created of British wrestling in the 1930s is that of a lawless, anything goes brutal business full of blood, sweat and disreputable men. Our Years of Wrestling series provides a more accurate and balanced portrayal of wrestling in the decade prior to World War 2. The business certainly had its faults but there were many skilled respected wrestlers who avoided the more barbaric aspects of the game. One of them was Chelmsford's Clem Lawrence. Born Peter Wade he was the brother of Essex and England cricketer Tom Wade.
Clem was a bit on the light side at 14 stones to get in the ring with some of the bigger heavyweights, but his technical ability made him more than a match for most, including Bulldog Bill Garnon, Anaconda and Jack Pye.
Clem's muscular physique gave him the name “The Adonis of the Ring.” As the newly introduced All-In rules began to gain popularity Clem turned professional in 1932 and for the rest of the decade was one of the busiest of wrestlers, working most nights of the week mainly in the south but travelling north on occasions.
The Daily Worker of the 7th February, 1936, reported “The surprise result of the evening's bouts was the defeat of Sam Rabin by Clem Lawrence, of Chelmsford, with two submission falls.”
Defeat of the great Sam Rabin? This boy was good. He was very good in fact. But there were worse days at the office, as reported by the Daily Express, “Top liner was between Legs Langevin and Clem Lawrence..... After Lawrence had scored the first fall, Langevin brought those legs into play with a body scissors that made Lawrence helpless. In round 3 Legs quickly settled to work and had those legs around Lawrence again, who submitted.”
In 1939 when the fledgling BBC were broadcasting exhibitions of wrestling Clem Lawrence was called upon to exhibit the sport alongside Dave Armstrong. The outbreak of war brought a halt to tv wrestling, tv and Clem's career. He was conscripted into the army where he rose to the rank of major and fought in the El Alamein campaign.
Clem returned to the ring following the war, now travelling northwards far more frequently. Clem Lawrence took part in the 1947 World Heavyweight Championship Tournament at Harringay Stadium, promoted by Atholl Oakeley, going out in the first round when he lost by the odd fall against Carl Reginsky.
Clem failed in his British heavyweight championship challenges against Bert Assirati in September, 1947, and again in November, 1949, but losses to the Islington Hercules should not lessen his reputation. Clem reduced his wrestling commitments in 1953 and finally retired in 1957.
The clever Dundee welterweight Tony Lawrence made his way from Scotland to London and seemed to be everywhere on the British wrestling scene. In November 1952, with Joint Promotions establishing their nationally recognised champions, Tony defeated Alan Colbeck at Newcastle to gain recognition as British welterweight championship. A rivalry with John Foley saw resulted in three successful defences for the Scot against the Lancastrian until Wigan's Jack Dempsey claimed the crown. Tony continued battling against the best, a nationwide worker for Joint Promotions, until 1963.
Whiskers Larry Laycock
Following the second world war Larry "Whiskers" Laycock left the Royal Marines to take up chicken farming in Doncaster and professional wrestling. He was a regular on the bills of the midlands, northern England and Scotland until the mid 1950s and wrestled the big names of the day such as Dave Armstrong, Ken Davies and Jack Pye..
Gustav Le Brun
Gustav Le Brun was the ring name of Arthur Heaton of Blackpool. He was a Science teacher in Manchester and was “persuaded” into professional wrestling by Eddie Rose for two reasons: firstly he was a very fit rugby player and secondly he looked like a cross between Omar Sharif and Alan Miquet, the very popular Huddersfield welterweight. Gustav Le Brun was the name of a well-liked teacher at Arthur’s own school in Blackpool.
After a lengthy apprenticeship at the Black Panther gym in Manchester where he was coached by Grant Foderingham, Arthur made his debut versus Eddie Rose on a local charity show in 1969 with an impressive six round draw. He went on with an unbeaten sequence for his first dozen bouts against Pete Lindberg, Roy Fortuna, Mark Wayne and other local wrestlers. He impressed audiences with his fast, clean-cut, scientific style.
His first loss came versus Bruce Welch at Rothesay in Scotland. Promoters then paired him with Mark Wayne in tag matches billed as the best looking tag team in the North and was matched against the Red Devils, the Masked Baron & his Henchman, the Flying Scots, the Spidermen and other long-forgotten combinations.
His best bouts were with Rose, as mentioned, “Mad Dog” Wilson and a notable tussle with Jack Dempsey that he lost to Dempsey’s special move, the single leg Boston Crab in the final round of a special challenge match at the Houldsworth Hall in Manchester.
Fate took a hand and Gustav suffered several bad injuries, initiated by Dempsey and the damage to his knee from the submissions in his bout with the Wigan wrestler. He never regained full fitness and his form suffered leading to a premature retirement from wrestling in 1973; a sad end to a very promising start.
Last heard of, he had returned to Blackpool where he worked in a private car hire business.
George Leddington was part of a very active wrestling scene around Birmingham and the Black Country in the 1960s. A youngster in Bilston, a couple of miles southeast of Wolverhampton, George was always interested in sport and was a keen amateur footballer. His interest in wrestling led to George turning professional in 1962, his earliest matches being for Oakdale Promotions and Highland Entertainments.
Twice winner of Oakdale's "Wrestler of the Month" established promoters signed him up and soon he was wrestling for Cyril Knowles, Jerry Jeary, Lew Philips and other independent promoters. Philips promoted weekly at Digbeth Civic Hall, one of George's favourite halls in Birmingham city centre. Another enjoyable venue for George was Dudley Hippodrome, which also put on weekly shows in the early 1960s, and was the home to one of his most memorable matches, against Birmingham's Deep River.
Considering how much he worked the name George Leddington was less known that might have been expected, this was a result of his identity often being hidden as he was billed as "The Red Devil," who unusually for the name was not a masked wrestler. At the time of taking his place in Wrestling Heritage George still lives in the West Midlands and enjoys supporting his favourite football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers.