Meru Ullah

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Into the Dragon's Den

We all know the saying about falling off a horse and getting back on.

Well Meru Ullah didn't fall off his horse, but a neck injury did make it difficult and painful for him to turn his neck and look behind  whilst riding. Most of us would have given up, but not Meru. 

His creative mind led to an invention that was brought to national attention on British television and in the daily newspapers. One time wrestler Meru invented a rear-view mirror for horse riders, an aid not only for riders with mobility issues but for nervous riders fearful of turning their heads. 

Not that it was  easy. The prototype of attaching a mirror to the horses head proved unsuitable for reasons that in retrospect seem obvious - it's not easy controlling the head movements of a horse! So to the quality of creativity we can add perseverance as Meru re-invented his invention numerous times until it was ready for release on to an unsuspecting British public.   

The Daily Mail brought the horse mirror to national prominence in February, 2001. Reactions were favourable and prospects for this unlikely sounding invention were initially good, but as interest grew the investment required for the business to expand soon proved beyond the means of Meru and his business partner, Peter Wikes.  

To creativity and perseverance we can add ingenuity. Watching the BBC programme Dragon's Den one night in 2006 Meru had the thought, why not? The spontaneous idea became reality and Meru and Peter completed the application process which led to an appearance on BBC television's Dragons Den. On 27 February, 2007, the pair stood nervously in front of the five Dragons. Peter and Meru made their pitch, extolling the virtues of their Horse Mirrors to their would-be investors. The programme doesn't get it's name by accident and whilst seeing merit in the invention one by one each dragon uttered that fateful phrase, "I'm out," leaving Meru and Peter with experience as their only reward.

With their gruelling interrogation witnessed by three and a half million viewers we can add courage to those qualities already listed. Creativity, perseverance, ingenuity and courage were all qualities we had witnessed in a youthful Meru Ullah nearly forty years earlier. That was when we were watching the young speed merchant whizzing around the wrestling ring on our Wednesday night visits to the Floral Hall, Southport. 

On other nights of the week it could have been at any one of the hundreds of venues which hosted professional wrestling up and down the country. In the late 1960s Meru Ullah was a promising and popular young wrestler on the Joint Promotion circuit. 

We go back a quarter of a century for the start of our story. In 1946 Birmingham was a city scarred by six years of warfare; only London and Liverpool had been more heavily bombed. The city was beginning the slow process of reconstruction and the population were attempting to restore normality to their lives. Amongst them was a young couple who, in 1946,  became the proud parents of a boy they named Meru. Birmingham has for centuries been a cultural melting pot, with the first synagogue built in the Middle Ages; the first Asians and Irish bringing their skills in the 19th century, followed by the Caribbean's in the mid 20th century. Meru's family epitomises all that is good about the cultural diversity of the city. His father was Bangladeshi, his mother was English, and his grandparents were from Sri Lankan and Jewish/Irish families. Meru didn't live in Birmingham for long as his family moved to the Covent Garden area of London when he was six months old. One of his school friends in London was Steven Demetre Georgiou, later known by most of us as Cat Stevens.

Meru was in his early twenties when we followed his wrestling career, a time when he displayed all the energy and enthusiasm of youth. Opponents at the Floral Hall included Johnny Saint, Kevin Coneelly and Roy Paul. As a regular worker for Wryton Promotions we were unaware at the time that here was a youngster with credentials and experience from the south and Dale Martin Promotions. 

Meru told us that his interest in wrestling started as a child. School days were not always happy days for young Meru, who was subject to physical bullying from a few of his peers. "I  felt that everyone was into boxing and they were always dancing around like unbalanced combatants  whereas wrestlers went in quick and low." Meru told us. He tried the more versatile grappling techniques on his adversaries and found they worked. Meru Ullah's love affair with wrestling had begun. 

This interest developed into active participation in the early 1960s when he was just seventeen years old. Meru trained at Jack Solomon's gym (where he met Billy Walker and Sugar Ray Robinson) and joined the London YMCA. The competitive aspect of amateur wrestling appealed to him, with the ultimate dream being selection for the 1968 Olympic team in Mexico city. It was a dream that was to remain unfulfilled but served its purpose by providing an incentive for continuous improvement. Whilst training at the YMCA Meru met a number of young professional wrestlers and, like most of the country, was a Saturday afternoon fan. "Like millions of others I watched wrestling on T V and listened to the legend Kent Walton. I was so impressed with the wrestlers performances, their agility, balance and timing, I felt a calling to the sport."

Armchair viewing was not enough for the teenager and he began going along to some of the shows in London. Brave enough to get chatting to the wrestlers he told the most approachable ones about his ambitions to become a professional wrestler. It was a story that they'd heard hundreds of times before but Mike Marino, Les Kellett and Steve Logan all offered encouragement.

A short time later Meru nervously entered the door of a far from impressive building, 313 Brixton Road, the headquarters of Dale Martin Promotions. Having announced his intention to become a pro wrestler Meru was sent onto the mat with a couple of the wrestlers in the gymnasium that day. One was local boy Chris Bailey, a tough nut who would give nothing, and the another a very experienced, unorthodox stylist known to all of us fans as Masambula. Meru tells the story told by so many others, that was the moment he realised the immense gulf between the amateur code and the professional style.

This was the beginning of his journey, and he was despatched from Dale Martin's headquarters in the knowledge it was a journey that would begin with the opposition promoters. So it was that Meru began appearing on the independent bills of London and southern England. 

It wasn't long before Dale Martin Promotions realised they were missing out. They quickly signed up the youngster to work on their bills against Chris Bailey, Joe Queseck, Ray McGuire, Johnny Williams, Gordon Quirey and their other bright young things. Meru Ullah was going somewhere, fast. Not only did they get him to sign on the dotted line (no more working for the dark side of the opposition) but in April, 1969, Dale Martin matched him against Robby Baron at the Royal Albert Hall.

 Five and a half thousand fans appreciating his skills. Meru had never dreamed of this. It took seventeen minutes for Baron to secure the required fall to win the match, but they are seventeen treasured minutes in his memory and the highlight of his wrestling career.

Wryton Promotions gave him a televised bout against Johnny Saint in October, 1969. Once again Meru was matched against another worthy prospect being given the push by promoters.  Saint, at the time was Wryton's new discovery and beating all set before him, so not surprisingly Meru was due to go down to the Mancunian. No hard feelings. Meru named Johnny as one of his greatest influences in wrestling, and a good friend. Other influential wrestling friends, all fondly remembered,  are Les Kellett, Steve Logan, Jackie Pallo and Alan Dennison.

Life was busy for Meru, who by 1970 was living in Stoke on Trent and simultaneously wrestling and studying textiles.  Meru was up and down the country, working mostly for Dale Martin and Wryton Promotions. It was a time when quite a few young stars were taking over from the established names.  Saint, Marquette, Bridges, Baron,  Angus, Meru Ullah ....

But this is not the story  of Cinderella

Meru suddenly disappeared from our rings. It was a mystery to the fans. One day a promising young star, next day vanished. Forty years later Meru resurfaced and solved the mystery of his disappearance.

In 1973 Meru, and his wife of three years, Janice, emigrated to  north east Italy. The following year Meru and Janice returned to Britain to enable him to pursue his studies. He enrolled at Manchester Polytechnic, studying Time and Motion, which led to a career in management, and ultimately international Production Director with responsibility for clothing companies in Sri Lanka, Mexico, Israel and Cairo. 

Meru retired when he was fifty-eight, but found that a life of leisure was not to his liking. He joined the Royal Mail in Warrington  helping the World Class Mail team implement Gemba Kaizen, a Japanese concept of continuous improvement designed for enhancing processes and reducing waste, within the organisation. All that, and Dragon's Den too! Here's a man who's lost none of his speed, enthusiasm and agility. 

Meru and Janice have a slightly slower life at their home in Stoke on Trent, and at the time this piece was written were  looking forward to celebrating forty-five years of married life in 2015.