Wrestling Heritage Promoters A - Z
Promoting in Derby in 1951
Syd Burns and Jack Dale Senior were boxing promoters who branched out into wrestling promotion in southern England up to 1936. They advertised themselves as "England's Premier Promotions," with shows at Plymouth, Rochester Casino, Alcazar Edmonton, South London Palace Ipswich, Hastings and Torquay.
Following the death of Jack Dale Syd Burns partnered J.Hart as promoters in southern England.
London based group, most likely behind wrestling at The Ring Blackfriars. The B was most likely Victor Berliner, boxing promoter and manager of The Ring. They extended out of the capital putting on shows in other towns, including Hulll in 1933. Shortly afterwards they changed their name to World Syndicate.
See Apollo Promotions
1940s promoter at the Music Hall in Aberdeen. Bannerman came into conflict with promoter George DeRelwyskow when the latter joined the BWPA in 1949 and Joint Promotions in 1952. He complained that the BWPA were an attempt to monopolise wrestling and prevent wrestlers working for him. The two promoters ran rival shows in the city until at least 1952.
See World Wide Promotions (St Annes)
See Jack Oatley
BD & H
Pre Second World War promoters in Plymouth. Ron Historyo discovered the B was Syd Burns, H was boxing promoter Bob Heath, whilst D remains a mystery.
Any talk of wrestling in Manchester inevitably leads back to the Manchester Czar Bill Benny. Bill staged wrestling shows in halls around Manchester, some of which he owned or managed himself. In 1960 he bought the Hulme Hippodrome, a theatre built as a music hall in 1901. Bill owned the theatre for two years until he sold it and it was turned into a bingo hall. Amongst clubs owned by Bill were the Levenshulme Sporting Club, The Cabaret Club on Oxford Road, and the Devonshire Club. It was he that encouraged a young judo expert named Al Marquette to enter the world of professional wrestling. Bill was highly respected as an impresario and his death at the early age of forty-four was reported in the American entertainment magazine, Billboard.
See Norman Morrell Ltd, Morrell Beresford Promotions, Globe Promotions
Victor Berliner was a boxing and wrestling promoter and manager of the Blackfriars Ring.
See Twentieth Century Promotions
Bill Best (Wrestling Promotions)
As far as we can tell Bill Best promoted alone only at Liverpool Stadium and Blackpool Tower, elsewhere in conjunction with Wryton Promotions, and occasionally with Morrell and Beresford. His were lively shows with creative matchmaking.
Billy came from a family steeped in sporting tradition, his older brother already staged regular boxing tournaments at Liverpool Stadium and Billy promoted first class Friday night shows at the Stadium for many years. Liverpool Stadium fans had a reputation for letting wrestlers know when they were none too pleased. Billy Best’s other stadium, Blackpool Tower, was another with a long history of involvement in the sport. Weekly shows, on Sunday or Monday dependent on the time of year, took place for a half a century.
Bill Best Promotions went into voluntary liquidation on 16th December, 1974.
Best Wryton Promotions
An association of Wryton and Bill Best Promotions Best Wryton were absorbed into the Sears Holdings organisation. As the individual Joint Promotion members morphed into one (with the exception of Relwyskow Green) the Best Wryton company was the most enduring of all. In 1989 Max and Beryl Crabtree were listed as owners of the company (and of Dale Martin also). Best Wryton Promotions were dissolved on 27th October, 1992.
A promoter in the north of England,most notably remembered for his shows at the Parr Hall, Wigan in association with Wryton Promotions Ted Betley started wrestling professionally during the Second World War but it is as an inspirational trainer of a new generation of wrestling stars for which he is mostly celebrated. Based at his Warrington gymnasium Ted Betley was responsible for creating international wrestling stars Dynamite Kid, Davey "British Bulldog" Smith and Wonderboy Steve Wright.
Boxing promoter Lionel Bettinson was a pioneer in the development of 1930s wrestling by virtue of promoting the inaugural All-In wrestling tournament (at the time described as New Catch as Catch Can) in Britain, at Olympia on 15th December, 1930.
Bettinson was manager of the National Sporting Club and in January, 1934, when the National Sporting Club was unable to sign up sufficient boxers to put on a show Lionel Bettinson announced that they would put on a wrestling tournament instead. Bettinson called upon the services of William Bankier, known to a generation earlier as the strongman Apollo, to arrange the tournament. The tournament was described as Freestyle wrestling, which Bettinson stressed would be clean, healthy and exhilarating.A disappointing 1,000 fans paid their money and reportedly watched the contests in gloomy silence. Bettinson claimed a wrestling pedigree with his father, Arthur "Peggy" Bettinson, promoting wrestling at the beginning of the twentieth century at the Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square, London.
Manager Fred Bretherton promoted shows in Hull from 1943 to 1945 and in the Isle of Man.
Maurice and John (Jack) Bodinetz
Amongst the other boxing promoters who turned to wrestling we can add Jack and Maurice Bodinetz of Shoreditch By 1935 were putting on wrestling shows most days of the week in the south and midlands. In May 1934 they were fined £25 each for selling tickets for wrestling at the Lime Grove Baths which did not bear the Entertainment Tax stamp.
Harold Bownas was born in Leeds, where we believe he was a bookmaker. His marriage to a Scottish girl led to a move to Edinburgh where he established himself as one of the country's top boxing promoters from 1920 until unto the 1950s. He was another of the many boxing promoters who seized the opportunity to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the flourishing wrestling business of the 1930s. Harold Bownas was the promoter, in February, 1932, of a contest between local man Alec Munroe and champion Harold Angus. The match was advertised as a being contested under Catch-As-Catch-Can rules with the Scottish champion meeting the English champion to establish a British champion. Referee H.Harrison declared a draw on points after thirty minutes of wrestling.
Promoters in the 1930s were for the most part local businessmen, or boxing promoters who either put on fully fledged wrestling tournaments or wrestling matches as an addition to their boxing shows. Boxing promoter Jeff Dickson dabbled in wrestling in both Britain and France, with other boxing promoters like Frank Woodhouse, Sam Moreton and Harold Bownas having a go.
We have come across this promotion at only one venue, the Rothesay Pavilion on the Isle of Bute in the 1960s. The word Brandane refers to inhabitants of the Isles of Bute and Arran. Dale Storm told us the promoter was Danny Flynn who used the Brandane name because the shows were sponsored by the Rothesay Advertising Association.
William Isherwood and T Bretherton started promoting at Turton Street Stadium in Bolton shortly after the foundry was converted to a stadium in 1935.
Billy Bridgewater was manager of the Doncaster Sports Syndicate he was a man with quite a sporting pedigree. Born in Parkgate, Rotherham in 1886, his first love was football, playing professionally for Rotherham Town and Sheffield United, prior to membership of the Football League. Injury enforced retirement, and struck again when he embarked on a short career as a professional boxer. Billy Bridgewater died on 21st March, 1941, aged 74.
British Wrestling Alliance
By 1970 the slow decline of British wrestling had begun. Fewer fans were handing over their money at the ticket office with the consequent reduction of shows around the country. The Joint Promotion visionaries who had contributed so much to professional wrestling now had their eyes set firmly on retirement. It was time for a breath of fresh air.
Something new and exciting came from a group of promoters who found a niche and provided it in a professional manner. The British Wrestling Alliance was formed in the early 1970s. Wrestlers were of good quality and presentation was of a high standard. Their niche was to capitalise on an interest in female wrestling. Not all their shows featured women, far from it, but those women that did work for the promotion were of a high standard with a realism that was sometimes missing elsewhere.
Around a dozen promoters were part of the group, but the backbone were Verdun-Leslie Promotions in the south of England and Ace Sports Promotions in the north. The men behind Verdun-Leslie were two young wrestlers, Al Hollamby and his friend, Roger L Sandilands. They made use of their middle names to create the authoritative sounding Verdun-Leslie.
The BWA organised their own championship contests and only those champions were recognised in the halls of their dozen or so members. Championships were contested not just for the men, but for the ladies, tag teams and mixed tag teams which featured on their bills.
It was the ladies of the ring that brought the BWA to national attention. Ron Farrar's wife, Sue Brittain was the BWA Ladies Champion. Female wrestling had been present in Britain during the 1930s, as documented in our Years of Wrestling series. London County Council had first banned female wrestling in 1938, followed by Middlesex in February of the following year.
The bye law was still in place during the 1970s and restricted the operation of Verdun-Leslie Promotions, who promoted at many London venues. Al Hollamby prompted Sue Brittain to write and request him to include female wrestlers on his London shows. This was at a time when discussion of equal opportunities was rife in Britain. In his reply to Sue Brittain Al stated that he would very much like to employ her and other female wrestlers on his London bills put was prevented from doing so by the London council ruling. Sue used the reply as ammunition and made a complaint to the Equal Opportunities Commission that she was being prevented from work on the grounds of her gender. The Equal Opportunities Commission were sympathetic and asked the Greater London Council to drop the ban.
On 14th February, 1978, the Greater London Council gave their reply. They voted by 36 votes to 29, that the ban should stay in place.
The BWA were not to be defeated. They decided to challenge the London ruling with the support of the Equal Opportunities Commission. The Council's defence was that the Act did not apply as the bye-law was an Act of Parliament and had been passed before 1964. The case was heard in the summer of 1979 and on 18th June an industrial tribunal ruled in favour of Sue Brittain, and stated she was being prevented from taking up employment because of her sex. The court ruling received national press coverage.
Verdun Leslie were quick to act. On 23rd August, 1979, they staged the first female wrestling match in a public hall in London for more than forty years. Sue Brittain defended her British title against Jane St John, winning by two falls to one in the sixth round.
A point had been made but success was short lived. The Greater London Council won an appeal against the Equal Opportunities ruling and the ban was re-imposed.
- Action Promotions, Manchester
- Athena Promotions, York
- Atlas Promotions, Coventry
- A.D. & R Promotions, Fareham
- Dunscot Promotions, Dundee
- Inter Continental Promotions, Soberton Heath
- Newtown Promotions, Halstead
- Terry Promotions, Bexley Heath
- Verdun Leslie Promotions, London
- Worldwide Promotions, Gillingham Vedun-Leslie.
British Wrestling Association
British wrestling has repeatedly tried to give the illusion of a Governing Body but no such organisation has ever existed. In 1931 when The London Sports Club (commonly known as Lanes) stated, "Promoters advertising all-in wrestling with nothing barred are liable to prosecution. All-In wrestling means a combination of three styles and has definite rules which can be obtained from the British Board of Control," the Board referred to was the British Wrestling Association, which, according to Atholl Oakeley, was set up by Henry Irslinger as an independent controlling body. It was more of an attempt by Oakeley, Irslinger and a few associates to control wrestling in Britain, and an attempt that was to prove futile. Atholl Oakeley met French Champion Francois Berthod on 21st October, 1931, at the London Sports Club (Lanes Club) in the first tournament to be held under the auspices of the "controlling body".
Henry Irslinger, forever linked with Atholl Oakeley in both their personal and professional lives, was an Austrian born naturalised American. Irslinger and Oakeley became good friends from the day the two men were introduced to each other by Benny Sherman. A wrestler of more than twenty years experience he was one of the pioneers who introduced the new style of professional wrestling into Britain in 1930, having already done so in South Africa.
Oakeley credits Irslinger as the man behind the matches at the New St James Hall, Newcastle and the New Victoria Hall in Nottingham, though unsurprisingly we have no sign of his name on the posters other than in the capacity of wrestler.
For many Atholl Oakeley is the first name to come to mind when thinking of British wrestling, hardly surprising because the only source of information about pre war wrestling was, until recently, Oakeley's book, Blue Blood On The Mat. Although we believe our Years of Wrestling series gives a more balanced view Oakeley certainly played a leading role in developing pre war wrestling in Britain. He was a leading figure in the re-introduction of pro wrestling in Britain in December, 1930 and a member of the group of London promoters known as the International Wrestling Syndicate. Oakeley brought to the United Kingdom wrestlers he had met on his visit to America, including Karl Pojello and Jack Sherry. He was also a fanciful creator of colourful characters, including Carver Doone and The Angel. Atholl Oakeley has much to be thanked for the development of British wrestling in the 1930s, but he was also responsible for introducing some of the less savoury elements of the sport, such as wrestling in mud.
Post Second World War Atholl Oakeley continued to use the British Wrestling Association Banner. Oakeley attempted to continue where he had left off, a very different offer for the paying public than that offered by the British Wrestling Promoters Association. They had the backing of Lord Mount Evans and the new rules that bore his name, a clear attempt to distinguish their new fangled modernised wrestling from Oakeley's product.
Oakeley was critical of wrestlers and promoters who had remained active during the war, on the grounds that a man fit to wrestle was fit to fight for his country. Whether or not these were sincere sentiments or resentment at his inability to re-establish himself after the war must remain the subject of speculation.
His wrestlers wrestled according to his "International Catch as Catch Can" rules that had been introduced to Britain by Irslinger and Oakeley in 1930. Three ringside judges decided matches that ended without a deciding fall, a count of twenty was allowed for a wrestler ejected from the ring, and championship tournaments were open to all comers.
Oakeley's shows were not run of the mill affairs staged weekly, fortnightly or monthly at low prices. Oakeley produced big shows for big stadiums, like the Harringay Arena and the Royal Albert Hall. He brought in big names, such as boxer Jack Doyle, who he matched with Bucht at Harringay in February, 1950, and later with Eddie Philips, and Two Ton Tony Galento, brought over specially from the United States. Other big names brought to Britain by Oakeley included European heavyweight champion, Alex Cadier, American Frank Sexton, and the gargantuan German, Kurt Zehe.
Almost 10,000 attended Oakeley's first post war Harringay show, five thousand filled the Royal Albert Hall, but by his own admission numbers soon fell dramatically. By the end of 1954 Oakeley had concluded that the world had moved on; Joint Promotions had established a modern version of the sport he had re-introduced to Britain a quarter of a century earlier. There was to be no more wrestling from Atholl Oakeley or the British Wrestling Association.
British Wrestling Board of Control (1932 and 1936 incarnation)
In 1932 there was talk of a Board of Control being set up with the patronage of Lord Lonsdale. Ignoring the previous years claims it was said that no Board of Control existed. This was true, of course, and was true every time another Board of Control popped up to say it was going to bring about real change.
In 1936 the press welcomed the formation of the British Wrestling Board of Control with the top wrestlers signed up and a promise of no fixed contests. It may well have put to rest the reservations of some local councils, many of whom deliberated the respectability (or otherwise) of the ever growing sport. Declarations similar to the BWBC were to be repeated up and down the country throughout the decade – claims that wrestling was about to become a legitimately competitive sport under the jurisdiction of an all encompassing Governing Body. Time and again it was claimed that everything would change – tomorrow.
Yet it was all an illusion, throughout the history of British professional wrestling an encompassing Governing Body has never existed, and most likely never will.
British Wrestling Board of Control (1938 incarnation)
The introduction of men v women matches brought the call for regulation to the fore once again. London County Council threatened to ban all wrestling tournaments in the city unless the sport was regulated. Consequently on 15th November, 1938, yet another British Wrestling Board of Control was formed, along the lines of the British Boxing Board of Control. Chairman was A.F.Bell (of The Ring, Blackfriars), Vice Chairman Harold Lane, Secretary Jack Dale, treasurer F.E.Branstone, and boxing manager and promoter Victor Berliner adviser to the board. We have little evidence of the Board's influence following it's inauguration, though some halls, such as the Majestic Ice Rink at Preston, did advertise their matches were under the auspices of the British Wrestling Board of Control. In essence nothing had changed. Various governing bodies had been declared during the decade, but they were nothing more than veiled attempts to promote respectability by creating an illusion of structure and authority.
British Wrestling Board of Control (1939 incarnation)
Two months after the launch of the British Wrestling Board of Control we find another group launching yet another British Wrestling Board of Control, coming into operation on 5th February. The Committee consisted of the Board consisted of promoters George DeRelwyskow, Sam Cowan, Mike Burns, Harry Williams and A.F. Bell and one unnamed other. Their stated aim was to control all wrestling in the country.
British Wrestling Board of Control (1946 incarnation)
In November, 1946, the press announced the formation of the British Wrestling Board of Control. Yes, another one. This time, however, there were significant differences from what had gone on before. At an inaugural meeting of the Board on 21st November, 1946 it was claimed they would perform the same function as the British Boxing Board of Control. First President of the Board was Lord Mount Evans and there were two Vice Presidents, Labour MP Maurice Webb and Archibald Bruce Campbell, a retired naval officer and star of the Brains Trust radio programme, with the secretary Leslie Farnsworth of Hammersmith, who otherwise remains a mystery. The Board forecast that tournaments under their auspices would be operational within six months and, furthermore, their stated aim was to control all wrestling in Britain. As with all previous aspirations of a similar nature it was to remain no more than an aspiration. With the aid of wrestler Norman Morrell the group did manage to create a new set of rules, the Lord Mount Evans Style, which played an important part in establishing the credibility of professional wrestling.
The new set of rules were approved by the Board at a meeting on 12th December, 1946, and Chair Maurice Webb,MP, announced they were to be named the Lord Mount Evans Rules, in honour of the President of the Board, and echoing the Marquess of Queensberry Rules in boxing. At the same meeting it was announced that championship contests would be arranged with winners awarded Lord Mount Evans Belts.
The grand sounding Lord Mount Evans Rules presented an opportunity for the post war promoters to begin a narrative that was to be repeated for forty years; their claim that post war wrestling was a re-invention, a complete break from what had gone on before. That, of course, was far from reality. When Harrogate Town Councillors queried the meaning of the Lord Mount Evans style it was said, “I think it is just a fancy name to cover up All-In.” Another alleged expert on the subject, described as a “Leeds authority,” said, “It’s a cleaner version of all-in wrestling, but not much.” As we have said in the Years of Wrestling series post war developments were evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
The British Wrestling Board of Control did it’s job; the rules were written and the story was told that everything was now different. Maybe no more was to be asked of it and that was the plan from the beginning. The members of the Board never had any intention of becoming long term involved; if wrestling was to prosper it would need to prosper under the direction of those who had invested in the business. Legal adviser to the Board, Ralph C. Yablon, stressed the Board did not want control of wrestling but to give service to existing promoters and close the doors to spurious newcomers.
Following on from the inaugral meeting of the British Wrestling Board of Control a meeting of the Board members and a group of leading wrestling promoters met in Manchester on 10th January, 1947. Bradford M.P. Maurice Webb presided over the meeting with the objective of the adoption of the Board’s Constitution and Mount Evans rules by the promoters. The meeting closed with the issue of a statement: “The promoters present express their willingness to approve the constitutional draft and that the rules outlined become operative. Each promoter, however, is to send in his own suggestions which will be investigated by three independent members of the Board – Lord Mount Evans, Mr Maurice Webb M.P. and Commander A.B. Campbell with a view to submission and ratification at a further meeting of promoters to be held in three months time.”
Annual fees for Board of Control licences were set: Promoters £50; Matchmakers £10; Referees £5; Wrestlers 5 shillings; Timekeepers, Whips, Seconds and M.Cs 2 shillings and sixpence.
The London Gazette of 16th May, 1947 announced that the British Wrestling Board of Control Limited, less than six months after being formed, was to be struck off the Companies Register and dissolved.
British Wrestling Enterprises
Amongst the higher profile names promoting wrestling after the Second World War was wrestler Leo Lightbody and his British Wrestling Enterprises, with offices in The Strand, London, Lightbody was one of the first promoters to receive a licence from London County Council following their short ban imposed in 1944. Wrestlers working for Lightbody included British Heavyweight Champion Bert Assirati. Lightbody promoted around the country, including Scotland.
British Wrestling Federation
The name British Wrestling Federation had originally been coined in October, 1943 as an organisation of wrestlers. The name was revived by a group of promoters in 1958. Following the demise of the British Wrestling Federation in 1962 when all but Lincoln and International began to work in co-operation with Joint Promotions the name remained dormant until assumed later in the 1960s by wrestler/promoter Orig Williams. The BWF of 1961 listed their members as:
- Paul Lincoln Management
- Conrad Davis
- International Promotions
- Twentieth Century Promotions
British Wrestling Promoters Association
The British Wrestling Promoters Association was formed in March 1949. Membership of the association comprised of four professional wrestlers and a Manchester business man:
- Norman Morrell
- George De Relwyskow
- Ted Beresford (Globe Promotions)
- Dale Martin Promotions
- Wryton Promotions
All are names that sound familiar to wrestling enthusiasts, being the very same group that were to cement their relationship further in 1952 with the formation of Joint Promotions. Secretary of the group, according to Combat magazine in December, 1949, was Norman Morrell, who you may recall had previously formed the British Wrestling Federation in October, 1943.
The practices we later associated with Joint Promotions, to limit the work opportunities of the wrestlers, were common place long before the promoters formally constituted Joint Promotions, even before the BWPA, as illustrated in the contractual obligation sent to wrestlers by Norman Morrell in 1946. Furthermore wrestlers working for the group were prohibited from working within a ten mile radius of any of the halls at which they promoted.
Hostilities arose between members of the new Association and those who were excluded. In Aberdeen local promoter Alex Bannerman complained, in August, 1949, that he was being pushed out of business by the new organisation. Both Bannerman and Relwyskow Promotions had promoted in Aberdeen for some years. Bannerman said he had attempted to join the new organisation but his letters had gone without reply. He contended that the new organisation's intention was to divide the country into areas and prevent wrestlers from working for non members of the organisation. His prediction turned out to be spot on, though the BWPA and it's 1952 successor, despite their vigorous efforts, failed to eliminate the opposition promoters.
Len Law was a popular Brixton heavyweight who worked professionally as Len Britton. He was the brother of College Boy Charlie Law. Len Britton promoted in the London area during the 1960s. Dwight J Ingleburgh spoke highly of Len Britton as a promoter, "Most of the promoters were good. The London lads were good payers – Tony Scarlo , Len Britton and people like that. They gave you £10 a job, 10 shillings for bed and breakfast (which actually cost 7 shillings and 6 pence), and £10 for the car. That was good because you could get to London and back for £3.10s in petrol. It was a marathon, though, taking 7 or 8 hours from Barnsley."
Heritage member Graham Brook was a wrestling fan who lived the dream, promoting wrestling shows around the north west for more than ten years between 1976 and 1987. Now a valued contributor to Talk Wrestling Graham has many memories to share of the days he promoted shows featuring the likes of Les Kellett, Adrian Street, the Pallos, the Borg Twins, Count Bartelli, Abe Ginsberg, Lord Bertie Topham, Roy and Tony St.Clair and many more. Graham is now a jazz promoter living in Cheshire.
Promoter at the Drill Hall, Coventry following the Second World War until Dale Martin Promotions took over in 1949.
Bull Ring Enterprises
Birmingham based promoter Duke Badger was a well respected promoter, referee and Master of Ceremonies in the 1960s and 1970’s who gave Tony “Banger” Walsh a helping hand into the wrestling business. We remember Duke immaculately dressed as a Master of Ceremonies with a commanding voice that simply demanded respect from the fans. On one occasion we recall Duke intervening mid round to tell the disgruntled fans (miffed at Klondyke Bill's non appearance) that the substitute John Sinclair was a fine wrestler who deserved more of their support. The crowd were silenced and then erupted in a cheer for Duke.
Promoter at the Promenade Pier, Plymouth and other southern venues.
See B&D Promotions
Page added 23/01/2022