WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

R: Gorilla Reg Ray


Vintage Class

Gorilla Reg Ray

We watched Gorilla Reg Ray in the late 1960s. Admittedly he was by then a man who had been around a few years, probably a few too many years, but there was still a touch of class about the villain as he displayed his ring craft with opponent Cyril Knowles. It was a well rehearsed routine, the two men must have wrestled each other hundreds of times. Such was the nature of professional wrestling that as men reached, let’s kindly say, their golden years they felt more at ease, safer, with carefully selected opponents.

That’s how it was for us in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but our sightings do an injustice to a very capable wrestler who made his mark on the British wrestling scene.  Fellow professionals like Dwight J Ingleburgh, Les Prest and Eddie Rose have nothing but respect for Gorilla Reg, and have many fond memories. “He was,” said Eddie Rose, “a natural villain.”  Eddie told us, “I first met Reg at Belle Vue, where he was a regular and at other venues O wrestled him a number of times, both solo and in tags. You knew immediately that Reg was a class wrestler and also a great lad who did not take liberties.”

Gorilla Reg, the nickname was hardly a surprise in view of his abundance of body hair, was, in his prime, one of the best workers on the British wrestling circuit.  This was confirmed by Les Prest, “Gorilla Reg Ray was a gent. He was usually farily quiet in the dressing room, but in the ring he was a villain. His back covered in hair, he was very much like a gorilla. I myself had a couple of good bouts with him, but he always had a cracking bout with Cyril Knowles.  They brought the best out in each other.”

Everyone we spoke to about Reg, you can add Dennis Lord, Bob Kirkwood and Neil Kemp to the above, had very fond memories, not a bad word was to be heard. Neil Kemp said of those who knew Reg, "Everybody called him 'The Monkey.  because of a habit he had. If someone got the better of him, he would screw up his face and tighten his fists and jump up and down, stamping his feet while yelling at the top of his voice. Totally different to his actual character."
It wasn't just the wrestlers. Fans like us, and Bernard Hughes, sing his praises. Bernard told us, "I saw Reg Ray at Newcastle when, as a boy, I was struck by how hirsute he was, hair growing from everywhere.Obviously a useful worker in the ring,coming over as a hard man and not always within the rules,but he could wrestle if he wanted to.Out of the ring, like most wrestlers that I met and talked to, he was a nice man. As was my wont, I gave him a stamped addressed envelope and was delighted to receive a photograph from him.Yes , a nice man out of the ring. Say no more."

Reg Ray was a very competent wrestler. He travelled the length and breadth of the United Kingdom for the best part of three decades, working for both Joint Promotions and the independents.  In tag matches he often partnered Jack Land, Butcher Goodman or Leon Arras as The Toffs, and sometimes appeared as the wrestling brother of Jack Land (working as Karl Von Kramer), under the name Kurt Von Kramer.

Turning professional shortly after the war Reg was a regular on the Joint Promotion circuit following their establishment in 1952. This brought him into regular combat with the top men of the day, holding his own with the likes of Jack Dempsey, Eric Taylor, Alan Colbeck, Bert Royal, Vic Faulkner and Cliff Beaumont. When ITV began to televise wrestling Gorilla Reg was one of the first to receive nationwide attention, wrestling Chic Purvey at the Lime Grove Baths on 17th April, 1956. Further televised contests followed against Tug Holton and  Cyril Knowles,

Like many others Reg chose to leave Joint Promotions in 1962 and flirted with the independents, most notably for Don Robinson, and Cyril Knowles. The following year he returned to Joint Promotions, making his final television appearance on 29th January, 1966, against the visiting Greek, El Greco. Gorilla Reg lost that match due to disqualification, which we suppose is something of a tribute to one of the great villains.

In the second half of the 1960s Reg returned to work for the independent promoters.  He continued to travel far and wide with Brian Trevors using him on his East Anglian promotions and Evan Treharne being a firm  admirer of him  in south Wales. It was his old friend  Cyril Knowles, though, who often used Reg on his own bills, wrestling himself.  Reg and Cyril were both now in the twilight years of their long wrestling careers, and  the two opposed each other on many, some would say too many, occasions.

We are told by a relative, and family historian, that one of Reg's ancestors  was Sir Christopher Wray, Lord Chief Justice under Elizabeth the First, who signed Mary Queen of Scots death warrant. A villain of the ring maybe, but Reg was never that dangerous!

A tremendous villain, a huge contributor to everything that made wrestling great, fondly remembered by fans and wrestlers. His one fault, and one that  he shared with so many others, was that of  wrestling well beyond his prime.

Final words to Eddie Rose. “All in all. a very good wrestler, a kindly man and a good friend; much missed.”

Reg Ray died in 2008.
Page added 21/03/2020