S: Ex Seaman Stacey
A Wrestling Comedian
Ex Seaman Stacey
(Thomas McCarthy Jr)
by Larry McCarthy
It would be difficult to fully describe a curriculum as varied as that of Thomas McCarthy Junior in just one article, nevertheless, an attempt will be made to do justice to the life of a colourful man, who at various stages of his life was a Champion Wrestler, Comedian, Singer and Blacksmith.
Thomas McCarthy Junior was born in Belle Green Lane, Ince in 1906, the son of Thomas McCarty Senior, the well-known Wigan wrestler, World War One Distinguished Conduct Medal recipient, puppeteer, circus performer and trainer of Wigan Rugby League from 1919 to 1939. Over the course of several generations, the family surname had morphed from Carty, to McCarty and eventually Thomas adopted the more familiar McCarthy, hence the oft seen spelling variation from his father in local newspapers of the time. It was often speculated that some families of Irish extract were adding a prefix in an effort to return a surname to the original form.
As a child Thomas grew up in Lower Ince, however, when his father was offered the job with Wigan Rugby League, shortly after the First World War, the family moved to a house in Orchard Street, a stone’s throw from Central Park.
Like his father, Thomas would have a varied career as a performer and would also become a top wrestler, well known in Lancashire and beyond. In fact, as a young man, Thomas was initially trained in Lancashire wrestling by his father, who had been 9st 7lb Catch as Catch can wrestling Champion of England prior to the outbreak of the First World War and had also been dubbed the Wrestling ‘Champion of Gallipoli’, winning a match under Turkish sniper fire!
At age twenty, in October 1926 at Chorlton Town Hall near Manchester, he would enter his first competition of note, nothing less than the British Amateur Wrestling Association Bantamweight Championships. This was the first time the championship had taken place outside of London and in the north of England. As such, the tournament was very well represented by Lancashire with over two thirds of the 24 entrants hailing from Wigan and Leigh.
After having won his first two bouts, Thomas was matched with the talented Harry Pennington, the 1925 Bantamweight Champion of Lancashire and eventual winner of this tournament. According to a report from the now defunct Sporting Chronicle newspaper, which covered the event, Thomas, was exceedingly unlucky in this match, as he appeared to get the winning pin-fall on Pennington and thus immediately stood upright expecting to be awarded the victory. However, although a number of spectators and the Sporting Chronicle’s reporter stated that the referee, the well-known martial arts pioneer, Percy Longhurst appeared to signal the win, he in fact had signalled for the bout to continue and an upright Thomas was easily flattened out. This eliminated Thomas and enabled Pennington to advance to the final.
Despite the setback of losing in controversial fashion, Thomas was soon back in competition. In May 1927, he was again involved in a high profile Lancashire amateur wrestling tournament, again in the 9st division. The tournament was hosted by Leigh Harriers Athletic club on their grounds and Thomas was matched up against the excellent local wrestler, Joe Reid. This bout would also result in a loss to Reid, who was the tournament’s eventual winner. However, the losses to Pennington and Reid where by no means a disgrace, as both Leigh wrestlers were considered some of the best amateurs the country had produced to date. Pennington had been picked in 1927 to represent England against France, whilst Reid would win the British Bantamweight Championship five years in a row, from 1931 to 1935 and represent Great Britain in the 1930 Empire (Commonwealth) Games winning Silver and the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, placing a very respectable 4th.
Thomas would continue to wrestle and in 1930, became a Wigan Boxing and Wrestling Association committee member, the association being chaired by none other than his father. Also on the committee, was his great friend and future brother in law, the talented wrestling prospect, William Francis Disley. In July 1930, in an attempt to revive traditional Lancashire Catch as Catch Can outdoor matches, his father promoted and organised a well-attended wrestling tournament at Hill Top Grounds in Hindley. Thomas was referred to in a report by the Wigan Examiner at the time as ‘Wigan’s outstanding Bantamweight’. He was matched against Jim Miller dubbed ‘Wigan’s Young Hercules’ in the 9st 4lb category. Thomas was victorious by two falls to one in nine minutes and was awarded a medal for his efforts. Also competing on the bill, as a middleweight, was the great Billy Riley, Wigan’s famous world champion wrestler and also good friend of his father Thomas Senior.
Not long after, whilst moving up the weight divisions, having won a number of matches and medals, Thomas eventually became the Lightweight Wrestling Champion of the North. Despite his prowess, his family often remarked in jest on how he was never able to perform a headstand, which was seen at the time as a prerequisite for becoming a successful wrestler.
By the mid 1930’s wrestling would morph from real and often brutal Lancashire Catch as Catch Can matches to ‘All in Wrestling’, which unlike its predecessors, were in effect staged matches, with pre-determined victors. Thomas and his best friend William also transitioned to this new form of sports entertainment and regularly wrestled at a number of venues including Preston, Bolton, Rotherham and Chorley throughout 1935 and 1936. Despite the staged nature of the bouts, the wrestlers were often injured; however, Thomas’s family always noted how he was able to return home relatively unmarked. Whilst William would wrestle under a different pseudonym on every show, Thomas chose the stage name Ex-Seaman Stacey and referred to himself as the Wrestling Champion of the Navy, fighting out of Portsmouth. According to his family, he had never been on a barge let alone a boat!
Stage names were proving to be a very popular gimmick with professional wrestlers at the time, a habit which continues to this day. His choice of stage name was most likely due to the fact that his father had toured the north of England in 1913 with promoter Bob Sommervile’s troupe of wrestlers, one of whom was the real Champion wrestler of the Navy and the original Seaman Stacey. Seaman Stacey was killed in action in France in the First World War and the choice of his name by Thomas, would have been a means of continuing the legacy of his father’s friend.
Outside of wrestling, Thomas would work as a Blacksmith’s striker and subsequently a Blacksmith at Ince Waggon Works. He worked there for a number of years with his brother in law William and then went to work again as a Blacksmith’s striker for Walker Brothers at Pagefield Iron Works in Wigan. Throughout the Second World War, Thomas was exempt from joining the armed forces as his job was considered a reserved occupation crucial to the industrial war effort.
During this time, he put one of his other talents to good use, his skills as comedian. In fact he was considered such a skilled comedian, that he often performed on the BBC Workers Playtime radio broadcast, which served to boost the morale of factory workers during the war. The programme was broadcast three times a week from a factory canteen. Nephew Bill remembers how his uncle Thomas was capable of making people laugh, despite always having a deadpan expression on his face. In addition to his considerable skills as a comedian, Thomas was also well known as a singer and had performed for a while at the Wigan Hippodrome in 1926.
Soon after the war, in 1946, at age forty, his health began to deteriorate and he was unable to either work or perform to earn a living. As a result of this, his family had to move away from Orchard Street in the late 1940’s and settled in Norley Hall Avenue in Pemberton. As fate would have it, he sadly died only two months after the death of his father, in November 1954, at the relatively young age of 48 and is buried at Gidlow cemetery in Standish. He was survived by a wife, four sons and three daughters. Nevertheless, like his father, he was born to perform and his curriculum vitae was varied and interesting to say the least.