O: Sandy Orford, The Black Angel, The Mask, Tony Orford 

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Sandy Orford
(The Black Angel, The Mask)

Tony Orford

Sandy Orford
Edwin James “Sandy” Orford was a  tough as nails Welsh heavyweight, born in Pontypool in the south of the country. He turned professional in the 1940s, though he later moved to Yorkshire where he owned a farm.  The move to Yorkshire, whilst still at school, deprived Sandy of an opportunity to play rugby for his country at schoolboy level, an injustice he reversed later in life by playing for Wales four times as a senior between 1939 and 1944. He pursued his interest in rugby whilst in Yorkshire, and played for Wakefield Trinity, Dewsbury  and Bradford Northern Rugby League Clubs.

Whilst a schoolboy Sandy received the Royal Humane Life-Saving Certificate after rescuing a boy from drowning. 

Sandy was certainly wrestling professionally by January, 1945, when we find him at Belle Vue, Manchester, wrestling Tony Baer. Promoters capitalised on his credentials as an international rugby player and Sandy was matched against the top men from the very beginning. He simultaneously began a two and a half year stint as an unbeaten masked man, making him a busy worker with dual personalities.

The Black Angel was one of the earliest masked men and a name that has recurred over the years, but never as a career defining masked man. The closest we came to that was in the years immediately following the Second World War. In fact the Black Angel name appeared on the posters during the final months of the Second World War as we find him at Folkestone in January, 1945. On that occasion he was declared victor of course, knocking out Cocky Chick Knight.

For almost three years the Black Angel continued his winning ways, mostly working for Morrell & Beresford, mostly in northern England and mostly in Newcastle – at least thirty-eight times in 28 months. Opponents included Assirati, Dave Armstrong, Bill Garnon, George Gregory and Francis St Clair Gregory; no shirking away from the top heavyweights. 

The run came to an end on 15th November, 1947. The Black Angel wrestled Dave Armstrong at Newcastle, two men who had opposed each other many times before. The match ended in a draw and for some reason, we don't know why, the Black Angel pulled off the hood to reveal Sandy Orford. The following month the Black Angel was back at Newcastle, with or without the mask we don't know.  Throughout the Black Angel period Orford had also continued working unmasked in halls around the country.

Although other Black Angels popped up from time to time this 1940s Sandy Orford run was the only one of any significance. A Black Angel appeared on Joint Promotion bills for a few months in 1960 and again in 1972 and there have been quite a few ad hoc ones on independent bills over the years. Nagasaki's Number1Fan commented that other 1970s Black Angels included Steve Clements (1972), Rex Lane (1989) and later Ian McGregor.

In 1955 Sandy wrestled in Rhodesia and South Africa, where he is reported to have defeated South African champion Wllie Leibenberg and South African idol Manie Maritz

In 1958 Sandy pulled on a mask once again. This time he was The Mask, not the most imaginative of names for a masked man, but that didn't prevent a successful eight year reign that lasted from 1958 until 1966. 

The Mask was dressed head to toe in black, even his eyes being difficult to distinguish. An alleged aversion to having his legs touched (a bit of a handicap for a wrestler we would think), would see the Mask heading for the ropes whenever an opponent went for them. In anticipation of such an occurrence fans would scream "Get his legs, get his legs."

The crowning glories of The Mask's achievements may have been the first defeat and unmasking in the UK of L'Ange Blanc, at  Leeds in January, 1962.

He wrestled all over the world and, like so many, seemed to just fade away. We last saw the name Sandy Orford on a poster in 1964, a Joint Promotions show in Nottingham. The Mask name we saw until 1966, though there were numerous imitations from then on into the 1980s.

Sandy seems to have had more “goes” at the great Lou Thesz than any other Brit when the American visited the UK, managing one draw and two losses against the American.

Sandy Orford was born 5th December, 1911, died 22nd April, 1986.
Tony Orford

For the  son of Sandy Orford  it was a toss up whether he should pursue a career in rugby or wrestling, with the latter winning the day. Tony's father, Sandy, had played rugby at both club and international level.  Having turned professional in 1964 within a couple of years  Tony had moved to Canada initially working for promoters Rod Fenton and Stu Hart. Most of Tony's remaining career was spent  working in North America with occasional visits back home.

Page added 14/03/2021

Page reviewed 14/04/2022