C: Tony Charles
Wizardry in the Rhondda
Who didn't like Tony Charles? We thought not. Not a single hand went up, not even one at the back. As fans for more than fifty years and involved in internet discussions since the early 2000s we can honestly say that we have not come across one fan who did not admire Tony Charles.
The Rhondda Valley town of Treorchy was famed for miners and singing, but not so much for wrestling personalities. Tony Charles did his best to change that, and as one of the top television stars of the sixties and seventies didn’t do a bad job. Not a bad job! Well that's an understatement; this man could hold his own with the best, a list which even includes the great Billy Robinson in his North American days.
Anthony Scott was born on 15th July, 1935, the son of Douglas and Molly. Times were hard everywhere in the 1930s, and with war clouds gathering Tony's parents moved to Bristol to work, leaving the youngster to be brought up by his grandmother, Sarah in the relative safety of the Rhondda Valley. In 1939 we find Tony living with his grandmother in Bute Street.
Like all Welsh youngsters Tony played rugby at school and took up body building to increase his lung capacity and help overcome his chronic asthma attacks. Swimming was another pastime and family members recalled Tony swimming forty lengths at Treherbert Baths.
After leaving school he moved to Bristol and took up amateur wrestling. He represented Wales in the 1958 Empire Games, having two matches in the welterweight division. In the first match Tony lost to C.N. Bambacus of Australia and in his second lost to G.H. Hobson of New Zealand.
With the success of having competed in the Games behind him Tony turned professional, adopting the professional name of Tony Charles. His technical prowess was evident from the beginning, and promoters acknowledged Tony's skill from the outset, matching him against the new stars of television Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Jack Dempsey, and Cliff Beaumont.
Starting out as a welterweight he moved through the weights up to mid heavyweight and challenged, albeit unsuccessfully, for a British title all the way, against Jack Dempsey (welterweight), Tommy Mann (middleweight) Billy Joyce (light heavyweight) and Mike Marino (mid heavyweight). Just why this talented man was never graced with a British championship belt we will never understand. We witnessed him the night he faced Billy Joyce for the Light Heavyweight championship in Blackburn. A great night for Lancastrians but a sad night for wrestling. Fans cheered the new champion and the more popular unfortunate loser that night, but we have to admit Tony would have been a more active champion and taken the light heavyweight championship into a limelight that failed to materialise with Joyce.
Here was a wrestler who simply oozed class. "Beautiful wrestling," mused John Shelvey, at the mere thought of a contest between Tony and middleweight champion Clayton Thomson.
Another fan of the aptly named Welsh Wizard was another wizard of the valleys, Adrian Street. Exotic Adrian told us:
"One of my proudest moments as a pro wrestler was the time I was on the same card as a British middleweight Championship match, held at the Colston Hall, Bristol between Champion Tommy Mann and Tony Charles. Every second of the match was fought to a 15 round draw. I am aware of the old saying - 'Nostalgia is a seductive liar'. - nevertheless I will always maintain that if that was not the best wrestling match I ever saw in my life, it was pretty damn close."
It was Manchester's Tommy Mann in the opposite corner when Tony had made his debut at the Royal Albert Hall less than two years after his professional debut, this time losing by a knock out to the experienced British champion. In April 1960 Tony's skill was introduced to a wider audience when he made his television debut against Monty Swann.
That was to be the first of more than seventy televised appearances, that's more than Kendo Nagasaki, Giant Haystacks, Masambula, Albert Wall, Dave Finlay, Billy Robinson and a host of other household names.
In January, 1961 Tony won a knock out tournament at High Wycombe, defeating Pasquale Salvo and Mick McManus on the way to the final in which he defeated British champion Jack Dempsey. The boy must have gone to sleep with a satisfied smile on his face that night.
Tony's speciality moves, a spinning toe hold and a drop kick gained him a place at the very top of British wrestling. As he matured and gained more poundage Tony was more likely to find himself facing heavyweights of the highest calibre such as Tibor Szakacs, Geoff Portz, Mike Marino and Billy Joyce.Can you think of any other wrestler who challenged for the British title from welterweight to mid heavyweight?
Tony worked in Japan in 1968 and fifteen years after making his debut Tony made his American debut where he continued to make an impression as one of the top Junior Heavyweights. He was a huge loss to the British wrestling scene, overnight our sport lost a touch more of it's credibility at a time when audiences were already on the decline.
Tony eventually settled in the USA where he continued wrestling, and is well remembered for cracking bouts with Les Thornton and Billy Robinson, and much of the local top talent. He clinched a trio of tag team titles and the North American Junior Heavyweight Championship.
We rely on Ed Lock to continue our story:
Tony Charles debuted in Japan for the International Wrestling Enterprise (IWE) promotion in February 1968. On this tour Tony was billed as the Western England Heavyweight Champion. I assume that the Western England Heavyweight Title may have been created in Japan for Charles to drop to local star Great Kusatsu; which Tony duly did on 8 April 1968 in Iwakuni.
As we know, Charles moved to the USA in the early 1970s and fashioned a fine career in America’s southern states. Tony won the following championships in the US:
- Mid America Tag Team Title with Len Rossi on two occasions in 1972
- Mid America Heavyweight Title in 1972
- Georgia Tag Team Title with Les Thornton in 1975
- Fort Myers (Florida) Title 1975
- World Tag Team Title with Al Costello circa 1976/1977
- Southeastern Tag Team Title with Ron Garvin in 1977
- Texas Tag Team Title with Les Thornton in 1977
- United States Junior Heavyweight Title twice in 1979 and once again in 1981
- World Class TV Champion in 1982.
In Florida Tony and Adrian Street were near neighbours (by American standards anyway), "Tony lived about 20 miles from me in Gulf Breeze, Florida - less than 10 if I was a strong swimmer." Adrian and his wife Linda kept in regular contact with Tony, enjoying good times together and remaining friends during the sad years in which Tony's health declined due to dementia.
Tony Charles died on 13th February, 2015.
Page added 5/7/2019