S: Tony Scarlo
The Cockney Kid and Pocket Apollo were early wrestling names of Tony Scarlo, but sit down with the effervescent Tony for a few minutes and you soon realise that despite having received his free bus pass a good few years ago, these names still apply. Here’s a charismatic, energetic man with stories to tell, and he tells them well.
“Mick McManus used to baby sit me,” began Tony, whose grandfather came from Italy to Britain in 1902. Born in 1937 it transpired that Tony’s family, who lived on the Old Kent Road in South East London, were friends of quite a few members of the wrestling community, Steve Logan, Joe D’Orazio, Bull Coleman, Tony Mancelli and Mick McManus amongst them. Tony’s father and uncle had gone to school with Joe D’Orazio, Steve Logan, and Harry Geohegan, King and Queen Street School in Walworth (now the Robert Browning Primary School), whilst McManus' father, Fred, was a drinking pal at the local pub. On occasions when Mr and Mrs Scarlo went out Mick would be called upon to look after the young Scarlo.
Living in such a close knit community with a rich wrestling heritage it was hardly surprising that young Tony would take an interest in wrestling, and he was about five years old when he was taken to his first live wrestling show.
By his own admission Tony was “A bit of a tearaway,” when he was a youngster. “Some of the other kids knew to keep out of my way.” It’s a hard edge that has served him well in adult life. Whilst a gentleman to the many Tony is not one to suffer fools. No one would take advantage of this Cockney Kid who has rubbed shoulders with a few unsavoury characters, the Kray brothers amongst them. But we are racing ahead. Back to the tearaway youngster.
Tony was educated at Mawby Road Primary School and going on to St Francis School in Peckham, which he left in 1951, aged fourteen, the normal school leaving age at that time.
Family friend Joe D‘Orazio was to become an influential figure in Tony’s life. Tony recalled regular visits from about age nine to Joe’s chip shop in the Old Kent Road. The chip shop had been started by Joe’s father and was just around the corner from where his grandfather, Old Joe, had owned a chip shop in Tower Bridge Road. Tony and Joe’s paths were to cross once again when Tony joined the London Judo Society, which was where Joe (already a black belt), trained with Tony under the instruction of George Chew.
From judo Tony’s interests turned to wrestling and he was taught by one of the best, John Harris at his Symbic Wrestling Club. Tony has nothing but admiration and praise for the teaching skills of John Harris. When he was just 14 Tony began wrestling for John at local factories, including Cross and Blackwell, and Tip Top Bakeries, and a school camp called Sayers Croft in Ewhurst, Surrey. Sayers Croft was one of the “Camp Schools” built by the National Camps Corporation in 1939 to provide fresh air and recreation for inner city children. It’s still in existence to this day. Also under John’s wing, and regularly working the shows with Tony were Bobby Barnes, Bob Taylor, Dick Conlon, and the Cortez Brothers. It was at Sayers Croft that Tony formed a lifelong friendship with tag partner Peter Kelly.
At 16 Tony began to wrestle for some independent promoters of dubious quality, “Fly by night promoters here today and gone tomorrow” was the way he described them, “I never knew if I was going to get paid or not.”
For two years Tony tried to get work with the mainstream independent promoters. He came up against the barrier of requiring a license from the Wrestling Federation. Tony and another lifelong friend, Adrian Street, tried for over a year but were routinely refused until persistence paid off and they were suddenly invited to appear before the committee of Joe D’Orazio, George Kidd. Eddie Capelli, Pat Kloke, and Charlie Scott,
Tony was accepted and was told to call at Joe D’Orazio’s house in South London for Joe to sign the license. “Joe said his name sounded like mine, his name was Scala spelt differently but sounding the same. Being a joker, when Joe said his real name was Scala I replied ‘That's funny my real name is D’Orazio.’ I still don't know if he took it as a joke. So, you see my life has always been associated with Joe.”
A short time later Tony received a message from Matsport Promotions to call at their office in Railton Road, Brixton. Tony went round and it was only then he discovered Matsport was run by run by George Kidd, Eddie Capelli and, wait for it, Joe D’Orazio. Tony was asked to become a full time wrestler with a guaranteed four wrestling engagements a week, at nearly four times what he was earning as a porter at Smithfield Meat Market.
Working for Matsport brought Tony to the attention of other opposition promoters and a lifetime devoted to wrestling was underway. The tearaway youngster was a wrestler, and he loved it. He loved the limelight, he loved the admiration of his peers and he loved getting paid for doing something he enjoyed and could do well.
Tony’s first long distance tour, the first time he had to stay away from home was a week of engagements for Matsport in Scotland. “”My first date started in Glasgow, then Greenock, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Finishing in Dundee, George Kidd’s home town. During this trip I wrestled Kito Tani three times. What a hard man, but then we were all hard, you had to be to survive, not like today’s wrestlers.”
And who was Kito Tani? Well, Joe D’Orazio of course.
In the spring of 1961 Kidd, Capelli and D’Orazio returned to Joint Promotions and Matsport ceased as an independent promoter. Fortune was on Tony’s side and the three promoters ensured that Tony was now on the books of Dale Martin Promotions. Tony continued working with the likes of Barnes, Street and Fortuna, who had also made the transition, but now he had a new set of opponents, including that one time baby sitter Mick McManus and other big names of the lighter weights: Jackie Pallo, Mel Riss, Jim Breaks and Vic Faulkner.
A television debut, against Leon Fortuna, brought national exposure, and Tony was to remain a familiar figure to television fans until 1977, a match against Dynamite Kid which has become the stuff of legends amongst internet fans and You Tube followers. The match is thoroughly dissected in our Armchair Corner feature. Following the publication of the article Tony contacted Wrestling Heritage and said, “My job as always was to make my opponent look like a champion, though when we came together in the centre of the ring it was obvious he had his own ideas; when we locked up it was even more obvious he wanted to dictate the match, I think the fact I was about 25 years older than the Kid mattered to him,”
These telling words reveal much about the workings of professional wrestling. Whilst a dozen or so names were guaranteed main event billing and the accompanying large letters on the posters the real stars of the sport, and we’ve said this time and again on Heritage, were the likes of Tony Scarlo. Skilled and charismatic indeed, but with more important qualities; he was dependable, reliable, conscientious, hard working; a professional in the purest sense of the word.
Yet talk of Tony’s active wrestling career, which lasted well over twenty years isn’t even half of the story.
Tony Scarlo was also one of the country’s most respected promoters, Dwight J Ingleburgh told us that he always paid his workers well and without complaint. It was midget wrestler Fuzzy Ball Kaye that encouraged Tony to get into the promotional side. He used a number of names, the first being Marquess Promotions (Johnny Kincaid was a member of the ring crew), Centurion Promotions (in partnership with Tony Cassio) and Independent Joint Promotions (in partnership with Frank Rimer and Ray Fury). It was during Tony’s first spell as a promoter, in the early 1960s, that he came into contact with the notorious London brothers, Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Not direct contact, he was approached by their representative and asked, (we are not sure if that’s the right word) to put on shows at four halls on behalf of the Krays. Naturally he was hesitant but eventually decided to go ahead. Tony was paid to put on the shows and all went well without any problems either for himself or any of the wrestlers on the shows.
In the 1970s Tony and Gordon Corbett brought Lou Thesz and Dara Singh to Britain for three matches, with Tony refereeing on each occasion. Tony told us, “Although I had been wrestling for twenty years I was in the ring as referee and was completely mesmerised at the way these two legends applied holds and counter holds. A couple of times I was trying to work out how they applied a hold and escape and forgot to count. I don’t think anyone noticed.” Not surprisingly all three matches, at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand, Bradford and Southall, were complete sell outs. There was a near riot at Southall when Lou defeated Dara in front of thousands of his fans. If anyone has any posters, handbills, programmes or newspaper clips from these events please get in touch.
Wrestler, promoter, referee, you can now add trainer. In the latter capacity Tony has had a huge influence on British wrestling well into the twenty-first century. Not only did he bring his son, Dino Scarlo, into the wrestling business, and tagged with him on occasions, in 1998 he and Frank Rimer started the Dropkixx Wrestling Academy. The two men trained young wrestlers and also promoted shows under the Dropkixx banner, with Tony refereeing the matches.
At the outset we said that here was a man with many stories to tell. Add to all that has gone before Tony’s role in the founding of the British Wrestlers Reunion. More than a quarter of a century ago, in 1991 following the death of Catweazle, encouraged by Mal Mason, Tony and Joe D’Orazio organised the first Reunion, held at the Turners Arms, a pub managed by Joe Cornelius. When Joe Cornelius moved to Spain Wayne Bridges took over as host. Although Tony is no longer involved in the organisation he must be credited as founder, without whom the event would not have grown into the largest Reunion in Europe.
Following his retirement from the ring Tony has remained in the limelight, appearing on television regularly as an extra in Eastenders, Only Fools and Horses, numerous advertisements and films.
Finally, on top of all this activity Tony has always found the time to be generous to Wrestling Heritage, always willing to help with background information whenever he can. Wrestling fans wait in hope that one day Tony’s wrestling memoirs will join the likes of Eddie Rose, Al Marquette and Billy Robinson on their bookshelves. With so many other dimensions to his wrestling career we all live in hope.
The Cockney Spirit lives on.
I admired Joe D'Orazio. Not because he was a family friend but because he was a man of principles, and he stood by them; George Kidd because of his unique style of wrestling; and Eddie Capelli because he was one genuinely nice guy, and a good wrestler;
Were there any wrestlers that you particularly enjoyed working with, and why?
I liked working with George Kidd because it was a learning curve. Leon Fortuna because we tried to outwrestle each other, in a sporting way. Dick Conlon & Bernard Murrey because they put humour into wrestling
It's intriguing to read that you put on shows for the Krays. Did you ever feel intimidated? Did you have any misgivings?
I was introduced to the Krays by Fuzzy Ball Kaye real name Roy Smith, who worked for the Krays, I had no problem promoting for the Krays until Fuzzy started handling the money and tried to knock the wrestlers, that's when I finished. Fuzzy started it and Fuzzy finished it
How and why did you get involved in promoting? Krays aside, did you find any unexpected difficulties as a promoter, and were there any ways in which it was rewarding?
I started promoting after the wrestling strike in 1970, as an alternative to Dale & Martins. We had a contract with Classic cinemas, it was only a monthly contract to start with, with the promise of more if it proved to be successful. We took a number of named wrestles from Dale & Martin and were heading to be a very big promotion. We were called Centurian Sporting Promotions. We were very successful, until a show we had at Falmouth when only four wrestlers turned up. Being a ducker and diver, able to think in a tight corner, I convinced the public the other four were in a car accident and I had managed to get four local wrestlers. It all went well until our meeting with Eric Rhodes the manager of Classic Cinemas. When Mr Rhodes asked about Falmouth, before I could say anything my partner said that is the nature of our business & if you don't like go & fxxk yourself. That was the end of our promotions. You could say we finished at Falmouth because of my partners foul mouth ( pardon the pun )
What do you consider the highs and lows of your wrestling career?
The highs were when I first appeared on TV, and also getting the wrestlers together by forming the British Wrestlers Reunion. The low was after 15 years getting snubbed by the reunion committee that I formed
Weren't you an Uncle Albert lookalike in Only Fools and Horses? Tell us about the experience. What other enjoyable (or unenjoyable) acting experiences have you had?
Yes I was uncle Albert's look alike, it was filmed in France. I was also a stunt man. I was the court usher in Judge John Deed. I was In a film with David Soul called The Stick Up. I was also a regular for three years in East Enders, plus too many more to mention. That could fill a book on its own
Is it true that you chose Scarlo as a name in tribute to Joe D'Orazio?
If you had not been a professional wrestler what would you have liked to do with your life?
I cant answer that because I always wanted to be a wrestler, maybe a big film star ?
Peter Kelly was a good friend of yours. Tell us about Peter and your friendship.
Kelly was my best friend. We could both speak fluent rhyming slang, and did so quite often, just to wind up the other wrestlers. We also knew what each other was thinking'
Tell us about the Cockney Kids. How did the teaming come about, how did it end?
As I said Kelly was my childhood friend, and in those days you had silly titles, like Frank Hughes was the Sydenham Cyclone, Billy Stock the Surrey Strongman. Norman Thomas had the title The Cockney Kid. So I wrestled Norman for his title at Poplar Baths and won; I was now the new Cockney Kid. When tag wrestling became popular it was only natural for Kelly and me to become tag partners. Incidentally in the sixties there was an American magazine that rated the Cockneys 10th best tag team.
What about Bert Assirati? Did you come across him and have you any stories to tell?
I met Assirati when I was sixteen but that is a part of my book, ( The Cockney Kid )
You've achieved a great deal in your life, what next? Are there any ambitions left?
Just taking life as it comes, and settle down with my family. If anything comes along that takes my fancy who knows.
Do you think there's any chance of a revival of traditional British wrestling?
I would like to see a revlval of wrestling, but with a strong American influence its unlikely
Through early to mid-sixties. Mick McManus appeared on about 80% of bills where Steve Logan also wrestled. And this without any tag matches. It's a bit unbalanced to have two such similar wrestlers on so many bills, so it was scarcely the height of matchmaking. Therefore, there has to be a reason, it cannot be coincidence. We know that Logan was best buddies with Joe D'Orazio (who you are also closely linked with). We have never really established whether McManus and Logan had any kind of friendship. It just seems that unlike you and Joe, McManus and Logan never got involved in any industrial action. Can you tell us about McManus & Logan?
McManus & Logan were not particularly good friends, but were a formidable tag team, part of the reason they was on the same bill together was Mick was matchmaker along with Jack Dale, by putting them on the same bills together was to keep McManus & Logan in the public eye as the South London Tough Guys
Tell us something about yourself that you don't think any Wrestling Heritage fans will know.
I don't have any secrets but over Smithfield Meat Market they had special challenges, I held two titles. I carried the heaviest bull fore quarter weighing 145 lbs, it was so big the flank touched the floor behind me. I was also the fastest to take a chicken, clean it and get it ready for the oven in two minutes.