British wrestling history 

S: Tony Scarlo

Cockney Spirit

Tony Scarlo

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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.