22nd May, 1963
Following the second world war the group of promoters who were to become known as Joint Promotions risked their money and reputations to rebuild professional wrestling as a major spectator sport. They were torturous years as credibility and legitimacy were not labels that could easily be tagged to the wrestling business at the time.
With the introduction of new rules, a newly imposed discipline amongst the wrestlers and presentational standards that were second to none the fans began to return to the halls in their millions. Television coverage was a crowning moment, but the real accolade of their achievements came in May, 1963.
Until that momentous month fifty years ago we needed to go back to Tudor times to find any Royal links with our sport.
All that was to change on 22nd May, 1963.
His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, accepted an invitation from Dale Martin Promotions to attend a Royal Albert hall wrestling tournament. The proceeds from the event, reportedly around £10,000, were donated to one of His Royal Highness’s charitable causes, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.
The evenings proceedings began at 7.45pm. The lights went down and the wrestlers and officials of the evening paraded their way to the ring. The Royal Albert Hall organ ceased playing, the murmur of the fans faded away, and a spotlight focused on the figures of promoter Johnny Dale and His Royal Highness. Following the fanfare from four trumpeters and the playing of the national anthem His Royal Highness was introduced to the fourteen contestants.
Dale Martin Promotions brought together a fine bill of wrestlers, but as always decisions were made that raised more questions than answers. Yes the likes of McManus, Pallo and Szakacs deserved their place. But care was taken not to throw too many crumbs to the north. Admittedly Billy Robinson, still a promising novice, was found a place, but nothing for the old masters trio of Joyce, Riley or Taylor. Nor Dempsey, Rees, Mann or Royal come to that. Jack Pye was no doubt considered just too errant, and Les Kellett too unpredictable. An undefeated masked man of almost twenty years would obviously not give the right image of a legitimate sport that was in those days considered a serious rival to boxing.
Questions were also raised by the lack of attendance at the event by most of the northern Joint Promotions members. Arthur Green, secretary of Joint Promotions was there, but what about Norman Morrell, Ted Beresford, and the rest?
John da Silva
Opening the evening’s tournament was a heavyweight contest between two overseas born wrestlers who had made a big impression since joining the professional ranks in the United Kingdom only a few years earlier.
Hungarian Szakacs had come to Britain in 1956, having travelled to the west as political upheaval filled his home country. New Zealander Da Silva had turned professional after representing his country in the 1958 Commonwealth Games.
Oddly the bout was over five minute rounds rather than the ten minute duration usually favoured by Dale Martin Promotions. It was round three before either man could edge into the lead, and it was Da Silva who took the opening fall. Szakacs levelled the score in the fifth, leaving the way open for him to take the winner in round six following no less than three of his ubiquitous chops.
Whilst there was no surprise at the choice of McManus at this illustrious occasion Linde Caulder had been working for Joint Promotions for only two years; not that we would suggest Dale Martin’s were being over protective of their main man. Ten minute rounds were resumed for this predictable bout that followed the routine of so many McManus bouts.
Unsurprising drama was created by Caulder out-manoeuvring McManus and taking the opening fall in the second round. The predictable knock-out win for the Londoner came in the following round. The choice of an inexperienced Dale Martin man in favour of a more experienced wrestler does beg the question of whether the tensions between Dale Martin and their more northerly contemporaries did stretch as far as not trusting a more experienced northerner to take his place alongside one of their main men.
Dazzler Joe Cornelius
The selection of Joe Cornelius was perfectly understandable as the Bermondsey wrestler was not only one of the most popular in the country he was particularly popular at the Royal Albert Hall.
More mystifyingly (or maybe not) was again the decision to match Cornelius with an overseas (albeit fine) heavyweight rather than use the occasion as a showcase of domestic talent.
The Dazzler took the contest by the odd fall.
Well, if Dale Martin Promotions did bring a couple of token Norherners down to the big smoke they weren’t going to risk putting them in with one of their own big names. So Scot Ian Campbell, still a novice and recently returned from the USA, was matched with the highly promising newcomer Bill Robinson. Even after only four or five years in the professional ranks Robinson was tipped as a future champion. Campbell went ahead in the second of the ten minute rounds with Robinson drawing level in the fourth and final round.
Following the interval Bristol’s Bill Howes put the European mid heavyweight title he had taken from Jacques Lageat on the line against Poland’s Wernier Zarzecki. Scheduled over fifteen five minute rounds the result was never in doubt and Howes needed only six of those rounds to take the contest, and keep the belt, by two straight falls.
More questions arise surrounding the choice of George kidd. Maybe he was simply chosen because he was a superb wrestler and a showcase of the modern sport that could impress even a Prince. Surpising, though, because, less than eighteen months earlier Kidd had been working in opposition to Joint Promotions as both a wrestler and promoter on the independent circuit, one of the many who had publicly shown their dissatisfaction with the management of the business by Joint Promotions. How odd, therefore, that he should now be rewarded with a place in this royal tournament. Could this have been Kidd's reward for returning to the Joint Promotion fold?
Kidd took the decision by two falls to one over six rounds.
As in all wrestling tournaments this was a balanced bill of technical wizards, the goodies, the baddies and the humorists. Enter Pallo and Kwango to lighten up the occasion following the technical mastery of Kidd and Aledo, and send everyone home smiling after a drawn bout.
A night to remember without a doubt, and all credit to Dale Martin Promotions for pulling it off. As was so often the case, however, a conservative tournament that erred on the side of caution, missing the opportunity to showcase much of the talent that had made wrestling such a popular spectator sport.
Prince Philip wasn’t the only celebrity amongst the audience. Also there was the cricket legend Leary Constantine, and Labour MP Bessie Braddock. Braddock was a one time regular at the Liverpool Stadium and named her favourite wrestlers as Jack Pye and Dai Sullivan.
We presume, therefore, that with Bessie as matchmaker we would have seen a very different sort of show.