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Wrestling at Harringay 1949

In 1949, I attended a memorable event. Memorable to me that is.

Movietone received an invite to attend a great wrestling match at the Harringay Arena.

The event was organised by Athol Oakley, a one-time British wrestling champion.

His intention, of course, was that we should send a camera crew to film it.  However, the News Editor didn’t fancy it, so he offered the tickets to me.  There were two ringside seats and I invited Greville Kent to go with me.

The main event was between Jack Doyle and Primo Carnera.

Doyle was born into a working class family in Cobh, in County Cork, Ireland in 1913.  At 6 foot 3, Doyle in 1929 he joined he Irish Guards who were then based in Wales.

While with the Irish Guards, he took up boxing at which he excelled and he won the British Army Championship. He had a record of 28 consecutive victories, 27 by knockout. He turned pro and gained 10 more straight victories, all inside 2 rounds, making him the hottest property in the sport.

In July 1933, at the age of 19 he challenged for the British Heavyweight title in a bout with the holder, Welshman, Jack Petersen.  He was disqualified.

His love of drink and his generous nature soon started to take its toll on his health.

He had been discovered as a singer and was signed up by Decca.  He was able to fill The Palladium in London and the Royal in Dublin.  By the time he arrived at Harringay, all that was in the past.

Bundesarchiv Bild 102-10835, Promo Carnera

Primo Carnera - Image via Wikipedia

The Italian, Primo Carnera, on the other hand, was world famous for having won the world heavyweight title from Jack Sharkey in June 1933 and for having lost it a year later to Max Baer.  There were rumours that the fight was “fixed”, which Sharkey always denied, and that many more of Carnera’s fights were either against “pushover” opponents or those who took a dive.

In 1946, he became a professional wrestler and was immediately a huge success at the box office. For a few years he was one of the top draws in wrestling. Carnera continued to be an attraction into the 1960s.

He wrestled for 15 years until retiring in 1961.

He compiled a record of 152 wins, 14 losses, 19 draws and 2 no contests in 187 wrestling bouts.

The crowd did not know what to expect.  Jack Doyle was not known as a wrestler and Carnera was still thought of as a boxer rather than a wrestler.

However, I got the impression that most of the crowd were true wrestling fans and expected to see something special.

We sat in our ringside seats which meant that our chins were almost of the apron of the ring.  I was at one end close to a corner.

In my corner was Primo Carnera with his size twelve boots.  I had never seen feet like it, they were enormous.  These two were giants and grossly overweight.

The wrestling match was a complete joke and, at the end, most of the audience were laughing at their general ineptitude.  It is obvious that they had not done much by way of rehearsal, leave alone fitness training.  At one stage in the proceedings, I looked at Greville and he looked at me.  The unspoken question was “Should we leave while we can ?”.  We half expected a riot.

The match was a bizarre performance with the two leaning on each other and going round and round.  There was not much wrestling action.

The evening was rescued by another bout which was between one Gyula Bobis of Hungary and Bertil Antonsson of Sweden.  Their claim to fame was that, in the previous year, they were Heavyweight Freestyle Wrestling finalists in the London Olympics, Bobis having taken the gold medal.

This was the one and only time that I have seen proper wrestling. They brought the house down with their skill and agility (something absent from the previous bout) and sent the fans home satisfied with the entertainment.  Without that bout, I am convinced that the evening would have ended in mayhem.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2011.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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