On that fateful day of January 11th 1921 in the Old Kent Road, no one could possibly imagine that the baby christened WILLIAM GEORGE MATTHEWS and the Son of a humble London docker family, would one day boast HRH THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH or Her MAJESTY THE QUEEN MOTHER as a fan, and that the super group THE BEATLES would want photos taken with him, but that is the incredible rise to fame enjoyed by the late great man we know as MICK MCMANUS.
He grew up around Camberwell and New Cross, being a somewhat unruly pupil at Walworth Central School , but by 16 years old the South Londoner took a job in a drawing office which he stuck for just 18 months , before transferring to a Holborn based Company of printers called DIPROSE BATEMAN, where he learnt the rudiments of the printing Industry.
He was a naturally gifted athlete and during the evenings Mick trained at the JOHN RUSKIN WRESTLING CLUB , where he became a close friend of wrestlers PERCY PITMAN and KEN WILSON. His interest in sport extended beyond wrestling to other outlets, running for the South London Harriers, rowing for the Globe Rowing Club of Greenwich and weight lifting at FRED UNWIN’S club in Peckham.
At 18 years old, this all round athlete with an amazing muscular physique joined the Royal Air Force, qualifying as a Physical Training Instructor. In 1939 when war was declared, he met JIMMY RUDD , a Northern grappler from Wigan, and the pair of them commenced to appear at numerous wrestling shows demonstrating shoot and amateur wrestling. Having then been posted Australia in 1945, Mick asked the Promoter at the Leichart Stadium in Sydney for a trial bout, resulting in his professional debut against a wrestler called TOMMY STEELE ( no relation to the singing Legend).
Following demob., The Pitman Brothers: Mick and Percy launched a Business moving goods from the Docks around London, and Percy constantly encouraged Mick to take up wrestling professionally, arranging a meeting with LES MARTIN of DALE MARTIN PROMOTIONS. The British professional debut that followed, against CHOPPER HOWLETT at Greeenwich Baths, was the start of a professional partnership between Mick and Dale- Martin Promotions that was to span four decades. The Pitmans then sold their haulage business and opened a printing firm in Peckham, specializing in printing wrestling programmes, posters and tickets for various wrestling promoters. Such was the success of the company they eventually found a successful buyer in NORMAN MORRELL, the Bradford promoter
As a small man 5’6’ and weighing around twelve and a half stone, the young grappler found that the larger men attracted the fame and fortunes, and set about building his personna to equal their successes. Along with his famous built up wrestling boots, he barnstormed his way around the Country using every villain tactic in his armoury, to ensure that he would not be forgotten.
Along the way, he picked up the British welterweight crown in 1949, having defeated the late great EDDIE CAPELLI, before dropping the strap to JACK DEMPSEY in 1957 and regaining the title a year later, and when ITV showed the first wrestling programmes on Saturday afternoons in 1955, he was an instant hit with the public. From that point, Mick’s life would never be the same again, especially after joining forces with the unforgettable former desert rat : STEVE LOGAN, where together they created a reputation of being hard-men, rarely emulated since. His trade mark jet black hair and large cauliflower ears made him unmistakable and his catch phrase when opponents grabbed him ‘Not the ears, not the ears’, became a National symbol of his fame. He soon became ‘The man you love to hate’
Life was good for the young star and got even better when he met and married the beautiful Barbara raising Son Tony at their London home.
Eventually, Mick’s loyalty to Dales also paid off and he was elevated to the Office where Jack Dale gave him ‘the pen’, making him the main matchmaker on all shows.
Joe D’Orazio also worked in the office between shows and said that if anyone dares upset Mick, they would only get a few bookings the following month !!
Wielding this power was not always an advantage as he became a controversial and often disliked figure amongst other wrestling stars who resented the fact that he appeared on TV more times than anyone else, but quietly begrudgingly admitted that whenever they were booked to wrestle him, the venue would be sold out weeks before and if it was a TV showing then, millions would be added to the viewing figures, no more so than in the case of the other immortal Legend : JACKIE TV PALLO whose Professional public feuds and spats with McManus in the 60’s, were legendary, culminating in their cup final day clashes that attracted millions of viewers often exceeding the football itself.
In 1965 on the 20th December , Billy Matthews formally changed his name by deed poll to MICK MCMANUS, and the Legend continued to grow.
By 1967, having gained a few pounds, he took the British Middleweight title from CLAYTON THOMPSON , who regained it 2 months later ,followed by a victory over VIC FAULKNER in 1968 to clinch the European Middleweight Belt. This title bounced backwards and forwards for several years until Mick regained it in 1971, retaining the same until MAL SANDERS claimed the strap in 1979, exchanging ownership with McManus in several bouts that year, but culminating in Mick holding the crown four times.
He was eventually made a Director of Dale-Martin Promotions, and in 1971 a Director of Joint Promotions.
Over the 40 years that he was wrestling, he saw the world, travelling and wrestling in many European, and African Countries including Zimbabwe where he and heavyweight star MARTY JONES were even invited to dinner with the African Royal Family.
The regularly sold out Royal Albert Hall would be frequented by HRH THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH, and other notables who were all fans along withHER MAJESTY THE QUEEN MOTHER and PRINCESS ANNE both ardent TV fans, even the BEATLES asked for photos with the diminutive wrestling icon .One famous memory was on the occasion that he was presented toHRH PRINCESS ANNE who quipped ‘Why Mick, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on !’
He was also becoming a TV celebrity, appearing many times on shows from The Generation Game, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, to Wogan and many other broadcasts, and was a very sought after guest on chat shows, rubbing shoulders with a whole host of International celebrities plus being booked for many TV advertisements such as the now famous Sellotape Ad. and together with many of the boys like ADRIAN STREET, SPENCER CHURCHILL etc., even had an unlikely a top ten record called ‘Tiptoe through the tulips’ appearing on ‘top of the pops.
As his fame spread like wildfire, Mick became the most sought after wrestler in the U.K. which helped him with his more serious interests outside the ring. His beloved wife Barbara had always taken an interest in politics and was the main kingpin in the Streatham Conservative Office, where a young SIR JOHN MAJOR , our future Prime Minister ,was attempting to become elected . They capitalized on Mick’s name to raise thousands of pounds for the party with Mick doing personal appearances etc.. Simultaneously, he was a member of the LORD TAVERNERS where he befriended actor turned Director : LORD RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH and joined the venerable ORDER OF WATER RATS , plus THE VARIETY CLUB OF GREAT BRITAIN , playing golf and other activities to raise precious charity monies for deserving causes. He was also an active freemason at the Chelsea Lodge his whole life.
Following his retirement from the ring in 1982, Mick continued to work as Advisor to ITV until wrestling’s demise in 1988, then financing and running a satellite Company called Viewsport, to show wrestling on TV, plus maintaining outside Business interests in a pub at Guildford run by his Son Tony, owning property adjacent to his beautiful luxury home in Denmark Hill, plus being an expert in antique porcelain china. At one time, he had an interest in an antique shop owned by BOBBY PALMER’s father : PETER PALMER known locally as Peter the Pedlar. Mick also acted as Agent to an American Organisation sitting on their Board of Directors.
In the ensuing years, ‘Niggley’ as he was affectionately known by the wrestlers, continued to support wrestling, making many personal appearances and was a stalwart figure at our British Wrestlers Reunion, where he traditionally made the opening speech.
This year, a campaign in Government circles was underway to have him made an OBE, but sadly too late.
Mick McManus died on the 22nd May 2013 aged 92. He will always be remembered as the true legend of professional wrestling and his legacy and memory will live on forever.