Lions in Winter
This series of photographs, by Nick Dirs, is an invaluable record of London boxers from sports ‘Golden Age’.
Boxing has faded from public consciousness, and it is difficult to grasp quite how big it was and quite how feted its stars were, especially within their local communities. Fighting in the ‘Golden Age’ was a tough, stark occupation. If follows that the men who fought in the era were exceptionally tough, brave men. Some in the series fought more than 200 times, an Olympic champion and number of British champions. Over the years, their names, like boxing itself, have faded from public memory. But, as these portraits show, they remain still proud, still tough. These photographs revive the memory of these men and for that reason alone are important. That they capture their extraordinary pasts makes them even more so.
BBC Sports Writer
I have always had a fascination for the East End and with its most feted sport, boxing. Although my roots are very much in East London I was brought up in dull and uneventful suburbia. The East End of my parents became an almost mythical place, exciting and dangerous, the antithesis of what surrounded me.
In my mind boxing is a microcosm of East London. A boxer’s habitat is one of extraordinary contrasts, where the light is brighter and the shadows darker than for mere ordinary folk. The gyms and the concrete of the East End providing a world of anonymity and secrets, and then for a fragment of time a life exposed and laid bare under the lights of the prize ring. It’s a life I never had the courage to espouse. Boxers are my heroes.
I wanted a series of portraits that had both a physical and spiritual resonance. The scars and the battered noses are the physical reminders of what went before but more importantly the photographs needed to expose the spirit of men who lived and fought in my parents East End, men who lived the life of bright lights and dark shadows. I hope I went some way in achieving this.
I have tremendously fond memories of the time I spent with the men whilst taking their photos and I thank them all for their time and patience. I would like to pay tribute to George Merritt who has since passed away. I found George’s stories inspiring and his spirit intoxicating. Thank you George.
Dennis Booty was a heavy hitting middleweight who found a great deal of success as an amateur. The National Association of Boys Clubs Champion, London Federation Champion, Gold Star winner and Army Champion proves how good he was. Dennis was unlucky not to box for England being the middleweight reserve no less than 11 times. He turned professional after a two-year break from boxing and then immediately went on a 15 fight unbeaten run. Dennis was seen as a future British champion, but other distractions helped Dennis decide to retire from boxing at the age of 25. (by Nick Dirs..)
Like so many men of his generation Lew Lazer found boxing through the army. Lew was Army of Rhine champion 2 years running. In the early fifties Lew turned professional and began a very eventful career. In 73 fights Lew won the southern area title and boxed for British titles at both welter and middleweight. One of his fights was the first to be televised on independent television. At 28 and after only 8 defeats Lew decided to call it a day but his close association with boxing did not end, managing fighters such as Eddie West. (by Nic Dirs..)
One of the finest amateur boxers of his generation. Winning the ABA light-weight title in 1948 earned him a place in the 1948 Olympic team. Shortly after the Olympics Ron’s father died leaving him with the task to support his mother. The best way Ron could do this was by turning professional. Although his professional career got off to a bad start, losing to Ted Ansell in Birkenhead to a first round KO in August 1948, he soon got into his stride and remained unbeaten in his next 15 contests. His 17th contest was against the former British Featherweight Champion Al Phillips at the Empress Hall in December 1950. Phillips KO Ron in the 4th round. Ron continued boxing for another eighteen months during which time he had a further six contests, winning three and losing 2. His last contest was at the Mile End Arena in June 1950 against Ricky McCulloch whom he beat on points over six rounds. Ron is still associated with boxing training youngsters at the ……….
Terry Spinks is an East End legend. He began boxing at the age of 9 and retired at the relatively young age of 24. In that time, he had 200 amateur contests, winning schoolboy, ABA championships and boxing for England on five occasions. The pinnacle of his career was in 1956 when he won a gold medal at the Melbourne Olympics. As a professional Terry won the British featherweight championship. Terry is the only boxer ever to win the major British Boxing titles at every level. After retiring from the ring Terry became a successful trainer and in 1972 trained the South Korean boxing team for the 1972 Olympics. In 2002 Terry was awarded a long overdue MBE for services to boxing and charity work …….
Sammy McCarthy was known as amateur boxing’s ‘Golden Boy’ losing only seven of about ninety unpaid contests and representing England four times. He remains one of the finest boxers never to win an ABA title. Sammy was only 19 when he was persuaded to turn professional and was voted, The best British-born boxer of 1951 by Boxing News. In 1954 Sammy challenged for the European featherweight championship losing to Jean Sneyers of Belgium. However later that year he became British featherweight champion by beating Ronnie Clayton. (Nick Dirs) …
Mick O’Sullivan was the youngest of three boxing brothers. His oldest brother Dickie fought for a world title. As a bantamweight Mick represented the army in 1947-49 and had 40 amateur fights. At 21 he turned professional and although not reaching the dizzy heights of his brothers he was regarded as a good fighter. Mick had 39 professional bouts and a draw with Vic Herman, who went on to fight for the world title, indicates Mick’s class. (Nick Dirs) …
Joe Crickmar fought the best and if he had more luck could have been the best. Known as ‘Mr. Brick-Fist’ Joe was ABA heavyweight champion of Singapore in 1948 and London ABA champion. During his professional career Joe was never out of the top ten fighting the likes of Henry Cooper, Joe Erskine, and Joe Bygraves, who he knocked out twice. Joe sustained too many cuts and was forced to retire from the ring, aged 27. After boxing Joe was made life president of Arbour Youth, the club he fought for as a boy. (Nick Dirs) …
Jimmy Batton is the youngest of all the ex-boxers pictured. However, he is no less a boxer. In 108 amateur fights he only had 8 defeats and went on an unbeaten run that lasted 6 years. Jimmy won 3 national schoolboy titles, 2 junior ABA titles and was a NABC champion. He turned pro in 1974 and won the British light-middleweight title at the tender age of 21, (He went on to win the Lonsdale Belt outright). Jimmy retired from boxing after winning 41 of 49 fights. The 8 losses included a points decision to the legendary Roberto Duran.
One of three boxing brothers, George cut his teeth on a fairground boxing booth before turning pro, having never boxed amateur. He had his first proper pro fight in 1932 and boxed until 1945. There are 141 bouts on his record, but it is reckoned more go unrecorded. Ever ready to box at a moments notice, George and his elder brother Curly were a promoter’s dream.
They trained together in a makeshift gym at the back of the family’s greengrocers shop, opposite Silvertown’s Tate & Lytle Factory. Once while sparring there, George broke Curly’s jaw just days before Curly was due to fight 12 rounds. George agreed to take his brother’s place, despite having been booked for his own 12-rounder the night before. Unperturbed, George kept both appointments, boxing a draw in the first fight and winning the second on points. George beat Con Flynn (Islington), Bill Curran (Walton), Harry Davis (Bethnal Green, Arnold Kid Sheppard (Wales) and many more. He attended LEBA’s very first meeting in 1971. He was one of London’s last surviving pre-war pro-boxers. (Words: Alex Daley) …
Freddie might well be remembered more for his work as a trainer of boxers than for his exploits in the ring. However, Freddie was a fearsome lightweight who many wished they ducked. In around 150 contests Freddie only lost four times. Although Dick McTaggart won a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics he was no match for Freddie, who stopped him in 4 rounds. In many respects Freddie’s reputation as a hard, tough fighter was a hindrance to title shots that never materialized. Titles would not elude him as a trainer and in this respect, he is one of the most successful ever. Freddie has trained a total of 6 world champions including Chris Eubank and Steve Collins. (Nic Dirs …)
In the ring Brian Hudspeth was perpetual motion. As an amateur he reached the pinnacle winning the ABA lightweight title in 1967 and representing England. As a professional Brian fought under the name of Hudson (His manager believed his original name was too much of a mouthful for journalist). He won the southern area title and in 1970 fought the great Ken Buchanan for the British lightweight title …..
Dennis Hinson followed his brothers, Tommy, and Ron into the prize ring. All three were excellent boxers, Dennis being the most gifted. Dennis was a wonderful amateur and was London Schools champion (1946 and 1948) Great Britain junior ABA champion (1950) and Army lightweight champion (1953). However, his greatest prize was the Senior ABA title won in 1953. In 1954 he turned pro. He defeated a number of very good fighters including Willie Lloyd who went on to beat world title challenger Dave Charnley. Dennis was in the top ten of the lightweight division when an injury to the left elbow forced Dennis to retire. He was only 25. (Nic Dirs ….)