(Dirty?) Jack Pye - The
Jack Pye (Publicity photograph)
|I first heard of Jack Pye in 1972 when I was 15 years
old, whilst attending an interview at Armthorpe's Markham colliery
for a job at Hatfield Main. Surprisingly, being a child in the 60's
and a witness to the wonders of that particular decade, as well as
being a devoted fan of Saturday tea-time wrestling on ITV, I had never
heard of Jack Pye before.
I remember how, as a child, I would hurry home with my elder brothers
from wherever we had been playing or creating mischief, so that we
would be in time to catch the Saturday afternoon wrestling programme.
Saturday wrestling was one of those "couldn't miss" events,
along with "Top Cat" and "The Champions" of course,
so I was very familiar with the big names of the late 60's and early
70's. Mick MacManus, Jackie Pallo, Masambula, Honey Boy Zimba, Steve
Logan, the Royals, and so many more of these colourful, and sometimes
flamboyant characters, (I just remembered Adrian Street and the other
guy who would perform ballet moves while delivering a boot to someone's
head!), would grace our black and white Bush TV's screen. Those Saturday
tea-time "grunt and groan" sessions were popular all over
the country and everybody had their own favourite or someone they
loved to hate. A "Royals Brothers v Steve Logan & Mick MacManus"
tag event was one of those moments that would have every young lad
everywhere sitting on the edge of their seats. They were wonderful
showmen performing in great times.
In the early 1970's I was fortunate enough to see several of these great
stars, when they appeared in an open-air event at Stainforth Gala.
The wrestling was a one-off event, but it was one which I remember very
well. The ring had been built on the school field during the last week
of term, before school broke up for the six week long summer holidays.
The kids had climbed all over the partly constructed ring at every opportunity,
despite receiving warnings from the teachers to keep off. It had been
made out of thick wooden spars and loads of plywood sheeting, and was
sited approximately where the new Longtoft Hall has recently been constructed.
There were lots of plywood off-cuts laying around, and more than a few
kids were crowned by flying bits of ply which were being thrown like rocks
skimming a river into the playground full of running, jumping and leaping
On the Saturday which followed and which happened to be Gala Day, the
visiting wrestlers arrived and were shown into the school changing rooms.
They remained there for the whole afternoon, until the time came for them
to make their appearance.
There were several bouts; featuring Masambula, Honey Boy Zimba, and other
well know stars of the ring fighting in single matches and even a tag
contest, which made it an amazing afternoon for a boy who was used to
seeing these familiar faces on his TV.
It was a year or two later, in the autumn of '72, when I attended that
interview at Armthorpe colliery to undergo a "mining craft"
apprenticeship. There were about twenty or so prospective applicants there
for the same course that day and a spread of sandwiches and drinks had
been provided for the benefit of all. I was one of the last to be called
in to face the interviewers and as a young lad, fresh from school and
totally unprepared for facing a panel of interviewers, I had no idea of
what to expect.
The interview was fairly straight forward, until one of the panel
members, a guy with greying hair which made him look a lot older
than the other members of the panel, asked me a question about Stanley
Gardens, the estate in Stainforth where I was born.
He asked me, 'Which famous wrestler once lived at No.1 Stanley Gardens',
and I had to admit that I didn't have a clue. The only Doncaster
wrestler I could remember was Mick MacMichael, but I doubted very
much that he had once lived so close to my birthplace and I was
unaware of such a fact. The old guy told me it was a man by the
name of Jack Pye, one of the most famous wrestlers in the country,
I knew of the Pye family who lived in Dunscroft, but I knew nothing
of their famous relative. Over the years, as I got to know Joe Pye,
Jack Pye's nephew, I learned that Jack had been a real character,
with a reputation as a hard and dirty wrestler. I heard several
stories about how he was a character the crowd hated, and yet they
flocked to see him, and about how his dirty tactics would get the
crowds into a furious frenzy.
After I started to write about local history at the turn of the
millennium, I often thought about writing a word or two about Jack
Pye. I had collected quite a few stories about him and everyone
said that he was the British Heavyweight Champion for a while, which
I thought was pretty impressive for a bloke who had worked at the
pit and lived in Stanley Gardens.
Through my research I discovered that some of the tales turned out to
be true, but many more of them were just pure fiction. It also turned
out that he had never lived at No.1 Stanley Gardens, so my interviewer
didn't have his facts quite right!
I had expected to write just a few facts and comments about a working
class man from Lancashire, who had come to Doncaster to find work in the
pits and had become a champion wrestler instead. What I discovered was
a tale of a man with two characters, a real life Jekyll & Hyde, if
you will, and I discovered a story of real people who were extremely fortunate
to have found a way of life doing something they really enjoyed. It was
a tale that took me to Manchester, Bolton and Blackpool, following a trail
of sweat, success, robbery, and untimely, tragedy.
The "word or two" turned into several thousand words, far too
much to add to this website. Eventually, and I hope sooner rather than
later, I will tidy up the loose ends and fill in the gaps in the story
I have so far, and maybe I'll find someone who will be willing to publish
Until then, here is the condensed version of "(Dirty?) Jack Pye
- The Doncaster Panther",
A. Covell 2006
|(Dirty?) Jack Pye - The Doncaster Panther
The mining industry has a long history of being a fickle master to its often
downtrodden workforce. Long before the coalfields around Doncaster were
being exploited, miners were toiling beneath the earth's crust in various
parts of these once great British Isles. The threat of being maimed or killed
in the mines drew the mining communities together and they formed a strong
brotherhood which united the miners and gave them a defiance that had seldom
been seen before among the working class. As the nineteenth century drew
to a close and the twentieth century began, disputes and strikes in the
coalfields were common, as the miners formed themselves into a force that
would one day become the vanguard of the working class movement.
Hatfield colliery was sank between 1912 and 1916 and began to produce
coal to something like its full potential by the early 1920's. The unrest
in the coalfields of the north meant that there was a large itinerant
workforce that was willing to travel and set up home in a new community.
The prospect of regular work at a new coal mine was extremely favourable,
especially when compared to the victimisation they were leaving behind.
By 1921 the village was filled with miners and their families, speaking
a diversity of accents and dialects. They came from Newcastle and Sunderland
in the north east of England, and Lancashire and Cumbria to the north
west. Others traveled here from Scotland and Wales, desperate to find
work and start a new life. They brought with them their own customs, their
own cuisine, and their own colourful way of life.
In most cases the man of the family would travel to the new pit alone
and find lodgings with one of the local miners' families. After gaining
employment and somewhere to live, he would then send for his wife and
children to come and join him. It is impossible to fully imagine the difficulties
faced by these young men who had left everything they owned behind them
to start anew. The wages for working men at the start of the 1920s were
ludicrously low; miners, although not the highest earners among the working
class, received around £2 per week for their toils, and agricultural
labourers would have received almost half as much.
The homes they left behind would have been spartan indeed when compared
to the new housing being built around Stainforth to accommodate the immigrant
workforce. For many of these people this would have been their first experience
of a home with fresh running water and a toilet that wasn't shared with
Stainforth was developing fast and along with the housing developments,
new schools and shops were erected and a whole community was built, in
what became known locally as "the new village". An area to the
south of the colliery, between Hatfield and Stainforth, was also developed
into a housing estate. Its long road, which was named "Broadway",
gave Stainforth and the new colliery a direct link to the A18, at that
time a thoroughfare linking Doncaster to the east coast.
A very early Scrivens portrait of a very young Jack
It was in such a manner that in 1924, 21 year old John "Jack"
Pye and his wife Ellen arrived in Stainforth, taking up residence
at number 50 Stanley Gardens. He had previously been a miner in
Lancashire, where the heavy handedness of the mine owners would
eventually lead to the start of the General Strike of '26. The Lancashire
miners who came to Stainforth brought with them a reputation of
been strong honest people, who worked hard and played harder.
One of their favourite sports, which they brought with them to South
Yorkshire, and which originated north of Manchester, was "Lancashire
catch wrestling", later to become known as "catch as catch
The sport of wrestling has been around as long as organised sports
have been a part of human history. Egyptian tombs, which were created
over three thousand years ago, have been found containing murals
depicting men wrestling. Almost a thousand years before the Roman
army invaded the British Isles, the Greeks were holding wrestling
tournaments as a part of their Olympic games.
Lancashire catch wrestling was a form of freestyle wrestling, which
involved catching your opponent and wrestling him to the ground.
It was renowned for its brutality, or some may even go so far as
to say barbarism, but it was a sport which was readily adopted by
the working class men of Lancashire and made into their own.
|Jack was born in Bolton in 1903 and spent his childhood and
schooldays there. The Pye family were Roman Catholics, and Jack attended
St. Benedict's School, at Hindley Green, Bolton, where one of his best pals
was George Formby, the late great music hall artiste and entertainer. Speaking
in a newspaper interview in 1955, George confesses to befriending young
Jack, "Because he was allus a big 'un, and I was just a little 'un!"
Incidentally, another 'celebrity' who went to school with Jack and George,
and with whom Jack remained friends throughout his life, was Albert Pierrepoint
***, who later became the public hangman. Their friendship endured for most
of their lives and in later years they would share family holidays in exotic
Jack Pye was a particularly skilled exponent of the art of catch
wrestling, attaining the title of British Amateur Champion whilst
still a coal miner and under the age of 21. He was an imposing figure,
standing over six feet tall and weighing over 228 pounds, with a
neck and shoulders like a prize bull.
This was a trait which ran in the Pye family, for he had six brothers,
who were similarly built and most of whom were also enthusiasts
of the pugilistic arts. In those early days Jack and his brothers
trained regularly at a gym in Moorends near Thorne, as well as at
the Pye's home in Stanley Gardens. Steve Nesbitt, now in his 80s
and who lived near the Pyes in Stanley Gardens, told me that the
Pye house was always busy with the comings and goings of young lads
who joined the Pyes for sparring and training sessions. (A recording
of the interview with Steve Nesbitt will eventually be available
on the Stainforth Voice Archive site.)
Harry became a middle weight boxer, whilst Tommy became the light-heavy-weight
wrestling champion of Great Britain and Frank "Bully Pye"
the lightweight champion of Great Britain. (There will be more about
the rest of the Pye family in a following article).
In 1923, shortly before arriving in Stainforth, Jack fought and
lost to Jim Londos for the World Amateur Wrestling Championship.
This didn't deter him though, and he carried on with his vigorous
training routine, even while toiling in the coal mine.
A young Jack Pye
According to Joe Pye, Jack's nephew, who still lives local to Stainforth,
Jack's prowess in the ring became known to Lord Derby*, and it was he
who, along with the influence of Athol Oakley and Jack Smith, persuaded
Jack to turn professional in 1929.
I haven't been able to find any evidence to support this claim, but Lord
Derby was well known to have been a keen sports enthusiast, and when he
took up permanent residence in Lancashire after the conservative defeat
of 1924, he would undoubtedly have become aware of Jack's talents.
Joe Pye, wearing his famous uncle's "King of
the mat" cape
|The story, as told by Joe, is that Lord Derby himself
turned up at Hatfield Main Colliery to speak with Jack and offer him
some form of sponsorship.
What is certain is that Athol Oakley and Jack Smith were among only
a handful of wrestlers who had turned professional at that time ,
and they, along with Jack Pye, appeared in the first ever freestyle
wrestling show in Great Britain. This event took place in Manchester's
Belle Vue stadium, a venue Jack was to become familiar with in later
years. His opponent on that occasion was "Norman the Butcher",
and Jack was simply introduced as "Jack Pye". However, within
a year the press was to name him "The Doncaster Panther",
because of his jet black hair and the speed of his panther like attacks.
To the wrestling fans he became known simply as "Dirty Jack Pye",
because of his antics in the ring.
He was extremely fond of using illegal moves, such as gouging his opponent's
eye sockets with his gnarly fist whilst on the blind side of the referee,
something which would have the watching crowd howling their fury at him.
Jack loved the reaction he got from the crowd and did his best to antagonise
them throughout his career. He had a special black cloak made, which he
wore when climbing through the ropes to enter the ring, and would often
pose as a dark and menacing monarch, complete with sceptre and crown.
During the match he would command the ring with his sheer size and presence,
his torso glistening with sweat which would drip from his dark mane and
soak his trade mark black tights.
One of Jacks' favourite tricks was to grab a metal bucket from the seconds
in one of the corners. He would then jam it over his opponent's head and
bash it until it was so bent and buckled that his rival couldn't remove
it. This would of course have the crowd venting their indignation at Jack
with a crescendo of catcalls and jeers.
After defeating his adversary, Jack would pose and strut, chest
out and chin thrust upwards, taunting the audience with his obvious
invulnerability. Such arrogance would often stir the crowd into
frenzy, and they would often press forward as an angry mob in an
attempt to wreak revenge for his hard done by opponent. On many
occasions it became necessary for the police to part the crowd and
escort Jack to safety!
As the 1920's drew to a close, the Pye family were overjoyed at
the birth of their son. Dominic. Dominic was destined to grow into
a giant of a man and follow his famous father into the wrestling
arena, becoming a world famous sportsman in his own right. It was
shortly after this happy event that the Pyes left the Doncaster
area and returned to their native Lancashire. (More details about
Dominic will be included in the finished article)
A typical Pye move - holding both referee and opponent
by the hair
|Jack's new profession was to bring him fame and unimagined
wealth as he traveled the world to appear in wrestling rings on both sides
of the Atlantic. His "Dirty" tag followed him wherever he went
and he became the wrestler that everyone literally loved to hate. Although
Jack relished this role, it did lead to him being in as much danger from
outside the ring as he was in it. On several occasions he was attacked by
angry fans, most often by the clichéd "angry old lady",
who would assail him with blows from her handbag. However, Jack was as surprised
as everyone in the audience when on another occasion, the "angry old
lady" sank a huge hatpin into his behind.
Things were to get much worse and somewhat sinister, when at a venue in
Paris in 1933, a member of the audience opened fire upon Jack with a revolver.
The resulting "BANG!" from the gun's chamber caused the only doctor
in the house to have a heart attack, as the occupants of the ring fled for
their lives amid scenes of panic and confusion.
Such events didn't deter the wrestlers from appearing again and,
as the popularity of the sport continued to grow, they performed
in front of ever increasing crowds. Jack claimed to have held the
GB record for drawing such a crowd when, in 1933, he appeared in
front of 33,000 people for a contest in Wigan, against home favourite
Billy Riley at Springfield Park.
Toward the end of the 1930's Jack took a foray outside of the ring
to appear on the silver screen, where he played several bit parts
and even appeared as himself. He is credited for appearing in "Leave
it to me", (1937), with Sandy Powell and "It's a Grand
Life" (1953), with Diana Dors, but he is also said to have
appeared in, "The private life of Henry the Eighth",(1933),
which starred Charles Laughton.(unaccredited), "All in",
(1936) starring Ralph Lyn, (unaccredited), and "Trouble Brewing",
with George Formby, (1939) (unaccredited). **
Also, in 1953, Jack made a very little known film called, "Shoulder
arms" at the Manchester studios of James Brennan, in which
he performed a mock wrestling scene with producer Frank Randle.
Between 1940 and 1949, the wrestling championship tournaments were suspended,
and it is here that I have to dispel a myth that was initially written
by American sports writer "Vince Snerno" several years ago.
In an article entitled "'Gentleman' Jack Pye", he claimed that
Jack had "a terrific war record", and that Jack had been a lieutenant
in the Scots Guards and had been awarded the Military Cross for bravery
in France in 1940. Despite a thorough search of war records and some extremely
kind assistance from several people who maintain such records (special
thanks to Hans Houterman - www.unithistories.com ) there is absolutely
no evidence to support any of these claims.
This very rare short piece of film, showing Jack
Pye wrestling at Burnden Park, appears here courtesy of the North West
Film Archive - Manchester University, and Mrs. E Lomax, who's grandfather,
J. E. Hallam shot this footage in 1947. I must also thankManor
Tyres Ltd. of Stainforth, for sponsoring this page by financing
the use of this copyright material.
This is the only known surviving footage showing Jack in action, but
shows him performing his famous chest out stance, while strutting around
the ring in his infamous black tights.
Pye at Burnden Park - 1947
|Between the end of the Second World War and the early 1950s,
wrestling once more became a popular attraction for people seeking entertainment.
The Pye family, consisting of Jack, his son Dominic, his brother Harry,
and "Crafty Casey Pye", (who was actually called Harry Bennett
and was no relation to the Pyes), began performing as a wrestling troupe,
appearing at venues all over the country. (More about Harry Pye and the
Casey / Dominic tag partnership in the final article)
Jack became such a force inside the wrestling ring that in 1951, whilst
wrestling at Earls Court in London, he was given the title of "The
Uncrowned King of the Mat", after other wrestlers refused point blank
to enter the ring and fight with him.
Despite being given the title of "The Uncrowned King of the
Mat", Jack never actually managed to win the British Heavyweight
Championship title outright. He fought against Bert Assirati, who
held the title after the end of the war, but was unsuccessful in
his attempt to claim the title for himself. However, his son, Dominic
was to extract some sort of revenge for his father, when he bettered
Assirati in an ordinary match some years later.
Although still appearing at venues all over the world, by the
mid 1950s the Pye family made Blackpool their permanent home, and
one of the most popular bills for Jack was at the Tower Circus in
Blackpool. He became a regular sight at the Tower, strutting and
posing over his vanquished foes, and eventually he was contracted
to top the bill there. The Tower opened as a circus in May 1894
and during the summer months, visitors to Blackpool were entertained
by a variety of acts, including the famous clown, Charlie Cairoli.
After the summer season came to an end, usually culminating with
the lights display in October, the circus would then be used as
the venue for wrestling and boxing matches. The months following
late October, until the following spring, were the busiest time
of the year for Jack, who would appear at the Tower and other venues
around the country as many three or four times each week.
After operating The Horseshoe Club for several years with his brother
Harry, Jack finalised his attachment to Blackpool, when he bought
a five year lease on "The Castle" on Blackpool's North Shore.
This large, mock medieval structure had served as the home of the
Blackpool & Fylde Motor Club for the previous five years and,
although Jack intended to turn the Castle into a casino and social
club, they were allowed to continue using the premises as their base
until they had found a new home. I managed to track down and speak
with Elizabeth Wynne, now aged 74, but who was just a young girl when
she worked as an usherette at the Club Castle Casino. She told me
that she remembered her time at the club with fondness and a touch
of nostalgia. "Jack", she says, "was very protective
of the young girls who worked for him"
The Castle Casino - Blackpool
She went on to describe the club and its interior; "It was very
nice, and very popular. Some nights there would be turns
Jimmy Edwards and Dick Bentley. There were also dancers and singers sometimes.
Most people were there for the cards and roulette, where they could play
as long as they liked, before going upstairs to the nightclub and bar"
Toward the later years of "Dirty" Jack's career, it became
recognised that he wasn't at all the nasty character he portrayed inside
the ropes. Although he didn't openly discuss his acts of charity, Jack
was well for known for his gentler nature among the orphanages, hospitals
and other deserving institutions around Blackpool.
Blackpool's famous Tower, beneath which Jack performed
regularly in the Tower Circus
One of his favourite times of the year was Christmas and for many
years he would open the doors of his north shore club to stage a
party, at which he himself played Santa Clause for the disadvantaged
children in the area. Often these parties consisted of lavish feasts
of jelly and blancmange, with piles of cakes and mince pies, while
200 plus children were being entertained with film shows, Punch
& Judy shows, and even performing dogs.
Less than four hours after the last child had left, Jack was back
in his Mr. Hyde guise and was intimidating his opponent and cajoling
the frenzied crowd to near riot at the Tower Circus.
For many years Jack had managed to keep his impressive record of
never being knocked out, a record which he managed to hang on to
until 1961. In that season he had appeared at the Tower Circus 19
times, and at Manchester's Belle Vue and Liverpool Stadium an approximate
50 times between them. He was obviously beginning to feel the effects
of the regular injuries and bruising he received, and while speaking
at a Rotary Club function in July of that year, he announced his
intention to retire at the end of that season, a decision that was
most probably influenced through that first knockout.
Of course, when it came to the crunch, Jack really couldn't bring
himself to take an early bath and the following season he embarked
upon an even more grueling schedule of three to four bouts per week.
In February 1962 he appeared at Belfast, where he topped the bill and
1400 people filled the building to capacity, with several hundred more
locked outside. Besides adhering to his busy schedule, taking in venues
at Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Bradford, Halifax and Birmingham, Jack
also found time to appear in several charity shows.
In December of the same year Jack made a guest appearance with the Hallé
Orchestra at Manchester's Belle Vue, during a performance of Haydn's Toy
Symphony. He took to the stage with Pat Pheonix, who played a toy trombone
and who at that time was one the country's most famous actresses, appearing
three times a week on TV as Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street. The concert
was held to raise cash for the Save the Children Fund, and Jack was asked
to take part in the production by playing a toy rattle.
(Note: Pat Pheonix made a brief appearance in Stainforth a few months
later, when she 'opened' the Star Bingo Hall, in what used to be Stainforth
Cinema on Emerson Avenue and which was an event I remember well.)
In early March 1963, Jack was given a standing ovation, when he climbed
over the ropes to confront Big Bruno Elrington in his first bout since
suffering a back injury that had laid him low for several months. He dispatched
Big Bruno, but not without losing the first submission to a crushing boston
crab in the second round, which had left the crowd wondering if Pye had
made a grave error in deciding to return to the ring.
Jack made ferocious come back, with a three-quarter nelson getting him
an equalising submission in the fifth round. Big Bruno concentrated on
inflicting pain to Jack's injured back, with several ring shaking body
slams, but in the seventh round a series of Jack's famous neck chops finished
off any thoughts Elrington had of snatching victory from the old master.
Although Jack hid it well and managed to fight several more bouts, he
was in fact in serious pain and was struggling to carry on. Later that
same year he finally announced his retirement, saying it was due to a
A disappointed crowd was given the news of Jack's decision to call it
a day, after they had waited for him to appear at Liverpool Stadium where
he was scheduled to fight Billy Two Rivers. In the pre-fight examination
the doctor ruled that Jack was in no condition to take to the ring.
In January of the following year he once again visited the Tower
Circus, this time as Guest of Honour to The Tower Company. Here
he was presented with an engraved watch, valued at over £100,
which was no mean sum for a watch at that time.
Shortly after, he was at the Tower yet again for another presentation.
This was made on behalf of the Blackpool Sportsmen's Aid Society,
who were sponsoring that evening's "Big Boxing Show".
A ceremony was held in the ring during the interval, in which Jack
was presented with a bronze bust which had been designed local businessman,
Jack Humphries. Mr. Humphries was a sculptor in his leisure time
and had managed to recreate a lifelike impression of Jack's head.
The bronze bust, said then to worth over £4,000, was given
to Blackpool council when Jack died some twenty years later and
was still on public display at Blackpool's Stanley Park Sports Centre
when I visited there in November 2005.
Jack never took his retirement seriously, keeping himself busy
with public appearances, and even a few brief sojourns back into
the ring, which many considered to be unwise on account of his failing
Bronze sculpture of Jack's head
This did nothing to tarnish his hard man reputation though, and several
up and coming young wrestlers learned a valuable lesson, that Jack was
still as tough as iron, despite his advancing years.
One such young pretender was Dave Turton, a Rotherham based martial arts
expert, who says that he wrestled Jack when he was 60 years old.
In response to the question, "Was Jack Pye really such an ogre?",
asked on the SFUK
Forum, Dave replied; "Jack Pye and just about ALL the other guys
I met, from the 60' Wrestling fraternity , had 2 personas - Lovely men
outside the ring/club and bastards inside it ..Jack was no different.
He was so nice in the changing room (Ha changing room?? At Riley's it
was a walled section with a curtain.. sheer luxury)... Anyway I thought
at the time that I was getting better, so it was time to ask better men
for a workout (the ONLY way to improve)
Jack obliged .. he was 60 years old at the time.. I bent in places I didn't
know WOULD Bend, I did the HIGHEST breakfalls to the canvas than I had
ever done before.. I had Cobwebs from the bloody ceiling on my boots....
And when he bodychecked, I thought I had stumbled out onto the train lines..
and he laughed and spoke to me all the time.. "Tha's a bit of a chuffing
whimp Thee lad".. was one of his encouraging speeches. The other
was "Can't Tha get up off the chuffing floor quicker than THAT??"
No mate he wasn't ALL bad.."
During his "retirement", Jack still kept
up his charity commitments and was always ready to get behind any
local good cause. His children's Christmas parties, now legendary,
continued to be held every year, and anything to do with the promotion
of sports always found favour with Jack.
In 1965, when he was 62, Jack became the elected President of The
Blackpool Sports & Athletics Club. He attended the club regularly,
and even roped in his brother Harry, who gave boxing tips to youngsters.
In 1967 Jack made another TV appearance after he was
approached by a group of Blackpool youngsters who had formed a band
and were aiming to make the big time. They asked him to sponsor
the band, called "In Sect", and he later appeared on Hughie
Green's show, "Opportunity Knocks", to introduce them
to the viewing public.
One of Jack's hobbies was breeding Boxer dogs. He
enjoyed the satisfaction he got from bringing the young pups into
the world and the quiet moments of peace and tranquillity he found
when he was out walking with his dogs. Jack also enjoyed the sport
of shooting, something which he passed on to his son Dominic. Dominic
owned a Browning 25 bore automatic shotgun, which he liked to take
with him when he walked across the fields that adjoined the bottom
of his long garden.
Jack Pye judging "English Rose" 1967
Unfortunately, it was a passion which was to have dramatic consequences,
when in February 1979, Dominic was found dead at the bottom of his garden,
his body laid across his Browning shotgun, which was later confirmed to
have been faulty after being examined by a ballistics expert. The Pye
family were stunned by the loss of Dominic and closed ranks to find comfort
from each other. Jack, now aged 76, was hit particularly hard by the shock
of his son's death and less than a month later he collapsed from a suspected
heart attack. He spent most of the following April in Blackpool's Victoria
Hospital coronary unit, where his progress was closely watched and reported
by the Gazette. Almost every other day they would print a statement from
the hospital, describing his condition as 'improving' or 'comfortable'
Jack was never to fully recover from his failing heart and the following
years saw his health deteriorate further. After the death of his wife
he took up residence in a local nursing home on Blackpool's South Shore,
where he was visited occasionally by his nephew Joe.
Joe told me that Jack never lost his sharp mind and his quick wit, and
whenever he visited Jack he always found him to be as full of life as
he had ever been. Jack gave Joe his cloak, which he had worn, tied loosely
about chest when entering the ring, and which I managed to cajole Joe
into wearing so that I could take a photograph for this article.
Jack Pye 1903-1985
|On December 9th 1985 Jack Pye passed away in Blackpool's
Victoria Hospital, where he had been admitted three weeks earlier
after taking ill at the nursing home.
The whole of Blackpool went into mourning for the 'man they loved
In his obituary in the Blackpool Gazette on Tuesday 10th December
1985, Jack was described as 'the Stanley Mathews of wrestling'. Recording
his achievements, the obituary went on to say, 'He had fought more
than 5,000 contestants in 35 years all over the world, packed Belle
Vue and Blackpool's Tower Circus to the brim every week, and had appeared
on television and in films with Diana Dors and Charles Laughton.'
The wrestling stars of the day were quick to praise the talents of
Jack Pye. Shirley Crabtree 'Big Daddy', who replaced Jack at the top
of the bill at the Tower Circus, (many would have said that was impossible),
said that Jack Pye was his idol. Blackpool wrestler Tony Francis said,
"Jack introduced me to professional wrestling and was an inspiration
to me. He was held in the greatest esteem wherever he went. Jack was
a showman supreme and a terrific wrestler"
|Jack had always planned on retiring to a villa in Las Palmas,
spending the rest of his days beneath the shining sun and cloudless blue
skies, but his love for the north of England held him there until the end
of his life. It was obvious from the reactions of many who heard of his
passing that the north of England had learned to love him too.
Credits and references:
Many thanks to Russ of Manor
Tyres Ltd. for sponsoring this page.
'Heritage of the Past - Sports and Games'. - Brian Jewell.
*Lord Derby; Right Hon. Edward George Villiers Stanley, seventeenth Earl
of Derby (1865-1948)
**"It's a Grand Life"& "Leave it to me"
SFUK Forum - Mixed Martial Arts Discussion Forum
1 Stop Wrestling Forum
*** Albert Pierrepoint (1905 - 1992) was one of three members of the
same Yorkshire family who became Britain's Chief Executioners. He held
the office between 1932 and 1956, and is said to have executed 433 men
and 17 women. Throughout his gruesome career as executioner he was also
a pub landlord. After resigning from 'public service' he ran the Rose
and Crown pub in Hoole, near Preston. A British film, titled 'Pierrepoint'
and directed by Adrian Shergold, was released on April 7th 2006. It tells
the story of. "Britain's last hangman", as the film was titled
for the American audiences.
Albert Pierrepoint Executioner ISBN 0245520708
Many thanks to all the members of the Pye family, especially Joe and
his son, Dominic. Thanks too to all those who have talked with me about
Jack Pye over the last couple of years, and to all those who are yet to
share with me their recollections of Jack and the "Battling Pyes"
Special thanks go to the staff at the Blackpool Gazette for their help
and hospitality and who were a great source of information, Also, many
thanks to Blackpool Council, for inviting me to visit their Stanley Park
Sports centre for the purpose of taking the photographs of Jack's bronze
©A. Covell 2006
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