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(Dirty?) Jack Pye - The Doncaster Panther

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 kids.
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, he added.
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.

Jack Pye

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 it.

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 the neighbours.

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 Pye

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 can".

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 foreign locations.

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 - ) 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.

Jack 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… such as 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 kidney infection.
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 health.

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' etc.

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 to hate'.
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 bust..

©A. Covell 2006
Stainforthonline - Stainforth 2001