Monday, 19 December 2011

Nights at Rochester Casino

By Bill Pullum

This article is reproduced with the kind permission of Derek O’Dell, Editor and Producer of ‘The Southern Ex-Boxer’, in which it was first published in 2005.

Rochester CasinoThe mists of time spread a haze in the old memory department but I will tell of the things that I do recall and the events that brought me, in a roundabout way, to the Rochester Casino.

Turning pro in 1930 and barely reaching the flyweight limit, I was taken to the Blackfriars Ring by Matt Wells who thought I had high potentiality and wanted to manage me. I remember being appraised and questioned by Dan Sullivan the general-manager and matchmaker at The Ring who, in my youthful eyes, was a formidable gentleman who had a game leg and leaned on a stick. Matt, carried away by his enthusiasm, wanted me matched with Young Dusty of Newcastle over ten by two minute rounds. Turning to me, Sullivan said: "Lad, you're doing the fighting. What do you feel about it?" I replied, "Mr Sullivan, I would like to start right at the bottom and learn all about the game." "He's got more sense than you, Matt," said Sullivan and straightaway booked me for a six-rounder. Dear old Matt was very miffed with me but that experienced and tough Northern boy would have murdered me in my debut bout.

I did quite well in those early minor bouts but I was continually matched with heavier opponents. I was light in the legs but big in the chest and shoulders, so I looked heavier than I was. In those days, weight hardly seemed to matter for supporting bouts. The main concern of the matchmaker was if the opponents looked about the same size and if they would make a good fight. I was continually outweighed by my opposite numbers. This annoyed my father, W. A. Pullum. "If you can't get fair weight contests," he said, "I will have to promote some shows of my own to see that you do!" To say was to do. A most determined man was my father. He fought tuberculosis as a youth and beat it. He went on to become, as an adult, undefeated world champion in his chosen sport of weightlifting.

At that time, Rochester Casino was advertised as being available for boxing and my father called the man in charge, a Mr Forsythe. After negotiating terms, Dad hired the hall for weekly shows and "Pullum Promotions" was born.

I boxed at the Casino but willy nilly became more involved with the promotional side of the business. Late every Monday afternoon we would leave in my father's car with a London contingent of boxers and speed to Rochester to meet the local fighters. Over the season, I think my father broke even. He put on some really good shows but the magic of having big names, which brings bumper attendances, was usually absent.

Jimmy Turner (Chatham) at Rochester CasinoThe one local man who could fill the hall during our tenure was a clever bantamweight from Chatham, Jimmy Turner. This talented ring-general was backed by a local bookmaker, George Galletly from Strood. George, a wonderful character, was a real tough'un and had in the past lived on the other side of the law.

He was now a legitimate business and family man. He was a red-hot boxing enthusiast and proved to be a real friend to us, not only while "Pullum Promotions" operated at the Casino but for years afterwards. In his younger days he'd done a lot of boxing – some of it with bare knuckles.

Just before our time at the Casino, three murderous criminal characters arrived from George's old domicile of West London with the intention of pursuing an old vendetta. By making threats to George's wife and children they couldn't have done an unwiser thing. They all ended up in hospital and barely lived to tell the tale. George took over as promoter when we closed our business at the Casino. That would be around 1931. He was, a remarkable man – true to his friends and bad news indeed to his enemies.

Some names I recall from my days at the Casino are Ted Mason, who later fought some terrific scraps for me when I Promoted in London, Gravesend's Alf "Tiger" Newbiggin, Bert "Kid" Freeman, Goff Williams and Billy Webb (known as 'the King of the Casino – he fought dozens of times for the Pullums – Ed). Then there were Goff Williams, Jack Vinal, the Rubery brothers Joe and Fred, Dick Caulfield, Buller Ford and the four Swinbourne boys. Some years after the war, one of the Swinbournes – I can't place which one – used to stand with the news-seller at Camberwell Green and nearly opposite our offices in Church Street. I used to speak to him on the way to the postbox but he seldom answered, so I don't know if I had unintentionally offended him in the past.

Some years ago, when I was attending a Croydon EBA meeting, a smiling gentleman introduced himself as Teddy Bryant and reminded me that he'd twice appeared on the same bill as I had. He kindly handed me a batch of newspaper cuttings about boxing at the Rochester venue. For the life of me I couldn't remember him that far back but here he was bringing my forgotten past up to the present. The ensuing conversation with this good-natured and smiling gentleman left me with a warm glow.

Obviously, in promoting at the Casino we met many fine naval fighters. Some boxed for us down in Kent and when "Pullum Promotions" opened in London at the Ilford Skating Rink, we featured Seaman Wakeling, Seaman Harvey, Seaman Reed, Stoker Morell and Seaman Christie on our bills. Many other naval scrappers came to us from the Medway towns. We also continued to use many Kent boxers on our ever-expanding promotions. I remember a busy gentleman named Darkie Feint. We used to book some of the local fighters whom he trained.

One Casino night I remember above all others was in January 1931. My father had managed to book the great Seaman Tommy Watson to top the bill over fifteen rounds against Jim Travis of Oldham, who was the featherweight champion of Nothern England and a game fighter. A packed house saw the ex-Seaman stop his man in the eighth round. Watson, who was boxing on a guarantee plus a percentage of the gate, came to the box-office with his representative to draw his money. Tommy was a very dour person. He placed all his "tellers'” figures on the table and demanded a certain figure of payment based on the gate percentage. My father said: "Tommy, our figures do not agree with yours." "Those are the figures of my men on the gate and that is the amount I want and I'll not leave until I get it!" responded Tommy belligerently. "All right, if you insist," said Dad with a smile, "but we make it roughly five pounds more than you do."

Ex-boxers outside Rochester CasinoPoor Tommy didn't know where to put his face but he left with the money that was due to him. On the same night, Pat Bransfield of Dublin narrowly beat Seaman Reed of Chatham after ten fiercely contested rounds. In the six-rounders, Gillingham's Fred Rubery beat Chatham's Seaman Dare, Goff Williams of Chatham had to go all out to beat Archie Best of Rochester, Fred Swinbourne of Maidsone drew with Bill Berry of Gillingham and Rochester's Ted Thorn beat' the Scot, Kid Carracher. To complete this great night of boxing, my father, then aged 44, and two of his pupils in Jim Hale and Harry Knight, gave a weightlifting demonstration.

We opened promotions at Ilford Skating Rink soon after that and later I took over the promoter's banner at Oxford but it was at Rochester Casino that my promoting career started and these fond memories of those kind people remain with me.


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