I was very interested to read the piece by Louise Busfield on Brian London’s abortive attempt to take Cassius Clay’s World Heavyweight Title (LEP August 3).
Clay was still not universally known by his assumed name of Muhammad Ali at the time. It was indeed a very flat and uninspiring performance by the ‘Blackpool Bulldog’ on the night.
I came to know Brian quite well as a result of interviewing him when I was putting together a book. The main topics were his boxing career and his life away from the ring.
I wasn’t aware of the precise size of his purse for the bout but he did tell me he bought his present home near Stanley Park with the proceeds and still had plenty of loose change to invest!
Brian is very forthcoming about his shortcomings and I regularly had to remind him of his significant achievements. As an amateur, he won the ABA Title and Commonwealth Gold. After turning professional, he deposed of some decent quality opponents, including the feared Tongan Kitione Lave. Brian gave him a boxing lesson over ten rounds.
When Brian was at his best, he scored some notable victories.
He took the British title by knocking out the skilled Welshman Joe Erskine, stopped American Willie Pastrano, who later won the World Light Heavyweight Title, and swept away – in less than a round – another American, Roger Rischer, who had floored our own Henry Cooper not long before.
Of course, Cooper held three wins over London but he was taken the full fifteen rounds, losing so much blood in their first title fight that he later passed out in the bath back home.
Brian was outpointed in a return title fight but was still there after another gruelling contest over the championship distance.
I have vivid memories of London at his best in a bout with another capable American, Billy Hunter, at Belle Vue, Manchester, in 1961. I was a student at the university and made the short trip to take in what proved to be a thrilling fight. I can still hear the din created by Brian’s raucous supporters as he made his ring entrance and then set about Hunter, a very classy boxer who just could not cope with London’s strength and power on the night.
Brian agreed to come over from his Blackpool home to Bolton Lads Club where I was coaching at the time. The lads were far too young to have seen him in the ring but, after they had watched on the big screen Brian showing his ring skills and tactical awareness, allied to his toughness and strength in beating the rising star of the mid-60s, Billy Walker, they were suitably impressed and keen to shake his hand!
Brian was hugely popular in Liverpool where they still remember him for his battling style.
It was at the old Liverpool Stadium, long since demolished, that London tackled another rising star, Johnny Prescott, in a televised ten-rounder. After a one-sided contest, dominated by London, referee Wally Thom, a local Liverpool man, left the packed crowd (and Brian London) aghast by raising Prescott’s hand. The crowd erupted – and people still talk about that night decades later.
Brian was a real ‘hit’ at the Merseyside ex-boxers meeting to which I drove him a few years back. Rather than standing up and giving a talk based on his boxing memories, he invited questions, and the often taciturn man engaged with his audience and had the members in the palm of his hand.
A stereotype of the punch-addled old boxer he most certainly was not!
Now 82 years old, Brian, a Geordie by birth, is and has been for many years now, part of the Blackpool scenery.
The last time I called on him, he claimed to be still ‘doing his roadwork’ – now at a much more gentle pace, and the punchbags in his garage space still get a daily pounding!
Thanks again to Louise and the LEP for producing an enlightening piece, very well illustrated by photos and a poster of the fight.
Andrew Sumner, New Longton