Unveiling the Portrait of a Champion

It was with great pride that on the 21st. October 2014, I attended the unveiling of a portrait of the pioneering boxer Dick Turpin, the former British Middleweight Champion, and the first non-white boxer to win a British title under the administration of the British Boxing Board of Control on his defeating Vince Hawkins at Villa Park in 1948.


image001Readers will understand the pride of history busting emotions that welled-up inside me when I was asked to represent the Midland Boxing Council (MBC) at this very significant event.


The irony of being asked by the British Boxing Board of Control; that I've been a Council Member for 10 years, to attend and represent the Board at an event that recognized the boxer who contributed so much to the changing face of British sporting history, made me feel really proud.


It was the Board that changed the colour bar rule in 1947, a rule the British Boxing Board of Control had inherited from the National Sporting Club in 1929.


The National Sporting Club (NSC) was the original administrators of British boxing, and had incorporated the colour-bar rule in 1911. The colour-bar rule was an amalgam of racism, politics, and ignorance, but the purpose of this short piece is to honour the man who contributed to the discarding of this ignominious piece of social exclusion to the dustbin of British sporting history.


I was picked up at my home by fellow Council Member, Richard Vaughan, who, on a damp, cold, drizzle swamped afternoon, expertly motored through the complex systems of our motor ways and by-ways to reach Warwick, where the unveiling would take place. We got there with time to spare, so we decided to walk around this quaint little town that has a history going back to medieval times.


After a short walk we headed for the Court House, Jury Street, where the ceremony was due to be held. We entered the empty Victorian building, and I for one wondered how many people would know or care enough to attend this quiet, memorable event in favour of one of their sporting sons.


There were seats laid out in the a huge room to seat over one hundred people, and surprisingly, at least to me, after about 25 minute people began arriving in their groups of twos and threes, chatting animatedly amongst themselves, and after about another 20 minutes it was standing room only! The people of Warwick and Leamington do not forget their sporting heroes!


A lot of people contributed to this grand event, none more so than Adrian Bush a life-long supporter of local boxing who helped to establish the Leamington Boxing Club at Sydenham, and he is also instrumental in raising the money for the statue of Randolph Turpin that stands majestically in the centre of Warwick town centre.


The portrait of the former champion by the artist Paul Oz appears to depict the sensitivity of a kind, decent and generous man who had the resilience to break down social barriers and made an inestimable contribution to British society.


However, the success of the unveiling was guaranteed because of the love, respect and adoration that seeped out of the pores of over a hundred or so supporters that filled the room at the Court House, to honour the Turpin's legacy.


There were representatives from the world of sports and journalism, such as Colin Hart, journalist/ correspondence for the Sun Newspaper, Bob Mee, journalist and author. The world of boxing was represented by: Franco Wanyama, former WBF World Cruiserweight Champion. Neil Simpson, former EBU Light-heavyweight Champion, including Neil Adams, MBE, from Rugby, who is a former World Judo Champion and Olympic silver medallist.


The words of Warwick Mayor, Moira Ann-Grainger certainly put the whole event in perspective when she said:

Boxing and the Turpin's are synonymous with Warwick and Leamington and their legacy has ensured that the noble art is still flourishing in our towns today (and) It is fitting that this picture (portrait) should hang where all our visitors can see one of this town's, modern inspiring residents.


The Other Side of This Story


2af0a1fThe inglorious colour bar that besmirched British boxing from 1911 was finally removed on September, 1947, and nine Months later Dick Turpin made British sporting history by becoming the first British born black man to win a British title.

However, as eventful as Turpin's victory was and still is, the first black man to win a British title was Andrew Jeptha, from Cape Town, South Africa, who knocked out Curley Watson, at Whitechapel, Mile End, London, on the 25th March 1907 to become the British Welterweight Champion Jeptha, however, did not remain Champion for long because he lost the title on September of the same year to Joe White.


What can we discern from the aforementioned facts? (1) British boxing did not always have a colour bar rule, up to 1911, excluding some of its citizens, because of the pigmentation of their skin, from taking part in its boxing activities. (2) What are the factors that led to importing into the rules of British boxing rules of exclusion for some of its citizens? (3) Some respected writers have stated that that although Andrew Jeptha did beat Curley Watson for the British Welterweight title on the above date, mentioned above, they have claimed that Jeptha's win was not "official." If a Champion is beaten under the rules of boxing sanctioned by the governing body, what else can the winner need to do to make it, "official."


I do not perceive to have the answers, or any of the answers to the above questions, so I'm hereby inviting anyone who believe that they can contribute to my inquiries to drop me "a word or two" on any of the above questions raised.


Bunny Johnson