JACK BODELL’S record as a light-heavyweight between 1962 and 1967, when he challenged for the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles against Henry Cooper, is unusual because he fought no less than 49 times during these five years. This was a quite a high number for any professional at that time, especially at light-heavy and heavyweight. The reason he did so can be explained by the fact that his manager was George Biddles of Leicester.
One can see old George in Jack’s corner during Bodell’s final bout against Danny McAlinden in 1972. George was in boxing for more than 50 years and was, along with Alex Griffiths, probably the most influential Midlander involved within the game. He was known for making his boxers work. It is not a coincidence that the two men who fought the most times in British ring history, Len Wickwar and George Marsden, were both managed by George. The cynic would argue that the more times his boxers fought, the more commission he could take. There may be some truth in this, but many lads asked George to manage them because they knew that they could also earn more with him.
Take the cases of Jeff Tite, Ric Sanders and Roy Davies, for instance. All three were active in the late 1940s and on into the 1950s, and all three competed at around the same weight. Tite boxed 82 times in five years, Sanders 109 times within the same number of years, and Davies had 106 contests in seven years. Between them they won 187 of these 297 bouts, so they were no mugs, and yet only one of them won so much as an Area title. It was fighters like these that were Biddles’ bread and butter. They often fought on the same bill, as wily old George was well known to promoters at the time for being able to provide fit, well-conditioned boxers, often at short notice, that could be relied upon. George had a stable full of such boxers.
I am lucky enough to have within my collection some of Biddles’ diaries and scrapbooks from this period. I can see, for instance, that on June 7, 1948, he matched all three lads on a bill at Northampton, with Sanders earning £65 for an eight-rounder against Eric Hall, and both Davies and Tite earning £40 each for supporting eight-rounders against George Frost and Jackie Hart respectively. This was good money in 1948, when the average weekly wage for a working man was about £7. Biddles, who would have accompanied the three fighters in his car, and worked their corner along with a house second, didn’t do so badly himself with his 25 per cent commission.
Boxing was George’s life, and he ran his operation from his snack bar, suitably named ‘The Ring’, at Belgrave Gate in Leicester, his hometown. His father, a middleweight, had a decent career as a professional before the First World War while serving in the Leicestershire Regiment. George had a go himself in 1924, boxing twice in Leicester, with a win and a loss. By 1927 he had set up as a manager, initially handling Siki Coulton of Mansfield, who in true Biddles style had 157 contests in his nine years as a professional. For the next 50-odd years, George could be seen at shows all over the country, but he had to wait until 1957 before he had his first world champion, Hogan Bassey of Nigeria providing George with this honour.
If it was work and experience that you wanted as a fighter, along with a steady income, then George was your man. There have only ever been 11 British fighters to have fought 300 times, and three of these were managed by Biddles. For those who want to know more about this remarkable man, his life story was covered in detail in BN between July and December 1978.