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Rest in peace, Bernard Hart

Bernard Hart
Simon Euan Smith pays tribute to former LEBA Vice-President, Bernard Hart

I WAS very sorry to hear of the death of my good friend and former London EBA Vice-President, Bernard Hart, on January 8. He was 82, and had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for some years.

Bernard boxed as a pro welterweight between 1958 and 1960, winning nine and drawing one of 16 bouts. He appeared several times at the legendary Shoreditch Town Hall, and the National Sporting Club at the old Café Royal, Piccadilly.

One of his losses was to current LEBA member Johnny Kramer, who was 4-0 going into the bout and halted Bernard in five rounds at the NSC. After retiring, Bernard started Lonsdale Sports, which he made a terrific success. He never lost his love of boxing and was particularly supportive of the amateurs. He was also a very keen member of LEBA, regularly attending meetings until prevented by ill-health. In 2008, LEBA honoured him with the Alf Paolozzi Award, given annually to a LEBA member for services to the Association over many years.

I first met Bernard in 1972, about a year before I became a writer. The great Carlos Monzon was due to defend his world middleweight title against French idol Jean-Claude Bouttier in Paris, and I wanted to be there.
I wrote to the promoter, Charlie Michaelis, and a few days later I got a surprise phone call from Bernard.

He explained that my letter had been passed on to him, as he was organising a party to go over. Would I like to join up? Of course I said yes – and it was a wonderful trip, due in no small measure to the fact that Bernard realised I was young and inexperienced, and took me under his wing. I’ve never forgotten his kindness and generosity.

Nearly a year later I was contacted by an Australian publication, wanting me to go to Paris to cover Aussie golden boy, middleweight Tony Mundine, against Frenchman Max Cohen. I was still trying to break into the reporting scene, and jumped at it – but there were problems, such as how could I get a press ticket when I wasn’t even a journalist. I rang Bernard for advice, and he said he was on good terms with the promoter, Gilbert Benaim, and would give me a letter of introduction.

On the morning of the fight I duly presented myself at Mr Benaim’s office – he read Bernard’s letter and promptly gave me a pass. Mundine won via fourth-round retirement, flooring Cohen twice.

I’m sure all BN readers will join me in sending condolences to his wife, singer Stella Starr, his two daughters, and all his family. Rest in peace, old friend.

This month’s Scottish EBA meeting was the first at their new premises – Hutchesontown Bowling Club, Oaklands Gate, Glasgow. I hope it went well – a change like that is very much a step into the unknown but Brighton and Croydon, to name two examples, have changed premises in the last couple of years, in both cases highly successfully.

SEBA’s current newsletter has an interesting article on Glasgow’s Billy Rafferty, who boxed at bantamweight from 1956 to 1962. He won 24 and drew one of 31 – only five inside-schedule wins, but one was an upset fifth-round stoppage of former Olympic champion Terry Spinks, then 19-0 as a pro. Spinks would go on to become British featherweight champion – Rafferty twice challenged Freddie Gilroy for bantamweight honours but was turned back in 13 and 12 rounds, retiring after the second defeat. In retirement, Billy became a pro referee, rising to Star class. He died in 1994, at just 61 – but, as the newsletter records, his involvement in boxing lives on through Parkhead Welding, the successful steel company he founded, which actively supports St Andrew’s Sporting Club.

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