TWELVE years ago I had the privilege of chatting with the late Reg Gutteridge about his life in boxing and his fascinating family history. Most fight fans will remember Reg for his erudite TV commentary and journalism, but I imagine few will know about the forebears from whom he inherited his love of the sport.
Reg’s paternal grandfather, Arthur Gutteridge, had been a renowned bare-knuckle pugilist and was later chief second at the National Sporting Club in Covent Garden. He trained the likes of George Dixon, Frank Goddard and future film star Victor McLaglen, and is said to have taught Rudyard Kipling to box. Reg’s father, Dick, and his identical twin brother, Jack, learnt the art of corner work from their father, and in the 1930s and ‘40s they were Britain’s top seconds. Their uncanny resemblance – in face, body and mannerisms – made them well-known personalities, but it wasn’t just this that earned them their fame; they were genuinely among the best at what they did.
Max Baer, Tommy Loughran, Len Harvey, Freddie Mills, Bruce Woodcock, Maurice Strickland, Dave Crowley, Eric Boon and Billy Thompson were just a few of the stars they seconded. Renowned for their expert corner advice and a knack for ‘pulling a fight out of the fire’, they were in great demand. When they worked together, it was not uncommon for the twins to second every winner on the card. When they worked in opposite corners, they would have small side-bets on who would produce the most winners that night. After a fight, ringsiders would see Dick or Jack raise the requisite number of fingers to his brother to indicate the score. On these occasions, the fighters sometimes struggled to work out which corner was theirs, as not only did the twins look alike but they dressed alike in the white seconds’ garb that was then the norm.
Things came to a head when French welterweight Omar Kouidri tackled London’s Arthur Danahar at the Royal Albert Hall. At the end of each round Kouidri looked tentatively to each corner before deciding where to go – and he actually went to the wrong corner for the first five rounds. For the rest of the bout Danahar, who knew the twins well, directed Kouidri to the right corner. Afterwards, it was agreed that in future each twin would display his first initial on his white shirt and sweater.
Their most famous seconding incident came in 1938 when Dick was in Eric Boon’s corner when he challenged for Dave Crowley’s British lightweight crown. Crowley’s brilliant left-hand work had produced a huge lump under Boon’s left eye, which was almost swollen shut. To save Boon from being stopped, Dick nicked the swelling with a razorblade and sucked out the suffused blood. He repeated this after every round until Boon won in the 13th. The twins had performed this gory operation many times on lesser-known fighters, but this time it made headlines as it had helped Boon to win a British title at the record age of 18. Afterwards, Dick was hospitalised with blood poisoning.
As well as being first-class corner men, the twins (both ex-army champions) were skilled trainers, and worked with the likes of Billy Thompson, Albert Finch, Cliff Anderson and George Odwell. When Primo Carnera first came to Britain they were given the near-impossible task of smoothing the rough edges of his crude style. The difficulty was compounded by the fact they spoke no Italian and Carnera then spoke no English.
Sadly, both twins died of heart attacks – Dick in 1946, aged 48, and Jack less than four years later. It seems Jack had little appetite for carrying on alone. As Reg wrote in his autobiography, “Uncle Jack died, both metaphorically and literally, of a broken heart. He had no enthusiasm left for the pro game. His spirit had been broken by dad’s demise.”