Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Exclusive Interview - PART TWO: Martin Sax talks about the career and life of his grandfather, and Britain's youngest World champion, Teddy Baldock

Following on from yesterday's first part of this two-part interview detailing the life and times of one of Britain's greatest boxing heroes, this second part of my exclusive interview focuses on the highs and lows of Teddy Baldock's life from the moment he captures the World bantamweight title in 1927 until his retirement, death and eventual statue unveiling.

Part one can be read here:


Baldock wins 
world title
No Holds Barred: Teddy became Britain’s youngest ever World champion when he
England's hope
defeated Archie Bell of New York at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1927 aged just 19. How big was the event at the time? Did it make him a household name?

Martin Sax: Most of the national newspapers ran articles leading up to the contest and The Daily Sketch reported it as the greatest event held in London since the War. On the night the Albert Hall was filled to capacity; a reporter from the Daily Telegraph wrote "There never was such a gathering at a boxing contest in this country". The Daily Express even noted that there were more women present than had ever been seen before at an Albert Hall boxing event; he was quite a celebrity! The fight itself was described as one of the finest battles witnessed in a British ring and one that may not be forgotten! After the fight my grandfather became a national sporting celebrity. The Daily Express ran an exclusive story: "Thrills in my Life by Teddy Baldock". He was swamped by admirers at West Ham’s final match of the season against Liverpool. He boxed exhibitions at the Astoria in London and his fee worked out as £10 a minute, a huge sum for the 1920’s

No Holds Barred: Do you know how the news was reported in the USA? I know he was considered to be the World champion in Britain but perhaps not elsewhere.

Martin Sax: I haven’t read reports from the American newspapers of the time, however I do have a copy of Ring magazine from November 1927. Archie Bell is featured on the front cover with an article inside titled "Archie Bell Claims Bantamweight Championship". It claims that with Tony Canzoneri, Bud Taylor and Teddy Baldock unable to make the bantamweight limit, Bell should be crowned the champion. The article emphasises how the Americans believed they had the
The new champion
monopoly on World Championships at that time.

No Holds Barred: So, did boxing have issues with boxing orgs even back then with regards to who the "Real" World champion was?

Martin Sax: Yes, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it is today. Back then you had two governing bodies in the United States: The New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC), which today supports the WBC, and The National Boxing Association (NBA), renamed now as the WBA. In Europe there was the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) and the International Boxing Union (IBU) formed in Paris in 1910, now known as the EBU.

No Holds Barred: Teddy would fight the great Panama Al Brown at the Royal Albert Hall in 1931 in a bout he would lose via a twelfth round stoppage. Should he have perhaps fought Panama a few years earlier, perhaps in 1927 or 1928?

Martin Sax: At the end of August 1929, my grandfather actually travelled to the States to fight Al Brown for the World Bantamweight title at the Ebbets Field Stadium in New York. He was just rounding off his training when he learned that the fight had been re-scheduled for October 2nd due to Al Brown’s late departure from Paris. This was without doubt my grandfather’s biggest fight as contracts had already been written up by his American promoter Jess McMahon to meet the famous Kid chocolate should he beat Al Brown. Unfortunately his quest for the World title crumbled when Brown’s manager requested a second postponement, claiming that his fighter was suffering from neuritis. Joe Morris, my grandfather’s manager, was unwilling to agree to the fight being delayed by another two weeks and booked return tickets back to England. My grandfather was totally disillusioned with the American fight scene. However, before he left the States, he did get to sit ringside along with Jimmy Wilde and Jack Kid Berg to watch English Heavyweight Phil Scott beat Vittorio Campolo at Ebbets Field. Another highlight was meeting and sparring a number of rounds with Jack Sharkey who went on to become World heavyweight champion in 1932.

No Holds Barred: It was Teddy's penultimate fight. Was he still in his prime that night or was he past his best?

Martin Sax: He was certainly past his fighting best. He had already had a bone removed from his right hand and his nose had been operated on after his return from America; fighting as a professional since the age of thirteen had taken its toll. Despite this, he was still confident he could beat Al Brown and even told his manager to put up a side-stake of £250. He was disappointed that they would not be fighting for Brown’s title but took his training seriously. He was well aware that he was facing the stiffest test of his career and for the first time would not have a height and reach advantage.

No Holds Barred: He only lost five times in eighty-one fights, three of which were in his last six bouts, and one of which was a disqualification. Was he renown during his career as being a man almost impossible to beat in the ring?

Teddy in his prime

Martin Sax: He wasn’t renowned as being impossible to beat but, due to his status in British boxing, he was the man that all the up and coming fighters wanted to fight as to defeat Teddy Baldock would without doubt elevate them into title contention.

No Holds Barred: Teddy fought many greats of his era including Panama Al Brown, Archie Bell, Dick Corbett, Alf Kid Pattenden, Johnny Brown, Emile Pladner, Benny Sharkey, Johnny Cuthbert, Ernie Jarvis and many more. Which fight was he most proud of and why?

Martin Sax: I couldn’t really tell you which fight he was most proud of, but I should imagine it would be the fight with Archie Bell for the World title as it was such a huge event. I do know that when he was living on hard times and staying in Southend he would tell stories about his fight with Al Brown; the Panamanian was the only fighter to stop him and was also a great champion so I’m sure my grandfather had a certain amount of respect for him.
Baldock wearing Lord
Lonsdale NSC
Challenge Belt
No Holds Barred: What did he consider to be his biggest accomplishment in boxing?

Martin Sax: I would have to say winning the World bantamweight title at the age of nineteen. This made him the only British fighter to win a World title during the 1920’s and Britain’s youngest World boxing champion of the modern era. I do know he was also very proud of winning the Lord Lonsdale NSC Challenge Belt [the British Title].

No Holds Barred: He retired after eighty-one fights at the age of twenty-four. Did he retire 
so young because of the amount of fights he had already had? 

Martin Sax: Yes, without doubt. He was a burnt out fighter at the age of twenty-four. In March 1928, he’d had bone fragments removed from his nose to correct an injury sustained in his World title fight with Archie Bell. Later that year he had another operation carried out on his left hand which he'd damaged in his fight with Len Fowler at the end of 1927 but continued to fight on regardless. It wasn’t until his contest with Mick Hill at The Ring in Blackfriars, London, that he started having serious problems, but even after his manager suggested he see a specialist he decided that his return match with Phil Lolosky should go ahead just over two weeks later. He stopped Lolosky in the third round and the following day visited a specialist in Harley Street who diagnosed that his left metacarpal bone had been broken in three places and that gangrene had already started to set in; he had fought five contests since first sustaining the injury. It makes David Haye’s broken little toe look pretty insignificant. He admitted himself "I have had serious trouble with my nose and my ailments, together with the many fifteen round fights I had when I was a growing boy which must have taken a great deal out of me". The retina of his left eye had also been damaged in his fight with Al Brown so he was concerned about his eye sight yet he was just twenty-four years of age".

No Holds Barred: What did he do after retiring? Did he remain in boxing?

Martin Sax: He never lost his fascination with the sport. He tried his hand at promoting but lost a lot of money on the Walter Neusel vs Jack Pettifer heavyweight clash in June 1933. He continued to box exhibitions for charity events and would often captain the boxer's team in the annual boxers vs jockeys football match at West Ham’s stadium. For years he hoped to find an East End boy to work with, develop and turn into a champion. In the early 1950’s, he worked with a former lightweight boxer Tommy Newton who was a licensed BBBofC Manager. He would attend many of the big fights around London. I have a letter from Reggie Kray saying that Teddy had been at ringside for his and Ron’s first pro fights at Mile End Arena, and out of their five pounds fee they gave him two shillings and six pence as they knew he was skint.

No Holds Barred: Did he ever plan to return to the ring?

Martin Sax: There was a report that appeared in the Daily Express in August 1932 that Teddy Baldock would be at ringside for the Dick Corbett vs Young Johnny Brown bout at Southend on Sea to challenge the winner, but I could find no further mention of it. However, in 1933 it was announced that he was making a comeback and would fight a series of six contests before challenging for a new title. His first contest was a four round warm-up against Billy Reynolds of Newcastle which took place on the undercard of the Jack Kid Berg vs Louis Saerens fight at Lea Bridge Speedway on May 28th 1933. It was recorded as a no decision and I could find no other references to any more contests so can only assume that he decided after the fight that a comeback was not an option.

No Holds Barred: Your grandfather is one of the greatest British fighters in history, yet it's very difficult for fans to find information on him. Do you have any theories why that is?

Teddy in fighting stance
Martin Sax: I suppose it’s because it was so long ago. I'm a keen boxing fan and grew up watching Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Barry Mcguigan etc. When I joined the London Ex Boxers Association I met fighters such as Sammy McCarthy, Bobby Neil and the late Terry Spinks. These were names I was not familiar with as they had fought in an era before I was born. I knew a lot about fighters from when my grandfather was fighting because of all my research, but then there was a gap between when my granddad was fighting and when I started taking an interest in the sport as a twelve year old. These days kids don’t read so many books so unless the information on these old fighters are uploaded onto the internet their stories will remain hidden in second hand book shops.  

No Holds Barred: I've seen footage of him performing tricks on motorbikes. What was that about?

Martin Sax: I’m not sure that it was him performing the tricks, but I think the footage is from an 
event held at Crystal Palace. My grandfather is seen sparring with his former opponent Kid Nicholson. 

No Holds Barred: I read that your grandfather had a rough time later on in life. Could you tell us about that?

Martin Sax: Unfortunately without the strict regime of training he soon acquired a taste for the good life which ran hand-in-hand with his celebrity status. He was now drinking and socialising with high society in the West End of London. When he got married to my grandmother, thousands of well-wishers crowded the streets. The wedding made many of the national newspapers and was filmed by three different film companies. For a short time he managed the Earl of Derby pub in Forest Gate but this came to an end with the onset of World War Two when he enlisted in the RAF as a physical training instructor. During the war, a number of businesses he had invested his ring earnings in were bombed, so there was no longer the money to support his playboy lifestyle. He was drinking and gambling which had an effect on his marriage and in the end my grandmother left him taking his only daughter Pam. After the war, work was harder to come by; his brothers set him up with a job as a labourer in Millwall docks but he had to give it up due to the injuries he had sustained in the ring. In 1956, he admitted that he was almost in the gutter; the Sunday People ran a couple of features "The Daughter I Dare Not Face" and "The Mug who Couldn’t Say No". In the first article he would explain how he would sometimes travel to South Woodford in the hope of seeing his teenage daughter. My Mum was living there and working at a stables. She would often see him hiding behind a tree on her riding route, hoping to get a glimpse of her as she rode past. He never had the courage to talk to her and she just saw him as a down-and-out; an embarrassing figure who had never been a part of her life while she was growing up. Sometimes he would travel to Southend where he would be put up in the boiler room of one of the local pubs. People would buy him drinks and in return he would tell them stories of his fighting days. In 1971, aged 63, he ended up dying penniless after often living rough on the streets of London. He died in Rochford Infirmary, Essex and his ashes were scattered in the Garden of remembrance at Southend Crematorium. Not a single National newspaper reported his passing. One of Britain’s boxing heroes, who had packed boxing arenas for the best part of a decade, had been forgotten. For years there was nothing to mark my grandfather’s resting place in Southend, so I have had a plaque made which I am hoping the crematorium will erect in his memory.

No Holds Barred: He survived two World wars and lived to tell the tale and I read that Teddy's pub he had invested in was blown up in World War Two. They must have been difficult times?

Martin Sax: They were without doubt tough times, but more so for less privileged people living in Britain’s cities who were trying to make a living whilst also trying to survive the horrors of the Blitz. My Grandfather had already made a lot of money by then, the trouble was he lived for the now, which I suppose is how many people lived in the War years.

No Holds Barred: Did he ever talk to the family about how life was during the two wars? Presumably times were even tougher then than they were for him in the ring.

Martin Sax: I’m not aware that he spoke much to the family about life during the two World Wars. Of course life as a fighter during the 1920’s & 1930’s were tough, but during WW2 my grandfather was working as a physical training instructor in the RAF based in the UK, so for him life must have been pretty cushy compared to the hundreds of thousands who were fighting the War abroad.

No Holds Barred: Brian Belton authored the book "Teddy Baldock: The Pride of Poplar". Did you or any family members have any input in the book? 

Martin Sax: I have spent the last twenty years researching my grandfather’s career as a fighter, 
just for my own interest in the sport of boxing. I did however think that it would make a great story or even film. Brian Belton contacted me a few years ago with an interest in writing Teddy Baldock’s story. He already had a publisher interested, so with my research and knowledge and his literary skills we put together the book "Teddy Baldock: The Pride of Poplar". I asked Duke McKenzie if he would write the foreword, being Britain's last World bantamweight champion, which he kindly did, and The Lonsdale Sporting Club hosted a fantastic book launch in London which was attended by quite a number of past and present British champions. 

No Holds Barred: Should fans rush out to the shops and buy it?

Teddy's career told in detail
Martin Sax: If you are a boxing fan then I can highly recommend it and I’m positive you will not be disappointed. For those who have seen the film "The Cinderella Man" it is a similar story but without the happy ending. It would now probably be quite difficult to find the book in the shops as it was published in 2008. So anyone interested can contact me through my website www.teddybaldock.co.uk. I sell the books at £15 including P&P with the money now going to the charity I have set up called The Teddy Baldock Sports Benevolent Fund. 

No Holds Barred: Can you tell us a little about your charity?

Martin Sax: I started the Teddy Baldock Sports Benevolent Fund charity with the aim to help people who have been severely injured while competing in sport and also to assist youngsters from underprivileged areas get involved in sport so that perhaps they won’t end up in a similar situation as my grandfather. The charity has already helped boxer Jonjo Finnegan, who tragically suffered bleeding on the brain while fighting for the English Masters Super-Middleweight title. 

No Holds Barred: A statue of your grandfather was unveiled in Langdon Park in Poplar, East London on May 16th this year. When did you think of the idea to have a statue of your grandfather erected?

Martin Sax: After the success of the book "Teddy Baldock: The Pride of Poplar" in December 2008, I thought that there should be some sort of lasting monument to commemorate his achievements in British Boxing. I looked into a Blue Heritage Plaque but didn't meet the criteria as the building he was raised in doesn't exist now. I thought about a statue and coincidentally a friend of mine Tommy Mellis introduced me to the sculptor Carl Payne, the artist responsible  for the Randolph Turpin Statue. After hearing his story he was keen to produce the statue.

No Holds Barred: After putting your idea forth what reactions did you get?

Martin Sax: Everyone was supportive but I think that most people, including my mum, thought that it was far too ambitious and that realistically it wouldn't happen.  

The statue close to completion
No Holds Barred: How did the idea get off the ground and how did you raise the money? 

Martin Sax: I opened a joint account with London Ex Boxers Secretary Charlie

Wright for money raised, then sent out emails to all my family, friends and contacts in the boxing world. I remember walking into the Poplar Boys and Girls boxing club and as luck would have it they were chairing a meeting about the new £4 million Spotlight Youth Centre. I explained what I wanted to do and all the committee members agreed that the statue would look fantastic outside the Youth Centre. After raising approximately four thousand pounds myself by running the London Marathon etc, I needed a further six thousand pounds before the artist would start on the life-size model. Poplar HARCA agreed to put up the money so that we could start the project. Carl Payne also produced an 18-inch miniature of the life-size statue that could be re-cast to sell as limited editions to assist in raising the money for the life-size version. Donations, fundraising events and the selling of the miniature statues helped, and having the charity status helped in raising funds for the statue and I hope that now the statue has been erected it will give the charity a focal point for further fund raising.

No Holds Barred: When did the statue look likely to be erected?

Martin Sax: I was pretty positive that with Poplar HARCA behind me that the statue would definitely happen. It really hinged on planning permission and support from the Tower Hamlets Parks Department who own the land that the statue sits on. Once that was granted it was really just a case of waiting for the statue to be cast in bronze and for Carl to put all the pieces together, as the statue comes back from the foundry in pieces which must then be welded together.

No Holds Barred: The statue unveiling was a fantastic event that I'm delighted to have attended. How did you find the time to organise such a great event? 

Martin Sax: Having retired from the Royal Marines, I am now working in the Maritime Security Industry and spend weeks at sea working on board merchant ships so I spent most of the time I was back home organising the event, which isn't easy when trying to balance my time at home with my wife and two boys. I spent the two weeks leading up to the event either sending emails or on the phone.

The statue in Langdon Park, Poplar
No Holds Barred: How proud were you of the great turnout at the unveiling?

Martin Sax: I'm extremely proud of the statue and turnout. Carl Payne has done a fantastic job, especially when you think he has only had black and white images to work from. When I visited his studio to view the completed clay model, my biggest concern was what if the profile doesn't look right? But I must say I couldn't have wished for a better likeness, it was just as I imagined it should be. As for the unveiling, it was a wonderful day. There must have been approximately three hundred and fifty people there as well as all the former British boxing champions. As I said in my speech, there were probably no more than a dozen people at my grandfather's funeral in Southend in March 1971, as the hero of British boxing during the 1920's was completely forgotten. Yet, on the 16th May 2014 there were hundreds of people present to celebrate the unveiling of his statue; it was certainly a fitting tribute. I hope that the statue will now serve as an inspiration to the Spotlight Youth Club members and also the students attending the nearby Langdon Park Sports Community College, highlighting the achievements of a local youth who, through hard work and determination, rose to the very pinnacle of his chosen sporting career.

No Holds Barred: Do you have any final words?

Martin Sax:
At the height of his career, Teddy Baldock once said "I'm proud of Poplar, it made me" and now, immortalised in bronze, the former World Bantamweight Champion stands once again in the East London borough where I hope once again he will be known as "The Pride of Poplar".

No Holds Barred: Thanks for giving your time up and sharing your grandfather's story with us all. It all makes for an interesting read and I hope people go visit the statue as it really is a magnificent piece of work.

Meeting Martin Sax (left) and I (right) at the Teddy Baldock statue unveiling event

Footage from the statue unveiling:


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