In around 1952 my father came to London for an operation on his jaw. It wasn’t a very major operation but as he was a surgeon himself there was some nervousness amongst his colleagues in Johannesburg who would rather it was someone else’s problem. So to London they came.
Close friends of theirs, Alf and Jessie Cope, were amazing, helping every step of the way. Surgery was successful and – the story goes – Alf visited my dad in hospital and asked what he would like to do when he was discharged. Dad said that he would really like to see a boxing match and so it was. The women went to the ballet (of course!) and Dad (on the right) and Alf (centre) went to the Café Royal. Another guest was Freddie Mills (on the left).
Some background: Alf was the founder of Cope’s Football Pools. The Football Pools were a major British institution and, until the National Lottery, were the most general gambling pastime. You received your coupon every week, filled in what you thought would be the draws in the football matches on Saturday and hoped. If there were lots of draws the payout was very small but if there were only 8 and you got all of them it could be quite significant. At a time when I was earning £15 a week we won £1,000 between four of us.
Freddie Mills had been the World Lightweight Boxing Champion and was very much the post-war golden boy of British boxing. He never made it as a heavyweight and after retirement did some acting, TV presenting, owned a nightclub and apparently associated with some very dodgy characters. He committed suicide or perhaps was murdered in 1965.
Back to the night: I can’t verify any of this as my dad died in 1968 but the story went that after the event he found out that, when Alf couldn’t find a boxing match taking place that week he arranged a programme including putting up the purse. It was apparently reported in the newspapers the following day. I would love to be able to verify this – but even so, what a great story.