Reg Gutteridge’s passing marks loss of legend

The passing of former SJA chairman Reg Gutteridge, the outstanding boxing commentator, marks the loss of one of greats of Fleet Street’s sports desks and the early era of television sports coverage.

For boxing, Reg was one of the last links with the sport’s Victorian past: Gutteridge’s grandfather, Arthur, was the first professional boxer to appear, in 1891, at the original National Sporting Club, and is said to have taught Rudyard Kipling to box.

Gutteridge’s family announced his death today, saying that Reg had died after a short illness. He was 84.

An amateur boxer as a youngster, Gutteridge turned to journalism after losing a leg when he stepped on a mine in Normandy during the Second World War.

Gutteridge was born on March 29 1924 in Islington.

His father and uncle – Dick and Jack – were the Gutteridge Twins, famous corner men and trainers in Britain during the 1920s and 1930s who became known as the “trainers of champions”.

One of Reg’s earliest memories was of seeing the jockstrap of the Italian world heavyweight champion Primo Carnera drying on a clothes horse by the fire: “Carnera trained at my dad’s gym whenever he was in London. He was known as ‘The Ambling Alp’ – 19 stone and 6ft 6in he was – so the sight of his equipment left an indelible impression.”

When Reg was 10, his father allowed him to hold the boxers’ dressing gowns at ringside in Bethnal Green. He went on to make a few appearances in the ring as an amateur flyweight, but he was aware from his earliest days that he would never be a champion (“girl’s hands, you see”, as he later put it).

Given what was to happen to him during the Second World War, it was perhaps just as well. Having joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 1942, Gutteridge was taking part in the Normandy landings when he jumped out of his Sherman tank and landed on a mine, losing his right leg.

He was only 20, and it was the end of any residual ambitions he had to excel in the ring. “It could have been a hell of a lot worse,” he later reflected. “When I woke up in hospital I thought my balls had gone as well, but after they took the dressings off I discovered I had taken a small blast burn in the groin.

“I’m not bitter about it; it happened during wartime and war is a terrible, terrible thing. My father and his brother both died young through heart trouble brought on by being gassed at the Somme. They were gassed on the same day because as twins they went everywhere together.”

Reg Gutteridge decided to become a boxing journalist. He was taken on as a reporter by the Evening News, where as a 14-year-old he had worked briefly as an office boy, and was subsequently appointed boxing correspondent. He was to remain there for 30 years.

In 1962, he cast his net wider, joining ITV’s World of Sport, hosted by Dickie Davies, as a commentator on the sport, where his amiable nature and deep-set knowledge of the game and contacts within boxing set high standards in the fledgling medium.

From 1980 Gutteridge formed a famous commentating partnership with the former world lightweight champion Jim Watt. And during his three decades with ITV Gutteridge covered bouts involving all the great fighters of the era – among them were Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson, Ken Buchanan, Henry Cooper, Sonny Liston and, of course, Muhammad Ali.

Gutteridge and Ali became friends, and when in 1989 the commentator was lying seriously ill in a London hospital he woke up to find Ali in prayer at his bedside. “A wonderful man, just wonderful,” Gutteridge later said. “I was taken into Hammersmith hospital with blood poisoning and Connie, my wife, reckoned I was too ill to have any visitors. It was quite serious at the time and it looked like I was going. Anyway, I wake up this day and there’s Ali standing at the foot of my bed. He sat there and held my hand then knelt and said a prayer. When he went out I didn’t half cry.”

While on World of Sport Gutteridge also covered six Olympic Games as well as sports as diverse as greyhound racing and tug o’ war. He was a winner of the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. He was appointed OBE in 1995, and inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

In 1998 he published (with Peter Batt, the former EastEnders scriptwriter) an autobiography, Uppercuts and Dazes. Muhammad Ali wrote the foreword.

Gutteridge, who lived in Barnet, leaves a wife, daughter and four grandsons.

His daughter Sally said: “He was a much-loved husband, father and grandfather. He touched many lives.”

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