The SJA fondly remembers Reg Gutteridge

SJA chairman BARRY NEWCOMBE, past chairman IAN COLE and NORMAN GILLER recount some of their memories of the late Reg Gutteridge

Around about the time Muhammad Ali had secured his status as one of the world’s most recognisable faces, a picture appeared in the London Evening News, writes Ian Cole.

It showed the newspaper’s boxing correspondent shaking hands with the heavyweight champion of the world on his arrival in London to fight the British champion, Henry Cooper.

The caption said: “Reg Gutteridge (left) meets Muhammad Ali”.

Now Reg Gutteridge was white, short, a stocky sort of middleweight, thinning on top, with glasses and a grey moustache. Muhammad Ali wasn’t.

It was a picture Reg treasured and a story he loved to tell until his death at the weekend after a short illness at the age of 84.

To a young man entering Fleet Street in the early 1970s there were few more friendly superstars of the newspaper business. Reg began as a copy boy but his ability to run from the sports desk to the stone and back was somewhat hampered by the Second World War. Serving with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 1942, he trod on a mine and lost the lower part of his left leg. It was something he told jokes about.

Reg was the son of an old London boxing family. His father and uncle, Dick and Jack, were the “Gutteridge Twins”, greatly respected cornermen. He frequented boxing’s small halls, like York Hall and Shoreditch Town Hall and he persuaded the Evening News to let him write about the sport he loved.

Over the years he became a much-loved boxing writer around the world and a familiar face on our television screens as ITV covered the major fights in the golden era of Ali, who became his friend, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Alan Minter, Jim Watt and Barry McGuigan.

His interest in his profession and his colleagues led to his election as chairman of what was then the SWA in 1969 and he remained a loyal supporter of our Association well into his retirement.

He was married to childhood sweetheart Connie for more than 60 years. If you were inviting him as a former chairman to an official SJA function you knew he would inquire: “And may I bring Constance with me?”

It was a real measure of Reg’s popularity and influence within the boxing game that he, a journalist and broadcaster, was made a member of boxing’s prestigious International Hall of Fame (pictured above left at his induction with Pipino Cuevas and Jeff Fenech. Reg is the one on the …). He was awarded the OBE in 1995.

I last talked to Reg at the Boxing Writers’ Awards dinner in the autumn. “Blimey Coley, are you getting taller or am I shrinking?” he asked.

He was loved and respected throughout boxing – even by those who stopped him in the street and told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Reg loved that recognition and the chance for a natter with the punters.

Boxing and the SJA has lost a good friend and great supporter.

Reg Gutteridge was boxing and he was the London Evening News for a great part of his journalistic life, writes Barry Newcombe.

He was brilliant in those two roles, let alone what he did in other fields, notably television.

I worked alongside him on many occasions and his sharp London wit meant that being around him was just straight fun. He could relate to boxers without difficulty and because he saw every fight which mattered in his time, he knew what he was talking about. His television commentaries took him into millions of homes and broadened his appeal.

In 1975, en route to the Thriller in Manila, the British boxing writers pulled into San Francisco to break the journey. It was early evening and the word reached us that the President of the United States had been shot at in the city.

Conscious of a deadline coming up in London I started leaping around and trying to find things out and I told Reg what I was doing. “Yes,” he said, and paused. “I think I’ll have a cup of tea.”

I was Reg Gutteridge’s leg man
Norman Giller worked with Gutteridge for half a century

What am I going to do without my weekly call from Reg Gutteridge, who passed on to the great boxing ring in the sky during the weekend?

We have been exchanging calls for more than 50 years, from way back when I left the London Evening News where I was Reg’s teaboy and, a rare one this, his leg man.

Reg – to quote him – “donated” a leg during the Normandy Landings in 1944, rather recklessly stepping on a landmine when climbing out of a Sherman Tank doing his duty as a 20-year-old.

“Give the Krauts an inch and they’ll take a foot,” he used to say, with what was a biting Cockney humour that helped carry him through the hell of that wartime experience.

When war broke out in 1939, Islington-born Reg was a copyboy on the Evening News, and planning to carry on the family tradition of going into professional boxing. He was one of the outstanding amateur flyweights in the country, as you might expect of the boy whose grandfather was the first professional ever to box at the original National Sporting Club.

Once the German landmine put an end to his boxing ambitions, Reg set out with tunnel-vision determination to become the best boxing reporter in the business. Note I didn’t say writer. Reg always publicly doffed his hat to George Whiting, his great friend and rival on the Evening Standard, who was arguably the most gifted sportswriter of his or any other generation. Reg did not try to compete with the word wizardry of Whiting. Instead, he concentrated on being first with the news, and he had the best contacts book in Fleet Street. We read George for the prose, Reg for news of the pros.

Monday night was always National Sporting Club night, which meant wearing a DJ. Reg used to send me down to where his Triumph was parked on the Embankment to get his spare leg – “the one with the black shoe”. I used to do the Jake the Peg three-legged walk back to the office long before Rolf Harris came up with it. Reg used to laugh like the proverbial drain and hop around the floor in time with my dancing.

We became close mates, and he followed my career every inch of the way, constantly phoning for the latest news and gossip. He used a telephone like other people use a garden fence.

I only heard of his passing in the last few hours, and after talking to Connie, his wife of a mere 61 years, and their lovely daughter, Sally-Ann, the memories are starting to queue for attention in my mind …

Was it really more than 50 years ago when I came from the Evening News tape-room shouting that Terry Spinks had won the Olympic gold in Melbourne. Reg had campaigned along with George Whiting and the Evening Star‘s Walter Bartleman for 18-year-old Spinks to be included in the team. Hearing the result, Reg jumped – false leg and all – on to his desk whooping.

There will be a queue of Reg’s boxing writer colleagues ready to tell well-known tales about a man who was a walking anecdote, so I will give just some off-beat ones that have not had many airings.

Such as when he flew to Las Vegas and his luggage, including his spare leg, went to Singapore. “That’s the widest my legs have ever been apart,” Reg told the startled airways staff.

He used to take his leg off to go swimming, and on beaches around the world he would come ashore shouting: “Sharks … sharks…”

Reg of the Arsenal-red blood was never boastful, but had a big ego, which was necessary to help him overcome his handicap, and not only to compete in the real world but get to the top of the mountain. He once told me: “My grandfather taught Rudyard Kipling to box. In return, it’s a pity he didn’t teach granddad to write. Think of the punchlines he could have passed on.”

Punchlines? Who will forget Reg’s shouted ad-lib as Chris Eubank made one of his vaulted ring entrances: “The ego has landed.” Or Trevor Berbick reeling around the ring from a Mike Tyson assault “like a toddler in a playpen.”

Right up until the end, Reg was moaning and groaning because nobody was ringing him to offer him work. The telephone was his last link with the world that had left him behind. Our weekly chats were his version of a blog. When I told him I was blogging for the SJA, he said: “What the f***’s a blog? Sounds like a blocked-up lavatory.” Perhaps he had been reading a few of them.

I once introduced him to my daughter’s father-in-law, another casualty during the Normandy Landings. Quick as a flash from Reg: “Don’t suppose you happened to see my leg on the beach?”

Away from boxing, Reg was a fanatical, low-handicap golfer who never quite conquered it the way he wanted to. “There’s no manual,” he said, “that tells you how to keep your head down and your wrists cocked whie your false leg is lifting up and digging into your crotch!” When asked his handicap, he used to say: “A leg courtesy of Adolf Hitler.”

That was typical of his wit, and explains why he was as good as any professional comedian as an after-dinner speaker who pulled no punches with jokes that could have made Bernard Manning blush. In fact Manning used to tell people who booked him for London dinners: “If that Reg Gutteridge is on, make sure I don’t follow him.”

Jack Dempsey was heavyweight champion of the world when Reg was born, and was one of a queue of champs Reg got to know on a friendship basis.

There was nobody to touch Reg for knowing and being known in the boxing game. In the late 1960s I went with him to meet Dempsey and Georges Carpentier at a reunion of their Million Dollar Fight at the Dorchester. Both of them talked to Reg as if he was an old pal.

He and his dear chum Harry Carpenter were rivals at the microphone, but good pals away from the ring. Muhammad Ali used to call them the “Brit Twins”.

I scripted Reg’s This Is Your Life tribute for Michael Aspel, and it was all set for us to fly Ali in – at his insistence. Sadly, he became ill a few days before the show, and had to make do with a filmed message.

Reg was once delayed getting to the ringside for an Ali title defence. Muhammad happened to be looking down as Reg took his seat.

“All right,” he shouted. “Mr Gutteridge is in the house. We can now start the fight.”

Yes, Reg Gutteridge was in the house … and it’s now empty and much less fun and less sparkling without him.

These are just some memories of Reg Gutteridge. To post your own recollections or tribute, write in the Comment box below

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