JACK SOLOMONS STORY
As teenage boxer Kid Mears stepped through the ropes and into the ring, his young girlfriend could scarcely bear to watch. Later that evening, after another successful bout in his brief career, she issued an ultimatum, threatening: “It’s the ring or me!”
Jack Solomons discarded his gloves and his nickname and concentrated on his day job. Although hawking fish from a stall on Petticoat Lane market wasn’t the most fragrant of occupations, it was good regular money and – as he jokingly remarked years later – it was only the fish that got battered, not him. He and girlfriend Fay were swiftly married and remained together until her death 25 years later.
Jack had a sharp brain, too good to expose to the brutality of life in the boxing ring. After he figured out that the real money, and the longer career, was in promoting bouts, he left his day job to return to his ultimate calling. Jack went on to become one of the greatest boxing promoters in history.
Jack made his name and his money in the big years of British boxing after the Second World War, with a unique approach, bringing big fighters from the US and Britain together – he maximised the audience, publicity, and the purse.
Breaking into the closed shop of fight promotion was tough, but Jack found his way in with The Devonshire Sporting Club. Affectionately known as the ‘Dev’, the club was opened in a converted church in Devonshire Road, off Mare Street in Hackney by boxing manager Joe Morris and three confederates, one of them Jack. Their speciality was in putting on young, up and coming boxers not handled by the established business – men like the lightweight turned heavyweight from Poplar, Johnny Softley, renowned for his ‘heart punch’ and as ‘the man who was never knocked out’. The Dev was destroyed by German bombs in 1940 which led to Jack to find a new location for his boxing gym in Great Windmill Street.
Solomons hit a new level with the Jack London and Bruce Woodcock for the British heavyweight title at White Hart Lane in 1945, and was now promoting the big British fighters of the day such as Freddie Mills, and Randolph Turpin and promoted the sensational bout in 1951 when Sugar Ray Robinson lost his middleweight world title to Turpin. In 1963, he brought Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) to England to fight Henry Cooper. He beat him over five rounds with a technical knockout.
In all, Jack Solomons would promote 26 world title fights and was working almost up to his death in 1979. It’s a measure of the role boxing played in British life then, that in 1957 he was a guest on Desert Island Discs, explaining to host Roy Plomley why his choices included Petula Clark (‘Take Care of Yourself’) and Johann Strauss II (Perpetual Motion) and East End favourites Flanagan and Allen (Down Every Street). His luxury item, rather fittingly, was a punchbag.