IT was snowing the morning that Dick Turpin finally got a blue plaque in the street where he was born.
The other Turpin boy, Randy, has had a magnificent statue for 20 years, it stands just a few minutes away from the new blue plaque. It is majestic.
At last, Randy’s big brother has recognition for what he achieved in 1948 when he won the British middleweight title. That was Dick’s 91st fight and it smashed the colour bar. It was outdoors at Villa Park; it went the full 15 rounds and was watched by more than 40,000 people. It was an event, not something hidden on a private show at a sporting club for men smoking cigars and sitting on their hands.
Dick and Randy, the Turpin boys from Warwick, are true pioneers, both British champions and they are too often forgotten in British boxing.
Dick Turpin’s blue plaque was unveiled the day after what would have been his 101st birthday. “That is fitting,” said Ady Bush, who has worked for nearly 30 years to get the Turpins the recognition and respect they deserve. He was behind the statue of Randy Turpin that stands and shadows over people in Warwick’s main square. Henry Cooper pulled the canopy off that in 2001, flanked by fighting giants on the day and they were all there honouring a British boxing god. “Henry told me it would be a privilege to unveil the statue – he told me he idolised Randy,” said Bush. The day after the statue, Bush decided it was Dick’s turn for respect. And he was right.
Last Saturday, in the doorway of Sainsbury’s in Warwick, a crowd gathered in the frosty cold to watch as the curtain was pulled back on Dick’s blue plaque. The immediate family and other members of the Turpin family were there. It was cold, trust me, as we stood in the long-gone footsteps of the Turpin fighting boys on Parkes Street, once an area of terraced houses and now the city-centre site for Sainsbury’s and its car park. Parkes Street was home to the boxers, the place Dick was born. There was also the other brother, the featherweight, Jackie Turpin and he fought 129 times.
A local MP assured the gathering that there would be more recognition for the fighting Turpin boys, Frazer Clarke said a word or two about how much they still mean and local fighter, Lewis Williams, shared his respect. It all felt about right, even if both Dick and Randy deserve far, far more. The people standing, shuffling against the cold and listening were the faithful, a flock of believers, people that don’t necessarily need a textbook to tell them what they know. There is still a place in our boxing business for oral tradition, stuff kept in hearts and heads, not stored in print or film. The stuff that boxing people share when they meet, when they have a boxing conversation without the urgency to share a clip on their phone of the latest insults. The people gathered on Saturday morning had listened to Turpin tales growing up. The living members of the family and Ady Bush have done their best to keep the story burning bright.
The story about breaking the colour barrier and winning the British middleweight title outdoors at Villa Park and then retaining the title across the city on the pitch at Birmingham City. And of Dick’s fight with the world champion Marcel Cerdan, who had just beaten Tony Zale for the title, and meeting the very best middleweights in the world before taking over as Randy’s trainer. There was, obviously, Randy’s greatest night, the night he beat Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951. There are still so many myths attached to that night and they all seem to revolve around taking something away from what Turpin achieved in that ring. The story of that fight should be taught in schools, not just in boxing gyms and at venues where boxing takes place. The Turpin boys are a lot of different stories; a story of success and glory and heartbreak in the sport. Yeah, it was not all golden.
There is a debate about Dick Turpin’s right to be called the first black boxer to win a British title: the other claimant was born in South Africa and won his version before the British Boxing Board of Control was formed. I go with Turpin every time; he won in the modern era, in open-air fights and big arenas and at a time when facts were measurable.
The event in the cold in Warwick last Saturday morning was as much about history as it was about long-overdue respect. Dick Turpin is the pioneer, it’s that simple. His daughter, Rebecca, and sons, Keith and Richard, were there, smiling and proud.
In the history of the fighting Turpin Boys, there are too many anonymous years and then intrigue and rumour and gossip filled the papers and the newsreels. Randolph took his own life in 1966. He lost the world middleweight title in his first defence, beaten in New York by a merciless Robinson, back in 1951. He never held it long and that is part of the story.
In our business we tend to celebrate dozens of men before the Turpin boys get a look in. Dick, especially, is close to invisible. We love Henry Cooper and Frank Bruno. We nodded at the wizardry of Ken Buchanan, the brilliance of John Conteh, the blood of Alan Minter, the charm of Barry McGuigan. We watched and watched their fights and interviews, they were modern, in colour, their boots and shorts bright. The Turpins were in black and white. We adored the modern idols, fighting icons and put their pictures on the walls in our bedrooms. That’s the truth. Meanwhile, in Warwick and neighbouring Leamington Spa, the Turpin boys faded with history. They are like two images in a photograph hanging on a wall in the sun. Going, going, gone. But, now they are back.
Randy’s statue is a wonderful reminder and now Dick has his own permanent spot, a blue plaque. Yep, it was a good morning in Warwick,