Cornish boy Len: Britain's wonder boxer
Muhammad Ali may have won the hearts and minds of the world in the 1960s and 1970s but 80 years ago, it was a man from Cornwall who captured the imagination of the nation with his boxing prowess.
His stunning victory at the Royal Albert Hall meant he had held three British championships at different weights within the same year.
Len Harvey, who was born at Polhilsa, near Stoke Climsland, and went to school in the village, beat Jack Petersen to become the British heavyweight champion – a remarkable feat as he had also won the light heavyweight and middleweight championships in the previous 12 months.
Cornish people sat glued to their crackling early radios to listen to the broadcast of the fight and cheered when Len took the title.
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The remarkable story of Len Harvey, and others, is told in Dr James Whetter's new book, Cornish People In The 20th Century. Len was born in July, 1907, and his father was a farm hand at Polhilsa and drove a steam traction engine.
In 1914 the family, including three children, were due to emigrate to Canada but the start of the First World War put paid to that.
Len's father, Ted, had always been interested in boxing and was a great admirer of Cornishman Bob Fitzsimmons, who became heavyweight champion of the world in 1897. Ted became a trainer at the Cosmopolitan Gymnasium in Plymouth and his sons took up boxing there, Len and his elder brother Wilfred joining in 1918. Len was just 11, and frail, and it was thought the physical exercise would benefit him. He built up his physical strength and fitness and won his first bout on points.
Len left school at 14 and began to work in a garage but was already building up a reputation for his boxing skills and ability to beat bigger opponents with sheer class and a long reach. He fought in Plymouth, Truro and London, where he eventually signed up with a leading promoter.
At the age of 17, Len had a knockout punch and other London boxers avoided him. Boxers were brought over from Holland, Belgium and Italy to be beaten by the Cornishman. He became known as Britain's Wonder Boxer and at 23 fought for the British welterweight championship over 20 rounds at the Royal Albert Hall, a fight which ended in a draw.
Len's first British championship, and with it a Lonsdale belt, was presented in person to him in the ring by Lord Lonsdale, as a middleweight. He retained that championship on December 12, 1932, then took the light heavyweight title the next April.
By the end of 1933 he had also won the heavyweight championship, on November 30, 1933, and at just over 12st was the lightest man to do so, with a points decision over the 'Welsh Tiger' Jack Petersen.
He became the Empire champion the following February and was determined to go for a world title, especially as the last British holder of the light heavyweight championship was another Cornishman, his hero Bob Fitzsimmons.
Harvey fought Jock McAvoy for the vacant world title before a packed audience at the White City. A points victory meant he was the World, Empire and British champion, adding to his two as a heavyweight and making him the first man to hold five championships at the same time.
The outbreak of war in 1939 saw him become an RAF PT instructor, and he lost his light heavyweight titles to Freddie Mills, 12 years his junior, at White Hart Lane in 1942.
"A brave, physically well-endowed and good-natured Cornish boy, who knew how to behave," is how James Whetter describes Len Harvey.
This book also includes stories of Christopher Wood, William Golding, Guy Gibson, VC, Daphne du Maurier, Patrick Glasson, a Cornishman in the Spanish Civil War, and many others. It is available now priced at £15.