London’s Loveable Villain: the colourful history of a life-saving wrestler

Champion wrestler, triple life saver and royal security guard Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight’s extraordinary life is explored by his great nephew in new book ‘London’s Loveable Villain’.

Having developed his sporting prowess in the army, serving after the First World War, Knight became a champion wrestler and boxer for his regiment, and went on to start a professional wrestling career in 1932 at the forefront of the sport’s development.

He also rescued a fellow soldier from drowning while in Gibraltar and when he returned to England, he rescued a young girl and someone attempting to rescue her from drowning by jumping off Hammersmith Bridge into the Thames.

CHEEKY CHICK: Chick was said to have trained on beer and cigars and he used this picture for his Christmas cards one year.

Chick made quite the name for himself, appearing in films with George Formby, acting as security for Princess Margaret and befriending comedians, opera singers and even infamous hangman Albert Pierrepoint.

Chick’s great nephew Andy Scott said: “He lived such a colourful, colourful life.

“You always have one character in the family I suppose. 

“He’s got these firsts to him. He was one of the first British wrestlers to be seen on TV in 1938.

“But he seems to have sort of been lost in history.”

He was very well-known in his time, said Scott, especially to the people of Hammersmith who would often see the 20-stone giant riding around on a tiny scooter as it almost disappeared up his backside. 

In fact, he was such a character that when people heard he had jumped into the Thames they assumed it was to avoid the police after a session of heavy drinking.

CHICK FLICK: Chick (far left) is pictured with the cast of the George Formby film he starred in as a stuntman, Trouble Brewing. He also appeared with comedy duo Flanagan and Allen.

On Chick’s title as ‘London’s loveable villain,’ the tagline comes from a wrestling fight poster.

Scott said: “Crowds either loved him or loathed him. He was he was very much like marmite.

“Today, some wrestlers have characters. They’re either the good or the bad guy. I think Chick was probably known as the bad guy.

“But he was very much thought of as a gentle giant outside of the ring.” 

One of Scott’s interviewees even described seeing Chick fight in Newcastle and hearing the crowd roar as it chanted “dirty chick, dirty chick”.

RUSSIAN BEAR: Chick was known as the Russian Bear when he wrestled abroad. He died age 64 in 1967 and is described in the above notice as ‘Acton’s toughest bouncer.’

Chick went on to become one of the first bouncers in West London during the late 1950s.

In one incident, he laid out four knife-wielding thugs before seeing off yet another four while on duty in Soho.

He was also known to train on beer and good cigars, and he shared this love with executioner Albert Pierrepoint.

When Albert was in London for business they would meet up and when Chick was fighting in Manchester he would stay at Albert’s pub in Oldham.

UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP: Scott described Chick (left) and Albert (right) as ‘chalk and cheese‘.

Albert was said to be very upset when Chick died in 1967.

He wrote a letter to the family and continued to send Christmas cards each year, often featuring a picture of him pulling a pint. 

Scott decided to write about Chick after mentioning him in his book Tales of a Page, which focused on his father.

He was pleased to find he shared some things in common with Chick, including a love of jellied eels. 

Last year he started a petition, 90 years after the Thames rescue, to have a plaque installed on Hammersmith Bridge. 

CHAMPION CHICK: Chick after a tournament victory possibly in Germany in the early 1950’s.

The petition has been signed by over 400 people, including living relatives of the young girl Chick saved.

Scott said: “It would be nice if the council acknowledged it and said ‘yes, we’re going to definitely do something’. 

“Because Chick was one of their own. He’s a son of Hammersmith.”

You can read more about Chick’s colourful life in London’s Loveable Villain, available now at Barnes Bookshop or via eBay online. 

Check out London’s Loveable Villain Facebook Page to find out more.

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