Jimmy Wilde (1892-1969)
William James (Jimmy) Wilde, boxer and world flyweight champion, was born in Pont-y-gwaith, in the parish of Craig Berth-lwyd, near Tylorstown in South Wales. He was able to leave school at the age of thirteen by passing an examination that guaranteed him a labour certificate. He went to work in the coal mines, and to earn extra money, he took part in boxing matches in fairground booths. As he rarely lost a match, he soon built up a reputation for himself. He became a celebrity sportsman in the Welsh rings, and decided to leave the coal mines in order to dedicate himself to a career in boxing.
His first officially listed début was on 26 December 1910, when he fought Les Williams in a three round no-decision, followed soon after by a win on 1 January, 1911, against Ted Roberts. He went undefeated for 103 matches, and won the British flyweight championship in Glasgow in 1912. Although he lost this British title in 1915, he quickly regained it in 1916, and later that year became the first World Flyweight Champion when he defeated Young Zulu Kid of the United States. He held onto this title until 1923, when he officially retired.
From 1911 until his retirement, his official fighting record totalled 138 matches, including seven British or world title contests, and the Lord Lonsdale challenge belt. His incredible powerful punches and fast movements earned him many names such as ‘the Mighty Atom’, ‘the Tylorstown Terror’ and ‘the Ghost with a Hammer in his hands’.
Following his retirement from active boxing, he continued as a boxing manager and promoter of boxing tournaments.
John Charles (1931-2004)
(William) John Charles, footballer, was born in 1931, in Cwmbwrla, Swansea. He was educated at Cwmdu junior and Manselton senior schools. His early talent in football became evident. He was chosen to play for Manselton school team in his first year, then Swansea schools at the age of twelve. On leaving school in 1946, he joined the ground staff at Swansea Town Football Club.
Charles first professional signing came about with Leeds United on his seventeenth birthday, having been spotted playing for Gendros, a local Swansea youth club. His first-team debut for Leeds was a friendly game against the Scottish club Queen of the South, whose centre-forward Billy Houliston called him ‘the best centre-half I have ever met.’ Charles scored 150 league goals in eight years for Leeds, and played exceptionally in both centre-half and centre-forward positions.
His début for Wales came in 1950, playing against Northern Ireland, aged 18. This was a Welsh record, which lasted until 1991. During a period of national service between 1950 and 1952, Charles played for the Army team, as well as regularly practising other sports such as boxing and running.
In 1957 he was transferred to the Italian club Juventus, for a record £65,000 transfer fee, nearly double the previous record for a British player. He spent a total of five years with the team, scoring 93 goals in 155 games. He was instantly successful, and with Charles being the leading scorer, the team won the league championship in 1957, followed by further wins in 1960 and 1961, and the Italian cup in 1959 and 1960. In 1997 Juventus fans voted him the greatest foreign player, and he was the first overseas player to be chosen for the Italian football hall of fame. He was known as ‘il Buon Gigante’ or ‘the Gentle Giant.’
Charles returned to Leeds in 1962, but this period was less successful for him, and after only three months, he returned to Italy with Roma. He could not match his previous form, and was dropped from the team. He joined Cardiff City at the end of the 1962-3 season. He played three second division seasons with them, and played his last game for Wales in 1965, ending his run of thirty-eight caps and fifteen goals.
He moved on to non-league football with Hereford United then Merthyr Tydfil, and remained a capable player into his forties. He became manager at both Merthyr and Hereford, and youth team manager at Swansea City from 1974 to 1976. His later life was plagued with health problems, and he died in Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, in 2004.
Ivor Novello (1893-1951)
Ivor Novello (real name David Ivor Davies), composer, actor and playwright was born in 1893 in Cardiff , the only son of David Davies and Clara Novello Davies. His mother was a singing teacher and choral conductor, and she gave the young Ivor musical tuition. This led to his success at eisteddfodau, and a choral scholarship to Magdalen College School, Oxford, when he was only 10 years old. Here he remained for five years.
He was only 15 when he produced his first vocal composition ‘Spring of the Year,’ but a later vocal work ‘The Little Damozel’ written in 1910, brought him more success. He moved to London in 1913, and his flat at 11 Aldwych became his London residence for the rest of his life. Sir Edward Marsh became his patron there, and he was encouraged to compose further. He changed his name to Ivor Novello by deed poll in 1927.
He achieved one of his most notable song writing successes with his war-time composition ‘Till the boys come home (Keep the home fires burning)', to the words of Lena Guilbert Ford. He composed approximately 60 ballads and songs in total during his career. He had his first major success with musical theatre writing with Theodore & Co., a production by George Grossmith and Edward Laurillard, with a score jointly written by Novello and Jerome Kern. This was followed by further score writing for See-saw, Arlette, Who’s Hooper? and The Golden Moth, among others.
After a period of service in the forces, Novello was offered his first acting part in the silent film The Call of the Blood (1920), which was the start of a successful film career. His great desire to become a stage actor was realised in 1921 when he appeared in Deburaut. He went on to produce and star in the successful play The Rat, in 1924. A film of The Rat (1925) was a major success and led to two further sequels. He wrote and acted in several further plays before turning to musical plays, with popular compositions being Glamorous night (1935) and King’s Rhapsody (1949), his last major musical romance.
John Orlando Parry (1810-1879)
John Orlando Parry, actor and singer, was born in London in 1810. He was the only son of the Welsh musician John Parry (1776-1851) (known as Bardd Alaw) and his wife Maria. He was taught from an early age by his father to sing and play the harp and piano. He also studied the harp under Robert Boscha, and was performing at the age of 15 as a professional harpist.
He gave his first public appearance as a singer on 7 May 1830, at the Hanover Square Rooms, London. He received lessons from Sir George Smart in sacred and classical music, and became sought after to perform in concerts and music festivals.
In 1833 he visited Italy and received singing tuition from Luigi Lablanche in Naples, where he lived for a short time. From 1836 onwards, he appeared in a number of burlettas and comic performances, one of which, The Sham Prince, was written and composed by his father.
In 1842, Parry left the stage for the concert-room. His exceptional talent as a pianist became widely recognized, as a result of high profile appearances, such as the concert tour he took part in around the United Kingdom with Camillo Sivori, Liszt and others. He produced Notes, Vocal and Instrumental in 1850, which was written by Albert Smith. In the production, he sang in different voices, played the piano, conversed with the audience, and undertook many costume changes. The success of this show, was followed by his next solo entertainment act The Portfolio for Children of All Ages (1852), which was also highly popular. The strain of his busy schedule, however, took its toll on his health, and he was forced to retire from public performance.
In 1860, he resumed his role as entertainer, and gave comic performances, using material composed by himself, for a further nine years. He composed several songs and ballads during his lifetime, many of which won prizes from the Melodists’ Club including ‘Fair Daphne’ (1840) and ‘The Flying Dutchman’ (1848). He retired in 1869, due to ill-health.
- G. C. Boase, ‘Parry, John Orlando (1810–1879)’, rev. David J. Golby, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Culturenet Cymru, 2004. 100 Welsh heroes. Aberystwyth : Culturenet Cymru
- Davies, Maldwyn, 2005. The ghost with a hammer and the Welsh wizard. Country Quest (May), p.48-49
- Mary Auronwy James, 'Novello, Ivor (David Ivor Davies till 1927; 1893-1951)' Welsh Biography Online, National Library of Wales, 2001; online edn, 2007
- Huw Richards, ‘Charles, (William) John (1931-2004)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2008; online edn, Jan 2009
- John Snelson, ‘Novello, Ivor (1893-1951)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2009
- Welsh Warriors, ‘Jimmy Wilde, Merthyr Tydfil: World Flyweight Champion’