The dedicated hick
You always hope these brave, decent men have the gratifying life outside the ring they earned inside of it…
In the half-century-plus since I sent my first “Boxing In Wisconson” article to The Ring magazine (I was unaware of the correct spelling of the state in which I had lived all of my 14 years) I have accumulated more boxing stuff than my wife can stand to think about. (Her word for it is less dignified than “stuff.”) Out of deference to her and other family members who attribute my boxing addiction to brain damage I must’ve incurred compiling a lifetime record of 0-1, I have but a single boxing photo on display in our home. I found it on eBay around 20 years ago, and had to buy, frame and put it up because I loved Jack Bodell.
I never met the 1960s British and European heavyweight champion and saw some of his fights only recently on YouTube. But written reports of them by fellow “Rings Around the World” correspondents Johnny Sharp and Ron Olver made Bodell one of my guys — big, balding, clumsy, with way more heart than skill. I personally identified with the first three, and envied the other. I don’t recall ever seeing Jack’s name in the Top 10 — he lost twice to ‘Enery Cooper and was stopped by Jerry Quarry and Thad Spencer; but the plus side of the big southpaw’s 58-13 ledger includes were wins over fellow Brits Carl Gizzi, Brian London, Billy Walker and Joe Bugner.
Even when his hand was raised, though, the ex-coalman from rural Derbyshire was roasted by big city critics for his provincialism, which led columnist Hugh McIlvanney to famously rise to the boxer’s defense in a 1970 column piquantly titled “The Sour Taste in Jack Bodell’s Pop.”
“He is a dedicated hick,” wrote McIlvanney of Bodell, “often dressing in the kind of suits middle-aged men remember encountering at demobilization centres… His boxing is amateurishly clumsy. His head still jerks into an exposed position as he lunges in with his ponderous right lead, his left is predictable and only modestly damaging and his footwork gives the impression of having been acquired at a school for deep-sea divers.”
But the overall portrait of the “large, simple-natured, likeable man” (available in the anthologies “McIlvanney on Boxing” and “The Hardest Game,” and W.C. Heinz’s “The Book of Boxing”) was so endearing and affecting it would surprise me if everyone who read it didn’t put up a photo of Jack Bodell in his living room.
You always hope these brave, decent men have the gratifying life outside the ring they earned inside of it, and evidently Bodell was one of the fortunate ones, operating a popular fish and chips restaurant in Coventry. But then came dementia and finally, this week, death at age 76.
Friends recalled him in the Coventry Telegraph as “a gentle man,” “a lovely, kind man” and “a Coventry legend.” My favorite: “I used to deliver his milk, and remember him pushing his car out of his drive, so he didn’t wake his wife.”
Such provincialism outshines a championship belt.