1:04pm Wednesday 27th July 2011
By Mark Chandler
Sir Henry Cooper is remembered as Britain’s top boxer but many people have also been touched by his work after he left the sport in 1971. As part of our campaign for a memorial in Lewisham, MARK CHANDLER speaks to some of those who knew him in later life.
ONCE retired, the British public quickly got used to seeing Henry Cooper outside of the ring.
From his appearance alongside legendary actor (and drinker) Oliver Reed in the film Royal Flush, to A Question of Sport and too many commercials to mention, Cooper remained on screens across the country.
But he did not forget his roots, and since the start of News Shopper’s campaign to remember him, many readers have called in with recollections of his visits to schools and charity events across the area.
Vivienne Pratt’s fondest memories of Henry are from the 1980s during his days on the charity golf circuit - events he loved right up until his death.
She said: “He was so quiet and such a gentleman - the most unlikely person you’d imagine to be a boxer in a way.
“In a way he was like an actor on the stage when he boxed, but when he walked off stage he was Our ‘Enry.”
Mrs Pratt said: “A statue is a nice idea for a tribute.
“A plaque is ok but it’s not quite as spectacular as a statue or sculpture and he was so monumental as a boxer. He was a big figure who was loved by everybody.”
London Ex-Boxers’ Association
At the London Ex-Boxers’ Association, there are also plans afoot to remember the great man.
The association is planning a presentation belt in Cooper’s name, given to the best British boxer annually, and will also hold a memorial service later this year.
Chairman Stephen Powell said: “He’ll always be known as the most popular heavyweight British champion, definitely in the post war years. Next after him would probably be Frank Bruno.
And he said Sir Henry once mentioned he would like his own statue whilst unveiling one in Leamington Spa.
Mr Powell remembered: “He was saying ‘this is nice. I hope they do one of these for me one day’.”
Though it was taken as a joke, Mr Powell said Sir Henry had remained keen on the idea.
Cooper’s sold-out fight with Billy Walker on November 7 1967 came in the middle of an astonishing four-year unbeaten run.
Walker, nick-named Golden Boy, was a popular fighter with a good record.
But Cooper’s approach at Wembley was businesslike, grinding his opponent down over four tough rounds before cutting Walker’s eye in the fifth.
From there, he went to work on the cut, opening it up and causing the fight to be stopped in the sixth.
It meant Cooper held on to his Lonsdale belts. He didn’t lose again until his last fight - a controversial loss to 21-year-old Joe Bugner.
Some of your comments
He is someone that children can look up to because of what he achieved. Children, especially boys nowadays, need good role models to keep them focused on good and healthy ambition. He was once our greatest boxer. He deserves to be recognised for that.
Stacey Gregory, Grove Park.
Henry Cooper presented leavers’ day prizes 38 years ago at Alderwood Primary school. What a great and kind man he was to take time out of his then very busy schedule to do such a kind and thoughtful act. He was very soft spoken as I remember and very kind. He was one of our true heroes.
Debbie Commo, via email.
To me he’s the greatest sportsman this country’s ever had. He should have a statue somewhere. I’m sure thousands and thousands of people out there love him not just as a boxer but as a man. I’d be one of the first to put my hand in my pocket for it.
Robert Gibney, New Eltham
© Copyright 2001-2013 Newsquest Media Group