British wrestling legend Bert Royal has died. He was 91.
Another British great, Marty Jones, posted on Facebook on August 20, noting that Royal’s son, Tim, had told him of Bert’s death.
A great second generation star, Royal was the son of “The Austrian Tornado” Vic Hessle (born Lewis Faulkner). Royal formed perhaps the greatest tag team in British history as one of “The Fabulous Royal Brothers” with younger brother Vic Faulkner.
Bert Royal was born Herbert Faulkner on December 5, 1931, and was billed as the youngest pro wrestler on the British circuit upon his debut immediately following World War II. By the mid-1950s, Royal was one of the top middleweights in the circuit, and his bout with Cliff Beaumont at West Ham Baths became the first televised match to be broadcast on ITV on November 9, 1955, kickstarting 33 years of wrestling on the network.
In Sportsviewers Guide Wrestling, author Peter Bills noted how different Royal was at the time: “Bert Royal was one of the first of a new generation of stars to shatter the popular idea that wrestlers had to be pot-bellied, cauliflower-eared individuals who were ready to wade into anyone at the slightest provocation.”
By 1958, he would win the European Middleweight title, a belt he would hold several times. In This Grappling Game, famed announcer Kent Walton wrote that Royal “is, at his weight and as a solo performer, one of the finest wrestlers in the world. A fanatic for personal fitness, he neither smokes nor drinks. His favourite hold? The flying head-scissors, but believe me, he knows them all.”
In September 1963, The Fabulous Royal Brothers would be featured in the first British televised tag bout.
A scientific great, Royal wrestled as one of the top blue eye (babyface) stars of the 1960s and remained a popular fixture until his 1982 retirement.
So popular were the Royal Brothers, that there is even a famous photograph of them with The Beatles, who were huge fans of the sport in the 1960s, during the heyday of British wrestling.
In This Grappling Game, Walton described one particular scary injury suffered by Royal:
Take the night Bert Royal went flying over the ropes at Middlesbrough Stadium. True, it was several years back but I remember it as if it happened yesterday. Royal got thrown over the top rope. In flight, as it were, as his leg went over the top rope, his foot caught in the middle one thus closing the two ropes round his ankle, Now the ring at Middlesbrough, below the level of the canvas, naturally, is made of metal covered with a piece of hessian. So Bert, going over head downwards, crashed against the metal side of the ring very hard, indeed. He hung there helpless until his opponent, the seconds, the ref. and the M.C. disentangled him. Then he was carried back to the dressing-room. Several minutes later the TV transmission finished, I went back to the dressing-room to see how he was. I found him sitting in a chair in the corner of his dressing-room. One side of his body was bruised and bloody. Literally, his left profile was turning plum-colour. He managed to smile at me — somehow. Seeing he wasn’t in any dangerous condition, only wickedly bruised, thought, ‘Here’s a chance to prove that “iron men of the canvas” bit.’ So, looking suitably worried, I rushed up to him and said, ‘Look, Bert, a terrible thing has happened. Something’s gone wrong with the programme of racing due to follow us and we’ve been asked to carry on until they can put things right. There’s just been a quick k.o. and we’ve run out of wrestlers. Could you possibly go back into the ring and give us an exhibition of free-style wrestling to fill out the time?’ And you know something? Almost before the words were out of my mouth Bert Royal bruised and shaken though he was, was limping towards the door ready to go ‘on’ again.
Vic Faulkner passed away on July 6, 2017, with Bert the last member of a great wrestling family from the glory era of the business.
Beyond the ring, Royal also served in the political arena, and was elected to Turton District Council in 1967, in the administrative county of Lancashire.
— with files from Greg Oliver
For more on Bert Royal, Vic Faulker and their father, Vic Hessle, see Wrestling Heritage: A tribute to British wrestling and wrestlers 1930-1988.