The Pugilist

On This Day: Dick Turpin becomes Britain’s first mixed-race boxing champion

The Pugilist

Mixed-raced boxer Dick Turpin made became the non-white British champion in modern times on this day in 1948.

The middleweight, whose shared name with the 18th century highwayman made him a press favourite, beat Vince Hawkins on points at Villa Park, Birmingham.

The bruising encounter, in which both men fought for the British and Commonwealth title that was made vacant by Ron Richard's retirement, lasted 15 rounds.

The 27-year-old’s success made him an inspiration for many ethnic minorities.

He was born to a black Guyanan father and white English mother in the affluent Warwickshire town of Leamington Spa at a time when there were few mixed-race Britons.

He, together with his two younger brothers, Jack and Randolph, became boxers after being bullied over the colour of their skin.

They became a boxing dynasty – each enjoying a lot of success.

Jack, who was the smallest, became a featherweight and tenaciously fought 125 professional bouts, although never had a title shot.

Dick, who was filmed training in a British Pathé newsreel, retired shortly after losing his belt to Albert Finch only a year after winning it.

But it was Randolph who became the most famous of the three Turpin brothers.

Randolph avenged his brother’s defeat and reclaimed family honour by knocking Finch out in five rounds in 1950 and becoming British and Commonwealth middleweight champion himself.

View photo


Dick Turpin

Soon afterwards, he followed this feat by winning the European title by putting Dutchman Luc Van Dam on the canvas in just 48 seconds.

This earned him the attention of promoters in America, who arranged for him to fight Sugar Ray Robinson, who is today frequently cited as the greatest boxer in history.

Randolph Turpin won the world title after beating the great man on a 15-round decision during a bout in London on July 10, 1951.

He became an instant celebrity and, for a brief period, spent each day being besieged by fans at his training base at Gwrych Castle near Abergele in North Wales.

But his national hero status did not last long. In a rematch with Robinson in the U.S. – Turpin’s first overseas fight –the dazzling American won his belt back.

And, from then on, Turpin’s career went into decline.

He finally retired with a record of 66 wins – including 48 by knockout – against eight losses and a single draw 1962.

Out of the ring his life turned sour quickly. A string of business failures, which had temporarily forced him back into the ring after first quitting in 1959, were the start of severe money worries.

He was reduced to fighting as a wrestler and working in a scrapyard before the Inland Revenue landed the final blow by pursuing him for years of unpaid back taxes.

Left seriously depressed, the married father-of-four committed suicide in 1966 after trying to murder his 17-month-old daughter.

The 37-year-old, who had recently been declared bankrupt after failing to pay a huge tax bill, shot little Carmen twice before blasting himself in the mouth.

Miraculously, the toddler survived the attack in the loft of their home above a café in Leamington Spa.

In many ways, Randolph Turpin’s life mirrors that of British heavyweight boxer Freddie “Fearless” Mills, who shot himself amid money problems at age 46 in 1965.

Experts have also blamed heavy blows to the heads and repeated concussion for high depression rates among boxers.

A total of 15 championship-winning fighters are known to have committed suicide since 1928.

View comments (3)