I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of Randolph Turpin, fighting under the name Randy Turpin, before. A British boxer born and raised in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. Of course his fighting records were way before my time however I feel I should of at least of heard his name. Especially when the boxing stats website BoxRec has him riding high in second place behind Joe Calzaghe in their Lb for Lb points system.
Couldn’t believe stumbling across this documentary whilst looking into Italian director Franco Rosso other work. Being that I’m a massive fan of his film Babylon (1980) and what with that movies 40th anniversary this month. Intrigued by 64 Day Hero I instantly wanted to see it! But where was I likely to find this low budget, vintage documentary? Bless the British Film Institute or BFI. There it was, for free viewing, on their player. Instantly pressed play for a little look. I’ll watch that later I thought! Nope, I watched it all right then and there. Here’s the link 64 Day Hero – A Boxers Tale BFI Player
64 Day Hero is a factual account of the life of Randolph Turpin. From his upbringing and rise and, unfortunately, his tragic fall. The film is filled with richly personal moments. We meet his brothers and sisters. His friends, wife and his elderly manager. Real salt of the earth people retelling his story. With equal touches of the somber and remembered shared humour, some of which is pretty dark. You are transported to eighties Britain as the interviewer and films writer Gordon Williams narrates and generally wanders around meeting people. It never feels forced. Even when Gordon walks up, Alan Whicker style, with his cameraman in tow. Everyone answers naturally and what feels like complete honesty..
We get to see photos of their youth together and reels of amazing footage. Lots of fight footage. One major fight that would truly put Randolph’s name in bright, big stage, lights. The time he would beat the world class boxing legend of Sugar Ray Robinson. A shocked Sugar Ray’s first professional loss since 1943 when Jake LaMotta “The Bronx Bull” otherwise known as “Raging Bull” had beaten him! Now in 1951 Randolph had become the second fighter to beat him. Standing there in the ring, after 15 strong rounds, with a bewildered Sugar Ray, stood Randy Turpin. Now the middleweight champion of the world!
This was more than just a massive feat. Only three years earlier there had been a shameful Colour Bar within British boxing. From 1911 to 1948 no boxer of “coloured skin” could fight for a British title. Thankfully times were changing and with the Windrush Generation arriving and the British Nationality Act being passed, the colour bar was dropped. And in a brilliant fashion it would be Randolph’s older brother Dick Turpin (pretty sure there’s no relation to the legendary Highway Man hehe) that would become the first British black boxer to win a heavyweight title when he beat Vince Hawkins in the year the bar had been dropped.
The title says it all really! 64 Day Hero. Sugar Ray would fire off the clause in the contract that meant he could insist on a rematch. A quick turn around. 64 days. This time it would mean travelling to New York City. This would be the turning of the tide. Yet his boxing record would stay true for many years. Knock out, after knock out, Randolph still smashed his way through the ring.
Unfortunately it would be his personal life that would take a hit. He liked the ladies, spending big money and took terrible business investments. Women trouble, financial worries and family rifts would hinder his life. His playboy and womaniser ways were to be added to his anger problems and an explosive short tempered fuse. He also had bad connections with promoters and maybe even gangsters. What likely made these erratic moments worse was the fact that being constantly punch around the head for most of his life most probably didn’t help matters. It is said that due to the circumstances behind his death Turpin became somewhat of a forgotten hero. So it was great to read that in 2001 he was inducted in the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in New York. Also back home, in the Market Square of Warwickshire, he has his own statue.
I won’t go into too much detail about the whole story but a few highlights that I really enjoyed were………
- Randy’s old mate turning up in an silver in Audi looking like a side kick of The Kray Twins. Retelling “fun” in Randy’s back garden as he remembers having knives and a spear thrown at his head as they sparred together.
- The footage and speech from Randy on the Leamington Spa Town Hall balcony. It must of been a such a surreal moment for the young man as he is made to address the mass crowd whilst sandwiched in-between the mayors of both Leamington and Warwick.
- The fight footage is incredible and a must for any boxing fan.
- The welsh 19th century Gwrych Castle training ground and the dodgy looking owner who befriends him.
- Great little story about a man called Arthur Batty who designed a weight training regime to get Randy muscle bound but still flexible.
- The Turpin brothers and sisters cheeky smiles and dry wit as they told stories of their brother. Not many of them in a good light! hehe
- And last I’d like to add his loving poor old manager. He’d kept all Randy’s receipts and invoices and to be honest looked pretty lost during the interview.
Three random things I found out were….
- Writer Gordon Williams had written the novel “The Siege Of Trencher’s Farm” that would become known as the horror/thriller Straw Dogs (1971) from director Sam Peckinpah!
- Gordon Williams would also co-create and write the British TV private detective series Hazel alongside, WTF!, 90s England football manager Terry Venables!
- There’s lots of parallels with another 40s/50s British boxer turned actor called Freddie Mills. He also met a chilling end and mystery surrounds his death. Rumors and conspiracies hit a round like a squash ball! Incidentally he was born up the road from me. One of his nicknames was The Bournemouth Bombshell. There’s a recent documentary about his life too, which I need to see, called Murder In Soho – Who Killed Freddie Mills (2018)
I kind of got a feel of documentary filmmaker Errol Morris’s style when watching. Has a The Thin Blue Line (1988), Gates Of Heaven (1978) kind of feel. OK let’s get real, obviously not as Oscar winning good as Errol’s movies but it’s the very intimate approach to the interviews that made me think of him. 64 Day Hero won’t be for everyone. Its slow paced and looks dated. To me though I love looking back at time capsules like this. It might all end in very tragic circumstances but what determination to push through all the barriers he must of hit in 30s, through to the 60s England and excel like he did is really an incredible story.
It was by chance that this post fits in with Black History Month of October here in the UK. Randy Turpin’s story fits in well.
Thanks for popping in for a look. All the best…. Mikey