Boxing's memory lane: Walker vs. Mildenberger fight - March 1967

Friday 29 January 2016

We have recently acquired a piece of boxing memorabilia with sturdy Forest Gate roots. It is a copy of the programme for what was probably local boxer Billy Walker's biggest fight, when he met Karl Mildenberger at Wembley for the Heavyweight Championship of Europe, in March 1967.

Programme cover

Walker, who was brought up in Ilford, was a member of the West Ham boxing club, fought regularly at Romford Road's West Ham baths (now the Atherton suites, being rebuilt), and lived for a while on Romford Road, owned the Upper Cut Club on Woodgrange Road at the time of the fight.

The images in this article are taken from the programme of that fight. The copy, although written in a rather showmanship style, gives a clear indication of the importance of the bout in the annals of British boxing history.

Card for the night
The promoter of the fight was the legendary Harry Levene. In his introduction he mentions the fact that the Wembley bill was such big box office that even then - almost 50 years ago - it was relayed in an early close circuit television to cinemas in London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham and Southend.  Levene went on to say:

I have promoted many major tournaments in my time, including many world championship fights, but never in all my experience have I known such a rush for tickets as I have for tonight's battle between Karl Mildenberger, the holder, and our own Billy Walker, for the Heavyweight Championship of Europe.  All tickets for this big arena (Wembley's Empire Pool) were sold before I had announced one single supporting bout. This is ample proof, if it were needed that Walker is the biggest box office attraction in British boxing history.

Boxing writer, Bill Martin, provided a profile of Billy for the programme.  He said:

Billy Walker - the whole spirit of boxing

"Take 14 stone of muscle, lace it with guts and determination, top the lot with a handsome blond head and you have Billy Walker, surely the biggest drawing card in British Sport today.
Almost from the moment he first put on a boxing glove, Walker has pulled in the crowds. His amateur career, climaxed by his sensational one round knock-out of the 17 stone American Cornelius Perry, in 1961, was a spectacular interlude relished by all but his opponents. His five years as a professional have been even more colourful. When it comes down to the fundamentals, boxing is a matter of hit and be hit, and we roll up in our thousands because Walker personifies the whole spirit of the business. He lays in with joyful abandon and if he stops one or two in return well, that's show business. In these circumstances anything can happen - and usually does.
That is why Walker is the sell-out King and why nearly 11,000 are here at Wembley tonight, plus a further 40,000 at the far ends of closed circuit T.V. land lines have cheerfully put their hands in their pockets for the privilege of being in on this fracas.

Action shot, accompanying
 the article
 The drawing power will not go unrewarded. Billy's share for this, his first title fight, will be 23.5% of the take and undoubtedly part of the purse will go towards consolidating the highly successful business empire over which he rules in partnership with Big Brother George.
Partners outside the ring as well as inside, the Walkers have invested shrewdly the cash garnered by junior's flying fists. They own garages, a fleet of taxis, a petrol company, a club and a couple of restaurants.
Success of this kind is not always easy to carry and having a name that is a household word can turn a man's head. But not Walker's. Certainly he enjoys the recognition, the T.V. appearances and the glad hand, but his hat size has not changed and his feet remain firmly on the ground. he is still Billy Walker, everybody's mate.

Advert in the programme, showing
 Walker's pull as a poster boy to
 promote products.  The "Cassius"
 referred to in it, is, of course
 Mohammed Ali, his pre-Islamic
 conversion name

Beneath it all, however, lies an iron determination, a high standard of bravery and an uncompromising attitude towards his work in the ring. "Anyone who wants to keep me down", he says, "will have to nail me to the floor".
It is an attitude which has already secured his place in the story of the British heavyweight division, and it could carry him a lot further up the rocky road to the top.

Programme caption: A faceful of fists
 for Jose Menno. Two of them belong
 to him, but the other is on the end
of that punishing right arm of Billy
Walker and, as Menno's puffy
 face shows, that right really hurts!
Programme caption: Billy Walker and
 Ray Patterson pose for the inevitable
 'dear old pals' photograph after their
 terrific fight at the Royal Albert
 Hall on 6th December last.

Alas, the fight did not go to plan, and Walker was badly beaten. He takes up the story in his ghosted autobiography When the Gloves Came off:

Mildenberger was by far the most formidable opponent I'd had to face in twenty-seven pro fights. ... In addition to the capacity Wembley crowd, the fight was shown in thirteen British cinemas and theatres and beamed to Germany, France, Italy and other European countries - a total audience of 75 million, apparently. ... George and I came out with £30,000, more than enough to buy and renovate the property of our second Baked Potato restaurant which George planned to open in Chancery Lane.
I wish I could say I gave the watching millions value for money, but I can't. I did my best, as usual, went at Mildenberger from the first bell, and kept going forward, trying to land the big one, but I took a hell of a beating and I'll admit that it was the first time in my career - amateur and pro - when I was grateful that the referee called a halt; when I wanted a fight over and was content to lose.

The referee stopped the contest in the 8th round and it was the beginning of the end of Billy Walker's boxing career.  He had one more big title fight, against Henry Cooper, for the British and Commonwealth title in November that year, which he also lost, a single low key fight the following year, before bowing out after losing to British heavyweight Jack Bodell, almost two years to the day after the Mildenberger defeat.

We have written at length about Billy Walker on this site before (see here, in particular) and his Upper Cut Club on Woodgrange Road. The evening of his biggest fight, to Mildenberger came just three days after the Upper Cut's biggest billing: the Atlantic/Stax tour, featuring Otis Redding, Arthur Conley, Sam and Dave, Booker T and the MG's, Eddie Floyd etc.  See here for detail.,

Otis and co at the Upper Cut, just
 three nights before the big fight


  1. is billy still alive I new billy in the 60 we were in hospital together

  2. Billy is still very
    much alive now 79 years old he lives in jersey with his 4th wife susan


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