Dixie Dean, a popular Londoner who boxed out of Covent Garden, held the position of landlord of the Prince Arthur Pub in Shoreditch for 35 years, where he was very much the host with the most. Indeed, many an ex-boxer could be found supping at Dixie’s place on a regular basis. The Prince Arthur was a stone’s throw from where the London Ex Boxers Association hold their meetings on the first Sunday morning every month. Before Dixie’s retirement from the pub game, as the LEBA meetings were winding down for the day, one of the most bandied about questions in the place used to be “Are you going over Dixie’s?” These days, Dixie is free on Sunday mornings, so LEBA is the big winner because now he comes to us, and his effervescent company is always in big demand.
“I was born in Islington on 13th November 1942, and I’ve been called Dixie since I was one day old. I was born in St Mary’s Hospital, and my aunt came to see me. My mum had called me Clifford, and my aunt said, ‘I ain’t calling him that.’ My dad was nicknamed Dixie, so that’s what I got called by the family. My aunt and uncle were killed during the war and my mum brought up my cousins. When my youngest cousin was 17, she picked a letter up one day that was addressed to me, and she went to my mum, ‘Who’s that?’ She didn’t realise that Clifford was actually my name, because everyone called me Dixie.”
“I had a very good childhood. I had one brother. My father was away during the war. My mum was Italian, and my grandparents had a café in Clerkenwell, but it was bombed out before I was born. So we got put up in temporary accommodation in Islington, and that’s where my family have been living for most of my life. Personally speaking, I’ve been away a lot. I went to Jersey when I was 15 and I spent a year working on the docks with a lot of Scottish boys. Then I come back and went down Smithfield Meat Market. Then, when I was 17, I went in the Merchant Navy for just over two years on the Australia and New Zealand run. Then, after I finished boxing, I lived in Spain for 12 years.”
“From when I was at school, I always wanted to be a boxer. There was no one boxing in my family. They were all cricketers. My father played for Middlesex with Denis Compton, but he was more in the second team than the first. I had my first amateur contest when I was eight years old at Holloway County School and I won, and I’ve still got the plaque. My first club was Covent Garden. Then, when Covent Garden closed down, we all moved to Fitzroy Lodge. There was me, Kenny Field, Vic Andretti, all us. I was very good friends with Vic Andretti. We went to school together, and we’ve known each other all our lives. Bill Chevalley was my trainer there, and he was a great man. I had a really good time in the amateur boxing. I had 141 amateur fights altogether and I had quite a good record, although, funnily enough, I lost the important ones really. I lost about 30-odd, I suppose. I did win the London Schoolboys final, and I got beat in the National Semi-finals. I got to the London ABA Finals, and I got beat by Ralph Charles.”
Whereas nowadays, there are more southpaws about than you could shake a stick at, when Dixie was boxing, they were a rare commodity. As such, they were often encouraged to adopt the orthodox stance. “Bill Chevalley used to say to me ‘You’d be much better off turning round.’ I’m not saying I didn’t try, but I probably didn’t try hard enough, because I am naturally left handed, although, when I had an operation on my hand and I was out from boxing for a year, I learnt to write with my right hand and I write right-handed now. So it just goes to show that you can do these things if you have to.”
“I turned pro when I was 21. I was working for the Evening Standard in those days. My father was the publisher of the Evening Standard, so he got me so I could work 10 until 3, which meant that I could do my running, go to work, and then, at 3 o’clock, I’d go to the Thomas A’Becket and train. Danny Holland took over as my trainer and Jim Wicks was my manager. I had a very good relationship with both of them. My first professional fight was with Vic Brown at the Empire Pool at Wembley. Going in for my professional debut, I was a bit overawed. When the bell went for the first round, Vic Brown ran right across the ring, stopped in front of me, and he was jumping about all over the shop, hitting the air. Joe Lucy was in my corner with Danny Holland, and I froze. Joe Lucy had to pinch my bum to galvanize me into action, and I stopped Vic Brown in the first round then.”
“After my fourth fight, the British Boxing Board of Control said I had to box an eight-rounder. I fought the Welsh Featherweight Champion, Billy Thomas, at Lewisham Town Hall. In my first four fights, two ended in the first round, one ended in the third and the fourth one ended in the second, and you always worried about stamina when you were going up in distance. I beat Billy Thomas on points over eight rounds, and that was a big step up for me.”
“When I look back, I often wonder whether they pushed me too quick. Also, I was unfortunate. I got to about fifth in the rankings, and I broke a bone in my left wrist called the scaphoid. It happened while I was sparring. I was boxing with it broke for two or three fights, and I was always complaining about the pain. So Jim Wicks sent me to Lord Tucker in Harley Street, and the operation took seven hours to do. I was out of boxing for a year, and then I came back, but it wasn’t the same because I found that I was hesitant to throw my left. The good thing is that, these days, I’ve got no problems with it whatsoever.”
On his second fight back after his recuperation, Dixie experienced his first professional loss against Terry Gale at the Albert Hall as a result of a badly damaged eye. “That was a tragedy! I had him on the floor three times in the first round. In the second round, I jack-knifed him. I hit him in the stomach, he came forward and smashed my eye. The referee had to stop it. He told me afterwards, every time my heart beat, the blood was spurting, and it wasn’t really a disqualification thing because it wasn’t intentional. It was just one of those things.”
“My favourite fight as a professional was probably when I got a draw against Colin Lake at Bermondsey Baths, because me and Colin were friends. I knew Lakey and he knew me. We didn’t used to spar because we were in different gyms, but we used to go running every Sunday together. Obviously, we both wanted to win, and he thought he won it and I thought I won it, so the draw was the perfect thing really. One funny thing that I remember was the Krays were on one side of the ring supporting me and the Richardsons were on the other side of the ring supporting Lakey. Lakey is a great guy. We’ve been great friends all these years. That’s what I miss about boxing now. The youngsters don’t become friends. They hate each other before they get in there. I know it’s putting bums on seats, a lot of it, but I think it’s a shame because it’s sort of degenerated boxing a little bit.”
Dixie’s last ring appearance was against Jimmy Anderson at the Lyceum Ballroom. “I didn’t know that was going to be my last fight. To be honest, I simply walked on to one and I got stopped. That fight was in the April, and we never used to have boxing in the summer in them days. So I went to Italy for six weeks, just to have a rest. When I came back, I couldn’t make nine stone again. I tried and tried, but I just couldn’t. The tragedy was, about a year after I retired, they brought in the junior lightweight division, which I would have done comfortable. I wanted to move up to lightweight, but Jim Wicks wouldn’t have it because I was too small. I would have been giving away too much weight. I fought some tall featherweights, but lightweights, they would have been well above me. So Jim Wicks was 100 per cent right, although I didn’t think so at the time.”
“Because I was so despondent, I went and lived in Spain, where I met some very rich Arabs who set me up in a big business. I was a partner in three nightclubs, and a big café on the front of Benidorm. I had 12 good years over there. It set me up money-wise, and I lived like a millionaire. When I went to Benidorm in 1966, there were only five hotels there, so I was there right at the beginning. Then, when I came home in 1978, the Arabs bought me out of the business.”
“That’s when I went into the pub business. I was landlord of the Prince Arthur for 35 years, and it’s a big chunk of your life. I loved it, because I like talking to people. That’s why it’s taken me a bit of time to adjust in retirement. But I think retiring from boxing was probably harder because, when I retired from the pub, it was my decision to call it a day. With boxing, it wasn’t my decision, although it was the right decision, without a doubt.”
“I’ve been a member of the London Ex Boxers Association since the early seventies, right from the beginning. It’s great because, now that I’m retired, I can attend regularly. The thing I love about it is you can see all your old friends, and make new friends, because we’ve all boxed at different times. It’s great, because it’s all to do with boxing and boxing personalities. Obviously, you can’t like everybody. But, in boxing, it seems that you do. They’re all polite, especially the ones from my generation.”
I use to work for Dixie back in the 90s and he was the best boss I ever had. Boxings loss was the pub games gain. I salute you.
That’s lovely Tracy. I will pass on your words to Dixie when I next see him xx
A great article about a typical old style London boxer who mixed with top fellow boxers and top stars, lived the life after boxing and who came back to the place where his heart is.
Thanks Frank, I’m very pleased you enjoyed the article …x