Sparring with Len Harvey (1934)
By Laurie Raiteri
With Len Harvey, training is a religion, a science, and a hobby. I have been engaged as his sparring partner on about half a dozen occasions, and his consistency in the matter of training is amazing. Two general facts about his training. Years ago he trained in Whetstone. He changed for a time and trained at Windsor. Now, of course, he has gone back to Whetstone.
Len has only just taken to doing serious roadwork. This at one time was not one of his favourite methods of getting into shape. Perhaps he finds it more necessary as a heavyweight. Most boxers would say that it would be impossible to train without roadwork. Len Harvey is about the only boxer I know who can do it.
The secret of it is his passion for clean living. He is careful what he eats, drinks - and smokes (if ever). His very charming wife looks after his diet, and Len looks after himself. When you're in the sparring ring with Len Harvey, you might as well be in the ring at the Albert Hall trying to take one of his titles away from him.
If the Gym Caught Fire!
Len trains to a very definite routine. If the gym caught fire, I can imagine him going on with it until he is finished. He boxes from four to six rounds with selected sparring partners, I was always called in when he was due to face a strong, short opponent. Then he does one round of shadow boxing. Then comes a couple of rounds at the punch-bag, followed by 10 minutes of P.T. Len is a great believer in the methods which keep the army fit. He finishes up with one round of skipping. You can't really say that Harvey does this to get fit. He is always fit. In fact, one of his chief reasons for not doing roadwork was his fear that he would get stale. I have always thought when Harvey has shown disappointing form that the reason must have been staleness. He is so keen on his gym work that this is a greater risk with him than with the average boxer.
I first knew Len when we trained together at Fred Duffett's gym. Len was then a welterweight and showed class from the start. He was always blessed with the stoical temperament which is a champion's greatest asset. I well remember him having what most of us thought was a bad decision given against him when he met Jimmy Sullivan at The Ring. He didn't moan over that. He just made up his mind to reverse the decision as soon as possible. He did that all right.
I was first called in as an official sparring partner just before he met Alec Lambert for the middleweight championship. Since that time I have sparred with him before meeting such men as Jack Casey, Jock McAvoy, and Marcel Thil.
George Didn't Believe Me!
One day I went down to Windsor to spar with him before a meeting with Jack Casey. I met a great friend of mine down there - George Brown, of Stepney. He had had no previous experience of sparring with Harvey, and asked me what he would have to avoid. I told him to avoid Harvey's right hand! The first day I boxed a couple of rounds with Len, and then watched George Brown go through his paces. It struck me as I watched that Harvey did not seem to be putting any "devil" into his work. After the spar George Brown had a chat with me about it.
"He doesn't seem to have a punch," was George's general summing up.
"Don't make any mistake about it," I told him.
The next day was what we all look upon as a red letter day in the routine of training. The men from Fleet Street came down for a special Press day. We had instructions to give all we had when we got in the ring with Len. Archie Watson, who was training Harvey at the time, was in charge of arrangements.
Len Harvey got into the ring, and Archie announced that George Brown would box two rounds with him. They squared up to each other. Out came Harvey's left, he followed it with a right to the chin and a left to the body, and George Brown hit the canvas and was "out".
I smiled as I thought that in future George would have a lot more respect for Harvey's punch than he had shown that first day. But the "joke" was turned back on me, for Brown was not feeling well enough to continue, so I had to do a double dose of sparring.
While I was sparring down at Whetstone with Len in preparation for his world championship fight with Marcel Thil, an incident occurred which gives an interesting sidelight on Len's character. Those who know Len realise that he is a keen business man who sticks relentlessly to his side of the bargain. This story shows Len in the light of a philanthropist.
Len and the Tramp
A down-at-heel old fellow wandered into the gym one day and asked if we could spare a copper. He was a tramp through and through, and his clothes bore the signs of many miles of dusty English lanes. A striking feature about him was a magnificent long black beard.
Len is very generous where he feels that a case is deserving, and he decided to do the old fellow a good turn. He disappeared into an ante-room with him, and a few minutes later they both reappeared. We could hardly keep our faces straight as Len escorted the tramp courteously out of the gym. He had fitted the hobo out in a complete suit of clothes. And yet the fellow looked all wrong, with his great bushy beard and his old, weather-worn hat.
Len spends his spare time when training, like most other boxers, in playing cards and snooker. He is a really hot snooker player, and has had many great duels with Joe Hulme, the Arsenal winger, at this game. Football, by the way, is probably Len's greatest interest apart from boxing.
Alec James was a frequent visitor to Whetstone the last time I was down there with Len. He would watch Harvey training with great interest. Then when it was over, they would "get together" over the fire, and talk sport. It was amusing to see Len Harvey trying to get the conversation round to football, and Alec James insisting on talking boxing. They both show a surprising knowledge of the "opposite sports".
Len's outstanding characteristic is that he looks anything but a boxer when you first meet him in "civvies". His three hundred odd fights have not left a scar of disfigurement on his face. In manner, speech, and dress, he is quiet and refined.
While he now likes to be called "the modern Bob Fitzsimmons", a name which would be just as fitting would be "the modern Gentleman Jim Corbett".