Nosher Powell: Boxer, actor and Bond stuntman
On the door of a Soho club, he refused the Krays admission; ‘OK, Nosh,’ they said, and walked off
Monday 29 April 2013
Nosher Powell: “Oi, bollocks, take that!” Nosher Powell played every type of tough guy, from anonymous stuntman in 14 James Bond movies to generic heavy in Minder, crashing across a table in a bar with a pint glass bouncing off his head, and he pulled off each role with a cheeky shrug.
Powell fought 52 times as a heavyweight under the British Boxing Board of Control’s rules between 1949 and 1960 and perhaps another 20 times on the unlicensed circuit. His exploits in the prize ring were enhanced with each telling but he was, make no mistake, a talented and uncompromising pugilist.
However, his ring statistics are tiny compared to his work in the TV and film industry, where he progressed from stunts, silent scenes, small talking roles and comic cameos to his own This Is Your Life. He is credited with 173 screen appearances, starting as a stuntman in 1944’s Henry V, which starred Laurence Olivier. I never heard Nosher talk about Larry, but I can guarantee that he did and it would have gone something like this: “Olivier? Nice geezer, bigger lump than you think. He could handle himself.”
Powell was born in south London, and that is where he had most of his fights at now long-forgotten venues like Manor Place Baths, once such a rich boxing retreat just off the Walworth Road, and demolished relics like Streatham Ice Rink. Some months he fought three times and he often entered the novice heavyweight tournaments that propped up nights of boxing in the 1950s.
He reached the top five in Britain and has the dubious distinction of being the last winner at the legendary Harringay Arena in October 1958, when he beat Basil Kew. The promoter, Jack Solomons, preferred to have Nosher close the show, partly because he was entertaining and sold tickets, and that meant people stayed for the duration of the night. “Uncle Jack liked me,” Nosher explained.
The following year he was a stuntman in Ben Hur and in 1963 his long love affair with James Bond started. Nosher and his younger brother Dinny fired every gun that Roger Moore’s Bond ever shot. “Roger hated the noise. We did it and paid the price. We’re both mutton.”
Sir Roger Moore called Nosher “a lovely man” when told of his gun double’s death at a private nursing home near Godalming, Surrey. Nosher’s sons Greg and Gary continued the stuntman tradition in the Powell family and the quartet is responsible for some amazing Bond openers.
Nosher was also a sought-after and discreet bodyguard during Soho’s heyday at the heart of the West End in London. He looked after Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis Jnr and John Paul Getty at different times in the 1950s and ’60s. He also took up a substantial space on the door at clubs and restaurants. He refused entrance to the Kray twins on one occasion because they were inappropriately dressed. “They took it well. ‘OK, Nosh,’ they said and walked off. I was doing me job.”
One night at the door of Isow’s, the notorious Kosher restaurant in Soho where Powell made a few quid by standing and joking, he had to evict Orson Welles. “Scruffy bugger, I don’t give a monkey’s who he is. He’s out.”
His role as Johnny Angel in “The Angel”, an episode of The Saint from 1965, remains one of the best portrayals of boxing on television or in film. He was just playing Nosher and by the end of the ’60s his days as an anonymous stuntman or extra were over. He was a fully-fledged character and was cast as Mr Knuckles, Fingers, Heavy, Billy Knuckles, Brawler, Big Billy Knuckles and Bouncer in a variety of shows including Are You Being Served?, On the Buses, Monty Python and The Sweeney. “I was lethal anywhere near a Capri,” he joked.
One of the last films Powell worked on was the 1998 Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle, Legionnaire. Powell travelled to Casablanca, where he had to turn Van Damme, a genuine martial arts champion, into a boxer. “It was hard because he did like to prance about. I told him, ‘That ain’t boxing, son’.”
The pair worked for two solid weeks before Van Damme was ready. “He fancied himself a bit at the end and he tried a kick that I trapped under my arm, and then I had him bouncing about on one leg. ‘Watch it sunshine,’ I told him. ‘Or you’ll find my knee in your bollocks.’ It was a lovely break.” It also suited Nosher’s sense of humour that the pivotal boxing scene was filmed in the city’s oldest brothel.
In 2001 Powell called me out of the blue to praise me for something that I had written. I was delighted, having grown up hearing about his life and times, and I even had a Nosher Powell autograph. We stayed in touch for a while and he wrote fantastic letters that I have been trying to find. “Oi” , “Bollocks” and “Son” were, if I remember correctly, used often.
Frederick “Nosher” Powell, boxer, stuntman and actor: born 15 August 1928; married (two sons); died 21 April 2013.
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