Terry Spinks: Boxer who won Olympic gold in Melbourne

After he retired from boxing, the Krays wanted the former apprentice jockey to ride their horses for them

Terry Spinks was only 18 when he won Olympic gold in Melbourne. He turned professional at 19, won the British featherweight title at 22 and quit boxing when he was still only 24. In 1956 he was the last member of the British team to make the long journey by boat to the Olympics after a late, late selection process meant that he was working as a binman in Canning Town when the rest of the team left. It also meant that his Olympic blazer was several sizes too big: "It was like a bleeding overcoat on me."

The gold medal-winning victory was sensational and even more impressive considering that the West Ham boxer had lost three of his five previous international contests, including a couple of boxing lessons in Moscow. Spinks won five times in Melbourne and returned home to a street party; he turned professional a few months later, dubbed The Golden Boy and looking more like a 12-year-old child than a veteran of just over 200 amateur contests.

His profile soared as he fought his way to the British title and his first wedding, to the gorgeous Val at St James' Church in Piccadilly in 1961, was filmed by Pathé and shown in cinemas. However, Spinks fought at a time when fighters had less protection and by the time he forced Bobby Neil to quit in their first British title fight he had already lost four times. Neil, incidentally, underwent emergency surgery after the fight and narrowly survived to become a trainer of champions.

In 1961 Spinks was retired by his corner after 10 rounds against Howard Winstone, who would go on and win a world title, and lost his British belt. Spinks refused to make excuses for his performance and the celebrated scribe George Whiting wrote an early obituary line after leaving the beaten fighter's dressing room: "A fair enough salute by a beaten champion who never squawked in his lively life." Spinks was still only 23, and the pubs, betting shops, mini-cab firms – and his brush with terrorists at the Munich Olympics – had not yet shaped the extraordinary little man's grand life.

Spinks in retirement was still an attraction to what was left of "the fancy", an old-fashioned term that perfectly captures the company he moved in. He had briefly trained as a jockey and the Krays wanted him to ride their horses; the twins were part of his ringside faithful. In 2000 Spinks, who had still not received royal acknowledgement of his Olympic success, told me that the association with the notorious killers went against him. "A lot of people say the reason I've not got it is because I was photographed with the Krays – but everybody was photographed with them." One of the brothers was said to have a picture of little Terry in his wallet.

In 1972 Spinks had somehow managed to land the job as head coachof the South Korean boxing team at the Munich Olympics. He had been training fighters and would go on to work with Johnny Cheshire, Wally Anglis and others later in the 1970s. In Munich there seems to have been a cornerof the village devoted to waywardCockneys: Spinks joined the London amateur boxing legends Mick Carney from the Fitzroy Lodge and Repton's Tony Burns. The entertainer Kenny Lynch, who was rumoured to have had the ID card of a Russian gymnast, was also there. "Anybody could get in and out," said Carney, who was training the Canadian team.

The laughs died one morning and Spinks had a role to play in sport's darkest days. Out running, he noticed some people as he returned: "I saw this little mob with guns as I was coming back from a run and I ducked away and got on the phone to the security." It was not long after the brutality of the Munich massacre that I met him for the first time; he sold me a gumshield at the Lonsdale shop in Brixton. A year later I met him again after an amateur fight and held his gold medal.

Spinks ran a pub and briefly followed his beloved father, Titch, into the gambling business as a bookmaker. Both adventures were a disaster and by the middle of the 1980s, after another failed marriage; Spinks was given a week to live after a drinking session ended again in a hospital bed. The fallen Golden Boy weighed less than his fighting weight from 30 years earlier.

It was at this point that his cousin, Rosemary Ellmore, entered his life again after an absence of about 20 years to save him from destruction. Spinks spent some time in a hospital for people with brain injuries before moving in with Rosemary and her family. He wasteetotal from that day, gained weight, and in 2002 he finally had an appointment with the Queen to collect his long-overdue MBE.

During the last decade Spinks had been a regular at meetings of the London Ex-Boxers Association, a vital lifeline for ancient and lonely fighters, and as his health failed he still appeared at ringside. His old West Ham gym is minutes from the site of the 2012 Olympic boxing and there were plans to make him part of the spectacle this summer.

Terence Spinks, boxer: born London 28 February 1938; MBE 2002; married; died 26 April 2012.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'Bring It On' actress says her legal team will combat the 'vultures'
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
News
Dennis Rodman has confirmed he is not going to the Middle East to 'talk to with the leaders of Isis' as claimed in a recent satirical report
people
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam