‘Del Boy’ Trotter, television’s engagingly endurable (and perpetually replayed) comic Cockney character created by actor David Jason, forever dreams of putting Peckham on the top-notch international map. Didn’t the wide boy of Mandela Mansions once bid to stage the Miss World competition? ‘I can see it now, Rodney …first Rome, then New York, and after Paris …Peckham!’ Well, Del has been beaten to it by a real-life neighbour. Step forward Danny Williams, late of Peabody Buildings, Peckham, and since upgraded round the corner to a dolled-up, three-bed, end-of-terrace des res, who this Saturday night in Las Vegas challenges for the world heavyweight boxing championship. C’mon, my son, says the upstaged, but ever generous Del.
Our amiable Danny Boy suffers seriously from pre-fight nerves, which makes him an unlikely challenger. But an even more improbable champion stalks him in Nevada: Vitali Klitscho, son of a former USSR airforce colonel, is a lantern-jawed Ukrainian of 6ft 8ins and 18 stones, with cement in his gloves and a PhD in philosophy. It cannot have settled Williams’s nerves this week when he heard Vitali solemnly dedicating every punch he throws to ‘the whole of my Ukrainian peoples in their times of turmoil’. It’s Peckham v. the World, all right.
Don’t all write in at once, but I reckon Williams is only the tenth Brit to challenge for boxing’s weightiest prize — starting with Helston-born expat Bob Fitzsimmons, who hit ‘Gentleman Jim’ Corbett terminally in the slats in the 14th at Carson City racecourse on St Patrick’s Day, 1897. Forty years later, Tonypandy’s Tommy Farr took the onliest Joe Louis the distance in 1937, and almost to his death a half century later Tom would sit on his seashore veranda at Shoreham and proudly allow you to finger two bumps on his forehead: ‘That one was his right cross, this was his left hook….They still cause me headaches …Joe’s talent was awesome and, oh, the speed of it. …Ali? Ali wouldn’t have hit Joe on the backside with a handful of rice.’ Farr’s last fight was in 1953 against Don Cockell, the Battersea barrel who then put up a painfully pointless yo-yo show against merciless Marciano, ‘the Rock’. On either side of soccer’s World Cup in the summer of 1966, the aforesaid Muhammad came over to slice open Henry Cooper’s gore-gushing eyebrows at Highbury and then, at Earl’s Court, kayo to kingdom come a cowering Brian London in the third. Brian had arrived at the arena in the promoter’s sleek limo — he left, paying his own fare at the next-door tube station, nobly telling us sympathisers as he fumbled for change, ‘Don’t pity me, lads, I’m only a prawn in this game.’ Ex-paratrooper Richard Dunn also attempted a bridge too far with Ali and although he wore his red beret into the ring his bottom soon fluttered meekly down to terra firma before it became nasty. Nor did Ali need to draw blood in Malaysia’s capital when big Joe Bugner, like a statuesque koala lumper, stayed out of trouble and on his feet for the full 15.
Then came Bruno, game and noble, with a tutored jab and a Sunday punch, but no natural appetite for a demanding donnybrook. Frank actually won an ersatz version of the world title, but was no match for the handsome, dreadlocked Anglo-Canadian Lennox Lewis, genuine champ and by far ‘our’ best. Lewis, born in West Ham, now owns mansions in most continents. Mr Trotter’s Peckham waits keenly on their Dan’s future plans.