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When Stone starred on the silver screen

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: February 23, 2014

By Terry Gilder

  • Bombadier Billy Wells

  • Bombadier Billy Wells

  • Bombadier Billy Wells

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WHAT is the link between 1916 film, a Stone painter and decorator and £1 million question on the recently-ended Who Wants to be a Millionaire quiz?

The answer is Royal Artillery soldier, Bombardier Billy Wells, who was British and British Empire Champion from 1911 until 1919, defending his title 14 times.

In 1911, he became the first heavyweight to win the Lonsdale Belt, which had been introduced for British champions at all weights in 1909 and was crafted in 22 carat gold.

The link with the town of Stone came in 1916 when scenes from a film called Kent, The Fighting Man was shot in the Lichfield Road area, drawing crowds gathered in the nearby St Michael’s Churchyard.

Among them was 15-year-old George Pearson, later working as a painter and decorator, but who recalled watching Billy Wells film as he stopped a runaway horse.

The scene then shifted to Stone's old Black Horse pub where a fat man making insulting remarks to young Billy led to a fight staged in a circus tent which had been set up in a field adjacent to Stone's cricket ground.

George Pearson and his pal Fred Stockton was among those who crowded into the tent and watched as the boxing champ floored the bully much to the delight of the spectators.

The film was later shown at the Town Hall cinema where George Pearson was later to recall: “the most exciting thing for me was to see Fred and I standing by the ropes of the ring watching the fight."

George Pearson's recollections are included in a book titled Memories of Stone published in 1981 and recalling many aspects of Stone life and times, not least the economics of life in those days.

George would recall how young blade to go into town with half a crown (12.5p) and by three pints of Stone ale, a package of Gold Flakes cigarettes and a box of matches - and still have change.

Pubs figured in his almanac of memories including that Black Horse Inn with its thatched roof, the temperance hotel and the infamous Blood Tub, the nickname given to the Falcon Inn, scene of violent fights each Saturday night by the Irish who came to Stone to help with the harvest.

George, who lived on Oulton Road, and many other memories of the 'boots and beer' town's not least the famous Joules Brewery and its 40 Shire horses and the demolition of a row of cottages at the bottom end of High Street known as Scotland Yard.

He also noted some of Stone's famous faces including Joan Fry, winner of the British hardcore championships from 1926 to 1930, and the local girl who became the second wife of celebrated Scottish portrait painter Sir Herbert James Gunn.

Pauline Miller became the subject of a 1944 painting Pauline in The Yellow Dress now held in the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston one of several by a husband whose commissions included paintings of two royals, theatrical folk, politicians and military personnel.

As for that 1916 film starring Billy Wells, it may have marked the beginning of a film career for the boxer who later became a gongman shown at the start of every J Arthur Rank film.

In the £1m question on the TV quiz in 2006? Billy Wells, who died in 1967, was the answer to the question: Which boxer was famous for striking the gong in the introduction to J Arthur Rank films?

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