It started as a private passion. Former world boxing champion Richie Woodhall’s exit from the ring has not dampened his enthusiasm for the noble art of boxing.
“I became a collector,” he explains. “In recent years, I’ve been buying boxing memorabilia. Boxing posters fascinate me. I’m fascinated by the boxers who feature in the bouts on them.
I’m fascinated by their stories and their lives.”
Nine years ago, Telford’s former super middleweight king Woodhall bought a poster dating back to the 1930s. He said: “In the olden days, boxing posters would just feature the names of the protagonists. These days, they all feature photographs. But back then, it was much harder to get information.”
Richie found one poster in his collection particularly intriguing. “I got a poster that was advertising a particular fight, which was from the 1930s.
“It was an original and it was in fantastic condition. It was advertising a bout in Lincolnshire, in Spalding, and at the top of the bill was a fight between Billy Evans and Joe Baker.
“Billy Evans was billed as being the Shropshire welterweight champion and he came from Wellington.
“He must have been a pretty good fighter to have been at the top of the bill and for years I wondered who he was.”
In recent years, Woodhall has become a much-respected TV presenter and a programme that he made about Ironbridge caught the eye of BBC bosses. He said: “I went back to my editor and told her about this poster, which featured Billy Evans.
“I told her I was interested in finding out more about Billy and she thought that would be a great idea.”
So Woodhall started digging. He contacted the British Boxing Board of Control and they had details of Evans’ first seven fights.
“He was known as Buller Evans,” Richie adds.
“As an ex-boxer, that told me a lot. He would have had that nickname because of his style, he’d have been an aggressive, toe-to-toe fighter. He’d have been a real scrapper.”
Woodhall struck gold when he tracked down Billy’s son, who lives in Leominster.
“He couldn’t remember too much about his dad, because his father never spoke about his boxing. But he threw up some fascinating insights.
“We found out that Billy lied about his age when he was a teenager, so that he could fight in World War One. He told them he was four years older than he actually was.
“We also found some pictures of him in action. He went away to a boxing booth, in a circus, so he’d have been fighting five or six times; picking out scraps with local people when the circus was in town. He was obviously a really hard geezer.”
The result of his endeavours will be seen on BBC1 tonight, in what promises to be a fascinating edition of the Inside Out show.
Stewart Kingscott, part of the production team, is delighted with how the investigation has panned out.
He says: “In my initial research, the only reference I found to Billy, aside from boxing records, was in an article from the Star. It was a mention of him turning up on some old programmes for Wrekin Show. In the end we found a review of that match, and it turned out to be one of the only times his son saw him box.
“So that article put me on to the fact he must’ve been quite well known locally. All reports from the time have him as 40 then but he was in fact 36.”
The story of Billy ‘Buller’ Evans will be told on BBC1’s Inside Out TV programme tonight, at 7.30pm.