‘Jarhead’ Billy was Streets ahead

Billy Streets in his prime.
Billy Streets in his prime.
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Andrew Fairley has let me have another biography from his forthcoming book of one of Portsmouth’s boxers.

It’s about Billy Streets who was a professional fighter from 1924 to 1932 taking part in 128 contests.

In appearance Billy resembled a smaller version of world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, good-looking and with the same look of belligerence in his eyes.

Apart from that there were few other parallels in their careers.

For example, on the same night in July 1927 that Billy beat Len George by disqualification at Ilford ice-skating rink for a combined purse of £100 (not an inconsiderable sum in 1927, equivalent to £5,500 today) Dempsey knocked out Jack Sharkey at the Yankee Stadium, New York, in one of the first million-dollar fights in boxing history, $1,083,530 to be exact.

Yet Billy achieved a level of fame in his home city unsurpassed by any boxer, drawing sell-out crowds to venues such as the Connaught Drill Hall where on one memorable night in 1931 the doors had to be locked from the inside as so many fans wanted to watch him in an epic clash with Stoker Reynolds.

No doubt Billy became an idol to many.

Any young man with an eye for the latest fashions could go into any barber in Portsmouth, request a Billy Streets’s haircut with no further explanation necessary, and emerge with the high and tight cut Billy wore.

He was decades ahead of his time for this distinctive look recently became associated with the ‘jarhead’ look favoured by the United States’ Marine Corps.

In a more enlightened age than today, fame had to be earned and Billy brought something special to the ring.

While there were – and are – many boxers with winning records who couldn’t sell-out a telephone box, in contrast Billy provided that which often separates a well-loved fighter from an unknown.