Simon Block, Honorary Secretary of the Commonwealth Boxing Council, paid tribute to Leonard 'Nipper' Read on the day after his passing on April 7:
I am sorry and saddened to learn from BBB of C General Secretary, Robert Smith, of the death in the last 24 hours of former Board of Control Chairman, Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read QPM.
Nipper was a member of the Board’s Southern Area Council when I first started with them in 1979 and I was quite eager to meet the famous gang-busting detective who I assumed would be a big, burly character. It was quite a surprise to find he was of modest size, quietly spoken with a clerical air about him.
I was soon to find out he was thorough, logical and possessed a steely resolve.
He became a Steward of the Board under the Chairmanship of Sir David Hopkin with whom he had worked on the Kray case when Sir David was the Crown Prosecution lawyer for the trial.
As a relatively junior person, first under Ray Clarke and then John Morris I did not develop a close relationship with Nipper until we decided together that the Board’s Regulation Book was out of date, still with references to rules applicable to the World War II. For the odd day over a period over some months, I would drive over to Nipper’s house in Broxbourne and we would go through the entire book, not to introduce new rules but merely to throw out rules that were no longer applicable and to update the language of certain others. It was not the most exciting of work but it was made pleasurable by the hospitality of Nipper and his lovely wife, Pat who would make sure we were well supplied with sandwiches, biscuits and tea.
The most fascinating job I did with him was working on a case where the Board had received information that scales at a weigh-in had been fixed to make it possible for a last minute substitute main event boxer to make the weight for a televised Championship contest.
Over a period of some weeks, I accompanied Nipper on his visits to various offices and houses to interview potential witnesses, some of whom, not being licence holders, were under no obligation to talk to us but with Nipper’s quiet air of authority, felt compelled to co-operate.
I was pretty much just the bag carrier but to sit and watch Nipper with his soft voice and non-aggressive manner wheedle information out of people who wished they could be somewhere else was like being part of an episode of ‘The Bill’ or ‘The Sweeney’.
I always felt that as a result of these two specific jobs on which I had assisted him, he and I had a good working relationship but that unfortunately did not continue.
In 1999, whilst still Assistant General Secretary but with John Morris due to retire at the end of the year, I got into trouble with him, he being Board Chairman by then, over an instruction he had given me concerning the appointment of a former Class ‘A’ Referee to judge a Championship contest for a ‘world’ championship organisation, something that official would not have been permitted to do had he still held a Board licence.
My issue was not over that official’s competence but the principle.
I carried out Nipper’s instruction to permit that official to judge but the wording of my letter to the head of the organisation was deliberately ambiguous.
I had not realised that Nipper had given his home number to that head and when he was informed of my letter he was furious, not being aware of the full correspondence I had written and not being willing to hear my explanation.
Things were very uncomfortable for me for quite some time with not only my future as the Board’s General Secretary in doubt, but my job itself.
Ultimately, my conduct was exonerated by the Stewards after a hearing but it’s fair to say that for some time after, our previous warm relationship was cooled.
When, after John’s retirement in 1999, I was appointed as the Board’s General Secretary I was wary of how he and I would get on.
It is essential that, whoever the individuals are, the Board’s Chairman has faith in, and a good working relationship with, his General Secretary.
My concerns were unfounded. Nipper was an excellent and supportive Chairman and for the relatively short time we worked together in those capacities we worked extremely well in what was one of the worst periods for the Board in its history, having just lost the case brought against us by boxer Michael Watson and having to go into administration.
He supported me 100% during the period when a sub-committee of senior Stewards were interviewing prospective administrators. I had expressed a concern about one of the companies, front runners at the time, as to the individual they would appoint to effectively run the Board.
In the end, the Stewards appointed another company, Hacker Young, to do the job.
The burden of office, entirely voluntary and honorary, was taking its toll and Nipper eventually decided to call it a day as Chairman.
I think he would have been content to resign as a Steward altogether at that time, but at the special urging of new Chairman, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, who told him, ‘Nipper, I need you’, he stayed on giving years of support to Lord Brooks at a time when the position of being the Board’s Chairman was something of a poisoned chalice.
After his final retirement as a Steward, I would exchange Christmas cards with Nipper and Pat and we always sought each other out at functions such as the Board’s Awards event.
It was a privilege to have worked with and for such an eminent man, and even with the small ‘blip’ I am extremely grateful to him for the example and education he gave me, enabling me to do my job perhaps, better than I otherwise might have done.
The Board relies on people such as Nipper, of status and achievement in fields outside boxing, to bring their skills and experience to the Board table, to assist the professionals, all for a cup of tea and a biscuit and the occasional ringside seat.
I will write separately to Pat to express my condolences and sympathies.
May this remarkable man, rest in peace.
Hon Secretary, Commonwealth Boxing Council
Read the British Boxing Board of Control's statement here: https://britishboxingnews.co.uk/blogs/bbbofc-mourn-the-passing-of-leonard-nipper-read