He was the
forerunner of the modern stunt-man. And in the early thirties
the amazing feats of Dudley publican, Joseph Darby were still talking
points over a pint in pubs and bars across the Black Country. Joseph,
who was pulling pints behind the bar in Dudley in 1932, had been
a world famous figure in his early days, having set up a string
of incredibly bizarre records.
from being an internationally renown champion jumper, Darby (pictured
right) was also regarded as the most remarkable trick jumper ever
born. In his leaping days he would take a spring jump onto water
in a tank, touch the surface with his feet and spring of again without
wetting the upper parts of his shoes. Likewise he would jump onto
a crate of eggs, touch them and spring off in an instant without
breaking a single shell.
One death defying
feat involved him jumping over the back of a chair onto the FACE
of his little daughter, lying on the ground, and springing off again
without hurting her in the slightest - but leaving on her cheeks
the marks of whitening from the soles of his shoes.
abilities reached the ears of King Edward who was apparently as
baffled as everyone else as to how he did it. In fact the King was
so intrigued a command performance was arranged at London's Covent
Garden for the publican's abilities to be tested. The King was so
bowled over by Joseph's jumping that he sent him a cheque for £25.
before most of the crown heads of Europe who would see him presenting
one of his favourite freak jumps - leaping over a handsome cab.
As his fame spread, Joseph was beset with challenges from all parts
In fact the
more he jumped the more daring his feats became. The stunt man was
so at home in the air that he eventually became known as "the man
bird", a name which greeted him everywhere he went from New York
to Vienna, Warsaw to Paris and Berlin to Brussels.
The man bird's
more picturesque feats were: clearing a full sized English billiard
table lengthways, jumping over a chair placed on top of a table
with his ankles tied together , springing from a brick, stood on
end, over seven chairs without causing the brick to move, and leaping
over ten chairs placed together in one jump.
But these were
his fancy jumps. In his matches he performed real athletic feats,
beat all-comers and smashed every existing record. He attracted
huge crowds all across the Black Country where he became an idol
among the sporting fraternity. He set record after record with backward
spring jumps, high jumps with ankles tied together, leaping billiard
tables, and a number of spring jumps of different kinds.
And during the
17 years he held the world jumping championship - from 1882 to 1893
- he was regarded as one of the fittest men in the world, although
in later years he acquired a Pickwickian paunch.
Born at Windmill
End, Dudley, on August 6, 1862, Joseph Darby, known for his modesty,
was reluctant to discuss his feats. But in an Express & Star interview
in the early thirties, he said he started jumping almost as soon
as he could walk. "My first recollections, however, are of the days
when, as a boy at school, I beat the masters who tried to jump further
than I could,." he said.
He started working
life as a horse nail maker, later moving to the coal pits. But his
leap to fame came when he appeared at a charity gathering in London
as a young man. About 80 agents besieged the Manchester Hotel where
he was staying, all waving attractive contracts. He signed up with
one of them to appear at the London Aquarium for 10 weeks at £25
a week. That was the beginning and from there his salary sometimes
went as high as £100 a week.
In another five
years, at the age of 75, the once champion jumper died. He had been
a licensee in Dudley for nearly half a century. When he passed on
he ran the Albion Hotel, Stone Street, giving him his final record
- the oldest licensee in the town.
Walsall a plan to turn Fellows Park into a racing track was condemned
by a greyhound protest meeting in February on the grounds that it
would be "detrimental to the social, domestic and moral interests
of the community."
in the country was the theme of a talk by a local solicitor who
packed the Windsor Room of Wolverhampton's Reynold's cafe with members
of the National Council of Women in January.
samaritan in West Bromwich went to help at the scene of an accident
between a car and a horse and cart in January - but he was killed
when a passing motorcyclist hit him.
a friend in need: Wolverhampton
shopkeepers came up with a novel plan to clear stocks from their
shelves in the January sales. They invited personal friends "in
these hard times" to buy their stock as an investment.
hit by blaze: Firefighters
battled for eight hours in March to control a £10,000 fire in Wolverhampton
which practically destroyed the Wearwell Cycle Company in Colliery