Len Harvey vs Jock McAvoy (partially found footage of boxing match; 1938)
On 7th April 1938, Jock McAvoy defended his BBBofC Light Heavyweight Championship against Len Harvey at the Harringay Arena. The third match between the two boxers, Harvey defeated McAvoy on points in a 15 round bout to claim the belt. The bout received full live coverage from the BBC, and is declared to have been the first televised nonexhibition professional bout.
Heading into the fight, McAvoy was the reigning BBBofC British Light Heavyweight Champion, having defeated Eddie Philips for the belt on 27th April 1937. He was also the reigning BBBofC British Middleweight and British Empire Middleweight champion, after beating Harvey on 10th April 1933, in what was their second encounter. Their first was on 21st March 1932, which Harvey won, again by decision. McAvoy's last match prior to his third Harvey fight was a TKO victory over Jack Strongbow on 28th February 1938. Meanwhile, Harvey was a former BBBofC British Heavyweight Champion from 1933 to 1934. Following an unsuccessful challenge for the World Light Heavyweight Championship held by John Henry Lewis on 9th November 1936, Harvey now had his eyes set on McAvoy's Light Heavyweight title, in what would be his second reign if he claimed it, having won his first against Eddie Lewis on 12th June 1933. His last bout was a TKO victory over Manuel Kid Abrew on 15th September 1937. He also wanted to prove that at 30, he was not too old to win another championship.
Meanwhile, the BBC had made substantial progress in televising boxing and other sports. For instance, it provided live coverage of two boxing matches at the Broadcasting House on 22nd August 1933. Meanwhile, a few bouts billed as England vs Ireland were the first broadcast as part of BBC's high-definition Television Service. However, the bouts it had previously aired were either amateur contests or professional exhibitions. Hence, the third encounter between Harvey and McAvoy holds the distinction of being the first televised nonexhibition professional match. Aside from the feud itself generating hype, the BBC likely chose the match because of Harringay Stadium's geographical proximity to Alexandra Palace, which was then the home of BBC Television Service. The entirety of the match would be shown.
Initially, the bout was scheduled for 23rd March, with commentary provided by Lionel Seccombe. However, it was delayed until 7th April, with Howard Marshall and Tommy Woodruffe calling the bout. The delay interestingly caused problems for the BBC, as it had just 29 hours to transport the cameras, cables, and other technology from Harringay to Wembley Stadium for the first ever full international football match broadcast between England and Scotland on 9th April. As summarised in the 22nd April 1938 issue of Radio Times, had one "come behind the scenes, and you will see that, far being ample, the twenty-nine hours' interval is giving something in the nature of a rush job." Nevertheless, the Harvey-McAvoy broadcast proved successful; while some sources like The A-Z of World Boxing claim the match was not actually seen by the general public, the BBC itself claimed the transmission reached viewers situated in Harwich and Kettering.
The bout occurred on 7th April, lasting all 15 rounds. The first three rounds were generally uneventful, with both boxers engaging in holding. However, a blow from McAvoy gashed Harvey's eye, though the latter was able to continue. Despite the gash, Harvey was noted for being a "master of defence", which was especially needed as the defending champion proved to be the more aggressive. As the bout reached the final round, both boxers were certainly feeling the effects of the bout, but Harvey made one last charge to claim the belt. Ultimately, he was declared the winner on points, earning him the title, nicknamed the "Lonsdale Belt". There was however controversy over some believing the title should not have changed hands in this fashion, especially in a closely fought contest.
Following the bout, McAvoy went on a winning streak, also defeating Arthur "Ginger" Sadd with the BBofC British Middleweight and Commonwealth Boxing Council Middleweight titles on the line. Meanwhile, Harvey won the vacant BBBofC British Heavyweight and Commonwealth Boxing Council Heavyweight titles against Eddie Philips and Larry Gains. The pair would meant one final time on 10th July 1939, not only for the BBBofC British Light Heavyweight belt and the vacant Commonwealth Boxing Council Light Heavyweight title, but also the recently vacated BBBofC World Light Heavyweight Championship. In a hotly anticipated match, at least 90,000 attended the contest at the White City Stadium, this British record only being matched by the 2017 clash between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. After being knocked down in the second round, Harvey launched a comeback from the tenth round. McAvoy nearly won the encounter in the fourteenth, but Harvey just about survived and regained his composure in the final round to win on points. Harvey's final bout came a match later, losing by KO to Freddie Mills on 20th June 1942. McAvoy retired following a points win over Tommy Davis on 10th September 1945.
Ultimately, the third Harvey-McAvoy bout was televised live in a period where recording seldom occurred until videotape was perfected in the late-1950s. None of the BBC's coverage is known to have survived, and is most likely permanently missing, but a few newsreels do provide key highlights of the 15-round bout.
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- BoxRec detailing McAvoy's fight record. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- International Boxing Hall of Fame summarising Harvey's career. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- BoxRec detailing Harvey's fight record. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- Reuters newsreel on the match, also providing annotated commentary. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- The Golden Age of Boxing detailing the BBC's early broadcasts of boxing, and stating the Harvey-McAvoy bout was the first televised nonexhibition professional bout. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- BBC Sport in Black and White detailing the broadcast, including commentators, postponement, and range of the airing. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- BBC detailing its England-Ireland boxing exhibition broadcast. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- March 1938 issue of Wireless World reporting on the then-upcoming broadcast, noting the original date and commentator. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues detailing the original broadcast date of the match. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- Issue 755 of Radio Times listing the cancelled broadcast. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues detailing the broadcast of the bout. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- Issue 757 of Radio Times listing the BBC broadcast of the fight. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- Power Play noting the broadcast caused issues for the BBC's transmission of the England-Scotland football match. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- 1939 bout programme noting the 1938 match outcome was deemed controversial. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- ESPN detailing the fourth and final Harvey-McAvoy bout. Retrieved 5th Jan '23
- Web Archive article discussing how most early television is missing due to the lack of directly recording television. Retrieved 5th Jan '23