Ex-public schoolboy Desmond Jeans was known as ‘The Monocled Boxer’ decades before Chris Eubank
TRADITIONALLY, the best boxers rise from humble beginnings, if not abject poverty. While in modern times it’s not unheard of for fighters from comfortable backgrounds to make their mark in the paid ranks, in the pre-war era they were seldom seen outside the amateurs. There are always exceptions, though, and in the early ’30s a heavyweight from affluent Mayfair in London’s West End bucked the trend.
Decades before Chris Eubank, Desmond Jeans (real name Desmond Mcminn) took to the ring for each fight sporting a monocle, which he’d pass to one of his seconds just before the first bell. Unlike Eubank’s, however, Jeans’ monocle was no mere prop. His left-eye vision was so poor, he would not be given a boxing licence today.
Born in 1903 to a civil servant father, Jeans spent his early years in India before moving to England. He attended Sherborne public school in Dorset, where he took up boxing. Desmond’s mother, an actress, encouraged all her children to learn the craft and his sisters, Ursula and Isabel, became noted stage and screen actresses. Desmond himself acted as well, first on stage and later in several films.
A man of many interests, Jeans trained as a professional ballroom dancer under the famous Victor Silvester and finished fourth in the 1924 world ballroom dancing championships. He also played rugby for Richmond and boxed for Belsize boxing club, reportedly winning many contests. At 6ft 3ins and over 13st (or 182lbs), he was a fair-sized heavyweight for his time.
His move into pro boxing came courtesy of Jeff Dickson, the silvertongued Europe-based American, who promoted many of Europe’s biggest fights of the 1930s. In Jeans, Dickson saw, above all else, a novelty figure who would boost ticket sales. As for Jeans, he probably saw pro boxing as an adventure and a way to maybe get richer.
“Take a look at all these photographers who are pointing their lenses at me,” he said before his pro debut, “and tell me how long it would have taken me to get that amount of attention in any other walk of life... I’m not going in for pro boxing as a joke. It won’t be any joke either taking punches with anything up to 15st [or 210lbs] behind them... There’s plenty of money to be made if one is successful, and I intend to be successful.”
When he made his debut, at the Royal Albert Hall on September 29, 1930, Jeans was reportedly the first ex-public schoolboy to punch for pay. He finished Frenchman Jose Thomas inside three.
The next month, Desmond boxed twice in Paris and was back at the Albert Hall in December. He won his first four fights, but in his fifth was overmatched against the unbeaten 6ft 7 1/2in future British title challenger Jack Pettifer. Jeans was stopped in five rounds at Olympia, and was KO’D in his next bout, in New York, by Ireland’s Jack Phoenix. The Mayfair man then retired from the ring, but made a five-fight comeback two years later. He finished in 1934 with a 6-3-1 record and one No Contest.
Afterwards, he entered pro wrestling and became a policeman. Jeans was still a well-known figure, even being featured in Punch magazine. He died in 1974.
CHARACTERS: Jeans can be viewed as Eubank’s [below] predecessor