I remember when researching for the musical ‘Contender’, the story of the Heavyweight Champion Tommy Farr, reading a quote about boxing come backs.
‘The thing with come backs…they never come back!’
Last weekend one of the most surprising and some would say ambitious political comebacks was splashed across the newspapers, radio and television. Well, not exactly all channels and papers. Liz Truss, the former Prime Minister or ‘Liz of 44 days’ as she will probably be remembered, had decided that following nearly crashing the UK economy and having to resign in record time she wanted to put the record straight. However, instead of facing all comers and all questions she decided to write an article for one friendly newspaper and take part in one friendly face to face interview.
Well you can’t knock her self-belief can you?
That led to me and Johnny Tudor taking up the topic of come backs in this week’s ‘The Mal & Johnny Show’ podcast.
I started with that boxing quote. In the case of Tommy Farr he had had a wonderful career almost becoming Heavyweight Champion of the World and he had made an absolute fortune.
Sadly, like so many ‘rags to riches’ sportsmen and entertainers he had soon lost that fortune. By the time he found himself broke he was older and slower than the champion he had been, but boxing had been a sure fire way to make money in the past. Within a couple of fights it soon became obvious that time had beaten him.
Starting with boxing Johnny pointed out that as with all rules there are notable exceptions. Muhammed Ali was the first we talked about. He had lost his titles because he refused to go to fight in Vietnam. By the time of his first come back he was still a relatively young man. Once allowed to box again Ali went on to win and lose his title a number of times.
One of the most memorable Title wins was against George Foreman. George was a monster and Ali very much the underdog for the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. Ali took everything Foreman had to offer and having punched himself out Foreman was knocked over by Ali in his first professional defeat.
Which brings us to George Foreman. After that defeat he tried a comeback, but it didn’t work out. Sometime later George had a religious experience which completely changed him and led to him becoming a Minister of Religion… but the lure of the ring and the chance to make money especially for his charitable work led him to try a ‘comeback’. Every boxing expert laughed at the old overweight heavyweight and his dreams of glory but almost 2 decades after losing his title to Ali and wearing the same shorts he wore in that fight; he became the oldest boxer to win the title at 45 years of age.
Boxing and most sports have the problems of ageing which hinder comebacks. Entertainment is a different matter. Even though artists often improve with age their audience can be less forgiving for the passing of time.
‘When you’re hot you’re hot, when you’re not, you’re not!’
Frank Sinatra was known as the king of the come back tour. He had been a teen idol, the heartthrob of the bobby-soxers but as his audience grew up and musical tastes change Frank found himself on the scrap heap. Over the years he kept working and kept coming back. An appearance in the film ‘From Here to Eternity’ put him back on top and that’s where he stayed on and off until the end of his life.
Tony Bennett is another of that old school of performers who had been top of the charts but found himself out of fashion. Looking for work he even came to Britain to perform at various Butlin Holiday camps. But ‘form is temporary, and class is permanent’. After battling with drugs and the IRS his son took over his career. He took Tony away from Las Vegas and booked him into colleges and little theatres and the comeback started.
Tony Bennett just kept going until the world turned and realised he still had it.
This week we sadly heard the news of the passing of Burt Bacharach. Burt was the sound of classic early swinging 50’s and 60’s music. A melodic genius who has written some of the finest songs of all time. Even though he had won Grammys and Oscars even a genius can’t fight the movement in generational tastes.
With the 70’s change in style Burt found himself ‘old hat’. But songwriters everywhere, even though they might write in a completely different styles knew he was one of the best. Over the years many of them including people like Elvis Costello played their part in bringing Burt back to the masses.
Fraser Nelson: (Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng) didn’t disagree on anything as far as I can work out?— Graeme Demianyk (@GraemeDemianyk) February 6, 2023
Nelson: Yet he still had to go.
Truss: fjkfhwgpgwqj pic.twitter.com/YGyJwc2TfS
Back to politics? As well as Liz Truss trying to rehabilitate herself with the public Boris Johnson still seems to harbour dreams of walking back into No.10. Johnson’s hero was the ultimate comeback politician Winston Churchill. After an initial political career which included different ministerial posts for various different political parties Churchill found himself out in the cold for almost a decade in what he called his Wilderness Years.
The build up to war in the 1930s gave Churchill the chance to find a role again and by 1940 the ‘outcast’ became the Prime Minister to take Britain through the war. Many people have credited Churchill with being the person that kept Britain together and by his force of will ended Fascism and Hitler in 1945; but soon afterwards he lost the General Election to Clement Atlee. Always looking to prove the pundits wrong Churchill had one more comeback at the age of 77 as Prime Minister in 1951.
So maybe Liz Truss and Boris Johnson aren’t completely bonkers to think that they might be the ones to save the country as Churchill did in 1941…although we should remember that did entail the complete destruction of Europe to set up his path back into Government.
Maybe when YOU come back it’ll be as a BUTTERFLY…
What about you? Maybe you think you’ve had your day. On the other hand maybe your greatest days are still ahead of you and you just need the world to turn just enough to realise that. That’s the conclusion me and Johnny Tudor came to, so we keep going for the time being.