Boxing legend Jack ‘Kid’ Berg went from inhumane poverty to fame in Britain and America and was paid 75p for first fight

THE story of Jack ‘Kid’ Berg’s childhood belongs to the Victorian age when small boys were sent up chimneys — not the 20th century.

It certainly could have come from the pen of Charles Dickens. Because the kind of inhumane exploitation he was subjected to would have had today’s social workers reaching for the smelling salts.

 Jack Kid Berg, the former world junior welterweight champion, pictured in Whitechapel, had a childhood akin to a Dickens novel

Getty – Contributor
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Jack Kid Berg, the former world junior welterweight champion, pictured in Whitechapel, had a childhood akin to a Dickens novel

Yet, despite his brutal beginning, Jack became one of Britain’s greatest fighters.

He had 192 battles and was world junior welterweight champion — as famous in America as he was here.

The tale of his remarkable transition from the gutter to the ring is told in great detail in the paperback Whitechapel Whirlwind, by John Harding, published this month.

It should be compulsory reading for all our professional boxers, from Anthony Joshua to the humblest novice, as it will make them realise how lucky they are they were not fighting nearly 100 years ago.

 Jack 'Kid' Berg is shown playing with a dog at Windsor before fighting Italian lightweight champion Cleto Locatelli

Hulton Archive – Getty
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Jack 'Kid' Berg is shown playing with a dog at Windsor before fighting Italian lightweight champion Cleto Locatelli
 Jack 'Kid' Berg trained hard aftre coming from nowhere to conquer the world

Hulton Archive – Getty
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Jack 'Kid' Berg trained hard aftre coming from nowhere to conquer the world

Jack’s real name was Judah Bergman, born in the East End of London in 1909, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants.

He grew up like many others who came here escaping persecution, in dire poverty, sharing two rooms with his parents and four siblings in a bleak tenement.

Jack was a typical street urchin of his time. He soon got the reputation in his Whitechapel neighbourhood as a feral tearaway.

He may have looked as angelic as Oliver Twist but he was in fights every day and he would fearlessly sort out boys and men much bigger than himself.

Berg’s notoriety soon reached the ears of Victor Berliner, who owned Premierland, East London’s biggest boxing arena.

 Britain's Jack ‘Kid’ Berg won the world light-welterweight championship in 1930 when he beat American champ Mushy Callahan

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Britain's Jack ‘Kid’ Berg won the world light-welterweight championship in 1930 when he beat American champ Mushy Callahan

There were no universal credits back then and the money Berliner offered him was a fortune to Jack who was earning pennies lathering the faces of men in his local barber shop.

What beggars belief is that Berliner got the kid to sign a contract tying him exclusively to Premierland for ten years.

Berg, as he decided to call himself, with no boxing experience climbed through the ropes for the first time in June 1923.

 Few boxing champs have come from a tougher background than Jack ‘Kid’ Berg

PA:Empics Sport
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Few boxing champs have come from a tougher background than Jack ‘Kid’ Berg

Wearing baggy shorts, plimsolls, without a gumshield and with no bandages on his hands he stopped Young Johnnie Gordon in eight rounds.

Jack was FOURTEEN years old. He was paid the equivalent of 75p — he kept 5p for himself and gave the rest to his mother to put food on the table for his family.

Though it may sound like fiction, in the six months after his debut he had 15 fights — he won 13 and drew two. One of his victims was 27.

That was the era if you were dropped to the canvas the referee, before starting his count, would say: “If you don’t get up you won’t get paid.” They usually got up.

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At 16 Berg not only outpointed British featherweight champion Johnny Curley over 15 rounds in an overweight match he topped the bill at the Albert Hall.

Jack used to blind his opponents with leather and his battering-ram approach endeared him to thousands of fans.

News of his remarkable exploits had travelled across the Atlantic and it wasn’t long before he became a superstar in the States.

Jack had 76 fights over there and won 67. And he was the main attraction at New York’s Madison Square Garden on nine occasions.

With his dark matinee idol good looks, Jack attracted the ladies.

Show girls on Broadway and London’s stage were his favourites. As a womaniser he made Muhammad Ali look like a Trappist monk.

Jack was an in-demand film stunt man when he stopped fighting. He died at 81, 27 years ago.

He was idolised by my father’s generation. When I asked the old man if he wanted to come with me to the fights he’d say: “Only if Kid Berg’s on the bill.”

There’s got to be another great boxing movie in there somewhere.

  • Whitechapel Whirlwind, The Jack ‘Kid’ Berg Story by John Harding, published by Pitch Publishing Ltd, £12.99.

THE story of Jack ‘Kid’ Berg’s childhood belongs to the Victorian age when small boys were sent up chimneys — not the 20th century.