Vernon Scannell is not the first British poet to have been keen on boxing and, apparently, quite good at it: we may think of Lord Byron and Robert Graves. But few others, surely, have written and worried so concernedly about the ethics of this sport, its moral justification. Ring of Truth, his first novel since The Big Time in 1965, returns hungrily to Scannell's old problem. Can deliberate wounding be good sport? Scannell tells of dangerous, exciting weeks in the life of Dave Ruddock, a boxer from Leeds, acknowledged as Middleweight Champion of the World. 'He had not lost a fight since he was 13 ... Schoolboy Champion of Great Britain, Junior ABA and Senior ABA Champion, a Lonsdale Belt, the European title and then the pot of gold, the Championship of the World - 11 years without dropping a decision.' Dave Ruddock is feeling pretty good. We read on the dust-cover that Scannell himself has been a National Schoolboy and Senior Amateur Boxing Champion: he has also done a little professional boxing (under the name of 'Johnny Bain') and travelled with a fairground boxing-booth. While writing about Dave Ruddock, he must have been thinking: 'I too could have been a contender!'
LRB 2 February 1984 | PDF Download