At around 3pm on 11 August 1955 in Soho, a middle-aged, overweight, Jewish man began a knife fight with a taller, fitter, Italian man.
One of the fighters was Jacob (sometimes John) Colmore, Comer or Comacho, better known as Jack Spot because he said he was ‘On the Spot’ whenever the Jewish community needed him. Others said it was because of a disfiguring mole on his face.
The other man was ‘Italian’ Albert Dimes, the right-hand man of the soi-disant ‘Boss of Britain’s Underworld’ Billy Hill, with whom Spot had once shared control of Soho’s underworld. The quarrel concerned the ‘free’ pitches at Ascot, Epsom and Brighton racecourses which had once been run by Italian interests then, during the war when Italians had been interned, by Spot. Now the regrouped Italians wanted control back.
During the fight Dimes took the knife from Spot and they slashed each other to ribbons. It ended when the wife of a greengrocer, into whose shop they had battled, hit one of them over the head with a pan. Both men staggered out. Spot collapsed in a nearby barber’s shop. Dimes was rushed to hospital by his friends.
Both nearly died, but recovered and survived to be charged with affray. With the defendants tried separately, Reggie Seaton, later chairman of Inner London Sessions, put the case that while Spot was the attacker, Dimes had gone too far in self-defence.
Khaki Roberts, one of the great defenders of his day, argued that a man fighting for his life could never go too far and, anyway, the damage done by Dimes had been in a shop which was not a public place. Dimes was acquitted. In the second trial Spot called two witnesses, one a vicar, to say that Dimes was the attacker. He was duly acquitted in what became ‘The Fight that Never Was’. Weeks later Spot was slashed again, this time by Mad Frank Fraser acting on behalf of Billy Hill. Spot left the West End scene shortly after.
Dimes and the Italians got their betting pitches back.
Will last month’s Ben Stokes case come to be known as ‘The Affray that Never Was’?
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor