ARIZONA might have had the set-to at the OK Corral, where at three o’clock in the afternoon on Wednesday, October 26, 1881 in Tombstone, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, along with Doc Holiday, sorted out the Cowboy gang. But at two o’clock in the morning on January 12, 1980, Worcester had its Battle of the Bank House.

The two events bore some similarities. In both cases it was the security forces versus the rabble rousers, although in Worcestershire, fortunately and by the Grace of God, no-one died.

Today the Bank House at Bransford is a quality country house hotel, but nearly 40 years ago it was a vastly different place. Punters from far and wide, from Birmingham to Gloucester, would converge there for the regular dances, which were usually record discotheques but sometimes a group played too.

The venue had been quite a posh country pub until the mid-1960s, when, looking to open another revenue stream, it began holding what were quaintly called Disc-o-Dances. Remember this was a time when today’s big local nightclubs were still 20 years away and the discotheques of Sixties Swinging London hadn’t reached Worcestershire. The Bank House aimed to fill the void

Drawn by the growing cult of Northern Soul music and with the DJ’s collections enhanced by records brought along by northern students studying at Worcester College of Higher Education (now Worcester University), the beamed room three miles west of Worcester became the go-to place. In fact there was not much else around here at the time.

Inevitably with the lights down low and the music up high, crushing crowds, split drinks, jealousies and arguments, there was trouble. It first culminated in a night of violence in October, 1969, when Worcester and Birmingham groups clashed and a 20-year-old from Nechells was chased 500 yards back along the main Worcester-Hereford road before being trapped in a field and stabbed four times. His attacker was jailed for three years and various others involved were also sentenced.

The incident had been followed a week later by a 20 strong gang from Birmingham smashing up a pub in central Worcester as it sought revenge. So the Bank House had history long before January, 1980.

By then the joint licensees were former boxer Roy French and professional wrestler Les Hudspith, whose ring name was Ringo Rigby. With long blond hair, Ringo was a television favourite in the days when wrestling was big box office. The pair had around them several mates who, as the saying goes, could handle themselves.

To the authorities the set-up seemed ideal for keeping a lid on any trouble at the venue. But what tended to happen was that any young gun who fancied a pop at the sheriff turned up, just to see how hard they were. The reality was that professional wrestlers, whatever anyone thinks of stage-managed bouts on television, are seriously hard men, violence is their trade, and the boys in the street were no-where near hard enough.

So the pot had been boiling for some time. In fact, a few weeks before January 12, one of the door staff Christopher Adams, who wrestled under the name Black Belt Chris Adams, had been threatened when he went to evict a Birmingham trouble maker. “Don’t touch me, I can kill with either hand,” the man yelled, holding his mitts in best karate fashion. As the bouncer advanced, the idiot suddenly spun round and attempted to deliver a flying reverse kick a la the Jackie Chan movies.

Adams, who must have seen the move a million times, simply swayed back as the boot whistled past his face and immediately caught his assailant’s foot in an iron grip, leaving him balanced precariously on one leg. The man toppled backwards, banged his head on a wall and that was him done for. “If you’re so good with your hands, use them next time,” Adams told the prostrate figure.

Whether the trouble on the night of January 12 had been pre-planned to lure the bouncers outside no-one will ever know, but shortly after the disco ended at 2am a fight broke on the car park between two groups, ostensibly over a girl. When doorman David Walker, a Great Britain judo international, went to sort it out he was attacked by around 15 youths and knocked to the ground.

Then when Roy French went to his aid he was hit on the head by a brick thrown from somewhere in the darkness and staggered back into the pub bleeding profusely. As Walker tried to rescue the girl at the centre of the trouble he was again hit over the head with a crash helmet. He was later to tell Worcester Crown Court. “I caught hold of the bloke who did it and to be honest I was going to punch his head in. But he looked so weedy I just told him to clear off.” Or words to that effect.

By then the battle was raging and the bouncers produced their trump card. A collection of pickaxe handles had been kept behind the bar for just such an emergency and as the cry went up “Break out the poles” they grabbed the weapons and charged off into the night to sort out their attackers.

In the melee, Ringo Rigby, who was almost as wide as he was tall, was hit on the back of the head with a beer bottle, but never moved. He then turned round to see his assailant disappearing rapidly into the darkness, probably wondering just what sort of iron man he had irritated. The rest of his mates fled too.

Had the violence ended there, things might have been OK. But with their blood up five of the door staff jumped into a car and raced after their attackers, many of whom were on foot. They came across them about a mile away hiding in a ditch near the village of Leigh Sinton, where Ringo cracked one across the head with a pickaxe handle and the others were given “a good hiding”.

In October 1980, 13 men appeared before Worcester Crown Court charged with affray in connection with night’s events. Other charges included wounding and assault. Les Hudspith, aka Ringo Rigby, was jailed for 21 months for wounding with intent.

However he appealed and in April, 1981 was freed immediately. Appeal Court judge Mr Justice Tudor Evans said the sentence was excessive because Hudspith was “more sinned against than sinning” . He had been faced with “a very ugly and dangerous situation” and in trying to deal with it the best way he could had, in hindsight, gone too far.