Messages of support have poured in for Frank Bruno as he begins treatment at a psychiatric hospital. The Argus sports writer Mike Donovan recalls the time he spent with the boxer.

FRANK Bruno sat battered and bruised, blood streaming from his wounds, his jaw and eyes swollen.

His manager Terry Lawless asked for silence and put on a tape. Whitney Houston sang: "They can't take away my dignity."

I was one of a privileged half-dozen allowed into his dressing room after Bruno had been beaten by Tim Witherspoon for the WBA heavyweight title in front of a packed Wembley Stadium.

Each of us in that inner sanctum knew what Lawless meant.

A layer of Bruno's dignity was stripped away when the story broke this week that he had been sectioned under mental health legislation.

That sense of self-esteem would have been uppermost in Bruno's mind and was, I'm sure, the reason it took several hours for the authorities to persuade him to seek treatment.

He may be a national treasure, appealing to kids and grandparents who had only heard his deep laugh on It's A Knockout or in a pantomime. But he is also a proud man.

I felt a twinge of sympathy every time a news bulletin revealed a little more about Bruno's plight.

They told of what was considered irrational behaviour such as directing traffic in his Essex town or camping in his garden.

Early editions of The Sun insensitively ran a headline saying "Bonkers Bruno locked up".

The world seems to have been closing in on Bruno in recent years with money troubles, the suicide of former trainer George Francis and his divorce from wife Laura.

He voluntarily visited the Priory Clinic, where many celebrities sort out their stresses and strains, often self inflicted through alcohol and/ or drugs.

Bruno's problems were nothing to do with such crutches.

They were born partly of financial troubles. He felt ripped off.

Money has always been important to Bruno. He started with nothing, with a background of poverty and violence.

When he was expelled from school at 11 ("I was running wild"), Bruno was sent to Oak Hall, a special boarding school at Heathfield, where he learned discipline by channelling his restlessness into sport.

Lawless took him under his wing after he won the ABA heavyweight title. The manager fed and clothed him and let him live in his family home.

Lawless and his wife Sylvia became second parents.

Bruno said in his autobiography Know What I Mean?: "He (Lawless) has never made me a promise he hasn't kept and I would trust him with my life."

But chiefly his troubles are about heartache.

The suicide of trainer Francis must have hurt. They were close.

Whereas Lawless was more like a dad, Francis acted as the friendly elder brother, sometimes the go-between for boxer and manager.

One time, I wanted to spend a day training with Bruno for a feature in Today, a newspaper for which I was boxing correspondent.

I agreed it with him and Francis. At Bruno's Canning Town gym in the East End I was to skip, shadow box and get in the ring with Bruno to spar.

As I entered, Lawless asked what was going on. Francis hadn't taken his go-between role seriously this time and Bruno's manager had no clue about any arrangement.

I breathed a sigh of relief to be honest. Even a gentle Bruno jab would have sent me to the canvas or through the big glass windows, depending on its trajectory.

The greatest hurt of all was his split with his wife.

Laura was in that dressing room when the emotion was close to overwhelming.

She was trying to put a brave face on it. Her Frank was suffering. She was his lover, mother of his children and career advisor. She was his rock.

Tales of his ill-treatment of Laura just seemed so hard to believe of the Bruno I knew.

He was kind, considerate and wanted to pay back all the faith and support given him by his family, the Lawlesses and Francis in the ring.

Bruno was a willing worker.

When he suffered a detached retina any hope he might become the first world heavyweight from Britain of the 20th century seemed to be illusory.

Plucked from the obscurity of a building site where he worked as a labourer, he looked destined to return to his former life.

But Lawless refused to give up on him. It led to his crack at Witherspoon in 1986 after he had won an eliminator against South African Gerrie Coetzee.

The fight with Coetzee allowed me to make newspaper history. I became the first journalist to write a boxing article in Britain's first computerised colour national with the preview headlined The Great Black Hope appearing in the first issue of Today on March 4, 1986.

The following day Bruno provided me with the back page splash with his first-round knockout of the South African.

More importantly, it showed the knockers that Bruno was capable of becoming a world champion.

He prepared tirelessly for that date with Witherspoon a few months later.

He had his chances at Wembley but failed to seize them.

The cynics lifted their heads above the bunker again to shout Bruno was a no-hoper.

But what Bruno retained was his dignity. He had given it his best shot and eventually he did become a world champion, overcoming Oliver McCall in 1995.

He fought and lost to Tyson, which was no disgrace with Iron Mike at his peak and rated the best heavyweight since Rocky Marciano.

Bruno had respect and money after climbing a steep hill.

But when inevitable retirement came, he sought other motivations to fill his life.

He became a popular face on the pantomime circuit and made a comedy appearance as Juliet in a skit on the Shakespeare play. A regular chat show guest, he charmed everyone just like Muhammad Ali with Michael Parkinson.

Laura became his sole pillar of support in a world away from the fight game. The pillar crumbled and Bruno has pondered what to do with the rest of his life.

He has kept himself in good shape and spoken about the possibility of a return to the ring at 41. But the events of the last couple of days would seem to preclude that.

My concern for him is that he will not escape being stigmatised for having a mental condition which requires treatment.

I have another friend who was sectioned.

Stuart Goddard became famous as pop singer Adam Ant and then slipped out of the limelight and lost his wife.

Many now shake their heads and dismiss him as a loser who lost his marbles.

If someone has a physical problem everyone is sympathetic but they often get kicked when they are down if the trouble is in the head.

I hope Bruno will not suffer such thoughtlessness.

Everyone has ups and downs in their lives and right now Bruno needs the biggest support group he can find to rid himself of the negatives which seem to be populating his head and rebuild his life.

Surely no one wants to take away all his dignity.

Know what I mean?