Timeshift looks back to a time when British professional wrestling attracted huge TV audiences and made household names of the likes of Mick McManus, Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy.
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'Hello again, grapple fans. Good afternoon,
'and welcome to another freestyle wrestling session.'
'And a splash!'
Britain was once a place where villains wore silver capes,
the good guys were faking it
and the most masculine man in the country was called Shirley.
At 4pm every Saturday, the UK was in thrall to the wrestling.
When four o'clock came, for a lot of people, we were their heroes.
Professional wrestling started out as a violent sport
before cleaning up its act.
Hitting its heyday in the '60s,
wresting regularly drew TV audiences of 16 million.
It played out like a soap opera,
the quintessential good guys, like Big Daddy,
would engage in epic battles with the baddies...
People loved Big Daddy. He was one of the big figures of the 1980s.
He wasn't a brilliant wrestler because he was more fuelled
by Best Bitter and pies than he was by exercise and gym.
The baddies were Mick McManus, or the masked men, like Kendo Nagasaki,
who would never reveal their true identities until they lost.
The mythology was that one of them
was a very prominent member of the royal family,
so I used to think, "Who could it be? Is it Prince Philip?"
The fans loved it and bought into it a bit too much.
If they didn't like someone,
they would hit them in the back and think nothing
and we've even had cigarettes stubbed out on our backs.
Once, some chap come up and stuck a foot-and-mouth injection in the back of my bottom.
But by the '80s, wrestling seemed out of step with popular culture -
the bubble burst.
The sport of wrestling is being counted out on television tomorrow
after 33 years.
This is the story of the rise and fall of professional wrestling -
the champions, the characters
and, of course, the rabid grannies.
SHE SHOUTS WILDLY
Greetings, grapple fans.
'Good afternoon, everybody,
'and welcome to this real humdinger of a professional wrestling session,
'here from the Wembley Town Hall in London.'
1962, a smoky Wembley filled to the rafters.
'Jackie Pallo versus Mick McManus -
'this bout that everybody's been waiting to see.'
The stage is set for an epic battle between two rivals,
a grudge match.
They drew 22 million people to one bout that they had,
which was almost half of Great Britain.
The rivalry was talked about by the whole nation
and this was their first high-profile contest.
For the following seven days,
it seemed like the whole country had seen the wrestling.
You never met anyone who hadn't seen it.
Everyone knew what was going on, everyone was discussing it.
'And now, Mick McManus.'
In the right corner was Mick McManus,
one of wrestling's most famous villains,
instantly recognisable because of his Dracula-style black hairdo.
Mick, superb. Mick were all action, there were no mincing.
When the bell rang, Mick came out full of it, you know, like,
and the crowd loved that.
As soon as he entered the ring, the fans absolutely hated him.
He was the man that we loved to hate.
'There's Jackie Pallo.
'The refusal of McManus to take on this boy from Highbury...'
On his left, his arch nemesis - Jackie "Mr TV" Pallo -
a charismatic figure
who wore striped trunks and a gold lame jacket.
Pallo, more flamboyant - the pigtailed, bombastic star from Highbury.
He was considered sensational
just because he wore a ribbon in his hair and wore striped trunks.
'..Mr TV, Jackie Pallo from Highbury.'
He presented himself a little glamorous,
he'd a little bit of glitter on and he used to waggle his head.
When they come, "Go on, Pallo, you're rubbish,"
"Yes, but you've paid to come and see me." All that stuff, like.
'..versus Mick McManus in the black trunks with the short widow's peak.
'Pallo dominates. Now this is the needle match of all needle matches.
'Pallo has been trying to get this southern area welterweight champion,
'McManus, to agree to this bout for a long time, without success.'
Their dislike of one another was notorious.
This was stoked by promoters eager to maximise their appeal.
'Pallo chops now with the forearm smash.
'If he starts that forearm smash...
'And an attempted leg dive on the bell and McManus won't stop!
'And Stan Stone really trying to separate these two men.
'Oh, this is going to be a humdinger!'
All in all, there were six high-profile grudge matches
fought over the next 11 years.
They really didn't like each other.
They loved each other in the ring,
because it meant they were top of the bill
and both of them were earning great money.
And they brought each other up, if you like.
But in the end, what had become a kind of showbiz thing
really developed into a real thing.
'Both men just going to slug it out from now on.
'They won't have time to think... '
This match between McManus and Pallo
marked the start of professional wrestling's golden age.
It was the seamless blend of sport and entertainment
which captured the imagination of the public.
As a sport, it called for strength and agility.
But as an entertainment, it called for the skills of an actor.
Wrestling's origins are appropriately in the music hall.
It was at the turn of the 20th century
that wrestling was first added to the bottom of the music hall bill.
By 1904, it was the most talked about sport in Britain.
Wrestling's been going a long time, it has.
It goes right back to the music hall days
when they used to roll a mat out on the stage.
They'd have it in the paper, that there's £5 or £20
for any young man that can pin his shoulders to the mat for three
and there were always young, strong lads working in t'building trades.
From this Barnum-style sideshow, it progressed to the ring.
The first official World Heavyweight
was George Hackenschmidt, The Russian Lion.
But there was little drama to his fights,
because Hackenschmidt was so good.
The Great George Hackenschmidt decided that
since he could beat most of the opponents around legitimately
in about two minutes, this wasn't a great spectacle.
Hackenschmidt realised he needed help.
Enter promoter CB Cochran,
a music hall impresario who began to teach him the art of showmanship.
The bouts started to last a lot longer, with supporting bouts,
and that's where modern professional wrestling was born.
By the 1930s, the sport was everywhere
but it had mutated into an All-In form of wrestling...
..a free-for-all of biting, gouging and chair hurling.
This no holds barred style of wrestling
wasn't licensed or controlled by anybody.
It was a very macho man affair,
you know, like, it'd been labelled "the grunt and groan game."
Probably, it meant good for that period.
They used to sweat in the holds
and hang on, and the crowd responded according to their efforts.
Weapons were part of the proceedings
and you could even be kicked in the testicles.
Most matches ended in brawls inside and outside the ring.
There was eye gouging and ear biting,
there was no national structure - the rules weren't clear.
It was called All-In wrestling or Catch As Catch Can wrestling.
Nobody was really clear what was going on.
It was a long series of very successful one-off bouts,
but it didn't have any future. There was no great brain behind it.
Due to this excessive violence,
London County Council banned pro wrestling in the late 1930s,
leaving the business in rough shape just before the outbreak of World War II.
But in post-war Britain, Admiral Lord Mountevans would sail to the rescue.
He was about to bring wrestling some much-needed credibility.
He chaired a House of Lords committee to clean up the sport.
It drew up a new set of rules for a good, clean fight
which still form the backbone of wrestling today.
This is the main start to a match. This would be the important lock-up,
where you can push the gentleman this way, or you can push him this way
and it's just a way of getting the better of each other wrestler.
In this new era, the referee had much more control over proceedings.
And then once we get onto the ropes,
the referee would then make you break the hold.
These rules reinvented wrestling as a more gentlemanly sport.
We're back to this hold again, the old start position.
Go for the body slam...
Lord Mountevans was apparently doing for wrestling
what Queensberry had done for boxing.
Again, we start with the link-up, as before.
Take over, I've got his arm locked then.
That's my arm, I can take it where I want.
And then the idea is to twist his arm until either he submits
or some wrestlers are clever and they can get out of this move.
But in reality, Lord Mountevans was merely a figurehead.
The real brains, and the brawn, behind the plan
was an amateur wrestler called Norman Morrell.
Norman Morrell was a very skilful promoter.
Norman had been a former British amateur wrestling champion
and gone to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
I don't know that he met Adolf Hitler, but he were there.
Morrell used the influence of Lord Mountevans to rebrand wrestling,
transporting it from the gutter back to the mainstream.
It was very much in their interests
to show that theirs was a new product,
a new product and an improved product.
Next, Morrell joined forces with other regional promoters
to form a cartel.
They were about to build a wrestling empire
under the name Joint Promotions.
Their success we kind of see as the beginning of 25 golden years,
1952-53, when wrestling, professional wrestling,
absolutely peaked in this country.
'Can I introduce to you, in the blue corner, from London,
'we have Steven Logan.'
Wrestling now moved from a period
when it was deemed too unruly and too violent
to an era when it was socially acceptable.
And Joint Promotions were in total control.
And once they had this control,
they began to manufacture the outcome of matches.
The main promoters realised that we can't just have a bout
where one person wins and that was the end of it.
You had to keep it going, you had to develop the narrative,
both of the characters and also of who they fought, who they won
and then someone would come back and beat them
and so that would carry on.
'That's a flying chop and a cross press by Wall.
'Surely it holds him? Yes, there it is.'
Because of this behind-the-scenes manipulation,
people have always suspected that wrestling is fake.
This has always been a critics' question mark.
I condense it down to this.
Those people who like professional wrestling,
no explanation's needed.
For those who don't like it, any explanation would not be acceptable.
Amongst the old pros, you're still fairly quiet about it, you know?
-Why is that?
-I don't know. It's like a closed shop.
Someone who is happy to talk about it
is professional comedian Will Hodgson.
He was a wrestler for two years.
If I learnt one thing from getting in the wrestling rings,
wrestling is not fake.
Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen, is fixed...
There's a big difference. A gulf. A gulf of difference.
If I put you in the ring with Floyd Mayweather, mate,
and said "Don't worry about it, I've fixed the fight,
"lay down in the 12th round,"
you'd be rightly concerned about the preceding 11 rounds and the damage...
Despite the fixed result, nothing was rehearsed.
Wrestlers were still very competitive,
taking real knocks and real risks.
Wrestling in Britain was never, ever choreographed.
In actual fact, if you wanted to get a smash in the face from a wrestler,
just say to him, "Do you have to rehearse this?"
We heard that a few times, and I tell you what,
there's one or two wrestling fans who got to learn the hard way.
They were absolutely ad-libbed in the ring and that was the key thing
and that's, in fact, what made them a great wrestler -
if they could ad-lib well enough to convince you that it was real.
No matter how spectacular a wrestler was,
it was up to Joint Promotions who won.
They were busy creating a soap opera with a simple morality.
The first thing was to easily identify who you should cheer for
and who you should boo.
There were the good guys, or the "blue-eyes", as they were known.
Frank Rimer was an archetypal blue-eye, blond and good-looking.
I would be, I suppose, what you would call a blue-eye.
The villains would tend to knock me around a little bit.
I would keep to the rule books as much as I could.
People should know within seconds of clapping eyes on you which one you are.
A good-looking male would be a blue-eye,
a nice pretty boy would be a blue-eye.
I was a goody-goody.
I wasn't the best-looking guy around.
Nearly! But I wasn't quite the best-looking guy around.
And then there were the villains, or the "heels",
who tended to look a lot harder and flaunt the rules.
I said to an old, old wrestler one time, Steve Logan,
I saw him training in the gym
and he was coming out with some beautiful holds
and I said, "Steve, why don't you use those holds in the ring?"
He said, "Look at me, I'm bloody ugly."
He said, "Doesn't matter what I do in the ring, they still boo me!"
The evil foreigner heel used to be a classic one,
or the masked men are usually heels,
cos you don't trust men with masks on,
even though masks look really cool.
They're hiding something and they're up to some dastardly plot.
The story in the ring would play out
with the hero initially taking a pounding.
'They're slowly getting
'the very life and consciousness suffocated out of them.'
The referee would then lift the arm
and it would come down like a rag doll, and on the old days,
they used to have an old woman from the St John's Ambulance
would sometimes come on
and try and revive the wrestler with smelling salts or brandy
to try and get him out of it,
but it looked like they were...they might be experiencing brain death.
'Is the St John's anywhere to be found? St John's...'
Those old ladies with their handbags completely believed
he was a very nice man that was being beaten up by a very nasty man
and they were on the side of the nice man
and they didn't want him to be hurt. It was incredible theatre.
In the end, the hero would usually triumph with a last-minute victory.
Aagh! That's me arm! No, no...
Any movie you go to,
you wait for the villain to get his comeuppance at the end.
I mean, that's what you do!
The fans didn't care in the end that it was fixed.
It was like seeing a good play.
You know they're actors, but you suspend your disbelief.
It's tough working-class guys
doing this sort of science fiction comic book pantomime
and if you're like me, someone who's not good at sport,
then it's a sport that appeals to you,
cos it is a sport but it's not really a sport.
But what did it take to become a champion?
In a drama scripted by Joint Promotions,
how did you get to the top?
One wrestler who climbed the ladder under Joint Promotions was Mick McManus.
Emerging from the RAF after the war,
he entered the professional ring for the first time in 1948.
It was this man who was to become
the most influential villain, or heel, of all time.
He looked hard, like sort of pub fighting hard,
like he could take someone outside
and put them over the bonnet of a car or something,
that sort of hardness. Not body- building hardness, street toughness.
I think the best heels had that street toughness,
looked like the sort of guy your dad would play skittles with.
There's no doubt that Mick McManus knew how to work a crowd.
He was so skilled at arousing the audience.
They absolutely hated every gesture.
The way he could spit, not quite accurately,
the water into the bucket,
the way he would just sneer and engage the ringside seaters
in nasty backchat, really quite insulting.
And the way he would win his bouts -
usually by some lucky twist of fate towards the end,
overcoming a heavier, younger, more attractive, more skilful opponent.
He perfected the persona of an objectionable character
without a redeeming feature.
But this man was the absolute very essence of a professional wrestler.
Mick was carving his own niche as the man we loved to hate.
He also acquired his own catchphrase.
In the '60s, it seemed that this was all you needed
to propel you to stardom.
-Seems like a nice boy.
I didn't get where I am today without champagne. Not too much, just enough.
Ooh, you are awful. But I like you.
Nice to see you, to see you...
He had these enormous cauliflower ears
and, of course, they hurt when you do get them hit,
so he was for ever saying, "Don't touch the ears, leave the ears,"
and it became like a catchphrase for him.
'The one thing that drives McManus more crazy than anything else -
'treatment to the head, especially the ears.'
He'd put his hands over the ears and warn the wrestler
not to touch his ears.
There was probably nothing at all wrong with his ears
but it created huge reaction amongst the fans,
because all we wanted to do was see a wrestler get hold of those ears.
The promoters capitalised on Mick's box-office appeal
by setting up the infamous grudge matches with Jackie "Mr TV" Pallo,
a wrestler Mick was known to dislike.
'The one and only "TV" Jackie Pallo!'
These bouts were a massive draw.
Their hatred was genuine
and those who witnessed McManus and Pallo fight live
believe it wasn't fixed.
'Mick McManus in the black trunks...'
Every so often, there's a fight called a shoe,
where they still have to work within the rules, but it's a real fight.
Pop Artist Peter Blake was among the 8,000 capacity audience
for their 1967 match.
They came in, they kind of shook hands, I suppose, the fight started
and Mick McManus butted Jackie Pallo.
He gave him a head butt.
And then they came together and he nutted him again,
and he probably did it 30 times, with no holds going on,
you know, just grabbing each other.
And then, Jackie Pallo realised that his head was totally split open,
there's blood pouring anywhere
and the fight couldn't go on,
so it was absolutely a genuine street fight.
'He's telegraphed that so obviously, Pallo.'
Whether these fights were real or fixed is still hotly debated today.
But the public loved them
and audiences flocked to their local halls to see the wrestling.
I'm in the Victoria Hall at Halifax in Yorkshire.
It's owned by the council and it's used for all kinds of entertainments,
but they don't all bring a full house like tonight's.
This crowd has come to see what's always a big attraction,
For the mainly working-class audience,
wrestling was accessible and cheap entertainment in their back yard.
I'd always think of the wrestling,
think of Big Daddy, McManus and rabid old grannies.
The unique thing about wrestling
is that it pulled in a large female audience -
genteel grannies who would suddenly start baying for blood.
Oh, I love it.
We used to have quite an interaction with the old ladies,
the granny brigade.
They would bring their umbrellas and their high-heel shoes
and if they didn't like someone,
they would hit them in the back and think nothing.
And we've even had cigarettes stubbed out on our backs.
Klondyke Kate was one of the few female wrestlers who played the villain.
No-one knew how to wind an audience up like her,
and she regularly felt the full force of an angry crowd.
AUDIENCE SHOUT ANGRILY
I used to get called all sorts of different names,
really derogatory names.
I think if I was in the street and got said that to,
I'd be really upset, but being part and parcel of what it was all about,
the name calling didn't really matter.
'All I knew was I was doing my job right by winding these people up.
'And I did REALLY wind them up.'
Shut up. Shut up!
'When you go out, the crowd were just the same,
'and they'd be grabbing for you and trying to hurt you.'
No, she wants shooting. She definitely wants shooting, her,
because she's dirty. Definitely dirty.
She's not fit to be called a wrestler.
How she's the nerve to walk in the ring looking like that,
I don't know - in front of all these people!
-She's got no shame at all.
-No, she hasn't.
-None at all.
She's just a dirty big fat lump of lard.
I've been in the ring
and sort of stuck my backside out to the crowd,
and once, some chap came up
and stuck a foot-and-mouth injection in the back of my bottom,
where it hit my nerve, all down my sciatic nerve
and I ended up in hospital a couple of days.
'The new British reigning champion, Klondyke Kate!'
So much of the success of wrestling
was based on the interaction between the wrestlers and the crowd.
And in the local halls around the country,
Joint Promotions were making good money.
But they were cultivating a deal behind the scenes
that would take wrestling into the living rooms of the entire nation.
When ITV launched World Of Sport in 1965,
wrestling became a weekly primetime fixture.
'Welcome, grapple fans.'
Television is a thing you've got to have in any form of -
call us a sport or entertainment, I don't care. Call us entertainers -
but you've got to have a shop window.
'Now, this afternoon, we're really going to see two, at least,
'of the most tremendous bouts we've probably ever seen on television.'
A regular spot on World Of Sport legitimised wrestling as a sport,
as it sat alongside football and horse racing.
But it also injected the razzamatazz.
The big characters emerged.
That's not to say you had to have the mask or you had to weigh 45 stone
but it helped if you had a persona, a shtick,
because the guys who would just run rings around an opponent
and be really very good technical wrestlers
were actually quite boring on TV.
To maintain audience interest,
personality and image came more and more to the fore.
We all are actors on a stage - you know I didn't make that up,
it was the whole William Shakespeare thing, and it's true.
Life can be very low keyed and miserable
without a little bit of panache - I'll use that word -
and wrestling, of course, in this country, needed that.
'Ricky Starr, who in fact IS a ballet dancer,
'is wearing ballet shoes.'
'They wanted personalities, there were no doubt about that!'
The fact that it was now being put into people's homes
and became a big family entertainment
added the entertainment side to it.
And then the wrestlers themselves needed to do more
in order to keep that attention.
'The Lancashire Stallion, Tally Ho Kaye.'
Wrestlers who didn't have a strong image
found their days were numbered.
A lot of the really good guys just got left behind by TV,
because they didn't have their particular act.
A good gimmick could take a wrestler from the middle of the pack
to the top of the bill.
But it wasn't always the wrestler's choice what that gimmick was.
'..the coloured heavyweight star from the West Indies,
'part of the Caribbean Sunshine Boys,
Never mind about the Barbados, they just couldn't spell Battersea.
I was born and brought up in Battersea,
and when I first went to Joint Promotions,
I said, "Would it be OK if I'm billed as a coloured cockney?"
And Jack Dow, the governor, looked me up and down and went
"Well, you are of Caribbean origin,
"so let's keep it to the Caribbean, shall we? Barbados."
I went, "Thank you." So I became Barbadian, never leaving Battersea.
Even then, he realised he didn't stand out entirely from the crowd.
There was a lot of black wrestlers around - Honey Boy Zimba,
Masambula, the most famous one.
So I thought I had to stick out, I was just becoming a nonentity...
He did something drastic.
I bleached my hair blond.
The following week after I did my hair,
I had a live TV match
and it didn't matter where I walked or drove,
people were honking me in their cars and putting their thumbs up, "Aye, aye!"
They were either saying, "Look at that idiot over there," or,
"That's that guy, the wrestler with the blond hair."
Johnny Kincaid wasn't the only wrestler who had issues.
Oh, Jesus! God!
Tony Francis called me Big Bertha,
and I was horrified and I said, "No way."
He said, "You'll do as you're told, you're called Big Bertha."
I went to Bob and said, "Bob, I can't stand this.
"Please, don't make me be called Big Bertha."
And what he did was, he said, "Right, we'll change your name.
"We'll call you Klondyke Kate.
"Your dad's a Mountie in the Canadian police."
Actually, my dad was a steelworker, five foot two,
and worked in a steelworks in Stoke-on-Trent.
As I understand, Klondyke Kate is actually the owner of a brothel
in the Klondyke, from the gold rush.
The personas developed for the television audience
ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.
It needed that sparkle in it. People wanted to be able,
when they sat at home, they wanted something where they said,
"Hey, Mother, have you seen him coming out?"
MUSIC: Venus In Furs by The Velvet Underground
And they didn't come with much more sparkle
than the "Exotic" Adrian Street.
The thing about Adrian Street was his dad worked down the mine
and that was the last thing he was ever going to do.
They were... The classic story is true -
you could either become a pop star or you could become a sports star,
and he saw wrestling as his way out of Wales and the pit life.
I sort of suffered a lot of ridicule
from my father and from the other coal miners.
"Little guys like you, you can't be a professional wrestler,
"they'd rip you in half!"
I was determined that I was going to make it.
I remember standing on the bottom of the pit for the last time
and I'd already got myself a job in London, I was leaving,
I was never going to come back.
I was going to be a professional wrestler or die trying.
In his teenage years, Adrian began body-building.
He stepped into the ring for the first time in 1957 as Kid Tarzan,
but soon realised that he needed a better gimmick.
I knew by that time I was a great wrestler, but I thought to myself,
a great wrestler tied up in a pretty package would be better.
I'd stand out a lot more from the more conservative style
and the more conservative appearance that professional wrestlers had.
Imagine, I had a 27-inch waist, a 48-inch chest, at the same time.
I had a great suntan, I knew I looked fantastic.
Now, I'd already been told by the wrestlers,
"You're not going in the ring looking like that,
"you look bloody ridiculous!"
Naturally, I put it down to jealousy.
Adrian thought he was going out dressed as a hot boy for the ladies,
but it didn't quite work out that way.
Instead of, like, the positive reaction I thought I would get,
it was, "Oh, Mary, give us a kiss! Doesn't she look cute!"
And to say I was mortified, I was horrified,
would be an understatement.
Adrian's cross-dressing, highly sexualised character
was really pushing the boundaries of society, never mind sport.
But Adrian took the view that no publicity was bad publicity
and began to milk it.
Because he was big and tattooed, people couldn't work him out.
Is he straight, is he gay?
And he was never upfront about it and he'd never answer that.
I think that wound people up even more, but I liked the way
there's this combination of toughness and glam with him.
He looked like a combination between Emma Bunton and a Welsh coalminer.
Seconds away, round three!
Round three and Adrian Street, there he is on the left.
MUSIC: The Thieving Magpie by Gioachino Rossini
He ignited the fans' fears and prejudices,
and perhaps homophobia,
with the very minimum of pirouetting and prancing around the ring.
He was a great wrestler, a great athlete,
and fans really couldn't understand why a man like this
was parading around the ring in the way which he did.
..At the end of six rounds, it may not be.
This is a catch-weight contest, he's giving away a lot of weight.
Every time I appeared on TV, I'd wear a different gown.
Every time I wrestled, I'd push the envelope just a little further,
a little further and a little further.
Adrian's image worked wonders at the box office
and lo and behold, he had success in the ring.
I won the Middleweight European title
and the newspapers got hold of it.
They wanted to take a photograph of me wearing the championship belt
and they said, "Where would you like to have this taken?"
I said, "At the coalmine where I worked when I was 15,
"with the miners coming up the pit,"
the same miners, including my father,
that predicted that I would never make a professional wrestler.
His dad is looking totally perplexed by what his son has become,
and there's a great cage of miners behind him,
one of whom has his mouth open and his eyes wide
and he really can't believe what he's seeing.
There's a real kind of FU kind of moment,
where Adrian, who never liked his dad,
said, "I've made it, I've got out of here.
"I'm here down the shaft for two minutes and that's it!"
The winner, Adrian Street!
APPLAUSE AND JEERING
It wasn't just sexual ambiguity that provoked wrestling crowds.
Prejudice reared its head again when Johnny Kincaid
teamed up with Dave "Soulman" Bond for Tag Team wrestling.
This is an international tag team contest of 20 minutes' duration.
Fighting in pairs was an innovation Joint Promotions had introduced
to the UK, where wrestling stars were put together
and given their own team name.
The Caribbean Sunshine Boys!
The Caribbean Sunshine Boys.
At that time, neither of us had seen the Caribbean.
Flaunting the rules and defying the referee was standard practice
for a wrestling villain.
But this was the '70s,
when potentially racist reactions were more likely.
We didn't try that hard.
We were only doing exactly what the other so-called villains were doing,
but it took off.
Oh, no! Five minutes gone.
The fact that Johnny Kincaid was mixed race
and Dave Bond was black, and playing villains to perfection,
would prove a red rag for some.
And Kincaid having a ball the other side
while the referee's back is turned.
There was a lot of heat, believe you me.
We had a few fights out the ring.
We had 25 National Front one time in the hall.
And the referee has had enough.
The referee has disqualified the Caribbean Sunshine Boys!
APPLAUSE AND JEERING
So that's it, an exciting finish,
and somebody trying to throw water about
and he's going to be in trouble if Kincaid catches him.
He's going to have his leg broken.
In the interests of safety, after just one televised fight,
The Caribbean Sunshine Boys were split up by Joint Promotions.
I don't know if it was racial or if we were getting too big,
but they had to control you. The promotions have to control you.
If your face fits, fine.
If it doesn't, doesn't matter what you do, you don't get very far.
Whatever the reasons,
Joint Promotions knew TV was a cash cow and didn't want anything
to jeopardise their precious TV contract.
The television contract was the prized possession,
very carefully won over a number of years by Joint Promotions
and not to be sacrificed at all,
thanks to rigorous promotion and high discipline.
Someone who was initially considered too much of a maverick for TV
was the most notorious masked wrestler of them all.
Samurai Warrior, Kendo Nagasaki!
There are wrestlers who adopt a persona
and there are wrestlers who live it.
Kendo Nagasaki is a self-styled enigma.
This man appeared from nowhere in November 1964,
with this incredible costume, Kendo outfit,
and, to back all of this up,
outstanding wrestling skills and strength.
Oh, yes, suplex. Beauty.
And over the top, beautiful back drop.
A highlight for fans is his very, very dangerous kamikaze roll,
in which he turned a somersault with a wrestler on top of his head,
and landed head down on that wrestler's stomach
in the centre of the ring.
Worth the entrance fee alone just to witness that.
And Kincaid in trouble, now the kamikaze crash, there it is.
Kendo was wrestling in halls all over the UK,
but Joint Promotions kept him off our TV screens
for the next seven years.
From his 1964 debut through to 1971,
Kendo Nagasaki didn't appear on television wrestling.
And the reasons for this, we can deduce,
would be that his persona
and his outrageous and very fierce ring antics
were just a little bit too much for genteel teatime television
around the country.
But by 1971, the promoters could no longer ignore the allure
of Kendo Nagasaki, and he was finally allowed on World Of Sport.
This was when the obsession began. Who was that masked man?
My ambition was to be Kendo Nagasaki.
Right from the beginning, he was an intriguing figure.
He always won, the myth was that he never spoke
and he was Japanese and he was a mystery man.
The myth was that he had some sort of big Japanese samurai connection
and he would come in with this great sword
and throw salt over his shoulders.
His first manager, "Gorgeous" George Gillette,
who would do all the verbals because masked men, you know,
don't talk in case it gave away their identities.
The greatest wrestler in the world today,
the mighty masked and mysterious King Kendo Nagasaki!
Most masked wrestlers are in the game for a few years,
defeated and then ritually unmasked.
Count Bartelli, the Zebra Kid, The Outlaw.
And the mask is on its way. It's up to his top lip already.
Everybody wanted to see what was underneath that mask.
This was the whole idea of it, he wore a mask to hide his identity
because he was a businessman, right?
If people saw his face, they would rather talk about
the wrestling than the business,
so that was the idea of wearing a mask,
but he was good enough to keep it on. He was a good wrestler.
After resisting the efforts of others to unmask him,
he voluntarily revealed himself to the public in 1977.
He was unmasked and his features were seen for the first time
and his features were quite sensational,
with a largely shaven head and a mysterious tattoo on his forehead.
But once he had exposed his face,
Nagasaki realised the mystique had been lost
and put his mask back on six months later.
Today, Kendo Nagasaki still refuses to remove his mask
or speak on camera.
His answers are spoken through his spiritual advocate.
The man behind the mask was guided by the spiritual being, Kendo Nagasaki,
to become a professional wrestler and to wear a mask.
Kendo Nagasaki himself has had lives on the earthly plane
as a samurai warrior. He was Shin Wemon Nagasaki,
who perished in the siege of Kamakura in 1333,
and he lived in the great city of Nagasaki
at the dawn of the Tokugawa shogunate in the early 1600s.
And the man behind the mask himself
has gone through past life regression,
in which he has seen himself sharing lives
and fighting alongside Kendo Nagasaki during these times.
Kendo. I'll call him Kendo. Although, of course, that's not his real name.
And... Peter, we'll call him, cos that was his first name.
Within the world of wrestling, the identity of Kendo Nagasaki
is an open secret, but on the outside, the name Peter Thornley
is the extent of what we know. Well, almost.
He had half a finger on one hand
and there was all this mystique about how that came about,
it had been cut off in some Japanese ritual - and in the end, of course,
we find out he lost it in some industrial accident
in a factory near his house in Wolverhampton.
MUSIC: That's Entertainment by The Jam
Kendo Nagasaki's actions were front-page news.
Professional wrestling had become so successful
that it had penetrated every aspect of popular culture.
Prince Philip and Her Majesty the Queen used to come to
the Albert Hall every month and see the wrestling,
regular as clockwork, great fans.
The Beatles and Mick McManus were great buddies.
The wrestlers were everywhere.
Many were regulars on The Generation Game.
One, two... It is Mick McManus. There we are, Mick!
You want to get a nose like that. Doesn't half suit you!
But behind the scenes, a shift was about to take place.
By the mid-'70s,
the old guard of Joint Promotions were keen to retire,
but they had a successor in mind.
I don't give a damn what the doctor says, he must be there.
For all its success, wrestling needed a shot in the arm.
Fans were tiring of the familiar names.
Max Crabtree knew it was time to innovate or die.
We had to just try and bring it in a little bit
with a bit of flair. It was the only way.
It needed a kick up the backside.
It was at this point that from the dole queue
came Max's middle-aged brother, Shirley Crabtree.
He had been a wrestler
but none of his previous gimmicks had broken through.
He came to see me. He said...
He said, "I seem to have run into a brick wall now, me.
"Whole career's gone all to pot."
I said, "Listen, I want you to be Big Daddy."
# I shall not, I shall not be moved. #
Big Daddy would change the face of wrestling,
and become one of the most revered and reviled names
on the British scene.
Weighing in at 23 stone, with a massive 64-inch chest,
he was the first of the super heavyweights.
Big Daddy was an immediate hit with the audience,
revitalising the flagging sport.
Big Daddy's body was there.
It's like a brick wall, and he bounces off.
There, larger than life, would be Big Daddy stood there,
making his way to the ring.
Occasionally, there'd be one or two little children
and Shirley would be quick to pick up the thing and hold their hand
and march down to the ring with them.
He became a people's champion.
People loved Big Daddy.
Can't overstate enough how popular Big Daddy was.
He was one of the big figures of the 1980s. He was everywhere.
He was on kids' telly, he was in Buster comic.
You bought Buster comic
and Big Daddy had a cartoon strip in there. He had an annual,
same as Spider-Man and Superman and Dennis the Menace had their annuals.
Big Daddy had an annual as well.
He wasn't so much a bloke - he was a real-life superhero,
or a living cartoon character, and no matter
what the reality is of what Shirley Crabtree was
as a bloke or what he thought of kids, kids loved him.
Big Daddy was so big that today, if you ask anyone about wrestling,
his is the first name likely to be mentioned.
A fringe play has even been written about this hugely popular
but very un-athletic sportsman.
You've probably noticed by now I'm not exactly, what's the word...
I wouldn't put it like that exactly, but I'm a big man, 23 stone,
and...how can I put this? I'm past the first flush of youth.
Therefore, there's a few of the traditional wrestling moves
-it's probably best I avoid, like...
-All of them.
So I had to limit myself to the range of moves I could do.
First up, we have the forearm smash, then the so-called belly butt,
and my signature move, the belly splash!
For God's sake, no! Submit, submit!
Perhaps not here, and, well, that was about it, really!
But fame didn't just arrive.
Big Daddy's brother Max had to work at it.
He decided to recreate the drama of the McManus-Pallo feud
with Big Daddy and another super heavyweight, Giant Haystacks,
who weighed in at an incredible 40 stone.
You and me, you and me, let's fight to the finish!
Him and me! Come on, Haystacks, let's see what you can do!
Come on, what's the matter with you?
There's a magic off certain people.
When I put Giant Haystacks on, because of his enormous size,
he was very recognisable.
He's six foot 11, 40 stone, the Giant Haystacks!
In the build-up to their big grudge match at Wembley,
Giant Haystacks, with his Irish background,
was portrayed as the Celtic wild-man villain,
versus Big Daddy, who, with his very British image,
was clearly meant to be the good guy.
They become emblematic of traits of British character.
Big Daddy sells himself as a modern John Bull, really.
-He comes in and he's got a Union Jack waistcoat.
He wears a tin helmet during the Falklands.
He's very deliberately making himself into the blitz spirit,
John Bull, and Giant Haystacks, Martin Ruane,
he was Irish by birth, and he's very deliberately summoning up
something Celtic and rural and pagan and untamed.
He's great. He was wearing sort of bib overalls.
He was a wild man.
In the one corner, we have John Bull, civilisation,
the town, the city, empire,
versus, in the other, wild, dark, untamed, pagan, rugged heath.
-We got any of them custard creams?
It's light versus dark, Shirley. The most primal struggle of all!
Good versus evil. You'll be making £100 a night.
-But I can't stand him!
-No-one can, that's the bloody point.
You're about to go stratospheric.
-Got any bourbons?
The referee inside the ring.
The referee inside the ring, Craig Green of London.
Dave Rhys from Shrewsbury, the referee outside the ring.
This bout will continue...
Big Daddy versus Giant Haystacks at Wembley Arena in 1981
was the biggest wrestling event of the '80s,
but the cracks were beginning to show.
I was one of those kids that were cheering for Big Daddy and
liked the big Yorkshireman squishing people with his big belly.
We loved all of that!
But I can see how that wouldn't sit well
if you'd spent years mastering ringcraft.
It became too much of a kind of circus act
and not enough sport,
and I think you could say the balance there was wrong.
You won't see many wrestling holds in this one.
Haystacks goes clean over the top rope
and it's a question whether he beats the count or not.
He won't make it, he won't make it!
The bout lasted for just two minutes 50 seconds.
The pre-match build-up was longer.
It was a far cry from the 25 minutes McManus and Pallo fought.
The huge face-off at Wembley Arena in 1981,
it's really quite lame!
The audience aren't getting their money's worth.
Big Daddy has always been a point of controversy amongst the boys,
but I don't wish to be detrimental about anybody,
because wherever that man appeared,
he put bums on seats, excuse my language.
He filled any hall that he was in
and that's what the business is about.
No-one's ever claimed it's the most sophisticated form of entertainment.
Despite Big Daddy's popularity,
wrestling suffered a steady decline throughout the 1980s.
The sport had tipped over into pure spectacle and the fans knew it.
It almost killed itself by refining itself to the point
where the sporting element drifted away, and that was fine,
until you realised that actually it had only become showbiz
and people had cottoned on that, actually, what they were watching
was the same thing over and over.
Eventually, it becomes irrelevant because they just get canned.
It's a tragedy in leotards.
The final nail in wrestling's coffin came in 1988.
Greg Dyke, the director of programmes at LWT,
pulled wrestling off the air.
Finally, the sport of wrestling is being counted out
on television tomorrow after 33 years of regular televised bouts.
Television throws out the grunt-and-groaners.
As wrestling's audience has been halved over the years, it has to go.
I think it was cancelled prematurely.
I think it was done a massive disservice.
I think it was cancelled when it was still popular.
I think that Greg Dyke cancelled it because it was one of these
for your own good things, that it's not good for people,
that it's low-brow entertainment
and people should be watching something else.
I'm going to end up playing the class card here,
but I think people... The main audience of wrestling
was working class and I think it was a victim of a sneery attitude
by some of the media towards the people that were watching it.
The idea was that it was being watched by people
that were ignorant in some way
because of their class, because of their background.
One of the main problems is that the audience it attracts
is not the sort of yuppie market so cherished by advertisers
and television companies.
The country had changed.
Thatcher created this far more aspirational society,
and wrestling, if it was anything, was not an aspirational sport.
It looked faded and it was still basically lost in the '60s
and wasn't going to pull in the big ITV advertisers that were needed.
But TV didn't kill off wrestling completely.
It's still staged in live venues today.
Tonight, celebrating 50 years of wrestling here
-at Fairfield Halls!
But without the shop window of television,
it struggles to fill places like Croydon's Fairfield Hall.
The granny brigade still love it. The wrestlers work hard
but the world of wrestling is a shadow of its former self.
MUSIC: Baba O'Riley by The Who
The old names of Rimer, Kincaid and Street
have a reunion every year and are still a hit with fans.
But it seems that wrestling is now a niche sport.
It no longer has its once universal appeal.
Wrestling's heyday will live on long in the popular memory,
the great characters, the great feuds and the wrestlers
who put their bodies on the line for our entertainment.
Those men gave their bodies night after night,
smashing and banging round the ring for 40 years of their lives.
Their hips and their knees have been replaced,
but it was worth it to them, because in that heyday,
they were superstars.
So let's give the wrestlers themselves the final word.
I've been a wrestler many a year. The game's been good to me.
It's not as easy as people think. Take a look at me and see.
My arm's been broken, some teeth are gone,
I find it hard to chew, but this is what most wrestlers get,
trying to entertain people like you.
They say it's bent and you say it's fixed
and other names you call,
but it ain't no joke on the other bloke
who just lost the last fall.
So to you people who have your doubts,
this game's a rough employment.
Bones have been broken and men have died
for you to have your enjoyment.
Timeshift turns back the clock to a time when villains wore silver capes, grannies swooned at the sight of bulky men in latex and the most masculine man in the country was called Shirley. In its heyday, British professional wrestling attracted huge TV audiences and made household names of generations of wrestlers from Mick McManus and Jackie 'Mr TV' Pallo to Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy. With contributions from inside the world of wrestling and surprising fans such as artist Peter Blake, this is an affectionate and lively portrait of a lost era of simpler pleasures, both in and out of the ring.