Sunday, 7 February 2016

334 World of Sport

First  viewed : 4  February  1978

I  doubt  whether  the  above  date  is  the  first  time  I  was  in  a  room  when  World  of  Sport  was  on  the  telly  but  it  is  the  first  time  I  watched  it  with  any  real  attention. Before  we  go  on  I  should  mention  that  I  am  indebted  to  John  Lister  and  the  team  at   for  supplying  me  with  that  date  and  much  other  information  used  in  this  post.

World  of  Sport   was  the  perennial  poor  relation  of  BBC's  Grandstand  against  which  it  was  scheduled. The  Beeb  had  all  the  tennis, cricket  and  athletics  rights  sewn  up  leaving  ITV  scratching  around  for  enough  footage  of  minority  sports  to  fill  up  its  time  slot.  Contrary  to  popular  belief  I  don't  think  they  ever  did  cover  a  tiddlywinks  event  but  some  of  the  stuff  came  close . The  host  was  the  cheery  Dickie  Davies  with  his  gap-toothed  grin  and  strange  white lock  ( caused  by  poliosis ) , seemingly  unconcerned  at  being  perceived  as  the  poor  man's  Des  Lynam. Perhaps  that's  because  he  knew  he  held  an  ace  card  , broadcast  each  week  at  4pm  , three  bouts  of  professional  wrestling.

I  first  caught  it  on  the  date  above  at  my  friend  Patrick's  house  although  a  student  teacher  we  had   covering  physical  fitness  had  mentioned  wrestling  a  week  or  so  earlier  referencing  a  mysterious  character  called  Big  Daddy. He wasn't  on  the  bill  that  afternoon. The  one  that  caught  my  eye  was  a  youngster  in  the  lightweight  category  who went  by  the  name  of  The  Dynamite  Kid. He  was  fighting  the  premier, in  fact  pretty  much  the  only, villain  in  the  light  or  welter  weight    brackets,  where  the  bouts  tended  to  feature  displays  of   speed  and  gymnastic  ability  rather  than  good  vs  evil  contests. Breaks  however  could  only  be  a  villain , a  small  man  with  a  pudding  basin  haircut  and  the  sort  of  face  you  wanted  to  slap. Besides  throwing  rabbit  punches on  the  blind  side  of  the  referee,  Breaks  also  antagonised  the  crowd   with  his  high-pitched  complaining  and  foot-stamping  tantrums  when  things  weren't  going  his  way. He  seemed  to  have  only  one  legitimate  tactic, trying  to  lift  his  opponent  in  the  air  while  bending  his  elbow  back  to  force  a  submission, what  was  known  as  the  "Breaks  Special".  Dynamite  Kid  won  the  bout  with  a  fall  and  a  submission. Also  on  the  bill  that  day  was  the  most  famous  villain  of  all, the  splendidly  seedy  Mick  McManus  with  his  fierce  battle  cry  of  "Not  me  ears !" . He  was  fighting  the  much  lighter  Johnny  Saint, a  lithe  clean cut  guy  who  lived  up  to  his  surname  in  the  ring  but  not  surprisingly  lost  to  McManus. The  other  bout  was  a  middleweight  contest  between  the  likable  middle-aged  Alan  Dennison  who  looked  like  Richard  Fairbrass's  dad   and  a  villain,  Peter  "Tally-ho"  Kaye  whose  gimmick  was  entering  the  ring  dressed  as  a  huntsman.

It  helped  that  the  wrestling  neatly  filled  the  gap  between  the  Half  Time  Scores  and  Final  Results  but  I  quickly  became  hooked  on  it   for  its  own  sake. I  heard  rumours  that  it  was  fixed  early  on  but  didn't  believe  them  and  certainly  didn't  want  to. The  regular  triumph  of  the  good  guys  over  their  adversaries  was  very  comforting  in  an  increasingly  scary  world  of  international  terrorism  and  arms  races. I  think  I  started  having  doubts  with  those  tag  team  contests  which  featured  the   real  life  brothers  Bert  Royal  and  Vic  Faulkner  which  were  splendidly  entertaining  and  well  choreographed   but  they  did  get  away  with  the  same  tricks  every  time. Surely  even  opponents  as  stupid-looking  as  Cyanide  Sid  Cooper  would  know  what  was  coming ? It's  now  pretty  much  universally  acknowledged  that  at  least  the  outcomes  were  fixed  but  there  was  as  much  skill  and  bravery  as  in  any  other  sport. Even  if  you  trusted  that  he  was  going  to  take  the  weight  on  his  hands  and  knees  it  still  took  guts   to  lie  on  the  canvas  and  let  the  40  stone  Giant  Haystacks  do  his  "splash"  move  on  you !  Ditto  the  ugly  bruiser  Mal  "King  Kong"  Kirk  with  his  guillotine  chop  across  the  neck. If  he  got  that  wrong  you'd  be  in  deep  trouble  if  not  actually  decapitated.

Generally  the  good  guys  were  the  better  looking,  younger  fighters  and  the  villains  were  the  older , uglier  ones  though  there  were  odd  exceptions. Mark  "Rollerball"  Rocco  was   a  super  villain  but  looked  like  Olympic  swimmer  Mark  Spitz  while  the  main  rival in  his  weight, the  usually  fair   Marty  Jones  was  cross-eyed.  As  a  consequence  Rocco  was  allowed  to  win  more  bouts  than  was  usual  for  a  "heel". Sometimes  they  got  it  wrong  and  had  to  change  tack. The  Irish  fighter  Fit  Finley  started  out  as  a  fair  competitor  but   audiences  weren't  warming  to  him  and  he  made  a  much  bigger  impression  as  a  villain  with  bunny-boiler  wife  Princess  Paula,  who  dressed  up  as  an  Indian  squaw  , in  tow. Political  correctness  wasn't  exactly  high  on  the  agenda   as  Alan  Bardouville  whose  ring  ID  was, ahem, "Kid  Chocolate"  would  no  doubt  agree.

I  didn't  see  Big  Daddy  until  25  March  1978   when  he  beat  the  aforementioned  Kirk. His  real  name  was  Shirley  Crabtree . His  father  who  shared  the  same  Christian  name  was  a  wrestler  himself  and  his  brothers  Max  and  Brian  were  also  involved  in  the  sport  as  a  top  promoter  and  MC  respectively.  The  Crabtrees  actually  lived  just  a  short  bus  ride  away  from  me  in  Millbank  village  near  Ripponden. Shirley  had  been  a  wrestler  since  the  fifties , in  other  guises,  but  hadn't  reached  the  top  of  the  game  and  was  pretty  washed-up  by  the  early  seventies. Max  and  Shirley's  wife  Bert  ( I'm  kidding  there  ; she  was  actually  Eunice )   masterminded  his  re-branding  as  Big  Daddy, making  a  virtue  of  the  fact  he'd  gone  to  seed  physically  with  a  massive  beer  belly  and  man-boobs. Big  Daddy  started  out  as  a  villain  in  a  tag  team  partnership  with  the  terrifying  Haystacks  but  after  he  was  cheered  for  unmasking  Kendo  Nagasaki   ( something  the  latter  conveniently  forgot  when  he  staged  his  famous  unmasking  ceremony  a  few  years  later ) he  was  converted  into   a  fantasy  hero.

Once  he  became  a  good  guy  Big  Daddy's  popularity  went  through  the  roof  and  he  became  a  more  popular  figure  for  children  than  Mickey  Mouse. He  spent  more  time   making  personal  appearances  at  children's  wards  and  parties  than  he  did  in  the  ring. With  his  snowy  hair, top  hat, naturally  carrot-shaped  nose  and  white  leotard  he  looked  like  a  snow  man  come  to  life.
You  didn't  actually  get  that  much  ring  action  from  Daddy  ; in  his  late  forties  by  1978   and  quite  obviously  less  than  fully  fit,  he  only  had  a  limited  repertoire   of  moves  and  stamina. You  had  to  accept  that  his  blubbery  belly  was  brick  hard  and  could  be  deployed  as  an  offensive  weapon. He  didn't  fight  many  singles  bouts  he  was  usually  to  be  found  in  tag  team  matches  which  always  followed  the  same  script. He  was  paired  up  with  a  much  lighter  good  guy  against  two  cheating  bruisers .  His  partner  would  start  in  the  ring  and  after  a  brief  bit  of  wrestling  would  get  dragged  over  to  the  opponents'  corner  where  both  would  kick  the  shit  out  of  him  and  take  the  lead  with  a  fall  or  submission. In  the  next  round  they'd  carry  on  where  they  left  off  then, with  the  last  ebb  of  his  strength , he'd  make  a  fingertip  contact  with  Daddy  who'd  storm  in  and  wipe  the  floor  with  them  often  both  at  the  same  time. It  was  terribly  corny  but  it  worked  every  time  and  I  loved  him  as  much  as  any  other  child. He  was  an  idol  for  bullied  children everywhere; who  wouldn't  want  to  believe  in  a  super  "Dad"  who  could  come  into  the  playground  and  mete  out instant  justice  to your  persecutors. He  reversed  the  routine  for  an  appearance  on  Jim'll  Fix  It    where  a  little  boy  was  his  tag  team  partner. The  fall  guys  were  the  long-haired  Banger  Tony  Walsh  and  a  barely  mobile  40  stone  tub  of  lard  called  Fatty  Thomas  who  were  each  laid  low  by  Daddy  before  the  little  lad  came  on  to  lie  on  their  shoulders  and  claim  the  fall. I  do  hope  Daddy  didn't  get  too   friendly  with  his  fellow  Yorkshireman ( and  a  former  werestler  himself )  , the  host; it  would  just  kill  me  if  his  name  got  dragged  into  the  mire.

At  the  beginning  of  1979  a   Canadian   heavyweight  named  the  Mighty  John  Quinn  came  over  to  the  UK . He  really  did  look  the  part  and  after  demolishing  the  hapless  Beau  Jack  Rowlands  with  his  strength  and  villainy  he  started  calling  out  the  British  wrestlers  on  the  MC's  microphone.  World  of  Sport  followed  his  progress  as  he  bested  Barry  Douglas, Len  Hurst   and  Lee  Bronson  making  himself  more  and  more  unpopular  on  the  way  to  a  final  showdown  with  Big  Daddy  in  the  summer. Of  course  Daddy  polished  him  off  in  less  than  two  minutes  at  Wembley  Arena.   The  Quinn/Daddy  feud  storyline   was  repeated  again  a  couple  of  years  later  with  Daddy's  former  tag  partner  Haystacks  taking  Quinn's  role. The  big  match  ended  in  the  first  round.  with  Haystacks  falling  out  of  the  ring , demolishing  a  table  as  he  fell  and  not  being  able  to  climb  back  inside  in  time.

Other  wrestlers  I   remember  from  the  late  seventies  included   Catweazle  who  bore   a  slight  resemblance  to  the  TV  character  , fought  in  a  Victorian  bathing  costume  and  used  "girlie"  tactics  like  pulling  hair  and  nipping. I  hated  him  but  liked  Kung  Fu  , a  blonde  Irish  guy  who  fought  barefoot. Another  blonde  was  Ray  Steele  , a  Charlton  Heston  lookalike  heavyweight    and   consequently  a  good  guy. Steve  Grey   was   a  lightweight  who  looked  like  Gareth  Thomas   from  Blake's  7  and  fought  two  very  technical  battles  in  the  best  possible  spirit  with  world  lightweight  champion  Johnny  Saint  but  failed  to  take  his  belt.  Johnny  Kwango  was  a  black  guy   whose  specialty  was  fake  headbutts  but  outside  the  ring  had  been  a  ballet  dancer, actor  and  jazz  musician. John  Naylor  was  a  generally  fair  lightweight  who  is  remembered  for  crushing  the  hapless  Keith  Rawlinson  who  entered  the  ring  through  Esther  Rantzen's  The  Big  Time   ( not  in  a  bout  screened  by  World  of  Sport  of  course ).  There  was  also  the  bearded  Pat  Roach  before  he  found  fame  on  Auf  Wiedersehn  Pet  who  seemed  to  plough  his  own  furrow  in  the  heavyweight  bracket  , neither  hero  nor  villain.

Some of  the  guys  brought  martial  arts  expertise  into  the  ring. Besides  the  aforementioned  Kung  Fu  there  was  Iron  Fist  Clive  Myers  a  good-looking  black  dude  who  wore  a  headband  and  pin  up  boy  Judo  Chris  Adams. I  remember  watching  one  programme  at  my  grans  and  her  incredulous  surprise  at  seeing  people  her  age  in  the  audience. Needless  to  say  when  Adams  fought  his  bout  she  was  as  swept  along  with  it  as  those  baying  on  screen.

One  interesting  story  arc  began  with  the  entrance  of  a 16  year  old  Dave  Boy  Smith  ( Dynamite  Kid's  cousin )  in  the  autumn  of  1978  who  was  managed  by  Alan  Dennison. After  his  prodigy's  punishing  encounter  with  Breaks  for  the  welterweight  title,  Dennison  , a  middleweight  , announced  that  he'd  be  losing  the  required  pounds  to  get  down  to  Breaks's  weight  and  teach  him  a  lesson. He  was  as  good  as  his  word  but  only  just  managed  it.  Interestingly, as  Dennison  shed  the  pounds  Smith  bulked  up  and  eventually  landed  in  the  heavyweight  bracket.

Another  memorable  contest, again  involving  Breaks ,  was broadcast  on  14  February  1981. He  was  fighting  an  unremarkable  goodie  called  Jon  Cortez. In  the  final  round, out  of  the  referee's  sight  but  in  full  view  of  the  commentary  table,   he  illegally  pulled  at  Cortez's  trunks  which  allowed  him  to  gain  the  decisive  fall. As  soon  as  referee  Max  Wall  counted  Cortez  out  , World  of  Sport's  genial  commentator  Kent  Walton  jumped  up   and  told  Wall  what  he'd  done  saying  as  an  aside  "Oh  I'm  going  to  get  into  trouble  for  this ". Breaks  of  course  grabbed  the  microphone  and  protested  his  innocence  but  Wall  eventually  decided  to  believe  Walton  and  disqualified  Breaks  prompting  the  usual  tantrum. Dickie  Davies  jokingly  announced  that  the  following  week's  action  would  feature  a  bout  between  Breaks  and  Walton.  

I  was  a  regular  viewer   by  the  turn  of  the  decade  and  led  by  me, getting  back  home  in  time  for  the  wrestling  became  a  regular  feature  of  the   Saturday  trips  with  my  friends. In  December  1979   posters  went  up  in  Rochdale  advertising   a  professional  wrestling  event  at  the  Champness  Hall. After  much  umming  and  aahing  I  bought  a  ticket  and  this  , two  and  a  half  years  before  my  first  match  at  Spotland  , became  my  first  paying  attendance  at  a  sporting  event. Part  of  my  hesitation  was  due  to  the  fact  that  I  only  recognised  one  name  on  the  bill  , the  humdrum  Manchester  welterweight  Mike  Flash  Jordan*  which  suggested  it  might  not  be  a  top  rank  event. My  fears  were  well  founded. I  have  never  felt  so  ripped  off. The  whole  event  was  amateur-ish  from  start  to  finish. None  of  the  bouts  were  as  advertised. Jordan  did  show  up  but  lost  very  tamely  to  a  bloke  called  Abe  Ginsberg, apparently  a  regular  on  Coronation  Street   i.e.  one  of  those  Equity-card  holders  drinking  in  the  background  in  the  Rovers , who  was  supposed  to  be  taking  part  in  a  tag  team  contest. That  never  materialised  and  when  the MC  announced  that  Father  Christmas  would  soon  be  arriving  with  some  sweets  for  the  children  ( i.e. once  he'd  found  an  off  licence or  petrol  station )  the  spartan  crowd  started  jeering. I'd  seen  enough  and  decided  to  catch  an  earlier  bus  home.

If  you  know  my  other  blogs  you'll  have  worked  out  what  eventually  broke  the  spell  wrestling  had  over  me. We  didn't  have  a  colour  TV  never  mind  a  VCR  when  I  first  went  to  watch  the  Dale  in  May 1982   and  thereafter  the  grapplers  always  took  second  place  to  the  lads  in  blue. When  I  look  at  the  names  competing  in  the  weeks  immediately  before  that  day,  some  of  them  ring  no  bells  at  all  which  indicates  my  interest  was  probably  waning  even  before  then. I  do  recall  getting  annoyed  at  how  often  the  deaf  and  dumb  fighter  Alan  Kilby  was  featuring  , feeling  that  this   was  excessive  emotional  manipulation.

By  the  time  World  of  Sport  ended  in  September  1985 , mainly  because  racing  had  switched  to  Channel  4,  and  the  wrestling  moved  to  a  standalone  Saturday  lunchtime  spot   after  Saint  and  Greavsie ,  I  don't  think  I  was  watching  it  much  at  all. I  still  felt  a  little  saddened  when  Greg  Dyke  decided  to  pull  the  plug  on  it  at  the  beginning  of  1988  and  outraged  when  the  rationale  emerged , that  the  audience  didn't  fit  the  advertisers'  desired  demographic. I  don't  know  how  he  claimed  to  be  a  supporter  of  the  Labour   Party  after  that. I  have  absolutely  no  interest  whatsoever  in  the  American  product.

Professional  wrestling  didn't  die  the  day  the  cameras  were  turned  off .   I  remember  one  of  the  accountants  at  Tameside  MBC   in  the  late  eighties  remarking  that   the  only  people  who  could  make  a  show  at  the  Theatre  ( which  the  council  propped  up )  pay  for  itself   were  "Chubby  ( i.e  comic  Roy   Brown )  and  "Big  Daddy" . It  did  however   slowly  decline  as  the  old  stars  died  ( some  of  whom   had  already  died  in  the  saddle  like  Mal  Kirk  and  Alan  Dennison )  or  retired.   Some  of  the  younger  ones  went  to  America  and  made  a  fortune; Smith  and  Dynamite  Kid  were  a  headline  act  as  the  tag  team  "British  Bulldogs".  Today  it  really  is  a  minority  sport.

I  haven't  got  time  to  track  down  the  subsequent  fortunes  of  every  one  I've  mentioned  but  I  dare  say  you  could  do  it. Big  Daddy  , who was  present  at  the  deaths  of  both  Kirk  and  Dennison,  finally   retired  following  a  stroke  in  1993  and  the   Crabtrees  pulled  out  of  the  business  not  long  afterwards.  Shirley  died  of  another  stroke  four  years  later.  Dynamite  Kid  , real  name  Tom  Billington  is  only  57  but  now  wheelchair  bound  after  steroid  abuse, cocaine  and  staying  in  the  game  too  long  have taken  their  toll.  His  former  partner  Smith  died  of  a  heart  attack  which  probably  owed  something  to  steroid  abuse  in  2002. Haystacks  too  had  a  brief  career  in  the  US  under  the  name  Loch  Ness  but  succumbed  to  cancer  in  1998. The  dastardly  Breaks  was  last  heard  of  living  in  happy  retirement  in  the  Canary  Islands.

There  is  of  course  one  other  wrestler  whose  name  I  haven't  mentioned  much,  who  has  retained  his   mystique  through   the  decline  of  the  sport  and  all  the  subsequent  exposes  , and  whose  enduring  appeal  seems  to  transcend  the  sport  itself.  Though  we  now  know  he  was  a  guy  from  the  Midlands  called  Peter  Thornley  (  thanks  to  a  sharp-eyed  plumber ) ,  his  ring  name,  Kendo  Nagasaki,   can  still  inspire  hushed  tones  from  the  most  cynical  of  cultural  commentators.  Nagasaki  was  arguably  the  most  contrived  act  of  all  , a  near-permanently  masked  man   of  unknown  origin  who never  spoke,  except  through  his  cross-dressing  manager  "Gorgeous"  George  Gillette,   and  never  lost  ( except  through  disqualification ) but  somehow  he  took  hold  hold  of  the  imagination  and  kept  it.  Peter  Blake  has  painted  him  and  though  long  since  retired,  he  still  does  interviews  as  Kendo  through  an  interpreter.

Part  of  the  reason  is  that  he  was  never  over-exposed. For  a  long  time  he  was  thought  to  be  too  sinister  for  an  afternoon  audience  and  kept  off  the  screen  so  you  had  to  pay  at  the  door  if  you  wanted  to  see  him. He  was   also  retired  on  medical  advice  between  1978 and  1982  ( leading  to  a  spell  in  rock  management  with  The  Cuddly  Toys )   which  is  why  the  only  time  I  ever  saw  him  fight  was  a  mock  brawl  with  Marty  Jones  on  Granada's  Upfront   in  1990   ( who  on  earth  booked  Kendo  Nagasaki  for  a  talk  show ? ). Incidentally,  it  wasn't  mock  enough  for  host  Tony  Wilson  who  wasn't  quick  enough  in  getting  out  of  the  way  and  was  still  receiving  medical  treatment  for  his  injuries  months  later , or  a  make-up  lady  who  sued  both  him  and  Granada  with  a  judge  eventually  deciding  the  broadcaster  was  solely  to  blame. He  finally  retired  for  good   due  to  a  slight  heart  condition  in  2001. I  guess  that , like  surly  rock  climber  Don  Whillans, his  is  a  cult  that  I'll  never  quite  get.

The last  word  on  World  of  Sport  though  should  be  about  Davies. He  remained  with  ITV  for  the  rest  of  the  decade  hosting  its  boxing  and  snooker  coverage  then  worked  sporadically  for  Sky  and  Classic  FM , interrupted  by  a  stroke  in  the  mid-nineties, while  pursuing  business  interests  such  as  a  frozen  foods  company. Now  aged  82  he  admits  he  didn't  really  enjoy  the  wrestling.

* Many  years  later  in  2004  when  I  was  preparing  to  leave  Manchester  City  Council  I  had  to  do  some  handover  sessions  with  a  bloke  called  Kevin  Jordan. After  a  time  it  suddenly  struck  me  that  he  looked  a  lot  like  the  Flash  and  it  turned  out  to  be  his  brother.




  1. I can't remember the running order, but the wrestling was certainly part of my Saturday afternoon when I was very young, alongside Knight Rider and the A-Team. Plus Saint and Greavsie. Big Daddy was the hero, natch, and his "easy, easy" chant lives on.

    When the more glamorous American product became available to us via snide VHS tapes, it did seem a bit quaint. Smith and Dynamite were over there, going at 100mph... obviously outside the ring too, alongside many of their peers who met the same fate.

    By contrast, I remember seeing a WWE show a few years ago while looking after my cousin's son, and Fit Finlay was still going strong.

  2. Good to hear that although I didn't like him at the time. Was Paula still with him ?

  3. No - he actually had some guy dressed up as a leprechaun (!), which seems a bit of a step down.