Saturday, January 23, 2016

'Have a Good Week...'

For some reason, I've found myself lately thinking about Kent Walton and the heyday of British TV wrestling back in the 1970s and early 1980s.  A somewhat different beast to its US equivalent, British wrestling on TV was a fascinating phenomena, being, at its height, 'must see' TV.  Every Saturday, at four o'clock, it felt like the nation stopped to spend an hour watching a bunch of large, mainly northern, men, many of them in less than ideal shape physically, grapple with each other.  Why?  It's hard to say, really.  But there was something quite fascinating about these contests of physical prowess.  Whilst the results were definitely rigged, the results never seemed as obviously fixed as in the WWE, and while the outcome of the matches might have been a foregone conclusion, the participants certainly contested them is if they were for real.  The action was often brutal and the consequences frequently appeared genuinely painful.

Indeed, Black Jack Mulligan, featured in the above clip, once broke both ankles, leaping out of the ring during a match with Big Daddy and unexpectedly landing in the ringside seating.  I also recall seeing Wild Man Angus hurl Honey Boy Zimba into the third row - judging by the panicked reaction of the audience once they realised what was about to happen, (they scattered),the move wasn't pre-planned or choreographed.  It also looked to be extremely painful for Zimba, who looked genuinely injured and had to be stretchered off.  The result might have been agreed beforehand, but one got the impression that the wrestlers themselves were given little direction beyond that and were left to improvise the action in the ring.  Despite the sheer brutality of it all, most of the wrestlers involved also displayed incredible skill inside the ring, particularly with regard to their aerial moves.

British TV wrestling undoubtedly looked much grittier than the later US TV franchises.  Not only were many of the wrestlers far from being the buff body builders of the modern WWE, but each week the matches were broadcast from some less than glamourous town hall or municipal sports centre.  They lacked the glitz of the venues used by the WWE, their focus instead being on functionality.  Although there were clear good guys and bad guys, the British wrestling didn't have the complex ongoing story lines which often make the WWE seem like a soap opera.  There were certainly rivalries and long-standing grudges between wrestlers, but these never developed into anything more - that would just have slowed down the action and reduced the amount of in-ring action.  Because that's what the ITV wrestling was all about: action,  And it delivered, with four or five bouts on average every week.  All presided over by the great Kent Walton (aka Elton Hawke, producer of sex movies), who makes a rare on screen appearance in the above clip.  With his ctchphrases of 'Welcome grapple fans', and 'have a good week 'til next week', he became a household name in the seventies and eighties.  As, indeed, did the wrestlers he commentated on: everyone in Britain knew who the likes of Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Les Kellett and Pat Roach, amongst others, were.

But eventually TV audiences began to decline and ITV axed the wrestling, after a brief experiment of including matches from the WWF (as it was then) in the programme.  Quite why the viewers fell out of love with the wrestling is hard to say.  Certainly, by the eighties, with behemoths like Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks dominating the TV coverage, it all became more cartoon-like, with fewer actual wrestling skills on display as Big Daddy bounced opponents off of his stomach.  Whatever the reason, wresting left our screens.  The wrestlers themselves continued to ply their trade to smaller audiences in ever less glamourous venues and with no cameras present.  Many headed West to join the WCW and WWF in the US - Young David in the above clip later found fame in the WWE as Davey Boy Smith, for instance.  Others, like Pat Roach and Brian Glover enjoyed successful careers as actors.  I often wonder if my nostalgia for the wrestling derives from the fact that I was a child for most of the time I remember watching what was, in truth, very unsophisticated entertainment.  Perhaps audiences started to decline when my generation grew up and grew out of such things, with a new generation of youth, by the eighties, having more sophisticated expectations of their Saturday afternoon entertainment. 

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Blogger pq ribber said...

talk about Pure Entertainium..... Both of the grapplers depicted later wound up with WWE, too. There is something endlessly fascinating about the thin line between real/fake/and surreal, to 'professional' wresting.
NOte: in WWE, today, announcers are forbidden to call the talent 'wrestlers' or the activity: 'wrestling'

6:27 pm  

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