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The Wrestling is an old book - first published in 1995 - charting the history of professional wrestling in Britain. It was updated in 2005 with a short epilogue, mostly recording the deaths over the intervening 10 years of many of the household names who were interviewed for the original book. But make no mistake, British professional wrestling had died long before 1995. Most of the book comprises statements and anecdotes spoken by key players in the British wrestling scene. We have contributions from wrestlers themselves - Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Davey Boy Smith, Pat Roach and all; from the promoters - Max Crabtree, Mick McManus; and the presentation team - Kent Walton. There are many, many more contributors besides. What emerges is a story of regret; the heady days of the 1950s then led to the burgeoning success of televisation. Cash came rolling in, even if much of it was never passed on to the wrestlers. But then it went wrong as the televisation was withdrawn in 1988 and audiences found louder, better spectacle from across the Atlantic. There are stories of wrestlers packed like sardines in the back of minibuses, travelling for hours to and from shows, having to build their own rings, change in cupboards, play on through injuries, and cope with the loss if anything bad happened because the promoters were certainly not going to waste money on insurance. There are bitter recriminations, fond memories, insights into what really went on behind the scenes. And most of all, there was a great sense of good, almost-honest hard work. There were friendships and rivalries that were quite different to the staged feuds. There were tensions between sport and entertainment - and entertainment won. There is blame cast aplenty, much directed at the Crabtree family. Max Crabtree owned Dale Martin promotions, who staged the shows. Brian Crabtree was a referee, an essential part of staging the bouts. And Shirley Crabtree was Big Daddy, a fat, elderly man who was allowed to become the star attraction. Others asked how spectators could still believe in the product when Big Daddy's bouts were so obviously staged. Yet this ignores the rising supremacy of WWF (now WWE) wrestling which is even more staged, even more story-boarded. There are also some wonderful tales, such as the domestic life of Kendo Nagasaki and the philosophy of Giant Haystacks. From the opening scene, a reunion of old, broken wrestlers at a bar in London - through to an image of post-TV wrestlers fighting in front of 80 bored spectators with new and feeble gimmicks (e.g. The Red Power Wreslin' Ranger) coming too late for anyone to care, it is a sorry tale. Nevertheless, it is one which captures the imagination. The Wrestling is an intelligent, readable and compelling vision of long gone part of British entertainment history. It is about people as much as it is about wrestling. ****0
This is another of the Mass Observation publications, providing extracts from diaries of people who lived through WW2. The diarists in this book are an unmarried secretary in Glasgow, a God fearing salesman in Preston, a lady who evacuates to Cornwall with her children but she returns to London just as the bombs start to fall, a London social worker and a writer who featured in the Our Hidden Lives book. The diary entries cover the period between august, 1939 as the outbreak of war waits in the wings to a year later with the Battle of Britain and the start of the Blitz. Garfield weaves the diaries of these five people as ‘they face an anxious and uncertain future.’ As usual in a book like this we are dipping into their consciousness at an extraordinary time in their lives. They reveal their inner selves and the mores and attitudes of those around them. Another entry tells of when the Germans marched into Prague and the propaganda film showed the soldiers giving shoes to the bare footed children. When ‘in fact’ the diarist states the soldiers went to the school and removed the shoes first then the film crew filmed the shoes being returned. 'Had a bath ready for my medical at 10.30 on Saturday.' This was a diary entry on the Thursday before. Simon Garfield has once again produced a mesmerising collection of thoughts and fears, frustrations and humorous asides, from these diaries. His skill is the way he keeps the entries relatively short, sometimes contradicting sometimes complimenting. We dip in and out of each of the writer’s days being swept along by their accounts of this momentous change in their lives. This is compulsive reading, you grow to like them, admire them even and in the end, while they still have four long years of war to face, we reach the final pages of the book wanting more. Wanting once more to share their lives, their time, and their experiences.
Our Hidden Lives: The Everyday Diaries of a Forgotten Britain 1945-1948 In 1936 anthropologist Tom Harrisson, poet and journalist Charles Madge and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings set up the Mass Observation Project. The idea was simple: ordinary people would record, in diary form, the events of their everyday lives. An estimated one million pages eventually found their way to the archive - and it soon became clear this was more than anyone could digest. Today, the diaries are stored at the University of Sussex, where remarkably most remain unread. In Our Hidden Lives, Simon Garfield has skilfully woven a tapestry of diary entries in the rarely discussed but pivotal period of 1945 to 1948. The result is a moving, intriguing, funny, at times heartbreaking book - unashamedly populist in the spirit of Forgotten Voices or indeed Margaret Forster's Diary of an Ordinary Woman