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MisterHobgoblin

The Wrestling

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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 But then it went wrong as the televisation was withdrawn in 1988 and audiences found louder, better spectacle from across the Atlantic.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.

 

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