I was in Derby market, sitting down for a cup of tea when I Iooked up at the walls. To my surprise and delight, they were covered in framed posters of wrestling bouts at the Derby Assembly Rooms in the 1970’s. It took me back to the days of World of Sport, Dickie Davies, Saturday afternoons, 4pm. The names came flooding back; Mick McManus, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Jackie Pallo and Kendo Nagasaki. They were household names, and they came into your living room every Saturday afternoon.
My Dad was normally a reserved man. But at 4pm he would be like a man possessed as we watched the good guys beat the bad guys, the cheats try it on, until justice was done. You could smell the sweat. As a child it didn’t seem fixed, and to the ringside live audience it was real, with middle aged women happy to dish out some restorative justice with their handbags or brollies if any of the villains happened to tumble out of the ring. My younger brother was four years my junior, and I always used to re-enact the greatest moments on the living room floor, with me winning.
Big Daddy, Shirley Crabtree, was the big draw. He seemed old, He really only had one move, “the splash”, but that was invariably all it took to flatten, literally, an opponent. Giant Haystacks was his some tie arch rival, some time tag team partner, but he was so big that I never saw a serious contender to take him on- apart from Big Daddy.
Kendo Nagasaki, was my favourite, a masked man, supposedly from Japan, but really from Stoke. Every week you knew that his opponent would try to unmask him, and every week they would fail.
Bobby Barnes and Adrian Street had a gay act, and would frequently be pitched against Catweasel who would become outraged when they tried to touch him up.
Mick McManus was the Chief Baddy, a pantomime villain whose appearance was the highlight of every week. I miss him. Saturday afternoons have never been the same.
The Final Fall
That moment when he was counted out, forever
When neither bell chime,
Nor wet towel ,
Could raise his life on the canvas, it was time.
Not just for him, but for an era.
The wrestling holds he taught, on each World of Sport, were broken
And I paused smiled and stopped
Just like I did at four o’clock,
Every Saturday afternoon.
From New Cross, he made grannies irate,
At their Saturday date, by the ringside or fireside,
Their handbags close, and heavily packed, just in case they had to act,
Trusty possessions, to avenge any of Mick’s minor transgressions.
Trumpet fanfare, Dickie Davies’ grin
Then let battle begin.
Who would win was decided in advance
It was not chance
But pre-ordained fate
On our Saturday date
With Giant Haystacks and big Daddy
I’d watch it, with my dad and brother ,on ITV.
The bad guy, slippery and sly
A pantomime villain not as bad as he was painted
As he grappled and feignted
In his battles with Jackie Pallo who knew his worst fears
Mick pleaded with the ref “Not my ears not my ears”
Relishing the crowds anger and hate
On our Saturday date
Even after 92 years
You can still hear the cheers
The battles the hopes
But , this time, no return from the ropes.