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Sixties British Professional Wrestling
Sixties British Professional Wrestling

Professional wrestling was originally a feature of local fairgrounds and stage variety, being presented alongside 'strong man' acts around the end of the nineteenth century. In the early 20th century a sports promoter called Charles Cochran staged a wrestling match between Estonian Georg Hackenschmidt and Tom Cannon of Britain, advertised as 'The European Greco-Roman Championship'. Hackenschmidt won and subsequently became the unofficial 'World Champion' when he defeated American heavyweight champion Tom Jenkins in America in 1905. Following this, Hackenschmidt undertook a series of challenge matches arranged by Cochran for which he was paid 150 a week. The 'professionals' generally preferred to fight in America where the money was better and, by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, it had more or less died out as a professional sport in Europe. It remained fairly popular in its amateur form but did not really return to the UK as a professional sport until the 1930s when it was contested as an 'all-in' style, as was then practiced in the North of England, rather than in the more structured amateur 'Greco-Roman' format.

The 'British Wrestling Association' was formed by ex-amateurs Sir Atholl Oakley and Henry Irslinger, who started to put on promotions featuring 'stars' such as 'Black Butcher' Johnson, Tommy Mann, Jack Pye and Jack Sherry. Oakley himself contested a series of self-promoted elimination bouts and was crowned the first 'British Heavyweight Champion'. The sport, in various forms, became increasingly popular during the 1930s and London alone boasted around 40 regular wrestling venues. A number of variations started to arise, including wrestling with the use of weapons allowed, mud-wrestling and, even then, female wrestlers were not particularly unusual.

When it all started to get out of control in the late 1930s the London County Council banned professional wrestling as a public spectacle just before the start of World War II, which contributed to its decline in the UK for a second time. Post-war events were dogged by obvious showmanship and acting and, following several unsuccessful attempts to revive the spectacle as a legitimate 'sport', a committee was created to formulate 'official' rules for 'professional' wrestling.
This assembly consisted of Admiral Lord Mount-Evans, Commander Campbell, Olympic wrestler Norman Morell and M.P. Maurice Webb. This committee decided that there would be seven weight divisions, each having its own 'champion', which were to be Lightweight (154lbs), Welterweight (165lbs), Middleweight (176lbs), Heavy Middleweight (187lbs), Light Heavyweight (198lbs), Mid Heavyweight (209lbs) and Heavyweight (over 209lbs).
Dr. Death

1962 Wrestling Champions The matches were to consist of 5 minute rounds with the best of 3 falls or a 'knockout' ten count deciding the winner. Attacking a man on the canvas was outlawed and public warnings and disqualifications for breaking the rules were introduced. Promoters were happy to accept the new rules and committee to inject some structure and consistency into their promotions. In order to use these to their best advantage, a cartel alliance called 'Joint Promotions' was formed in 1952, four years after the formation of the NWA in the USA, to regulate the business and, effectively, control the professional sport in the UK.

The London representatives of 'Joint Promotions' were Dale Martin Promotions who were formed in 1948 by Jack, Johnny and Billy Dale (Abby) and Les Martin. The Manchester area was represented by Arthur Wright, Liverpool by Billy Best, Scotland by Olympic gold medalist George de Relwyskow with Ted Beresford and Norman Morell representing Yorkshire. As a cartel they were able to 'shut out' independent promoters and group secretary Arthur Green was soon putting on more than forty shows a week, with each promoter rotating their 'stable' of professional wrestlers.

In establishing this control, Joint Promotions were keen to maximise the revenue by increasing the number of available 'titles' and title-fights and the whole business was becoming in danger of over-exposure as the number of 'title holders' grew to about 70.
At that time, entertainment revenue tax was 25% and the control of events and the guaranteed work was beneficial to both promoters and wrestlers alike. However, this was a level that the business could not sustain and eventually, after Atholl Oakley dropped out of promotions and the closure of the Harringay Arena, it was abolished in 1957.

One of the first breed of anonymous 'masked' wrestlers was a character called 'Dr. Death', an Australian whose real name was Paul Lincoln, who bought the famous 2Is coffee bar in Soho in 1955. The concept of being masked was both a good crowd-puller and a good earner as it allowed these gladiators to fight twice on the same bill! It was television that was to be the real saviour of British professional wrestling and, during its 33 years of regular live coverage, bring it to the forefront of sports entertainment for the British viewing public.

Heavyweight champion: 1962 Billy Joyce (1972 Albert Wall), Mid-heavyweight champion: 1962 Norman Walsh (1972 Mike Marino), Light-heavyweight champion: 1962 Ernie Riley (1972 Billy Joyce), Heavy-middleweight champion: 1962 Eric Taylor (1972 Bert Royal)
Middleweight champion: 1962 Tommy Mann (1972 Brian Maxine), Welterweight champion: 1962 Jack Dempsey (1972 Vic Faulkner), Lightweight champion: 1962 Melwyn Riss (1972 Jim Breaks)    Professional Wrestling Titles

Sixties British Professional Wrestling
Sixties British Professional Wrestling
Sixties British Professional Wrestling
Sixties British Professional Wrestling
Sixties British Professional Wrestling
Sixties British Professional Wrestling
Sixties British Professional Wrestling
Sixties British Professional Wrestling
Sixties British Professional Wrestling

The Sixties - Greetings, Grapple Fans!

As a wrestling promoter, Paul Lincoln staged a contest between two masked wrestlers in April 1962. One was 'Dr. Death (himself) and 'The White Angel'. This was a 'no rounds, fight to the finish' £500 contest in which the loser had also agreed to unmask himself and reveal his identity to the public. Around three thousand fans watched the Dr. Death victory by knockout and 'The White Angel' was subsequently revealed to be 'Judo' Al Hayes, a successful heavyweight in his own right who had recently left Joint Promotions to work for Paul Lincoln and other independent promoters. Paul Lincoln sadly passed away in January 2011.

The first live televised event was shown on ABC and ATV on 9th November 1955, transmitted from West Ham baths, featuring Mike Marino vs Francis St.Clair Gregory and Bert Royal vs Cliff Beaumont. The show was very popular and very soon became a regular 'winter attraction' in late night slots. Many of the top wrestlers became household names, as did the commentators, match referees and even the promoters and managers. 1960 was the first year to see weekly broadcasts, although not all year round, and match listings were published in the TV Times. All the shows were broadcast on Saturday afternoons as part of the sports show 'Let's Go', a forerunner to 'World of Sport'. Several shows in 1961 had Peter Cockburn as commentator rather than regular host Kent Walton.
An article in the TV Times of 28th September 1963 reported that the National Union of Small Shopkeepers had requested wrestling to be moved away from the Saturday afternoon slot as it was keeping shoppers at home. President Thomas Lynch said "This is serious. Our members are losing a lot of money." The estimated audience for televised wrestling at that time was 8 million, with its return on 31st August doubling the previous week's audience for the same time slot.

It was to be promoted to a 'daytime' feature in 1964 when it was taken up by the Saturday afternoon ITV broadcast 'World of Sport' and given its own regular weekly slot. Saturday shows during 1965 were broadcast as part of the SummerSport magazine show, and later World of Sport. Until the end of August 1966 shows aired on Saturday afternoons at 4pm (as part of World of Sport) and Wednesday evenings. From September, wrestling moved to 5.15pm, after World of Sport. Wednesday evening showings stopped until late December.

This increased exposure on television also boosted the demand for live wrestling events and, by the middle of the 1960s, Joint Promotions were arranging in the region of 4,500 shows a year. In its television infancy the bouts placed a strong emphasis on clean, 'technical' wrestling with the 'bad boys' such as Mick McManus and Jackie Pallo, who were to become almost cult, compulsive viewing, not rising to stardom for some years.

A version of the sport known as 'tag team' wrestling also became very popular, but televised matches were restricted, only being shown once a month or so, to avoid them becoming over-exposed and detracting from the individual events. At this time, women were barred from the professional sport by the GLC and would continue to be so until the late 1970s.

Probably the best-known TV commentator was Kent Walton, a very interesting character himself. Born in Cairo on 22nd August 1917 he moved to Surrey in England at a young age and became a successful springboard diver. During World War II he joined the RAF where he served as both radio operator and front gun operator in a bomber. He married Lynn Smith in 1949 and his distinctive voice allowed him to become a sports commentator, mostly on football and Wimbledon tennis, before becoming 'the voice of wrestling' in 1955 until its cancellation in 1988.

Sport commentary was not his only contribution to show business as he was also the presenter of the first television pop show 'Cool for Cats', owned a successful film production company and provided many TV commercial voice-overs before his death in August 2003.
Kent Walton

Some names you may remember .....

Mike Marino, Al Fontayne, Brian Maxine, Honeyboy Zimba, Eddie Capelli
Leon Fortuna, Bert Royal, Roy 'Bull' Davies, Rocky Wall, Alan Dennison
Jan Kovacs, Reg Trood, Steve Logan, Steve Haggerty, 'Irish' Pat Barratt
Tony and Ignatius Borg, Leon Arras, Count Bartelli, Crusher Verdu
Johnny Saint, Joe Cornelius, Lindy Caulder, Horst Hoffman, Lee Sharron
Billy Joyce, Billy Two Rivers, Wayne Bridges, Ian Gilmour, Zando Zabo
Geoff Kay, Sheik El Mansouri, Julien Maurice, Peter Preston, Steve Best
Sid Cooper, Peter Szakacs, Mick McMichael, Pete Roberts, Peter Rann
George Kidd, Mick McManus, Roger Green, Pat Roach, Bobby Barnes
Ernie Riley, Johnny Kwango, Les Kellett, Ted Heath, Ray Fury
Steve Veidor, Roy St. Clair, Johnny Yearsley, Tony St. Clair, Alan Miquet
Jim Hart, Masambula, Tibor Szakacs, Jim Hussey, Johnny Williams
Ricki Starr, Johnny Eagles, Tony Charles, Mal Kirk, Alan Sargeant
El Greco, Ivan Penzecoff, Alan Colbeck, Judo Al Hayes, Seamus Donlevy
Colin Joynson, Zoltan Boscik, Clayton Thomson, Jackie 'Mr TV' Pallo
Tug Holton, Johnny Apollo, Jim Breaks, Wild Angus, Tony Cassio
Jack Dempsey, Spencer Churchill, Josef Zaranoff, Johnny Kincaid,
Reverend Michael Brooks, Adrian Street, Johnny Czeslaw, Eric Sands
Farmer John Allan, Al Nicol, Terry Downs, Bruno Elrington,
Mike Eagers, Prince Kumali, Ken Joyce, Vic Faulkner, Peter Cortez
Johnny Saint
Mick McManus
Johnny Kwango
Steve Logan
Jackie Pallo Les Kellett

And some 'tag team' combinations .....

Bert Royal/Vic Faulkner (Royals), Abe Ginsberg/John Foley (Black Diamonds), Abe Ginsberg/Eric Cutler (Black Diamonds), Mick McManus/Steve Logan, Eddie Capelli/Spencer Churchill, Tom Dowie/Ted Hannon, Monty Swann/Alan Miquet, Chick Purvey/Ted Hannon
Eric Sands/Mick McMichael, Peter Rann/Pasquale Salvo, Johnny Eagles/Terry Jowett (White Eagles), Eric Sands/Alan Colbeck, Joe Critchley/Frank O'Donnell, Johnny Kwango/Lindsey Caulder, Chic Purvey/Jim McKenzie, Terry Nylands/Bobby Steele, Alan Dennison/Sid Cooper
Chic Purvey/Tom Dowie, Jon Cortez/Peter Cortez (The Cortez Brothers), Bobby Barnes/Billy Stock, Ivan Penzecoff/'Tug' Holton, Daniel Aubriot/Gil Cesca, Harry Kendall/Mike Eagers (The Silent Ones), Peter Szakacs/Zoltan Boscik, Dennis and Donald Mitchell (Mitchell Brothers)
Ezzard Hart/'Honey Boy' Zimba (Black Knights), Adrian Street/Ray McGuire, Ignatious and Tony (The Borg Twins), Dick Conlan/Steve Miller, Roy and Tony (St. Clair Brothers), Jimmy Breaks/Zoltan Boscik, Steve Clements/Mick McMichael (Yorkshire Terriers)
Bobby Barnes/Adrian Street (Hells Angels), Vassilios Mantopolous/Armand Zarpanalian, Adrian Street/Steve Young, Al Miquet/Jon Cortez (The Jet Set)

British Pro-Wrestling, televised wrestling from 1965 through 1991         The Gladiators - Tiptoe Through The Tulips      The Best of ITV Wrestling A-Z (introduced by Dickie Davis)      25 Years of ITV Wrestling

And some great sites for further information:
Wrestling Posters
    Wrestling Heritage     The Wrestling Furnace

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