When wrestling first appeared in the UK it was part sport and also part circus, nobody had quite seen the like of it before. Wrestling first came to the fore in Britain during the 1950s, at the time the nation was still trying to emerge from the post war gloom and wrestling was a diversion that was gladly welcomed. Unlike America, wrestling in the UK had its roots firmly planted in the music halls and of course circus acts. It came as a complete package, with larger than life characters and complete with its own storylines. The first bouts were held in theaters and town halls and were televised on Saturdays just before the football scores were shown.
The Early Characters
In the early days, the wrestlers were far from the muscled adonises that currently grace the WWF. In fact, they had more in common with a bloke standing at the bar in the local pub. They looked and were real hard tough men that were former soldiers or manual laborers. The most famous wrestlers at the time were, Bid Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Catweazle, Davey Boy Smith, Jackie Pallo, Kendo Nagasaki, and of course Mick McManus. Many of these wrestlers had complex characters that developed archenemies on the circuit. One of the most famous rivalries was between Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, and if these two names were on the bill then the theater was guaranteed a sell-out crowd.
From the earliest televised bouts, props started appearing in the ring. One of the most popular was the mask, its concealed identities and made the wrestlers mysterious. One of the chief games at the time was trying to tear the mask from an opponent’s face, but no matter how close they came nobody ever fully revealed the identity of their antagonist. The main man as far as the TV commentary was concerned during this period was Kent Walton, and he was a major contributor to the hype and buzz of this new fledgling sport throughout the country. It was no coincidence that the time allocated to wrestling on TV was just before many football fans tuned in to learn the scores. The rugged new sport was seen by millions of male football fans who enjoyed the rough and tumble of the big men acting out a street brawl. But not only was wrestling enjoyed by the male population, housewives and grannies loved it too. Wrestling had become so popular that the whole spectrum of ages in the United Kingdom watched it live or went to bouts. The 1970s in the UK was the heyday of British wrestling and it made Saturday TV viewing exciting and genuinely gripping. Quite often these overweight men prancing around the ring was pure comedic music hall, but the British public lapped it all up and seemed to ignore the obvious flaws. This classic period for British wrestling was all over so quickly, by 1980 the sport had declined in popularity and the larger than life characters moved on to new pastures as other sports grabbed the nation’s attention.