Dynamite and Davey: The Explosive Lives of the British Bulldogs by Steven Bell

March 31, 2022

Following on from his biography of little known British wrestling pioneer Douglas Clark, Steven Bell turns his attention to perhaps the two best known British wrestlers of their generation.

The story of Dynamite Kid in particular is well-documented through his own groundbreaking autobiography and other titles including the memoirs of Bret and Bruce Hart and Heath McCoy’s history of the Stampede territory. Bell combines material from these and other books with original interviews, most notably with Ross Hart and the Billington family, providing illuminating details about home lives and some more amusing incidents from life on the road.

Bell’s literary approach is both the greatest strength and weakness of the book. Rather than having quotes from any of the participants or sources, it’s presented almost in the style of a novel. This certainly makes for a consistent voice and a highly readable account. However, it can make it harder to assess the origin or validity of some of the content.

Most notable are sections which include lengthy exchanges of dialogue created by Bell. While the introduction makes clear that “some minor details and dialogue are imagined”, some readers may still find these sections a little jarring, particularly where they aren’t explicitly labelled as fictional. (Since this review was published, the author has clarified that both the existence and broad subject of all conversations in the book was confirmed by sources: it is merely the precise wording itself that is imagined.)

It can also be difficult at times to distinguish between details that come from a source (whether first-hand or reported) and those created for the sake of the narrative. For example, the book gives details of the contract the Bulldogs signed with the WWF in March 1985, including the rights to pay-per-view bonuses. That raises questions given the first WWF event with a significant PPV presence was still nine months away at this point.

Whatever your take on the style, though, it’s certainly a compelling tale, with the book doing a good job of balancing both the overall narrative and the specific incidents and stories behind it. The parallels and strained relationship between the Bulldogs are well covered and the book gives appropriate weight to key elements such as Billington’s revolutionary in-ring style, Smith’s mainstream popularity, and the physical price both men paid. It also does a good job of exploring the blurred lines between the wrestling business and the intertwined family lives of both the Smiths and Billingtons and the extended Hart clan.

Such a title could never be (and is not intended as) a replacement for Pure Dynamite, but is still worth exploring for the way it goes beyond the collection of memories fans have of both men’s careers and instead puts across the full picture of two notable lives.

(Disclaimer: The author provided a review copy.)

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