Older British Wrestling Books

November 15, 2021

(The following article was originally written for a website before this blog — and indeed my own book on the topic — existed.)

The gold standard for British wrestling books remains The Wrestling by Simon Garfield. Recently republished, it’s made up entirely of first-hand accounts from nearly 50 wrestlers, promoters, writers and other figures in the industry. There’s also a subplot where Garfield tries in vain to persuade in-ring comedian and real-life hardman Les Kellett to give him an interview. The revised edition contains a somewhat depressing afterword detailing the many participants who have passed away, including Davey Boy Smith.

Two biographies of British grapplers who became worldwide stars include details of their days wrestling in the UK. Pure Dynamite by Tom ‘Dynamite Kid’ Billington  was widely regarded as the most revealing and honest wrestling autobiography at the time of its 1999 release, a year before Mick Foley’s first book hit the shelves. Only a small section of the book deals with his British days, but it’s still an intriguing look at the ups and down of working for Joint Promotions, then run by the family of top star Shirley ‘Big Daddy’ Crabtree,

Walking a Golden Mile by William Regal  offers a more extensive look at the British scene, with the first quarter devoted to Regal’s UK career. Among the highlights is a unique insight into his time on the fairgrounds of Blackpool where he faced challengers from the audience in legitimate contests.

Two Falls, Two Submissions or a Knockout by Al Marquette  is the recently-published tale of the man who grew up watching the violent bouts of Manchester’s Belle Vue and Ardwick Stadium before becoming a wrestler in the 70s and 80s. It’s got a wealth of entertaining stories about the weird and wonderful characters he encountered, though contemporary readers may be annoyed by his insistence that his bouts were legitimate contests.

A similar criticism applies to Blue Blood On The Mat by Sir Atholl Oakeley, a reprint of a 1950s book. Oakeley was behind the revival of wrestling as a ticket-selling industry in 1930 with the launch of ‘All-in wrestling’, rules which allowed submissions for the first time. Oakeley claims that his contests were genuine but rival promoters introduced fixed matches after the second world war. Then again, he also claims to have performed a flying headscissors on an opponent who stood 9’3”. Dubious veracity aside, it’s a lively account of an influential era in British wrestling.

Two other books currently available include Handbags and Headlocks by Archie Potts, a look at shows at the New St James’s Hall in Newcastle, and The Grapple Manual ‘by’ Kendo Nagasaki, a disappointing 96-page affair which is mainly photographs of UK and US stars.

Among the British wrestling books now out of print, the most infamous is You Grunt, I’ll Groan by Jackie Pallo (0356105385). On its 1985 release it was considered a shocking expose of how pro wrestling actually works, though now it’s amusing to see just Pallo have to be so insistent in explaining matches were fixed. As a leading star who later fell out with the Crabtree family, its behind-the-scenes account is a valuable counter to the traditional view of Big Daddy being the highpoint of British wrestling.

Other books which can sometimes be found on eBay, abebooks.com or in second-hand book shops include:

The Padded Ring by Tony Van Den Bergh, a 1962 collection of profiles most notable for its look at daily life in the Joint Promotions office.

Sportsviewers Guide WRESTLING is from a 1983 series looking at televised sports of the time. An independently produced book, it’s interesting to see explicit mention of a business decline in the years leading up to its release.

Minding My Own Business by Tony Walsh is the autobiography of one of Big Daddy’s most regular opponents, who infamously spilled the beans to a national tabloid.

This Grappling Game by Kent Walton profiles most of the leading stars of the time (it was released in 1967) and has plenty of background about the introduction of televised wrestling.

A Pictorial History Of Wrestling by Graeme Kent is a mammoth tome, covering wrestling from the Ancient Greeks right up to the 60s. It’s packed with photographs of US and UK stars.

The Mick McManus Wrestling Book by Charles Arnold is largely a series of brief features on 1960s wrestlers, including a photograph of a genuinely muscular Jean Ferre, aka Andre the Giant.

The Big Daddy Annual 1983 is a cash-in effort perhaps notably for being the only such Christmas stocking-filler dedicated to an overweight 53-year old.

The Who’s Who of Wrestling by Joe D’Orazio (0091092205) is a comprehensive 1971 directory much prized by collectors.



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