All Star Wrestling Tour
Never mind the spandex
As a new All Star Wrestling Tour hits Edinburgh, Neil Cooper looks back on the glory days of a great British institution
Once upon a time, before the well-oiled ogres of WWE ruled the world in day-glo spandex, The Wrestling was a national institution. Every Saturday afternoon in the 1970s and 1980s, everything stopped at 4pm, to watch end-of-the-pier Greek tragedies fought between leotard-clad tubs of lard with cartoon names. On TV screens as black and white as the struggles between good and evil they highlighted, the legends of Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki were played out just before the football scores on World of Sport. It was only when Greg Dyke, then head of ITV Sport, pulled the plug in 1988 on the grounds of it being too low-brow, that The Wrestling appeared to have died.
Now, for one night only, The Wrestling is back, albeit in a slightly different guise. The All Star Wrestling that arrives in Edinburgh as part of a 60-date tour may have its roots in old time spit-and-sawdust grunt’n’groan, but with modern day stars such as Robbie Brookside and James Mason, as well as ladies’ contests and the return of pint-sized grappler Little Legs, it’s savvy enough to take on board the American revolution that so captivates the kids today.
‘When British wrestling came off television, we thought that would be it,’ says promoter Brian Dixon, ‘but it was the opposite. People couldn’t see it, so they started coming to live events more. In the meantime, Sky started showing American wrestling.’
At wrestling’s lowest ebb, Dixon diverted into promoting 1970s tribute bands, and on the back of The Full Monty, male strippers. He’s reaping the rewards of his graft now, though: ‘It’s been hard work, but wrestling’s now the most popular it’s been for years.’
ASW’s arrival accidentally ties in with a new edition of Simon Garfield’s book, The Wrestling. Originally published in 1996, Garfield’s oral history told a heartbreaking tale of a hidden part of British popular culture’s decline. Its roll-call of heroes included Jimmy Saville and champion show-jumper Harvey Smith, both of whom had spent time in the squared circle. Then there’s Auf Wiedersehn Pet star Pat Roach, Brian Glover (who once wrote a TV play for masked villain Kendo Nagasaki) and ladies’ champion Mitzi Mueller, who Dixon married.
‘I was once interviewed on the radio and said that wrestling was finished,’ says Dixon. ‘That statement still haunts me. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but we’re booked up till 2010, so we’ve got a few years left yet.’
All Star Wrestling American Superslam, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Fri 20 Jun, 7.30pm.