Monday, 18 February 2013

Review: The Wrestling, by Simon Garfield

The Wrestling

Say what you like about British Wrestling as seen on TV, I can tell you that as a kid growing up in the seventies and eighties it was entertainment at its best. You might have to sit through quite a bit of a John Wayne movie before the bar room brawl started, but when it did your eyes never the left the screen. Well, World of Sport at 4 00 on saturday afternoons gave you a whole hour of it, only without the obvious distractions of spurious storyline, bowler hatted piano player and smouldering heroine.

There has been so much written about it since; its obvious fakery, its ludicrous characters, grimy venues and rowdy audiences and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve enjoyed some of these hilarious retrospective accounts immensely, most recently in the excellent 21st Century Dodos, by Steve Slack. With this in mind I picked up ‘The Wrestling’ without a moments hesitation, already imagining myself on the couch chuckling through the comedy capers of Giant Haystacks, Rollerball Rocco and ‘Wheelbarrow’ Wilson. However, far from being a cynical retrospective on the story of one of my great childhood memories, ‘The Wrestling’ turned out to be something much, much better - a series of frank interviews with its central characters.

There are no cheap shots here, none of the easy cynicism which characterises much of the work on this subject. Instead, Garfield goes to great lengths to acquire all the interviews in this book and having done so, handles each as though it were part of a collection of national treasures. Like a curator he places them carefully to create a seamless unvarnished and compelling first hand account.

Here are the grim untold tales of of Les Kellet’s transport cafe, the pathological lies of Giant Haystacks, the plumber who stumbled on Kendo Nagasaki’s true identity and the questions that still remain about Mick McMannus’s hair. It’s also about the low pay, the constant travel, the injuries, the rivalry and above all the love of the game that kept these guys coming back to entertain us time after time.

Simon Garfield’s book hasn’t changed the way I feel about this subject, it will always have the happiest and fondest memories for me, but its safe to say it has changed pretty much everything I know about it.