19 June 2011

Camp on camera

From the ODNB biography of wrestler Shirley Crabtree [performing name Big Daddy (1930-1997) -
At the age of fourteen Crabtree left school to work in a cotton mill, but left this job two years later to play rugby league for Bradford Northern. However, his temper often got the better of him, and he never played for the first team. He eventually became a lifeguard at Blackpool with his brothers Brian and Max, and all three brothers took up wrestling. Max later became a promoter, but Brian broke his leg and turned to refereeing. Crabtree used his own name at first, but was also billed as the Blond Adonis or Mr Universe. He was often on the same bills as Jimmy Savile. At this stage he was a middleweight, but he soon realized that the largest wrestlers attracted the most support, and he put on weight and eventually weighed over 25 stone. He was often cast as a villain, most notably as the Battling Guardsman, as he had briefly served in the Coldstream Guards. He was also in The Guinness Book of Records as the owner of the largest chest in England, at 64 inches.

In 1976 the persona emerged that made Crabtree famous across the land. His brother Max, by now one of the sport's leading promoters, thought up the name Big Daddy, which was taken from the character played by Burl Ives in the film Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. His second wife, Eunice, made him a leotard from the chintz covers of their sofa, and Crabtree reinvented himself as a good guy. By now wrestling had become little more than a stage show, with the stunts carefully choreographed, although Crabtree stoutly denied this, saying that most of his fellow combatants were not intelligent enough for such forward planning. However, its popularity was enormous, and on Saturday afternoons ITV's World of Sport attracted over 10 million viewers.

The spectators were attracted less by the athletic endeavours of its exponents than by the glitz and glamour of the rituals, from the opening announcement by the commentator, Kent Walton, of 'Greetings, grapple fans' to the climactic battle between, inevitably, Big Daddy and his current arch-rival. His enemies included such wrestling luminaries as Mick McManus, Giant Haystacks (once in The Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest man in the UK), and Dave 'Fit' Finlay. The ritual of these bouts would involve Big Daddy striding into the arena to his signature tune, 'We shall not be moved', and chants of 'Ea-sy, ea-sy!' from his fans. A bigger and stronger opponent would overcome his smaller tag-team partner at the start of the bout and then try to antagonize Big Daddy. On finally being tagged into the ring, Big Daddy would out-muscle his opponent and gradually wear him down before applying his special finishing manoeuvre, known as 'the splash'. This involved him climbing onto the top rope and flopping down to crush his fallen opponent with his vast belly.

... Wrestling had made Big Daddy a household name, and even prime minister Margaret Thatcher confessed to being a fan.
Can't go wrong with a leotard from the chintz covers of the family sofa.