Blast From The Past

Like most people, I remember the seventies and parts of my childhood quite vivdly. Parents and teachers often told me, the years pass faster as you grow older. I never believed them. I do now. The popular bike of the time was the Raleigh Chopper. Sir Clive Sinclair changed the world with the Black Prince watch, the Spectrum computer, and the C5 electric car. The seventies disco scene was booming, producing unforgettable hits such as Abba's Dancing Queen, and The Bee Gees Night Fever. Jump suits, hot pants and flared trousers dominated the fashion. Most people can remember certain programs: Happy Days, MASH and Charlie's Angels to name but three.

I'm quite confident however, that everyone remembers one program from that period: when the clock struck four on a Saturday afternoon, the UK virtually came to a standstill in order to watch ITV's World of Sport wrestling; something you either loved or hated. It's nearly thirty years since it left the TV screens, but the memories live on.

Kardomah Cafés were a chain of coffee shops in England, Wales and Paris, popular from the early 1900's until the 1960's. The company that created the Kardomah brand began in Pudsey Street, Liverpool in 1844. It changed hands a number of times before it was acquired by the Forte Group in 1962, sold to Cadbury/Schweppes/Typhoo in 1971, and became part of Premier Brands during the 1980's. Over the week of the 5th – 9th September, Kardomah 94 in Hull helped many of us relive those happy wrestling memories, when the West Hull Wrinklies presented Big Daddy v Giant Haystacks, a play based around two of the biggest names in the business – literally.

Written by Brian Mitchell and Jospeh Nixon, directed by Neal Coulman, the audience discovered the story behind the super heavyweights. Other big names gracing the show included Jackie 'Mr TV' Pallo, Mick McManus, and the unforgettable masked samurai warrior, Kendo Nagasaki. But at its peak it was the super heavies that drew in the crowds. Today’s wrestling fans believe that only the WWF can fill large stadiums, but in 1981, Haystacks and Daddy packed the Wembley Arena to capacity one night, with ticket sales at the box office exceeding £48'000.

The story of Daddy v Haystacks starts well before they first met. Few people know how they earned a living before becoming ring mat monsters. Daddy aka Shirley Crabtree was a Coldstream Guard. Haystacks aka Martin Ruane aka Luke McMasters worked on a building site before being spotted on the door of a Salford nightclub by a wrestler called Billy Graham. When Shirley's brother Max (promoter) became involved he saw an immediate money-spinner: initially they became tag team partners. That led to problems because they were invincible.

Max then decided it would be far better if they went head to head. He was right, as far as pound signs were concerned. Eventually however, that grew stale. When the wrestling finished on TV, Haystacks made a living in America fighting under the name Loch Ness.

Five actors playing multiple parts worked extremely hard to put the story over: Kevin Shepherd (alias Big Daddy, Billy Graham and Brian Dixon), Simon Hart (alias Max Crabtree and Giant Haystacks), Colin Thompson (alias the referee, the doctor, the police officer and the stage manager), Simon Riley (alias Dickie Davies, Paul McCartney and Greg Dyke), and finally Peter Bernard Shally who, amongst others, took the roles of Tony 'Banger' Walsh and Jackie 'TV' Pallo.

It was ambitious but it worked well. With an excellent, witty script, first class acting performances and some well weaved in TV classics of the day projected onto a backdrop behind, Big Daddy v Giant Haystacks was well worth anyone's time and money. Whilst not a particularly big theatre or audience, everyone on the night loved it and relived memories of yesteryear.

Ray Clark (2017)