2016 Review

In 1988 TV said goodbye to a programme that had been on our screens since the mid 50's. It was a sad day when the smooth talking, Egyptian born commentator, Kent Walton voiced the following phrase: "Good afternoon grapple fans…" for the final time. World of Sport wrestling had been axed by ITV, or to be more precise, their new controller, Greg Dyke. A lot of people were affected by the decision, not the least of which, those who earned their living scaling the length and breadth of the country every night, entertaining to sold out venues.

But they were not forgotten. In 1991, the British wrestlers decided they would hold a reunion every year. Not only would it give them a chance to see each other, but the people who made them household names as well: a decision they have never regretted. So when August 14th 2016 dawned, The British Wrestlers Reunion was 25 years old and the ring of friendship had never been stronger. Although no official figure has been announced, the attendance at The Bridges pub in Horton Kirby was believed to be over 350 people, which was enough to bring a lump to the throat of even the hardest hearts.

The stars that made the sport were out in numbers: to name but a few; Wayne Bridges, Johnny Kincaid, Colin Joynson, Frank Rimer, Johnny Saint, Steve Grey, Roy St Clair, Alan Kilby, Johnny Kidd, John Cox, Bob Barratt, Alan Sargeant, Bob Kirkwood, John Elijah, Mal Sanders, Lee Bronson, Keith Hayward, and Brian Maxine to name but a few. Sanjay Bagga of LDN brought with him a number of the younger generation of ringmasters. From America, Georgia Smith (daughter of Davey Boy Smith), Wayne Freeman (the brother of Princess Paula) and Emma Yearsley (daughter of Johnny Yearsley) were also on hand.

The reunion traditionally follows a format, and sadly, one of those is the ten-bell count, an obituary of wrestlers that have passed away during the last twelve months. As always, the job in hand goes to Bulldog Colin Joynson. Between 2015 & 16, the losses were heavy. Axel Dieter, Jack Taylor, Nick Bockwinkle, Peter Gurr, John Murphy, Harry Kendall, Roger Green, Bob Leonard, Dick Lanaghan, Phil Davies, Ed Wensor, Lord James Blears, Kris Travis, and Geoff Portz. A special mention was also made to the legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali

Acknowledging people who have contributed to the wrestling business with an award ceremony is always a firm favourite with the fans. It’s a job that requires a first class MC, and they don’t come any better than Frank Rimer. Hall of Fame awards went to the ex-world heavyweight champion, Wayne Bridges, ex-world lightweight champion, Johnny Saint: and to Davey Boy Smith (accepted by his daughter, Georgia), Alan Sargeant, Bob Kirkwood, John Cox, and Paula Valdez (accepted by her brother, Wayne Freeman). A number of other awards were handed out for different reasons, including Life Achievement awards to Dale Storm and Ricard Harrison a.k.a. Dick the Bruiser plus non wrestler awards were given a special mention: and for one of those we must turn our attention to Lyn Rigby.

The 2016 Reunion in line with previous caused supported, this year promoted the Lee Rigby Foundation. In 2013, Lee was off duty in South East London when he was attacked and killed, something that sickened not only our own nation, but no doubt the rest of the world. Lee’s mother, Lynn together with his Father Ian attended the reunion, along with MP Kelly Tolhurst and Lord Mayor Ted Baker. One of the main supporters of the foundation is none other than the masked legend, Kendo Nagasaki, who through ‘The Nagasaki Foundation’ has very kindly opened the doors of his own home, known as The Retreat, which allows members of the armed forces some needed rest and recuperation. Kendo also made an appearance, treating the audience to a Japanese tea ceremony, offering the bowl as a gift to the reunion: which was one of only ten ever made. He remained on the stage to present a superfan award to a lady who is probably his biggest fan, Amanda Buckley Taylor, before posing for a photo.

The musical interlude was provided by a talented Elvis tribute act known as Scott Elvis who wowed everybody with his uncanny singing likeness to the King plus of course our own Baz Jangles and Chris Buckwell who never fail to impress.

It has to be said that every year the reunion opens its doors, it is a huge success. One very heart-warming sight is the camaraderie between the wrestler’s as they greet each other exuberantly, a constant smile on their faces: they laugh and joke, and swap stories from yesteryear – all feuds locked firmly in the past. And it’s those amusing little tales that entertain the fans. For instance, Scott Thompson once found himself without lodgings or a mode of transport home. Sometime around midnight he and a colleague were left searching the town for a B&B. A kind landlady – despite being full up, allowed them to sleep on her floor. They were kept awake for some time, convinced that the squeaking they could hear were mice. When they could take no more they started banging on the wall in order to frighten the mice. It did the trick. The squeaking stopped. Over breakfast the following morning they tentatively broached the subject with their host, who smiled and replied that it wouldn’t be mice but the honeymooners in the next room. Needless to say, they didn’t show for breakfast.

Wrestlers covered some miles in their day. Over the weekend an amusing anecdote came to light featuring Marty Jones and his larger than life pal, The Giant Haystacks. Over the course of a few months, Marty used to take the Haystack to wrestling venues. Not that Haystack ever abused a vehicle but Marty ended up replacing three passenger doors. The stock trade supper for a wrestler at the end of the night was fish and chips. Haystacks would often go into the fish-shop and order four fish and three bags of chips – for himself, with lashings of salt & vinegar. It took Marty weeks to get rid of the smell.

Something that brought a smile to my face happened on the main road outside the pub when I was walking back from my car. Another vehicle pulled up alongside me and an elderly lady lowered the window and asked: “What’s happening, sweetheart?”I find it most disconcerting that only elderly ladies call me sweetheart these days – well, older than me, anyway. I replied that it was The British Wrestler’s Reunion. “You must remember the days of ITV’s World of Sport when everything in the UK stopped on a Saturday afternoon at four o’ clock.” To which she cleared a lock of hair form her eye, smiled and replied, “Sorry dear, it was before my time.”

Finally, it’s time for a huge thank you to the organisers of the event, who put in a lot of effort in behind the scenes to make it the success that it is: amongst them, Wayne and Sarah Bridges, Ken Sowden, Vince Randell and Roy Smith on the merchandise stall. And not forgetting our old friend, Mr. Frank Rimer. It’s time to put your feet up Frank and have that deserved rest.

Here’s to 2017.

Ray Clark (2016)