The History of British Wrestling – Part 2
Oakley was successful with his promotion under the banner of the British Wrestling Association with such wrestlers as Jack Sherry, College Boy, Normal Ansell, Jack Pie, Black Butcher Johnson, Tommy Mann, and Jack Dale (Leonard Abbey).
Everything was going fine with up to 40 regular venues just in London hosting the matches, and crowds reported to have been up to 14,000. The huge demand for the sport, however, was unable to be met by an adequate number of skilled amateurs. This resulted in promoters adopting a more aggressive approach, with chairshots and weapons now being used. In the 1930s, it was London County Council that had put a ban on professional wrestling, with the sport now in poor condition just prior to WW11.
Weight divisions introduced
There were bids to bring it back in 1947 but they were unsuccessful. Journalists were left unimpressed with the gimmicks in a show between Jack Doyle and the Estonian ‘Butch’ and essentially called it fake. This resulted in wrestling fan Admiral Lord Mountevans to form a committee with himself, Olympic wrestler Norman Morell, MP Maurice Webb, and Commander Campbell in order to establish official rules for an honest sport. The committee also established seven weight divisions, from lightweight to heavyweight. In 1952, promoters got together and revolutionised the sport by forming Joint Promotions, which was a bid to regulate it and ensure that the principles of the committee were being upheld. At least, that was its intention on paper. Its real purpose was to be a cartel with the goal of carving up control of the business between a few promoters. One of the very first things that the company did was form the championships called for by the committee. This was profitable at first, as title matches commanded higher ticket prices. When they introduced further titles, however, it proved to be overkill. At one stage, there were 70 titleholders under Joint Promotions.
TV at last
While some success was had with titles, British wrestling only rose in popularity when it was shown on television. The very first wrestling show was broadcast on November 9, 1955 by ITV regional frontrunners ATV and ABC. From that point, wrestling was televised every year from Autumn and Spring. Once wrestling was a regular fixture on television, the athletes became household names. It also made money for Joint Promotions, believed to be £15,000 a week, while the wrestlers would get £200 to split between them on a good day. A show that took place at the Albert Hall on May 22, 1963 welcomed guest of honour Prince Phillip to offer some credibility.
Viewers were treated to a unique style of wrestling featuring five-minute rounds, with gimmick matches a rare occurrence. Tag wresting became popular, although Joint limited them to around eight per year to ensure they remained special The fact that wrestling was successful on television created opportunities for independent groups. A rival championship took the name the British Wrestling Federation, which was later built around a young man by the name of Shirley Crabtree. Crabtree parted ways with the Federation a few years later as he realised that the Joint cartel aside, he wasn’t going to make a lot of money.