Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fair wrestling...

There are two posters in most of the Morley shops at the moment. The first one is for the Valentine's Fair which happens this time of the year and goes from strength to strength. We had a quick look on Saturday afternoon & there are two monster rides there, a giant mouse type roller coaster and a wild river rapids, remarkable for a touring fair, at least in Britain. There were also old favourites from my childhood Hoppings like the Outer Limits (that involves an egress on a conveyor belt) and the Rotor, when you are spun round and stick to the wall. David tried that and didn't really like it as it made him very dizzy, not knowing what to expect. We also went on something called the toboggan, you are shoehorned into the car which rises vertically up a shaft then careers round the outside in tight spirals topped off with a dip & some bunny hops.

David also wanted to do a couple of boot shaped fun houses but having taken him in when he was pre-school, they are a waste of money. We let him go on the triple decker fun house though, as well as an old fashioned simulator shaped like a rocket which bucks & rurns a bit but not like the modern ones on hydraulics. This was a long tube with a screen at the front, this type used to use film projectors but this one had been upgraded to an LCD projector, which unfortunately did not have a rear projection mode so the writing was back to front! (The movement was correct though, otherwise it would have been very disturbing...)

The other forthcoming event is American Wrestling at the Leisure Centre. I well remember Saturday afternoon UK style wrestling on ITV in my youth, with the famous names like Jackie Pallo, Giant Haystacks, Mick McManus, Big Daddy and my own favourite, Les Kellett. The latter used to act all groggy & disoriented, letting some up & coming young Turk think they had the upper hand. then, lulling them into a sense of false security, it would be a last minute double fall or even submission so that he would win again.

As it happens, my first "paid" gig at the City Hall in Newcastle was wrestling. I had visited that morning to suss out the lighting rig for our forthcoming school prizegiving and the Stage Manager was happy to let me help him rig the traditional boxing ring light & stay on for the show. (I wasn't paid but i got in for free- my first real paid gig was for the Sensational Alex harvey Band a few weeks later when I humped gear and also worked one of the CSI follow-spots.)

Wrestling was a fairly regular occasion in the City hall over the next couple of years & I was on friendly terms with the promoter, one Brian Crabtree(right in photo). Brian was the brother of Big Daddy, who had the rather unlikely name of Shirley Crabtree. The wrestling was never televised from Newcastle, apparently Tyne Tees TV didn't have enough OB gear to do both the horse racing at Gosforth Park and a wrestling event so it ws held in the evening. It was never packed out but generally attracted several hundred and the bar did good business as well!

When it was in the city Hall, the ring was placed in the stalls (over the seats, we took a couple of backs off but left the rest in-situ) and punters could choose to sit on the Stage Choir Stalls if they chose. There were a couple of old grannies who were regulars, could swear like troopers and sometimes gave wrestlers a right good handbagging if they worked themselves up into a frenzy!

Was it fixed? I'd have to say yes, and no. The wrestlers certainly played to the crowd and made sure the punters got their money's worth, it was certainly show business but not scripted like the American WWF obviosly is. I can recall one wrestler getting properly hurt on one occasion- he misjudged his positioning slightly and caught the top rope right across his windpipe. He immediately went down on his back and started gargling & choking and the ref and his opponent immediately realised this was for real and stopped the fight. Fighting must have hurt- that ring was just a few pieces of canvas over hard wooden boards and if you were unlucky enough to catch the rope hooks with the guard pad out of the way (as tag teams frequently moved it when the ref wasn't looking) it could be very unpleasant indeed. If you fell out of the ring in Newcastle to the sides you had a good chance of landing on seat backs and breaking ribs.

The Movie Rollerball was released in 1975 during my tenure in Newcastle and it struck me that there was a connection- Wrestling did serve a social purpose, it vented anger in a harmless manner without having to hate anyone for real, unlike joining a political party!

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