Obituary: Giant Haystacks

"I LIKE to drive wherever I can," Giant Haystacks once said. "The car is my thinking place - I work it all out there, away from the wife and children. I'm a total loner. I travel alone, I wrestle alone. I look after myself, I don't need friends. I could fly but I'm not comfortable on a plane. I always book the seats at the back of an aircraft, I ask them to keep one spare beside me. But I always end up next to one little old lady, smoking away, and then you get aggravation - `Aren't you this Giant fellow?' "

Weighing in at around 49 stones in his pomp, Martin Ruane could not deny he was that fellow, but it was a larger-than-life image he never found easy to deal with in the real world. It was not as easy as being Giant Haystacks in the make-believe world of all-in wrestling, where he would throw all-comers to the canvas before finishing them off with a hideous bellyflop as spectators and millions of television viewers gasped their disapproval.

In this pantomime act, Giant Haystacks was the one everyone loved to hate but, according to those who claimed to know him, Ruane was a kind, intelligent, deeply religious man devoted to his wife, Rita, whom he met as a teenager and with whom he brought up their three sons.

Ruane himself was born in London to Irish parents but grew up in Salford, near Manchester. After leaving St Thomas's School at the age of 14 - not long before reaching his full height of 6ft 11in - he worked in a timber factory and a tyre firm, drove heavy goods vehicles and, almost inevitably, was a nightclub bouncer before he drifted into the ring in his early twenties.

In Simon Garfield's recent book The Wrestling, Brian Dixon, a promoter, recalls:

We needed a giant. I gave him the name Haystack Colhoun - I'd seen the name in an American magazine. Then we came up with Haystacks. It seemed fitting at the time. People get sick of him but they still come and see him. He's such a huge man - people are mesmerised by him.

Garfield himself claimed that, of all the wrestlers he had interviewed, Giant Haystacks was the only one he ever felt scared of.

Big Daddy, who died a year ago, was the people's favourite in the Seventies and early Eighties when as many as 16 million viewers would tune in to wrestling on ITV's World of Sport on a Saturday afternoon. But no bout was ever quite the same if Giant Haystacks was not on the bill.

Even the Queen was apparently a great fan, as Richard Crossman recorded in his Diaries of a Cabinet Minister. In describing a Giant Haystacks match she had seen, Crossman said the Queen was "writhing herself, twisting and turning, completely relaxed. It was quite an eye-opener to see how she enjoyed it." Ruane himself was fond of talking about his friendship with Paul McCartney after the former Beatle had given Ruane a part in one of his films.

"He would sit with me on and off the set," Ruane said. "He used to watch the wrestling regularly. He came to see me many times when I wrestled in Sussex. He used to bring his son and when we were in London he would take my lad Martin into town playing the pinball machines."

Another of his favourite stories concerned Frank Sinatra. "I went to see him sing at the Albert Hall," Ruane explained. "Because I wrestled there many times I knew the way out under the stage. I passed him in the corridor, with his two bodyguards, and he said to me, `Mr Haystacks, I watched you on television this afternoon. I believe that British wrestlers are the best entertainers in the whole world.' We exchanged pleasantries and he gave me his autograph." Perhaps it should have been the other way round.

To those who know little of wrestling this might seem far-fetched, but in an arena where the disc jockey Jimmy Savile, the show-jumper Harvey Smith and the film star Burt Lancaster all found themselves at one time or another, nothing is quite as it seems. Even Sinatra once managed an American wrestler by the name of Sky High Lee.

When wrestling was finally axed from the ITV schedules 10 years ago, it effectively brought the curtain down on the careers of Giant Haystacks, Mick McManus, Big Daddy and the masked man, Kendo Nagasaki, whom Giant Haystacks once famously fought. "Nagasaki was my most formidable opponent," he later said. "A very good wrestler, an opponent to be in awe of."

Ruane never amassed a fortune. "At my peak, with all the huge expenses, I never cleared much more than pounds 600 a week," he said in an interview shortly before his death. He tried his hand as a debt collector back in Manchester and sold cars, but after an operation to help his knees carry the load he re-emerged in wrestling two years ago, as the Loch Ness Monster, on the other side of the Atlantic. Shortly afterwards, he contracted lymphoma.

Giant Haystacks won his fight with Kendo Nagasaki but was disqualified for tearing off Nagasaki's sacred mask, and while it is hard to paint an accurate picture of an essentially private man who, as Giant Haystacks, bestrode such a mysterious world, the impression remains that Ruane himself would have liked the chance to tear his own mask off from time to time. As it is, and to a whole generation, he was and always will be the one and only Giant Haystacks.

Martin Ruane ("Giant Hay-stacks"), wrestler: born London 10 October 1946; married 1965 Rita Boylan (three sons); died Prestwich, Greater Manchester 29 November 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tvReview: Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David performs in his play ‘Fish in the Dark'
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Jemima West in Channel 4's Indian Summers (Joss Barratt/Channel 4)
tvReview: More questions and plot twists keep viewers guessing
Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003