Sport on TV: How the daddy of screen personalities lost his grip

Tonight's BBC Sports Personality of the Year award may never have had a more accomplished list of contenders and yet, Wiggo's sideburns aside, how many of these brilliant performers actually have a personality?

Then there's the opposite end of the scale. When Wrestling was Golden (BBC4, Thursday), subtitled "Grapples, Grunts and Grannies", told the story of a sport in which success was secondary to showmanship. When it was on TV every Saturday afternoon it was all about the cult of personality. The best fighters didn't always get on the box and just faded away – unlikely though that may seem in the more heavyweight cases.

We know far too much about the excesses of TV stardom in that decade, but few personalities were bigger, in every sense, than Shirley Crabtree, aka Big Daddy. He never won the SPOTY award, though, and anyway he wasn't that good at wrestling. A few "belly butts" does not make a wrestler, and his contests with Giant Haystacks were actually the nadir of the sport as well as the peak of its pulling power. The Wembley showdown of 1981 lasted a mere two minutes 50 seconds, and public disaffection for this pantomime was not far behind. It wasn't just the giant tummies that were being rumbled.

Yet wrestling had always been a performance more than a sport. "It was incredible theatre," said artist Sir Peter Blake, an aficionado of the grappling game. With its "blue eyes" heroes and "heel" villains, its choreography and fixed results, it was a case of suspending disbelief – though if the vicious reactions of the crowd were anything to go by, the "grannies" at ringside were taking it very seriously indeed. Some stubbed cigarettes out on the fighters' backs as they went past. All that was missing was the knitting and the guillotine.

Before Big Daddy there had been skill aplenty, and to get the fix just right you had to be good at what you did. But some just never knew when to let go, so to speak. Take Kendo Nagasaki, the Samurai warrior who still wears his mask today. In the interview he didn't speak; "his answers are spoken through his spiritual advocate", a lady called Atlantis Chronos Goth. "He has gone through past-life regression," ACG told us, which sounds as painful as Nagasaki's infamous "kamikaze crunch".

There is still residual bitterness over the axing of TV wrestling by Greg Dyke after 33 years. The final blow came towards the end of the Eighties, and many believe its working-class image did not suit the yuppie culture of the time. But wrestling was still as huge as Haystacks. They should have stuck the yuppies in the ring. Someone could have inflicted a "credit crunch" on them there and then, and saved us a lot of trouble later.

* Giant-killing might have got Haystacks a little worried, but former Bradford Northern rugby league player Big Daddy would have enjoyed Bradford City's victory over Arsenal (Sky Sports 1, Tuesday). Like wrestling, it was David versus Goliath, except you couldn't foretell the result.

Ben Shephard was beside himself with excitement in the studio as he described "a thrilling night of cap uction". Ouch, that sounds like a particularly unpleasant grappling manoeuvre.

Suggested Topics
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
JJ Abrams' seventh Star Wars, The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of Episode VII has gone online after weeks of anticipation
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Opilio Recruitment: Business Development Manager

Competitive: Opilio Recruitment: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a Bu...

Opilio Recruitment: Technical Recruiter

£35k - 42k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting oppo...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Support Analyst

£30k - 36k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Langley James : Field Support Engineer; Dynamics, SQL; Manchester, £33k+Car

£33000 - £36000 per annum + Car+Laptop+Phone: Langley James : Field Support En...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game