Jackie Pallo

Pantomime baddie of wrestling

Jack Ernest Gutteridge (Jackie Pallo), wrestler: born London 12 January 1926; married Trixie Wilson (one son); died Ramsgate, Kent 11 February 2006.

Jackie Pallo died a thousand deaths in his villainous career, and all but the last were for the benefit of a braying public. Pallo understood as well as anyone that wrestling was an entertainment best served loud and obvious, and he was one of the most skilful and reviled in the business. In his heyday, no one made people madder.

Pallo specialised in the back-breaker, a submission move that invariably had his opponent writhing in agony; its instigator later revealed it to be no more painful than a child's kiss. For Pallo's other trademark was revelation, and 20 years ago his tell-all memoir You Grunt, I'll Groan (1985) delivered the last rites to a magical passing world. Everything in wrestling was bent, he said. If his career as a fighter and would-be promoter wasn't over before, it was certainly finished on publication day.

He was born Jack Gutteridge in 1926 in Islington, north London, above the boxing gym managed by his father. He was an amateur boxer and a useful garage mechanic (he once built his own car), and he became a professional wrestler at 26. Pallo was the name of a brother-in-law, and Jackie thought it provided a certain flair.

To the name he added striped trunks, golden bouffant locks tied in a ponytail, and the extreme schtick of the pantomime baddie. He was expert in doing awful things behind the referee's back, and in inciting the crowd to indignant fury (his worst injuries were usually hatpin indentations and handbag bruises incurred as he exited the ring). His battles with Mick McManus in the 1960s filled the Royal Albert Hall, and drew millions to ITV's World of Sport on Saturday afternoons, and his abilities as an actor earned him spots on Emergency Ward 10 and The Avengers (as a gravedigger who wrestled Honor Blackman). He was an old-fashioned entertainer, and seldom a modest one.

A few years ago I spent a wonderful but complicated afternoon with him and his son Jackie Junior (JJ). He picked me up at Ramsgate station in his Saab, and I told him that I drove the same model. "Simon," he said in a measured tone, "I have lots of Saabs." This turned out to be true. There were eight or nine Saabs parked in the undergrowth by his house, each with a different level of rust. He couldn't bear to part with them.

As his wife Trixie prepared tea, I noticed a huge hole in his garden, the result of an ambitious, incomplete DIY pool-building programme. Pallo senior told me he had been ill with flu. "Also, we got the wrong bloody tiles."

The pair then explained why wrestling had died in Britain - too many fat men, not enough "dolly fellas" like them. Pallo senior said that even at his peak, say at a televised bout attended by the Duke of Edinburgh, he earned no more than £80 a fight, and it was usually much less. But, without Pallo, we might never have learnt of the Boston Crab or flying head-scissors at all; it was Pallo who had sat beside the inexperienced commentator Kent Walton during the earliest television broadcasts of wrestling in the 1950s, instructing him on the names of the moves and inventing some of his own.

Despite the match-fixing, Pallo said, much of the pain was real, and only hard men survived the gruelling schedules. JJ had followed his father into the ring, and for a while they fought as a tag-team; both of them hobbled round their garden with inflamed joints. They spoke about the "heat" they generated in their best fights. "It was nice in those days to think people came just to boo you," Jackie Senior reasoned.

Towards the close of his life, Pallo felt nothing as much as a sense of betrayal. For several years he tried to promote bouts by himself. A rival once took him to dinner and told him he didn't have a chance as a promoter. "Well, buy me out," Pallo suggested. "No," his rival replied, "we're going to destroy you."

Many of Pallo's fellow wrestlers had harsh words for him while he was alive, although most of their stories were tinged with delight. Adrian Street, who rose to fame by playing a mincing queen in the ring, was convinced that Pallo only made it because he once mistimed a dropkick during an early televised contest, his legs flying either side of a corner post. "He mashed his Christmas crackers," Street recalled. "Nobody had ever seen that on television before."

Pallo claimed everyone was just jealous. He said that no one inspired so many letters of complaint to a television station for violent behaviour. "I have that sort of razzmatazz," he told me. "When I walk into a gents' toilet, everybody turns round and looks."

On the morning his death from cancer was announced I happened to be in a photographer's studio with Dickie Davies, the former host of World of Sport. Davies had already heard the news. "It's the only time he's not faking it," he said.

Simon Garfield

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam