Mick McManus: Wrestler who revelled in his status as the man the British public loved to hate

 

Mick McManus was one of the greatest British wrestlers. An enormously popular figure who delighted in the nicknames of "The Man You Love to Hate" and "The Dulwich Destroyer", he was renowned for pushing the rules of the sport to their limits and for deliberately turning the crowds against him for theatrical effect.

From the 1960s to the mid-'80s wrestling had a regular 40-minute Saturday afternoon slot on ITV's World of Sport just before the football results. Wrestling fans could watch bouts involving a host of theatrical characters who had, through their antics, become stars of the small screen, showmen such as McManus's great rival Jackie Pallo, as well as Giant Haystacks (Martin Ruane), Catweazle (Gary Cooper), Big Daddy (Shirley Crabtree), Kendo Nagasaki (Peter Thornley) and, of course, McManus himself.

At 5ft 6in and 12 and a half stone, in his trademark black trunks and short-cropped black hair with widow's peak, he was instantly recognisable in or out of the ring. His catchphrase, uttered to his rivals in the ring, was "Not the ears, not the ears", a plea to avoid his "cauliflower" ears.

"Mick McManus was a household name" said Brian Elliott, editor of Fighting Spirit magazine. "That term, much like 'legend', has been overused greatly, but McManus is a true example of both, in the days where millions of people gathered around their televisions every Saturday afternoon. To wrestling fans, McManus was an icon. To the average TV viewer, he was a star."

He was born William Matthews in 1928 in New Cross, London. He started wrestling in 1947 at the John Ruskin Amateur Wrestling Club, where he encountered his soon-to-be rival Eddie Capelli. He won his first title two years later, defeating Capelli to win the British welterweight championship.

By the late 1960s he had moved up to middleweight and in November 1967 he took the British championship from Clayton Thomson. In June the following year he won the European middleweight championship, beating Vic Faulkner. After losing to Faulkner a few months later he regained the title in 1971 and held on to it for the next seven years.

With the advent of regular TV wrestling McManus became a star, a result of his serious take on the sport and his carefully crafted hard-man image. But behind the tough exterior McManus remained a gentleman, as his fellow wrestler Johnny Kincaid recalled, speaking about his first televised match against McManus, in October 1969: "I had wrestled with McManus only once before at the Granada, Tooting, and as I remember it was one hell of a fight. I was beaten as expected, but he came to me afterwards and said I was better than he expected and thanked me for a good match."

He said of this time, during the peak of his television fame, "I used to love the crowds, especially the way I'd wrestle. I used to get a kick out of manipulating the hordes. I'm not being big-headed, but I could really bring them up and down and drive them mad and then tone them right down, keep them quiet and sort of wrestle sometimes, not doing anything particularly bad, just wrestle nicely and it was like waiting for the other boot to drop. They never knew when I was going to start doing something which I shouldn't do, something which they didn't like, something which they could scream and shout at."

Introducing the video of a 1975 televised bout between McManus and Catweazle, the World of Sport presenter Dickie Davies commented: "If Jackie Pallo was the glamour boy, the original hard man was surely Mick McManus, Pallo's arch-rival. Introduced on one occasion to Princess Anne, McManus could only submit in silence when Her Royal Highness quipped 'I didn't recognise you with your clothes on'."

McManus collaborated with Charles Arnold on The Mick McManus Wrestling Book (1970), a guide to the sport. On retirement he remained active in wrestling as a promoter and worked for a period with ITV in an advisory role. Last year the Wrestling Observer Newsletter inducted him into its Hall of Fame.

In the book Sportsviewers Guide – Wrestling (1983) by Peter Bills, McManus said of his career in the sport: "I owe wrestling a great deal – it has given me so much. I've met interesting people, travelled the world and enjoy a good lifestyle through the sport."

Frank Rimer, who organises the annual British Wrestlers Reunion, commented that "Mick never recovered from the loss of his beloved wife Barbara and lost the will to live, despite the loving care of the nurses at the celebrity home for retired actors, Brinsworth House, where he lived out his final days. Even the arrival of his old friend Lord Richard Attenborough recently failed to lift his spirits, refusing all food and drink until he quietly slipped into a coma three days ago.

"Mick was without doubt, through his own efforts, the greatest wrestling name that the UK has ever seen or will see again, and even 25 years after his retirement, he retained his aura of stardom until the end."

Marcus Williamson

William George Matthews (Mick McManus), wrestler: born New Cross, London 11 January 1920; married Barbara; died Twickenham, London 22 May 2013.

Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
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 General

Administrative Assistant

£60 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Administrative Assitant Hertford...

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary History Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Geography Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
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