K is for Wrestling

No, I haven’t lost my grip on the alphabet. K for me will forever be associated with wrestling as I shall endeavor to explain.

The wrestling I enjoyed watching wasn’t the muscle-pumping, body-oiled, testosterone-fuelled entertainment industry of today. Mine came from a gentler time, although it bore many of the hallmarks of stage management that you see today.

It was in the 1960s when I was in my early teens and Saturday afternoon was spent with my nan watching ITV’s World of Sport on her black and white tv and the highlight for her was the wrestling from 4pm.

And that is where the letter K comes in. For a start, there was the regular commentator, Kent Walton, shown above. Many people thought he was Canadian because of his transatlantic accent, but in fact, he was born in Cairo, the son of the finance minister of the colonial government.

He was baptised Kenneth Walton Beckett and he grew up in Surrey where he went to the rather posh Charterhouse School. He acquired his accent during WWII when serving with Canadian airmen in the RAF.

Kent first became a wrestling commentator in 1955 and kept the job for 33 years. He was also a disc jockey on Radio Luxembourg and was the producer of several sexploitation films in the early 1970s, as revealed by the Man Alive documentary programme. That’s a poster for one of them on the right.

And if the commentator is one of my Ks, then so are many of the wrestlers themselves. Men like Johnny Kidd, Malcolm Kirk, George Kidd and Kendo Nagasaki.

But my nan’s favourite, and mine, was Yorkshireman, Les Kellett (left). He didn’t exactly look like the athletic type and spent a lot of time in the ring acting the fool, but he was highly regarded by his fellow professionals.

Kellett began his wrestling career in Manchester after being leaving the merchant navy and his antics made him very popular, particularly when he pretended to be punch-drunk and about to keel over just before turning the tables on his opponent.

He trained others to wrestle, including famous names such as Jimmy Savile and Harvey Smith. Kellett was also nominated for the Sports Personality of the Year award in the 1960s.

Fans of the ‘grappling game’ included the Queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother and Margaret Thatcher, but not Greg Dyke, then Head of Sport at ITV. He axed coverage of wrestling in 1988 and it hasn’t returned.

For those of you who enjoy your nostalgia, below is a film of a bout between Les Kellett and Johnny Czeslaw with Kent Walton commentating.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

7 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 28th March 2012

    Well, you KOVERED yourself with that K is for wrestling start. I watched it in the US briefly (wrestling, that is), but never really caught my imagination like boxing did. Even then, it seemed more real.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • scriptorsenex 28th March 2012

    I could never work out how serious a game / sport it was. So often they seemed to be play-acting but that didn’t stop it from being compulsive viewing.

  • Thicko Pudding 29th March 2012

    Wor-ar-ye-gowin-on-abaht? Tha’s not even mentioned the King of Wrestlers! MICK McMANUS! Okay, he was a Londoner but we’ve all got our bad points. He’s 84 years old now but I bet he could still put you in a headlock or maybe a painful full nelson! You deserve that for mowing your grass!

  • Mr Parrot 29th March 2012

    Sadly, Mick McManus doesn’t begin with K!

  • Thicko Pudding 29th March 2012

    Errr… so Jimmy Savile and Harvey Smith both begin with K’s? Surely they’d be Kimmy Savile and Karvey Smith or Jimmy Kavile and Harvey Kmith. You also didn’t mention Kackie Kallo.

  • Mr Parrot 29th March 2012

    They were both trained by Les Kellett, that’s why. And Jimmy Savile was Knighted.

  • Trevor Rowley 30th March 2012

    The wrestling boom on UK TV seemed to take us all by storm in the 60s although it had been around and was extremely popular before and after the last war ( of course without the TV). There always seemed to be a liking for foreign wrestlers, hence an influx of east Europeans and Africans – some were real and some were less so. Those like Billy Two Rivers (a Canadian Mohawk) were the “real deal” and I suspect Tibor Szakacs and Johnny Czeslow were as well. However, Dwight J Ingleburgh (“The American Grappler from New Jersey”) was obviously fake as he was really Barnsley-born Brian Betts. The sinister Kendo Nagasaki (he of the permanent Japanese martial arts mask) had the wrestling world enthralled for years by saying that he would only allow his mask to be removed once he had been defeated.When, eventually, he was unmasked (in Wolverhampton of all places) it was revealed that he was really a Mr Thornley from Stoke-on-Trent.

    My local cinema (Mr Parrot will no doubt recall this one) was the Princess in Dukinfield which ceased to function as cinema in 1960. They then flirted with bingo and then incorporated some wrestling. One week the poster went up for the visit of Ivor Penzicof. Two weeks after that visit he was back again but this time the poster was for “Igor Pentikos.” I wasn’t quite sure how seriously to take this especially when he popped up some time after that as Ivan Penzecoff (“The Wrestling Latvian”) who by then was living in Bolton.

    My two favourites were a couple of real bad boys – “Big” Bruno Elrington and Pat “Bomber” Roach (who went on to find fame in the popular TV series, “Auf Wiedersehen Pet”). Despite being heavyweights, each was a proficient wrestler who thought nothing of regularly flaunting the rules.


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