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2017 Reunion

Like most people, I remember parts of my childhood quite vivdly. Parents and teachers often told me, the years pass faster as you grow older. I never believed them. I do now. It was the 1970's, and when I think long and hard enough, the memories from those care-free, halcyon days come flooding back. The popular bike of the time was the Raleigh Chopper: small tyre at the front, large at the back, three gears. Mine was purple, which was probably the psychedelic colour of the year.

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In 1975, Sir Clive Sinclair launched the Sinclair Black Prince watch, which had two black panels: pressing one obtained the time and date, resulting in a red LED display. The other was for show. It was groundbreaking. It went through a pair of batteries in less than a month.

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The Merseybeat sounds of the sixties faded as the seventies disco scene took over, producing unforgettable hits: Abba's Dancing Queen, Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive , which has done for many a budding serial song murderer on the karaoki scene: and that legendary track by the Bee Gees, Stayin' Alive, featured in the film, Saturday Night Fever. Jump suits, hot pants and flared trousers dominated the fashion. Everyone remembers some of the programs: Happy Days with the Fonz; MASH with Hawkeye, and Charlie's Angels – who could forget those three?

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But I'm sure I'd be right in stating that everyone remembered one program from that period: ITV's World of Sport wrestling, which was either loved or hated. There were no in-betweens. For me, once having been bitten by the bug, my life had been taken over. Having passed my driving test I put thousands of miles a year on my late father's car, traveling up and down the East Coast – the favourite haunt being The Spa at Bridlington every Monday night. It's nearly thirty years since it left the TV screens, but the memories live on.

Sunday, August 13th 2017 saw the annual British Wrestlers Reunion. It didn't feel like five minutes since the last one – proving what people used to say. A day when old friends and arch enemies of the canvas reunite to reminisce about a bygone era that we officially class as the good old days. We didn't have mobile phones, computers, Ipads, or hybrid cars, and the word Brexit hadn’t been invented. For everyone attending, the mood is upbeat. Whatever problems we have now are forgotten for the day. Wrestlers greet each other not with a forearm smash but a handshake, a bear hug and a smile, as do the fans. As the eleven o'clock bell strikes, the reunion starts. Many of yesterday's legends appeared, amongst them, Mark 'Rollerball' Rocco, Blondie Barrett, Keith Myatt, Steve Grey, Johnny Saint, Johnny Kincaid, Wayne Bridges, Tony 'Banger' Walsh, Pete Roberts, Brian 'Goldbelt' Maxine, 'Bulldog' Colin Joynson, Roy St. Clair, Alan Kilby and many more so apologies if I have not mentioned your name here. This year also saw the Reunion President, Joe D'Orazio make an appearance something that pleased everyone who was there.

Sadly, the first thing on the agenda every year, are the obituaries (followed by the Ten Bell Count), a time to reflect on the ring mat warriors that have passed over to the dressing room in the sky. As the years roll by the list appears to grow longer. 2016 – 2017 was no exception, and it fell to Colin Joynson to read through and relate his fond memories. We lost the likes of Tony Cassio, Gerry Diprose, Bob Bell, Keith Martinelli and Tony Francis: John 'Killer' Kowalski, Jumping Jim Mosa, Charlie Cornish whose name may not be familiar although his face definitely would be as a second for Dale Martin Promotions for 30 years and Tina D'Orazio, wife of Joe. 'Tiger' Joe Robinson, a wrestler who once made a fleeting appearance in the film, A Kid For Two Farthings. A shock to most of us was the loss of perhaps one of the biggest names in the business, Vic Faulkner.

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Vic's professional wrestling career started at the age of 17 where he travelled the world extensively, wrestling in Africa, Italy, Kenya and France to name but a few. The experience he picked up proved invaluable and in 1966, he became European Middleweight Champion, a title he held until 1973: the same year he won the British Welterweight Wrestling belt, which he held until 1977. Vic was also one half of the successful tag team known as The Royal Brothers throughout the 60's and 70's, performing in many famous venues including The Royal Albert Hall, The Liverpool Palace, and Bolton's Wryton Stadium – local territory to them. During that time period, rather surprisingly, they found themselves as major TV stars, because of that famous Saturday afternoon TV slot, when everything in the UK stopped at four o'clock. At its height, British Wrestling attracted more viewers than the Manchester based soap, Coronation Street. Following his retirement in the early eighties, Faulkner worked for Thwaites Brewery in Blackburn. For me, he will always be remembered as the man with a smile on his face, because I simply cannot recall a time when I saw him with any other expression. Vic's passing is a sad loss for the world of professional wrestling.

Awards play a big part in the reunion ceremony, a time to pay tribute to the outstanding sportsmen and women in their field. 2017 was the first year that I can remember a Superfan award was presented, which went to Ben Roberts. Nina Samuels picked up The Young Wrestler of the Year Award: Ring of Friendship Awards went to Sarah Bridges and Steve Hannam and Roger L. Sandiland the Lifetime Achievement Award. Two names were awarded for their Services to Wrestling: referee legend, Bobby Stafford and Scottish grappler Jim Starsky. Wrestler of the Year was presented to Joe Hendry and he paid tributes and thanks to the big names before him, paving the way, making his favoured lifestyle possible. Finally, the big one, The Legends Hall of Fame went to wrestler's Keith Myatt (presented by Blondie Barrett), Alan Kilby (presented by Mark 'Rollerball' Rocco), Jumping Jim Mosa,(accepted by Johnny Kincaid), Tug Holton (accepted by Tom Tyrone and presented by Roy St Clair), Blondie Barrett (presented by Lloyd Ryan), Tony 'Banger' Walsh,(presented by Jeanie Clarke) and finally British Lightweight Champion, Steve Grey, presented by another renowned name of the sport, Johnny Kidd.

One thing that keeps me returning every year is not simply the chance to meet with old friends but living in anticipation of learning something new. And I do. When the wrestling finished on ITV the impact was colossal, not only for the fans but for the wrestlers themselves. What Greg Dyke had effectively done was threaten their livelihoods. Due to TV, wrestlers earned a comfortable living in near sold-out venues up and down the country every night of the week. Suddenly they had to find another way to keep the wolf from the door. Most turned to acting. Amongst them, Giant Haystacks, who appeared in a number of films, one of which was alongside ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney in Give My Regards To Broad Street. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Haystacks had also recorded a record, a country number called Baby I Need You. I've never heard it but I have now seen it, thanks to one enthusiastic fan and his memorabilia collection. Haystacks also appeared in the Granada production of Send In The Girls , written by Brian Glover, alongside the likes of Jim Breaks, Tony 'Banger' Walsh and Kendo Nagasaki. Brian 'Goldbelt' Maxine also stretched his vocal chords instead of his biceps with country songs, and could often be seen promoting himself in the ring. Mick McManus delved into the world of antiques.

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And talking of films, something else that stood the 2017 reunion apart from previous years was a professional film crew, RSA Black Dog Films. Jake Scott is an English film director, who formed Black Dog in 1991. Due to his love of music videos, he now represents some of the most creative and established directors in both the UK and the USA, producing for a variety of artists including Madonna, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, The Rolling Stones, Soundgarden, Tori Amos, Radiohead, Lily Allen, Oasis, R.E.M., U2, and the late George Michael. Jake has two feature films to his credit, Plunkett & Macleane (1999) and Welcome to the Rileys (2010), and is the son of the legendary producer/director, Ridley Scott, whose films include Hannibal, starring the oscar-winning actor, Anthony Hopkins, A Good Year with Russell Crowe, and the blockbuster of the 70's, Alien, starring the late John Hurt and Sigourney Weaver. RSA had two cameras at the event: a fixed one inside The Bridges interviewing the former wrestlers, and a roving camera outside talking to the fans. The end result will be a professional DVD that the British Wrestlers Reunion can sell to raise proceeds.

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On a closing note I would like to thank everyone connected to the reunion for a fabulous day, in particular, Ken Sowden. It can't have been easy stepping into the shoes of the legendary MC, Frank Rimer but he did, and he did it successfully. It’s very easy to take for granted everything you see, hear and feel on the day, and if it all goes without a hitch, it's a testament to the people behind the scenes who work tirelessly and for free because they love the job, and their close colleagues involved with it. A special thank you goes to hosts, Wayne and Sarah Bridges. But also in finishing I think it's worth sending out a message to the new blood of the industry to please come and support what the BWR does, because without you, they will find it hard to continue. The legends will not last forever. Please don't let British wrestling fade into obscurity like the TV did.

Ray Clark 2017