Monday, February 14, 2011

Big Daddy

Shirley Crabtree, Jr, better known as Big Daddy (14 November 1930 - 2 December 1997) was a British professional wrestler famous for his record-breaking 64 inch chest ( which was at one point listed in the Guiness book of Records ). Known for wearing his various Big Daddy leotards, Crabtree's original one was emblazoned with just a large "D" and was fashioned by his wife Eunice from their chintz sofa.

Crabtree, was a Rugby League player before deciding to follow in his father's footsteps, and become a professional wrestler. He became a big hit in the late 1950s and early 1960s with heel gimmicks, calling himself The Blonde Adonis, Mr. Universe and The Battling Guardsman. Crabtree won two titles in the British Wrestling Federation before he quit out of frustration and retired for roughly 15 years.
With the rising popularity of the spectacle on television (World of Sport on ITV), Shirley's brother, Max, one of the most powerful wrestling promoters in British history, brought Shirley back to wrestling with Joint Promotions under the persona he would best be remembered for.
Based originally on the character of the same name played by actor Burl Ives in the 1958 screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Big Daddy was first given life by Crabtree in the later 1970s, initially playing the bad guy. On 24 April 1976, he teamed up with Giant Haystacks, vs Steve Veidor and Tibor Szakacs (the good guys), for a tag team bout, but laterly played the good guy. A firm fan favorite, Big Daddy came to the ring in his signature Union Flag jacket and top hat to a theme tune in the form of "We Shall Not Be Moved" by The Seekers, in 1980 Shirley Crabtree recorded his own version on EMI Records backed by rock guitarist Legendary Lonnie. As Big Daddy, Crabtree would often team with many rising stars within the country including Sammy Lee ( the original Tiger Mask - Satoru Sayama ), Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith, and Steven ( William ) Regal.
Though Big Daddy's weight and age precluded many more novel wrestling moves; making him a frequent user of many generic wrestling throws, body slams, etc. he would be met by cheers whenever he wrestled. Big Daddy's more famous attacks would involve his large abdomen to great effect often using "Belly-Butts" (thrusting his pelvis forward to slam his belly into an oncoming opponent) before finishing off opponents with his "belly-splash" in which he jumped vertically down onto the body of a fallen opponent. These more memorable moves in Daddy's arsenal were often met with chants of "Easy, Easy" and "Who's the Daddy" from the crowd. Even then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was said to be a fan of Big Daddy. Tho the rumours of her belly-butting other ministers in cabinet are as-yet unfounded.
In 1982 ITV planned to build a children's TV programme around Big Daddy as a replacement for the popular Tiswas. A pilot for "Big Daddy's Saturday Show" was shot and a series announced but Crabtree pulled out at the last moment, leaving the hastily-renamed "The Saturday Show" presented by Isla St Clair and Tommy Boyd. Big Daddy also appeared as the lead feature in a comic strip in the British children's comic Buster, and appeared on at least two occasions in the wonderful British comic sports strip Johnny Cougar, which ran in Tiger ( and later, for a time in the 90s, in his own monthly comic ). Daddy even had his own annual for a couple of years in the eighties.

In August 1987, Big Daddy bowed out of the professional wrestling spotlight after a turn of events during the final moments of the match against Mal "King Kong" Kirk. After Big Daddy had delivered his belly-splash, rather than selling the impact of the finishing move, Kirk turned an un healthy colour and was rushed to a nearby hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival. Despite the fact that the inquest into Kirk's death found that he had a serious heart condition and cleared Crabtree of any responsibility, Crabtree was devastated and nevertheless blamed himself for Kirk's death. He continued to make sporadic appearances into the early 90s, but eventually retired from wrestling to spend the remainder of his days in his hometown of Halifax.

Let me go on record here, for the first time and say "I am a fan". There's a lot of nay-sayers who credit Big Daddy for the downfall of UK wrestling, and many who put his look and lack of ability as the reason that it was dropped from tv. But you know what, in watching his matches back even now, they are fun. Sure, they are generally more "sports entertainment" than wrestling... but the crowd eats them up each and every time. Every guy at the top has people trying to drag him down, but as a fan... I can say there will only ever be one BIG DADDY!

* For further information on the British Wrestling scene, and just a damn fine read, you should all go find a copy of Simon Garfield's "The Wrestling". Easily one of the best books I've ever read on pro-wrestling bar none.

1 comment:

G.C. said...

I'm not really up on the British scene, but this is a good site for pro wrestling rumors, and I remember Big Daddy. Good info on the book about more Brit wrestling, too.