Men in Suits - The Story of British Wrestling Promoters Part 1: Organising Chaos
In the 1960s British professional wrestling was a credible rival to professional boxing for the position of Britain's most popular combat sport. Dozens of wrestling tournaments were held every night of the week, (with a handful on Sunday), whilst boxing in the doldrums struggled to put on a couple of shows a night.
The similarities were apparent. Both were combat sports, millions of fans believed both were competitive, contests were split into rounds, combatants were introduced by a Master of Ceremony wearing a dinner jacket, and referees were smartly dressed, usually in white shirts. The pedigree of the two sports were linked; combined professional wrestling and boxing shows had taken place in the early 1930s under the auspices of the British Boxing Board of Control.
It was all very respectable. Wrestling was the sort of place you could take your grandmother or aunt. Chances are that grandmother or aunt would not be quite so respectable and may well have been prone to threatening the wrestlers with her handbag, umbrella or any other inanimate object that may have been close to hand.
All this respectability was presided over by the governing bodies, the British Boxing Board of control for the boxers and Joint Promotions for the wrestlers.
Or so Joint Promotions would have the enthusiasts believe.
Not all boxing came under the control of the BBBC. There always was, and still are, boxing shows operating outside the jurisdiction of the BBBC. These contests, though, receive little publicity and mostly go unnoticed by the general public.
It was a very different case with wrestling, whatever Joint Promotions would have us believe. Formed in 1952 Joint Promotions was a syndicate of a handful of promoters based around the country. When they formed their alliance they left out in the cold many other promoters who were not invited to the party. These promoters are commonly known as the independent or opposition promoters.
Working co-operatively, being highly professional, promoting consistently good quality shows and winning a lucrative television contract gave Joint Promotions a much higher profile than any of the independent, or opposition promoters. Profile aside, however, there were many reliable independent promoters and, although statistics do not exist, it seems quite credible that on any one night the independent shows presented would outnumber the Joint Promotion shows. In London and the urban conurbations of northern England it was not unknown for independent wrestlers to work two, even three tournaments in one night.
Whatever Joint Promotions slick publicity machinery would have had the public believe they were never a Governing Body. Joint Promotions was a collection of promoters who became all powerful by using their collective force to create a stranglehold over all those who worked for them.
In this series "Men In Suits" Wrestling Heritage will celebrate those people, be they Joint Promotion or opposition promoters, that not only had the vision to create and develop the professional wrestling business from the 1930s up to the 1980s but also had the courage to invest their own money and time organising the chaos.