Hello Grapple Fans: When Giant Haystacks Visited Hyde Town Hall

East of the M60 on Saturday afternoon wrestling in Oldham and Tameside

In 1965, ITV launched a creditable rival to BBC’s Grandstand. Entitled World of Sport, its first programme was hosted by Eamonn Andrews. By the 1970s, it was famed for its horse racing coverage (The ITV Seven), esoteric sports and the dulcet tones of Dickie Davies. Besides being famed for the nasal tones of Raleigh Gilbert (sent up to good effect in LWT’s End of Part One) and log rolling, there was one major draw besides the football results.

Wrestling.

Immediately after the Half Time scores, some 15 million viewers would be sat at home, watching the likes of Giant Haystacks, Les Kellett and Big Daddy. The commentator, Kent Walton would introduce each bout with the immortal words “Hello Grapple Fans”. As well as the star appeal of Big Daddy, another part of its charm were the venues. Venues like Gravesend Leisure Centre, St. George’s Hall, Bradford, or Hyde Town Hall.

ITV Wrestling outlived World of Sport by three years, when ITV’s head of sport Greg Dyke scrapped the televised bouts in late-1988. It was deemed ‘downmarket’ and didn’t reflect the image ITV aspired to be at the time. From 1985 to 1988, it was moved from its original time slot to 1pm, immediately after Saint and Greavsie. In recent years, selected bouts have been repeated on the now defunct, Freesat and Sky Digital satellite channel The Wrestling Channel.

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ITV Wrestling Bouts in Oldham and Tameside

Please note that the dates pertain to the actual transmission dates on ITV. All dates in chronological order.

The Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham

Quite a number of bouts at the above venue were televised from 1979 to 1987. Both Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks have fought at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, though not against each other.

03 March 1979:

  • Lucky Gordon vs. Pete Ross;
  • Big Daddy and Bobby Ryan vs. King Kong Kirk and Judd Harris;
  • Brian Maxine vs. Ray Thunder.

19 December 1981:

  • Tiger Dalibar Singh vs. Bret Hart;
  • Dynamite Kid vs. Rollerball Rocco.

02 January 1982:

  • Giant Haystacks vs. Ray Steele;
  • Pat Roach vs. Wild Angus;
  • Pat Roach vs. Ray Steele;
  • Johnny Saint vs. Vic Faulkner.

12 March 1983:

  • King Kong Kirk vs. John Cox;
  • Alan Dennison vs. Jackie Turpin;
  • Dave Finlay vs. Ringo Rigby.

19 March 1983:

  • Vic Faulkner and John Savage vs. Pete La Paque and Tommy Lorne;
  • Giant Haystacks vs. Steve McCoy.

10 January 1987:

  • Dave Taylor vs. Ray Steele;
  • Marty Jones vs. Jean Pierre Auvert.

31 January 1987:

  • Tiger Dalibar Singh vs. John Raven;
  • Alan Kilby vs. Andy Blair.

Hyde Town Hall, Hyde

The main hall of Hyde’s Town Hall played host to Giant Haystacks once, on the 22 June 1985. As seen above, he beat his fellow Lancastrian rival Marty Jones.

15 June 1985:

  • Pete La Paque vs. Ron Marino;
  • Keith Haward vs. Lenny Hurst;
  • Greg Valentine and Danny Collins vs. Sid Cooper and Blackjack Mulligan.

22 June 1985:

  • Mike Bennett vs. Jackie Turpin;
  • Giant Haystacks vs. Marty Jones;
  • Dave Finlay vs. Clive Myers.

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By the time of the 03 March 1979 fixture at Queen Elizabeth Hall, ITV Wrestling’s popularity was in full swing. As an antithesis to Salford’s very own Giant Haystacks, Halifax’s very own Shirley Crabtree (under the alias of ‘Big Daddy’ since 1974) was popular with younger audiences. His appeal was down to a transformation as a ‘blue eye’ wrestler in 1977, a good guy. This led to some rivalry between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy, a feud which began on forming part of a heel tag team in 1975.

Had it not been for ill-health, Big Daddy would have presented Central Independent Television’s successor to TISWAS, known as The Saturday Show. Even so, he was still sought after for non-wrestling orientated television host as a guest. His one and only appearance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was as part of a tag team with Bobby Ryan against King Kong Kirk and Judd Harris.

On the 19 December 1981, Bret Hart fought against Tiger Dalibar Singh. At the time, he was managed by Stampede Wrestling, his father’s promotion agency. By the end of the 1980s, he established himself as Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart as a World Wrestling Foundation fighter. His high point with WWF was around the early 1990s before he defected to the WCW [World Championship Wrestling] in 1997.

Today, he is a semi-retired wrestler, having returned to WWF (sorry, WWE – World Wrestling Entertainment) in 2009. Other interests include writing and acting. All a far cry away from a cold Saturday in December 1981, in the centre of Oldham.

In 1982, Pat Roach was engaged in two bouts on the 02 January. This was not long after his supporting role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. For many, the late Mr Roach was better known as Bomber in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

Marty Jones, who fought against Giant Haystacks on the 22 June 1985, in Hyde Town Hall, is an Oldhamer by birth. He was active till 1996 and fought against a young Bret Hart in a semi final. He was also known as ‘El Olympico’.

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Seconds Out… Your Round

Did you go to the above fixtures between 1979 and 1987? Were you sat at home in amazement at the sight of Hyde Town Hall being seen in front of 12 million viewers? Did you ever wish to see Big Daddy or Giant Haystacks in the flesh? If there’s any gaps, feel free to suggest amendments and additions.

S.V., 03 March 2014.

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