Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"We are unusual men
Though we walk with you
We don't think like you
We are not like you
We see with unusual eyes
We have unusual minds
We wear one-piece suits
We are not you."
Song lyrics from We Are Unusual Men, taken from Nine And A Half Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s & Early 1980s by Luke Haines.
Wrestling. For people of a certain generation like myself, Saturday morning television consisted of Tiswas and repeats of the classic Adam West Batman, but Saturday afternoon, well, there was only one thing you wanted to watch during the Dickie-Davies-presented World Of Sport marathon, and that was the wrestling. It's hard to comprehend now, the cultural sway this pastime held over vast swathes of the nation, young and old alike, at the time. With colourful characters like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Rollerball Rocco and Kendo Nagasaki, it was a glimpse into a strange world of feuds, grudges and vendettas, that could only be settled honourably, or with a bit of judicious bending of the rules, inside the ring. The villains like Rocco always tried to cheat, mind you, but ninety percent or so of the time, the good guys would win out. And if not, well, there was always the inevitable rematch to settle the score.
Of course, we all believed it was completely real... Everyone - sensible, right minded adults, not just the kids - truly believed that someone could actually survive an Atomic Splash whereby a thirty-stone plus man would just drop his full bodily weight directly upon you whilst you were lying prone upon the ground.
Then, someone, the Daily Mail I think (always the Daily Mail...) ran a huge exposé proving it was all a big act, that the matches were in fact fixed, the opponents <gasp> colluding with each other, and somehow it just all seemed somewhat tawdry after that. Actually, I think the nation's youth became ensconced in the rather more stimulating delights of the ZX Spectrum 48K, Commodore 64, BBC Microcomputer et al, but that's a different story. But, coinciding with it disappearing off television in some sort of rights dispute, well, it gradually drifted from the UK public consciousness entirely.
Meanwhile though, across the pond, the burgeoning US wrestling scene managed to somehow make the transition from illegitimate sporting event to legitimate entertainment spectacle and remain in the forefront of television programming. One of the main reasons for this was undoubtedly the man mountain known as Andre The Giant. I had vaguely heard of him, simply because I was aware that the boxer versus wrestler match between Rocky Balboa and Thunderlips (played by Hulk Hogan who until the Rock came along in latter years was probably the best known US wrestler in the UK simply by dint of this cameo) in Rocky 3 was based on just such a miss-matchup between Andre and a hapless stooge of a pugilist.
This, then, is the story of one of the most colourful characters in US wrestling history. Born in rural France with a genetic disorder that resulted in his freakish large stature at even an extremely young age, and ultimately led to his premature death, Andre was always marked out as different. Thus when the opportunity to take the road less travelled into the grappling business presented itself, he quite literally seized it with both hands. Box Brown presents a fascinating tale of a complex character, who knew he was doomed to live a shorter life than most, and perhaps thus decided it needed to be lived to the full. You can't say Andre was entirely a good man, he certainly had his demons and darker side, which came more to the fore particularly towards the end of his life, but he was always entertaining.
Whilst you might not be familiar with Andre, if like myself you think wistfully of the days of Kendo Nagasaki bashing Catweasel's brains in on the corner stanchion before tagging his tag team partner in to complete the demolition job, you'll get a flying dropkick out of seeing what was going at a comparable time on the other side of the Atlantic. Even without any great love of grappling it's a splendid biography of a world inhabited by, as Luke Haines would put it, unusual men, with unusual minds, who wear one-piece suits, and are not like you. Unless you're into cosplay that is I suppose...
It just goes to show how a biography written by a man with a passion for his topic is always going to engage the reader. Wonderfully illustrated, it really captures the incessant energy and rollercoaster emotions present throughout Andre's eventful life, from an early encounter as a youth with Samuel Beckett who encouraged him to spread his wings and live his dreams, through to the difficult days towards the end, when prolific drinking was his only solace from the extreme pain of his condition.
Box clearly has the sort of fondness for wrestling from this era that I do, and I seriously wonder if could interest him in doing a graphic biography on that most mysterious man of all, Kendo Nagasaki? I can still recall my jaw dropping during his ceremonial unmasking performed in front of literally millions of people on television, with his manager Gorgeous George dressed in some spangly garb more befitting a glam rock star, the two robed acolytes falling prostrate upon the canvas whilst Nagasaki plunged his samurai sword into the centre of the ring, before his mask was removed to reveal a rather striking man with a part shaven head, plaited pony tail and mystic symbol tattooed on the top of his head. Pure theatre, quite incredible stuff, and if you would like to see it for yourself, check it out HERE, because someone has managed to get hold of the original World Of Sport broadcast and get it up on Youtube! These days Kendo holds Buddhist retreats at his Wolverhampton mansion, claims to have remote healing powers, and errr... drives a banana yellow Lamborghini Countach... A most unusual man...