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Making a case for Jackie Pallo to be a WO Hall of Famer

Jackie Pallo

By Bradley Craig for F4WOnline.com

To a generation of older Britons, he is one of two names that symbolise the heyday of British professional wrestling on television. Best remembered for his cocky heel persona, the star of ‘Mr TV’ Jackie Pallo transcended the industry and he became a bonafide celebrity in the United Kingdom, a household name of the highest order.

The apex of Pallo’s fame occurred on 25th May 1963, during his return contest with Mick McManus which immediately preceded the FA Cup Final (the culminating match of the most prestigious knockout soccer tournament in England). It was the second year in a row that the two rivals would be pitted against each other, during the most important date on the British television wrestling calendar.

There are reports that the 1963 rematch between McManus and Pallo drew 3 million more viewers than the Cup Final itself, at least on ITV, which aired the football in competition against national broadcasting giant BBC. Some claimants insist that the match attracted a total of 16 million viewers. Regardless of myths and legendary ratings, it is now accepted as a historical fact that this contest pulled the highest viewing figure of any bout in British wrestling history.

But it was this standing as a celebrity, and the power that went along with it, which made him a controversial figure within the industry. To some, the legacy of Jackie Pallo is that of a trailblazer. A huge pull at the box-office, he proved that the skillset of a pro wrestler could be transferred towards mainstream fame and create opportunities for a life beyond wrestling. To others, he was a reviled figure who chose to play by his own rules and challenged the structure of a closed-shop, monopoly business.

As a performer, Jackie Pallo was largely admired as an expert crowd manipulator, the supreme showman who mixed an arrogant personality with competent ring skills to become, arguably, the most hated heel in the history of British wrestling. Some of his contemporaries eschewed his fast-paced, bumping style for its lack of credibility. But, by adapting his skills to the tastes of the small screen audience, his legend grew. In a decade when the concept of fame was ever evolving, his larger-than-life antics positioned him as the first true television wrestling star in Great Britain.

When his career ended due to injury, Jackie Pallo once again made headlines. In 1985, as he accepted retirement from the ring following full hip-replacement surgery, his controversial autobiography You Grunt, I’ll Groan was released. As the title suggests, it was an expose that openly discussed the co-operative nature of professional wrestling matches and its backstage politics.

Pallo’s defence was that the industry he had loved, and helped grow, was no more. He claimed that the business had already been exposed by the barely-mobile, overweight few who were being positioned as its top stars to the point where suspension of disbelief was not possible. For him, it was no longer feasible to deny the truth, during a time where the viewership of professional wrestling had taken a tumble, a decline which eventually played a part in its cancellation.

But for some within the wrestling community, his honesty was an unforgivable sin.

It was this betrayal which fully earned Pallo the right to his greatest claim: he was the man they all loved to hate.

The historic significance of Jackie Pallo is undeniable. Amongst the generation that has followed in the years since his passing, his legend still evokes polarising opinion. It was a far cry from his humble beginnings.

EARLY LIFE

Pallo was born Jack Ernest Gutteridge on 12th January 1926, and grew up in a small apartment flat above a gym in Islington, a densely-populated district in London. His father, Jack, was a second-generation boxer who frequently taught classes at the gym along with his twin brother Dick. Although he had trained to box in his youth, ‘Jackie’, as he was known to his family, worked a series of manual jobs before he met a local girl, Trixie. Romance blossomed and the pair started dating.

The couple were engaged in 1943. It was actually this engagement which spurred him to become a wrestler. Finding insufficient income from his work as a mechanic, he would later claim that it was his ongoing inability to afford a wedding which led to him exploring the idea of life as a wrestler to supplement his living wage.

Like many pro wrestlers of the era, Gutteridge’s grappling beginnings were rooted in the fundamentals of the amateur game.

In 1949, he enrolled in training sessions held by George Mackenzie at the Ashdown Wrestling Club and Canonbury Towers. Mackenzie was a skilled shooter, who had previously taught unarmed combat to troops during the war, and he saw some potential in the young upstart. Gutteridge enjoyed early success in local bouts, but soon discovered there was little money to be made in the legit sport. He quickly decided that he wished to pursue a career in the pro ranks, much to the disappointment of his trainer, who considered him a sell-out, and to the embarrassment of his family, who had firmly established a reputation of credibility within the boxing community.

Having worked around the fight industry, they had an inclination of the ‘bent’ nature of the world that Jackie was hoping to enter. They insisted that he would have to change his name if he was ever going to compete in a professional wrestling match.

Travelling to Brixton, Gutteridge approached promoters Jack Dale and Les Martin to seek out any opportunities that might be available. A short try-out opposite veteran grappler Pat Cloak resulted in Gutteridge being ruthlessly scurfed (an old British term for roughed up), but capitalising on his keen demeanour, Jackie was offered the chance to have a role within Dale-Martin Promotions as a ‘second’. To modern fans, unfamiliar with the old British system, pro wrestling bouts in the UK were contested under Lord Mountevans Rules which, similar to boxing matches, were fought in rounds. A second would be on hand to act as a corner-person of sorts, offering water or a towel to one of the competitors during the intervals within the match. He also worked as a referee, and honed his pitchman skills as a ring announcer for the group. Although the pay was miserable, these roles allowed Gutteridge to study the entire workings of the business as a close observer for a period of over two years.

It was as an observer that Gutteridge would be paired with the performer who forever changed his path to stardom. He had been assigned to act as the second to a revered veteran great, the legendary Jack Pye.

UK historians frequently cite ‘Dirty’ Jack Pye as the first true heel of British professional wrestling. Renowned for an aggressive style which solidified his position as arguably the biggest draw of the 1930s, Pye’s success was partly due to his unsavoury charisma. Subtly employing dirty tactics out of the referee’s sight whenever he could, it was this perceived arrogance which created newspaper headlines and elevated Pye to the pinnacle of a sport bustling with legitimately hard men who worked the British rings.

Pye’s critics would denounce him as a shameless self-publicist, who soiled the standing of the industry for personal gain. To Gutteridge, he was the prototype of a sure-fire box office attraction. Moreover, by exploiting personality over sheer in-ring skill, it allowed for a longer career atop the profession. Pye was still a major draw into the 1950s.  

Gutteridge studied all he could from Pye, learning the craft from one of the earliest proponents of ring-psychology. In the meantime, Jackie continued his boxing classes at the family gym, and had started to take up bodybuilding. Respecting the youngster’s commitment to physical improvement, and realising that he was prepared to work at the lowest level, the Dale-Martin partnership would eventually allow Gutteridge to make his start as a professional wrestler.

To virtually no fanfare, the career of Jackie Pallo would commence.

FODDER TO THE STARS

Jackie Pallo made his pro debut in 1950 at Nine Elms Baths, a historic pool building in Battersea. In his first match, Pallo had managed to secure a fall against his opponent Young Atlas (Frank Morris). He didn’t win the contest, as matches were typically held over three falls for a standard match (occasionally more for a special challenge). Far from an embarrassing first showing, it would be a long time before Pallo would recapture the same level of success from his debut: he would later claim that four years would pass before he would score a fall in any of his matches. Demoralised, he started to understand his role – he was simply ‘fodder’ for the bigger stars. He was also disappointed that the lighter stars earned half as much as the heavyweights, many of whom he considered lumbering and lazy. As a lean welterweight, Pallo learned there was little room for upward mobility, and this was a source of genuine resentment.

Nevertheless, Pallo endured. His studious nature and unwavering commitment to his craft established him as a real ‘grafter’, and he gradually earned the respect as someone who was willing to work hard in order to progress his skills.

Open to new ideas and new styles, Pallo understood that it was Pye’s innovations as a performer which set him apart from the other wrestlers, and so he sought out inspiration from the other side of the Atlantic.

A new western world had been created in the aftermath of World War II. Based on the sharing of fresh ideas to rebuild cities and nations rocked by war, there were opportunities to be had in the greater commercialism of the new, using readily-available and efficient forms of high-speed communication and the exploitation of international ideas which had previously seemed out of reach. Indeed, the sharing of innovative notions would forever change the arts, from global cinema to music to architecture. As a form of performance art, pro wrestling was no different. Though there were would be nuances which might prove to be region-specific, there were commonalities which could be emulated internationally. Tried and true methods from elsewhere could be demonstrated to an audience which had never seen their application.

Pallo immersed himself with American wrestling magazines which he ordered in the hope of finding new moves for addition to his expanding repertoire, and discovered exotic characters which could inspire his evolving persona.

THE MAN THEY LOVED TO HATE

Ousting his working-class background, Pallo was billed as being from Highbury, an expensive district in London where only the rich and famous seemed to live. Even though ‘Gorgeous’ Jackie’s voice had the thickest of cockney accents, he would insist that he was a member of the social elite.  

But it was the attire of Pallo which first captured the attention of wrestling fans. It is incredible to think that there was a point in time where simply wearing striped trunks in a wrestling match would be sufficient reason to draw heat, but this was the case with Pallo.

According to Pallo’ memoirs, his famous trunks were a gift from the celebrity strongwoman Joan Rhodes (today Jack Gallagher wears similar trunks in homage to Pallo), and he soon ousted his traditional gown for satin robes and gold-sprayed boots. In an era where plain, understated attire was the norm, his flashy appearance was a contrast from the other ring performers of 1950s Britain, and exuded an arrogance that was rare for a public performer in the UK.

Also outlandish was his hair. Apparently grown to length for a role as an old-time sailor in a historical film, the bleached curly blonde ‘barnet’ of Pallo was tied into a ponytail by a velvet ribbon. Bearing in mind that there was public criticism of The Beatles’ hairstyles when they first became mainstream stars, the effeminate length of Pallo’s hair was a source of irritation to the working-class audiences which had expectations of tough masculinity from its wrestling stars. He would frequently swivel his mane in a campy manner to wind up the crowd. After his matches, Pallo would present the ribbon to a fan, usually the loudest heckling female member of the audience. It was a similar device to the use of bobby pins that would be hurled into the crowd by Gorgeous George in the United States to draw the ire of the masses.

His use of transatlantic imports such as the tombstone piledriver (which he called the Head Drop), the aeroplane spin, his vaunted back arm submission (an elevated double chicken-wing hold), and the sit-on backbreaker and arm lever, were a sharp contrast to the commonplace chain matwork employed by other grapplers of the era. It was a marriage of an in-ring arsenal to complement his show-off personality.

Remembering his time as a second to Pye, the subtle use of dirty tricks were also a staple of Pallo’s routine, frequently employing his use of boxing punches to earn him public warnings from referees as crowds jeered for his disqualification.

But his main learning from Pye was in the manipulation of the media to make his star shine even brighter. In an era of professional wrestling where records are scarce, the vibrant lifestyle of Jackie Pallo seemed to be extremely well-documented by the press. One article, captured in national tabloid The Daily Mirror in 1963, documented the story of Eva Milne, a middle-aged spectator who had been banned from wrestling shows by promoter William Little. She had attacked Pallo with her shoe after becoming wildly enraged by his cheating. The fact that a reporter and photographer were on hand to interview all concerned is suspect to say the least, but it was a common theme in Pallo’s relationship with the press. Even if the event was likely staged, it was typical of Pallo’s expertise to use the media to his advantage.

The press had an interesting relationship with Pallo, and regularly covered him in national interviews, in which he was lauded for his articulate wit, exquisite knowledge of fine arts, photography and his taste for the high life. All of these polished attributes were placed in juxtaposition with the perception of an aggressive, rule-breaking grappler. In previous years, wrestlers were perceived as somewhat of an enigma, operating from the shadows of a closed-shop which was hard for outsiders to penetrate. In the UK, Pallo was one of the few who made himself accessible to the media, even if the purpose was only to reveal a carefully constructed extension of his personality. It earned him fame, but it also created enemies. Some insisted he was creating a mockery of professional wrestling, by partaking in these publicity stunts. Most, Pallo surmised, were merely jealous of his increasing success as a mainstream star. Nevertheless, it boosted his public profile.

Image was important to Pallo. At a mere 5’6” and 11 ½ stones (161 lbs) in weight, he had to project a personality that was larger than his frame. But he would soon find the perfect outlet in television, as his slight stature could be somewhat muted by the capture of a small screen, a domain where the sense of spatial awareness was under the control of a television production crew and skilled camera framing. For Pallo, it was television which changed the fortunes of the lighter weight wrestlers. On a small screen, a viewer’s interest would captivated by action, not just size.

MR TV

Jackie Pallo had forged a relationship with the small screen from the moment that the television cameras recorded its earliest footage of British pro wrestling in 1955. In fact, Pallo and Cliff Beaumont were the very first wrestlers to be filmed by a UK production team, but the footage was simply shot to test camera angles for the premiere show before the crowd were allowed into the Westham Baths for the tapings.

Despite his on-screen absence from the first few broadcasts, Pallo was an integral part to the early success of the shows. He became a technical adviser to Kent Walton, a radio disc jockey who had been appointed as the commentator for wrestling coverage on the channel which would eventually become ITV. Pallo’s expertise was essential – for over 18 months he imparted his knowledge of the holds and conveyed their names to Walton. In the meantime, Pallo would learn some of the nuances of television production from being in the arenas during the setup.

In 1956, Pallo would have his first broadcast match against Jack Dempsey, but it was an incident during a later contest with Alan Colbeck which caused him to gain the national attention of the armchair fanbase. Unfortunately, no footage of it appears to exist today, but the story varies from Pallo missing a dropkick to landing awkwardly during a failed corner posting. In any event, the sequence resulted in Pallo straddling the ropes as he sold the excruciating pain from between his legs. A simple spot by the standards of today, but it was a moment which provoked large volumes of phonecalls to the station switchboard from concerned viewers who wanted to check up on his condition.

Once again, the media manipulation of Pallo had succeeded. He had become the most talked-about wrestler on television. It would not be long until he was given a handle which further solidified this status.

Ironically, this did not come from an incident at a pro wrestling show. Rather, it came during a broadcast of the variety programme Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The biggest television show at the time, Pallo was set to make a brief appearance in a comedy routine with host Don Arroll. During the rehearsals, voice-over actor Peter Cockburn had announced him as, “Jackie Pallo - the wrestler from television.” He was quickly stopped by Pallo.

“No,” he interjected. “Introduce me as MR TV”.

On the live broadcast, Pallo’s demand was granted, and the name stuck.

And Pallo would do everything he could to live up to the moniker during those precious small screen moments. Even if he knew that his appearances would be limited by the office.

Dale-Martin, which controlled the use of talent for ITV, believed in rationing the use of its stars. As a member of Joint Promotions (a cartel of promoters, somewhat of Britain’s version of the National Wrestling Alliance), the company had a large pool of national talent that it could showcase on television. Sparingly using them prevented overexposure and allowed Joint to boost the appeal of its carefully selected individual wrestlers, creating headliners which could to be used on the hundreds of touring shows that operated under the auspices of their monopoly.

Moreover, it was important for Joint Promotions to limit an individual’s appearances on the screen. Having a tight leash on the television product was their way of restricting the bargaining power of its talent base.

Even at the height of his popularity, ‘Mr TV’ was limited to a mere half a dozen televised matches over the course of a year’s wrestling output.

Nevertheless, as a wrestler who had created some of the more memorable moments on television, Pallo was a performer in demand. In 1958, he participated in his first international tour, which included a championship match in Paris. According to Pallo’s assessment of his 1963 domestic booking schedule, Joint Promotions was running over 100 shows per week in towns across the country, and estimated that as many as 600 wrestlers were making a full-time living from the industry. For Pallo, who had struggled in an impoverished childhood, his lifestyle was transformed. He could now afford the most lavish of pleasures, by working as a top draw in as many as 300 shows per annum. Given the size of the United Kingdom, it is hard to comprehend wrestling’s domestic popularity during that time in comparison to today’s industry.

However, for Pallo, television remained a key part of his ongoing success. So he started to diversify into acting in 1962. First appearing as a guest star in an episode of the medical soap Emergency Ward 10, he would later appear make high-profile appearances on The Dickie Henderson Show, Celebrity Squares, The Generation Game and even the legendary sitcom Are You Being Served? He capitalised on his fight choreography skills in roles on The Saint, and as a villain from sixties spy show The Avengers. On top of that, Pallo was a regular face in British television commercials, appearing in adverts for diverse products such as razor blades, gravy browning, and beer. He made every effort he could to stay in the public imagination by remaining on the telly.  

He would even make the transition from the small screen to the silver screen, first in the revenge thriller The Reckoning before portraying a comedic role as Barbara Windsor’s husband in the Elstree farce Not Now Darling!

Making connections with many of his co-stars, it was not long before Pallo would bring along some of his new celebrity friends to wrestling matches. Honor Blackman, a cast member of The Avengers who became a worldwide icon as Bond girl ‘Pussy Galore’ from the film Goldfinger, was one of the many guests that attended a card at his urging. The image of British wrestling was changing, and Pallo played a huge part in creating its new-found glitz and glamour.

Pallo had successfully flaunted his celebrity and the mainstream media to increase the profile of himself and, most importantly, British wrestling as a whole. It was a principle that he also used to publicise its most famous rivarly.

THE GREATEST RIVALRY IN BRITISH WRESTLING HISTORY

During the time that Pallo had continued to grow into the role of his Mr TV persona, Mick McManus had also been branded as ‘The Man You Love to Hate’ by the press. Despite being a fellow Londoner, McManus was presented as an Irishman whenever he performed in the ring, in order to exploit a very real political and cultural dissent between the UK mainland and Ireland which had intensified over the course of the 1960s.

In addition to being the perennial British Welterweight Champion, McManus had a powerful role behind the curtain - he was the director of Joint Promotions and a key decision maker in its booking schedule. This power enabled McManus to solidify his own position as a star villain – he would wrestle more times on television than anyone from the era. On the road, McManus would rarely lose. If he did, it was usually to set up a more lucrative match in which he would emerge the clear winner.

McManus was a no-frills bad-guy, a stocky-framed grappler with short jet-black dyed hair, adorned in plain black boots and trunks. He was the visual antithesis of the exuberant Pallo in almost every respect.

With such differing personas, the office at Dale-Martin decided to create a dream match between the two most identifiable villains in British wrestling.

To viewers of the small screen, the rivalry started in April 1962, moments after McManus had successfully defended his British Welterweight crown in a television bout.

Immediately following the winning decision, Pallo stormed to the ring, and challenged McManus to a match on Cup Final Day. To intensify matters, he offered McManus £100 winner-takes-all side stakes.

McManus accepted. The two greatest stars of a generation were set on a collision course at Wembley.

In their first encounter, held on 5th May 1962, the two wrestled to a 1-1 draw.

McManus narrowly defeated Pallo to retain his title in their highly-anticipated rematch the following year, but the real result was its success. It was a record-breaking affair which may never be equalled in British professional wrestling.

Nevertheless, despite all efforts to present McManus as the most hated villain in wrestling, the crowd would back him whenever he would face Pallo. Although he was promoted as a despicable, vicious heel, the wrestling fans had grown to respect McManus’ toughness and methodical ring style, and cheered him whenever he would lay into Mr TV. They simply hated the arrogant Pallo too much.

It would be several years later before the pair would be seen together again on television. In January 1967, they would appear on The Eamonn Andrews Show, a late-night talk programme which was broadcast on ITV each Sunday. Their appearance led to a heated argument on camera, their most talked-about publicity stunt since McManus had emerged from between the ropes and into the crowd, in order to steal a kiss from Pallo’s wife Trixie at ringside during a match interval.

The public had a clear appetite for the Pallo-McManus rivalry and wanted more. The feud would continue off-screen, at venues across the country.

The most famous of these were their four bouts which headlined The Royal Albert Hall between 1967 and 1973. The pairing was a huge success, with both men boasting that the venue had sold out, despite the promotion doubling the ticket price of admission. Pallo was no stranger to the venue, he was a main attraction at its supercards which included shows attended by The Duke of Edinburgh between 1963 and 1968. It was widely reported that the 1963 card was the first time that there had been a royal presence at a professional wrestling event. For Dale-Martin Promotions, it was essential that it be filled it with the sport’s best and brightest stars.

McManus and Pallo had helped change public perception of what made a wrestler marketable. In the fledgling era of television, a new class of lighter weight, exciting stars had reached the top of the profession and connected to their audience. Yet Pallo prided himself on being the more versatile performer of the two. If there was a demand, he was willing to go on with the heavies in catchweight bouts (contests between grapplers from different weight classes).

In December 1972, Pallo won his only match of the series with McManus, leading to two unsuccessful challenges for McManus’ European Middleweight title the following year.

Titles were of secondary concern to Pallo, whose main aim was to generate income. Over the course of his career, he only carried one: the British Heavy Middleweight Championship. Winning it from Bert Royal on 21st April 1969, the title was rapidly returned to the former champion. As a touring attraction, Pallo found himself of far greater value, earning his greatest payoffs in his matches with McManus. Eleven years after their first bout, box office magic still existed between the two ageing competitors.

Aware of the inevitable, attempts had already been made to breathe new life into their rivalry.

Though commonplace today, tag team wrestling was a rare occurrence in British wrestling. If used correctly, it could mask the shortcomings of performers by showcasing them in short bursts of action. It could also give the rub to a new talent, through their association with an established, veteran star.

For quite some time, Pallo had been keeping a watchful eye on the development of his son, Jackie Jr., as he prepared for an in-ring career at the Dale-Martin gym, under the tutelage of former lightweight great Bernard Murray. Making his debut in the summer of 1971, it was less than a year before the team of Pallo & Son headlined a show at The Royal Albert Hall against McManus and his partner-in-crime, ‘Iron Man’ Steve Logan, on 31st May 1972.

By putting the names McManus and Pallo on the same bill, it guaranteed box-office success for the local promoters within the monopoly of Joint Promotions. It could also be a vehicle for the creation or enhancement of other talent within their books.

From assessment of the win-loss records of Britain’s greatest wrestling rivalry, there is no doubt that McManus had used his political edge to appear the more dominant of the two, at least to the general public. But, beyond the surface, it was Pallo who outmanoeuvred the entire booking system of Joint Promotions to secure the future of his family – he had ultimately used the feud as a means to place a spotlight on his son. A new star was born, and his name was Pallo.

With two generations of the family working at the top of the profession, the Pallo name carried even more weight, and a brand value which became harder for Joint Promotions to control.

THE GREAT BEYOND

At the turn of the 1970s, sports entrepreneur Jarvis Astair had already started a process of acquiring the key members from the Joint Promotions banner. Following a company buy-out of Dale-Martin Promotions, Astair had installed Mike Judd to run its business. From the on-set of Judd’s appointment, there was a personality clash with Pallo.

Meanwhile, Jackie Pallo had continued to diversify as a performer, parlaying his celebrity into ventures beyond television. At the urging of theatre producer Paul Elliot, he would make his debut as a stage actor for a pantomime in 1969 (to international readers, the ‘panto’ is a family stage play which is performed during the Christmas holiday season. It intertwines the innocence of a fairytale storyline through song and dance routines, but contains clever innuendoes and jokes for the adults). He would remain a fixture of the panto for over a decade.  On 28th May 1971, Pallo released the novelty record Everyone Should Get What I’ve Got. Later, he would be joined by his wife and son for a follow-up album, Ring-a-Long with the Pallos.

Less reliant on wrestling as his principle source of income, Pallo claimed that this was a source of envy from many within the wrestling fraternity. It was also the beginning of a power struggle between Pallo and Joint Promotions.

This culminated when ITV had requested that Pallo be the subject of their primetime show, This Is Your Life. Working with Pallo’s family to research his life, the channel flew in a number of guests who were to provide anecdotes on Jackie’s life. The taping was scheduled to be a surprise, and arrangements were made to have it filmed at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon, where Pallo was set to wrestle.

As the first wrestler to appear on the programme, this was an opportunity for Joint Promotions to showcase the life and times of its top attraction. But the company had other plans. Immediately before the taping, Pallo’s wrestling booking was changed from Croydon to Aberdeen, the most northern city within the reach of Joint Promotions.

As a result, the recording would have to be cancelled. But ITV remained keen, and it was later rescheduled to be held in Reading. The re-organised episode eventually aired on 18th April 1973. 

Although the show was supposed to be a celebration of Pallo’s career, it ended up becoming a rather bitter experience. Internal jealousies were starting to interfere with Pallo’s life and business interests beyond wrestling, and his relationship with Joint Promotions continued to deteriorate.

It appeared that the office was trying to strip the television out of Mr TV.  

By 1975, the situation had become untenable. Pallo contacted Judd, and tendered notice of his resignation.

Immediately, he opened up a new promotion, heralding the era of Pallo Enterprises, and dubbing himself ‘The Star Who Presents the Stars’. With a handful of disgruntled wrestlers defecting to work for Pallo, it spurred a bitter war against Joint. Pallo would find mixed success, mainly operating in the venues which not have an exclusive deal with their monopoly.

As the decade continued, the organisation of Joint Promotions continued to evolve into a single commodity under the ownership of Sears Holdings (a subsidiary of the bookmaker group William Hill), and it was not long before Max Crabtree would take helm. Crabtree’s vision was to create a new star in his brother Shirley, a wrestler who had returned from a long sabbatical.

Shirley was virtually unrecognisable from his earlier stint in the ring. Gone was his once-athletic physique, replaced by sheer mass. He was eventually repackaged as Big Daddy, a burly brawler in a leotard. Forming a dominant tag team with Giant Haystacks, the duo would later split, leading to a highly-publicised feud. The rivalry would peak in 1981, with a very short match between the two at Wembley. It was immediately clear that neither party possessed the stamina to work an extended match.

Thus, the pair were mainly booked opposite each other tag team bouts, where both behemoths would have a younger partner who could carry the workload of the match. And usually to take the fall, in an effort to preserve the invincibility between the two giants. It was a formula which was repeated again and again, with diminishing results, leading to a mass exodus of promising talent from Joint.

With some of the brightest young prospects leaving the United Kingdom to pursue their own dreams of in-ring success, others would seek work within the independent scene. Some would join the fledgling All-Star Wrestling brand run by promoter Brian Dixon, and a number would even contact Pallo Enterprises for dates.

Pallo had earned a reputation with some of the wrestlers for being a fair employer, and one who was willing to give an opportunity to the smaller stars. Furthermore, his brand had started to operate overseas, completing a successful tour of Nigeria in 1981.

But, at home, he continued to be embroiled in a bitter war with Joint Promotions, during a time when the overall business was in decline.

In 1983, Jackie Pallo suffered an injury which would end his career. Assessing the domestic state of the business, he became a vocal critic of the style of wrestling which had been force-fed to the British public by the Crabtrees.

Having been a key performer who changed the perception of the smaller athlete, the top level of the British wrestling industry had seemingly regressed to a carnival freakshow based purely on size.

Early in his career, Pallo jibed that the heavyweights of the time were comparatively lazy, wrestling a slower, less action-packed style than the smaller talents. But the heavyweights of the 1980s were now large to the point of being barely movable, and this made Pallo gag. From his standpoint, they had killed the business to the point it was simply no longer defendable. To Pallo, the idea of kayfabe was officially dead and buried.

With the industry at home failing, his son left to pursue a new life within the territorial wrestling system of the United States. Meanwhile, Pallo set to work on his autobiography.

You Grunt, I’ll Groan was released in 1985. At the time, some considered it an assault on the industry. Freely using insider terminology within its prose, Pallo’s book was a revelation. It revealed the extent of his backstage rivalry with McManus, and contained blistering criticisms of the ongoing promotion of Big Daddy. But most of all, he committed the cardinal sin of admitting that the results of wrestling were predetermined.

It was not the first time that the business had been exposed in the United Kingdom. Over a decade earlier, a national newspaper had released a transcript of a backstage conversation between two headliners as they discussed the layout and outcome of their upcoming contest.

Upon the publication of his autobiography, Pallo was vilified as a traitor, mainly by those still working under the remnants of Joint Promotions. Amidst the controversy that ensued, he quietly removed himself from the wrestling business.

He later moved from Barnet to Thanet, a small village in rural Kent. But, even in retirement as an active wrestler, Pallo remained busy. He became a favourite after-dinner speaker and variety act host of local events.

Meanwhile, the domestic industry of wrestling continued to decline. Failing to modernise with the changing tastes of its audience, the Saturday afternoon institution ended up getting cancelled by ITV in 1988.

Some attributed Pallo’s tell-all book as a key factor in the downfall of the industry. Yet he was one of the most vocal proponents in championing its return to British screens.

The increasing popularity of satellite and cable television in the United Kingdom illustrated that there was still an audience for professional wrestling, largely due to the ratings success of imported programming from the World Wrestling Federation. Inspired by the presentation of American-style pro wrestling, Pallo launched a new venture, the World Alliance Wrestling in 1989. Filmed at the Derngate Entertainment Complex in Northamption in 1989, Pallo hoped to capture the imagination of fans by copying the model of an American product, but through the use of a British roster.

Unfortunately, the experiment failed, and Pallo was only able to recover £15,000 of the £80,000 production costs that he invested into the product.

It was a sour experience for Pallo. Mr TV had failed to find an audience on the small screen.

In the years that followed, his television appearances became sporadic, usually on nostalgia features focusing on the glory days of British wrestling.

He died on 11th February 2006.

LEGACY

As a performer, Pallo was a visionary. He studied the trends that drew in local crowds, but was also open to untried ideas which originated beyond his geographical boundaries. He incorporated fresh, transatlantic ideas and made them work to a new audience, creating one of the most iconic personas in the history of the professional wrestling industry. Positioning himself at the forefront of the modernisation of a dated vaudevillian institution, he was a key talent who helped usher in a golden age of professional wrestling in the wake of television.

Along with his rival McManus, George Kidd, Alan Miquet and so many others, Pallo was part of a generation of talent that redefined the value of the smaller competitors. In turn, it laid a foundation for a subsequent in-ring revolution, as the likes of ‘Rollerball’ Mark Rocco, The Dynamite Kid, Danny Collins, and others nurtured a cross-over style which had a global impact, fostering the progressive era of a junior-heavyweight division across North America and Japan.

Critics of Pallo have decried his personal selfishness, while others have praised his audacious nature, opening up enterprise in the face of a monopoly industry. He was one of the few to admit a truth that the general public had suspected for years, while promoters were trying to hoodwink an increasingly-educated fanbase with a condescending product which had clearly run its course.

Thirty years after British wrestling was removed from television in 1988, the legacy and contributions of Jackie Pallo to the wrestling industry remain a taboo subject.

As of 2018, The British Wrestlers Reunion has yet to recognise the career of Jackie Pallo, despite having over 60 entrants into its own version of a Legends Hall of Fame, even including part-time performers from the summer holiday camp circuit. These awards, selected by a small committee, have been a fixture of its gatherings since 1996. Pallo’s name is a curious omission.

A clear resentment to Pallo clearly still exists within the British wrestling community, but one matter cannot be erased from history. There is simply too much evidence.

Jackie Pallo was the first true superstar of television wrestling in Britain.

For that alone, he belongs in every credible Hall of Fame which honours the best of professional wrestling in the United Kingdom.

Bradley Craig is an award-winning professional wrestling historian and author based in the United Kingdom. In 2016, he co-authored Through the Shattered Glass, the critically-acclaimed memoir of Jeanie Clarke. He is also the founder of The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame for Scotland.