WRESTLING HERITAGE

A hobby site created by enthusiasts of 
British wrestling celebrating wrestling and 
wrestlers from 1930 onwards through 
fifty glorious years of British wrestling history

 

 

It was in Laisterdyke, Yorkshire, in 1915, that Sarah Kellett, wife of William Kellett, gave birth to a son. They named him Leslie, and he was destined to become famous as professional wrestler Les Kellett.

William Kellett was an engineer, and on leaving Bradford Moor School, aged 14,  Les followed in his father's footsteps, into engineering.

Unlike most sportsmen Les always claimed his interest in sport as a youngster was slightly less than neglible. Encouraged by one of his bosses, an amateur wrestler, Les reluctantly joined an amateur wrestling club for a short time but soon lost interest.

With his apprenticeship completed Les joined the merchant navy, travelling the world with little thought about wrestling. In various ports Les would seek out the local shows and watch wrestling, but he had no aspirations whatsoever to become a professional wrestler himself.

Back in Britain it was a chance meeting with his friend, Bradford wrestler Joe Hill, and the opportunity to earn good money, that led to a change of heart and  Les's decision to pursue a wrestling career. Joe taught Les the basics of the professional style; enough to earn an introduction to wrestling promoter George deRelwyskow Sr. Les was given his professional debut by deRelwyskow in 1938, not the greatest of timings with the hostilities of World War Two looming on the horizon.

Les had never been really committed to wrestling, but a world war can change a few perceptions, and come 1945, with opportunities limited,  he was ready to make a go of it in his chosen sporting career.

Post war the promoter with whom Les became mostly associated was Norman Morrell. Les trained at Norman's gym alongside George Kidd.

Adrian Street recalls the oft quoted story of how Les refused to submit to a finger lock applied by Arthur Belshaw during a trial for Norman Morrell, inviting the wrestler to break his fingers. It was the start of a long and successful professional relationship between Norman and Les. Les was soon working on Morrell bills as both a wrestler and promoter, as well as doing a lot of "back room" work for Morrell.

Bernard Hughes remembers Les as the regular referee at the St James Hall, Newcastle, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Not just any referee, but the best referee Bernard has ever seen. Les would often substitute for any wrestler who failed to turn up.

From his earliest days Les was regarded as a very tough wrestler, but the comedy style  developed in the late 1950s. It was a style that was to turn him into one of the biggest names in wrestling. Les's style was perfect for television, where the camera could focus on his facial expressions, capture his "accidental" rule infringements followed by an immediate instruction to the referee to "Tell him the rules referee," and zoom in on those elaborate knitting together of limbs and the expression of the referee as he tried to unfathom the chaos caused by Les.

We confess that for a man who was such an important figure in British wrestling it has proved difficult to pinpoint specific career highlights. We could list numerous television appearances, Royal Albert Hall outings, a pre-Mountevans British championship, or whatever, but the fact is that the highlight of Les's career is that for twenty years he was just about the most popular wrestler in British rings, making thousands of fans happy whilst preserving the integrity of British wrestling.

Not a bad achievement.

The climax of the Les Kellett career came in the late 1960s.

More than twenty years after turning profesional Les was nominated for the title ITV Sports Personality of the Year. Between 1969 and 1972 he appeared on television an average of twice a month, more often than McManus, Pallo, Logan or Royal. Despite leaving Joint promotions in 1972, sixteen years before wrestling left our screens, only six wrestlers appeared on television more often than Les Kellett.

His weight of around fourteen stones saw him billed against lighter men, such as Bobby Barnes, to fully blown heavyweights like Klondyke Bill, with just about everyone else in between. Les Kellett was also honoured to be one of the small band of wrestlers selected to wrestle at the Royal Albert Hall in the presence of HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Les was quoted that he disliked the travelling required to fulfil his wrestling commitments. If that was true then all the more credit is due to him for his commitment to fans around the country. Les Kellett was truly a national star, as likely to appear in Aberdeen as he was in Brighton or Plymouth. He must have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles every year, at a time when his huge popularity would have enabled him to restrict his travelling and still work as often as he would like. Even in the twilight years of his career when he really should have been taking life easier Les still travelled up and down the country working for the opposition promoters.

In 1975, still at the height of his popularity Les made the transition from Joint Promotions, a pertnership going back over twenty years since the group's formation in 1952, to begin wrestling and promoting (with Eric Taylor) as an independent. We suspect he may have made a few low profile appearances for the independents before making the final break in November 1975.

There is certainly some mystery surrounding his departure from Joint Promotions. On 4th November Les faced Bobby Barnes (right) at Hastings. Four days later he was pulled from a televised show at Woking (against Bobby Barnes) and sent on a lower profile job to face Steve Logan at Corby. Between the two matches Les had worked for the opposition promoters, at Rochdale, against an old adversary Peter Preston. In those days Joint Promotions rigorously applied their rule that wrestlers were contracted to work exclusively for them. Many rivals from the Joint camp were already working for the opposition and Les was soon resuming hostilities with old foes Bobby Graham, Lee Sharon, Adrian Street, Jackie Pallo and Steve Haggetty.

Les was to continue wrestling for almost a decade longer, nearing 70 by the time he retired. For most of that time he continued to give the fans just what they wanted, but by the time of his retirement age was catching up with him. What motivated him to go on so long we do not know, but if that's our major criticism following more than forty years of giving enjoyment to millions then we can certainly forgive him.