Tag team wrestling arrived in Britain big time in the mid sixties. Initial independent promoters had already been favouring this particular type of mayhem for up to ten years, but it was only with the first tag matches at the Royal Albert Hall and on television that the format could comfortably become part of the establishment.
Paul Lincoln Promotions had, in particular, offered mouth-watering match-ups of odd couple pairings from its crazy gang of assorted heavyweight villains as disparate as Ski Hi Lee, Gori Ed Mangotich, The Wild Man of Borneo and Doctor Death, a line-up colourful enough to parallel the foes of their tv contemporary, Batman.
Joint Promotions sought a different format. Pairs were created according to size, style and look. Where no similarity was obvious it was forced through via, as in the case of the Black Diamonds, skull caps and beards. Matching ring attire was produced from the Dennisons’ leotards, to the Artful Dodgers’ cloaks, and even McManus & Logan’s simple blue jackets. Some invested in further life-changing steps – The Hells Angels went blond for the best part of ten years. The perfect symmetry that had seemingly been sought was finally achieved with the arrival of the identical Borg Twins.
Other tag teams were served up by the promoters as being brothers, and one undeniably genuine pair were the similarly weighted but not at all identical Cortez Brothers. Nobody complained, the matches they were involved in were fast and thrilling.
These more or less equal pairings forged the Dale Martin concept of a tag team, and therefore, by extension, the viewing public’s own perceptions.
Another pairing of brothers appeared when eighteen-year-old Tony St Clair turned professional wrestler in early 1967, facing Johnny Eagles in solo action in Nelson, after a successful stint as goalie with the Manchester United youth team. Elder brother Roy had been wrestling up and down the land throughout the sixties, and few can claim his range of opponents down the years, from welterweight kingpin Jack Dempsey, through middleweight headliners and even Les Kellett, to all the great heavyweight names, numbering one of the very few defeats of Kendo Nagasaki as a high point and even beating Franco-Bulgarian giant Jean Ferre, later André the Giant, in Scotland; but it's Tony being thrown by Ferre, below left.
Roy had been a whizz-kid in his own right after training at the Wigan Snakepit, and had even reigned for 4 months as British Light-Heavyweight champion.
With vastly different experience clocked up, The Saints challenged also by their very unidentical appearance the prescribed format of two peas in a pod. Burley Roy, the experienced and chain-smoking mid-heavyweight at 5’10”, briefly bearded and ready to rough it with all the evil pairings and, in tag terms, one of the heavier members amongst all the regular Joint Promotions teams. And baby-faced Tony, with every indication of a full-blown heavyweight bursting to escape from his tall middleweight frame.
That they rose to their challenge is undeniable and, what’s more, they carved a new format all their own centred around battering Tony, a career-long darling of female ringsiders with his boyish good looks, but never more so than in those genuinely apprentice and teenage days of the late sixties. The apparently naïve youngster would be caught nightly with blindside fouls and double-teaming, whilst Roy perfected the art of remonstrating to distract the referee, only for more evil to be perpetrated against his baby brother.
Such was the unruliness that their pairing could elicit from the villains of the day that in their very first year they were already thrust into the spotlight and appeared in a Cup Final Day Television Spectacular from Rotherham where they opposed the Black Diamonds.
They even had merchandising: Saints ties were widely available!
We knew the routine, but never for a second did we doubt that the bullying was for real, such was the aplomb with which they carried it off. When Roy finally came into the action to rough up the baddies big-time, the roof lifted from the arena, and invariably a recovered Tony would come back in to gain a winning fall.
We can see another side to The Saints thanks to a re-run shown frequently on The now defunct Wrestling Channel in the early part of this century, in which they face The Royals. Matched with equally clean opponents, they trade hold and counterhold in a showcase spectacle for television, where four clean wrestlers were frequently billed together in tag. This went completely against the grain of tag matches in the halls where double-teaming and rule-breaking were not merely the norm but absolutely essential.
For many fans, the six years that The Saints regularly graced our rings were merely a prelude to greater things for future British Heavyweight Champion Tony St. Clair. We prefer, however, to glory in those years for what they were and for the shrewd skills we perhaps were unable to appreciate at the time, as we, too, became all wrapped up in outrage at the in-ring antics.