The Man We Loved to Hate?
Certainly one of the top three post-war names in British Wrestling, and one of the few wrestlers to forge an identity outside the ring, though in the rare case of Mick McManus with various wrestling-related activities: a weekly Sun column brought rare national newspaper coverage of pro wrestling; a regular ringside commentary spot alongside Kent Walton made his one of the very few wrestler voices ever heard; his own Mick McManus Wrestling Book published in 1970 had the full force of Dale Martin’s publicity machine; he even had his own pep pills.
We now know, too, that he was the so-called booker, or matchmaker, over a number of years for Dale Martin Promotions.Mick McManus also shared the status accorded many seventies pros when he went on headlining well into his fifties, still claiming notable, but ever more unlikely victories, such as the televised unmasking of Kung Fu, but duly doing the noble thing in the end, renouncing his invincibility and taking regular beatings to allow other up-and-comers to shine, most notably again in his favoured small screen arena against Tony St Clair and Superstar Sanders.
Mick McManus made many television appearances in clothes, most unusual for the majority of wrestlers. He hob-nobbed it with The Beatles and was interviewed on the Eamon Andrews Show. He appeared as a porcelain expert on Going For A Song, and when the BBC’s main Saturday night show, The Generation Game, did a wrestling feature, who was there to be seen wrestling, for once by the rules, and on a cheap-skate mat rather than proper wrestling ring, but the niggly Anglo-Irishman from New Cross. Many charity appearances at fetes and football matches did much to raise the profile of the sport.
His in-ring performance was well thought out, carefully crafted to arouse the ire of the audience. None sneered better than a victorious Mick, and none squealed more satisfyingly when his ears were pulled! He successfully put himself across as a man without a single redeeming feature, claiming frequent lucky verdicts, as well as regional, national and European titles. If truth be told, it is hard to identify any true skills or agility that elevated his performance above the level of contemporaries such as Joe Murphy, Johnny Kwango or Tug Holton. But he was the perfect professional, travelling widely and reliably to contribute diligently to the national Joint Promotions operation, a fact graciously acknowledged by one sixties Scottish journalist.
In addition to unceasing victories over heavier and seemingly more skilful opponents, Mick McManus also flaunted, as far as fans were concerned, a unique privilege to highlight his own status within the business. He was very often involved in the second bout of the evening. This was not really satisfactory for die-hard fans used to the discipline of their main event featuring after the interval, but Mick would be seen, before nine o'clock, in his trademark open-necked light shirts, shooting off from halls throughout the south of England in the company of his driver, the late Sydenham middleweight Robby Baron, who had been involved in the curtain-raiser.
This status brought its own jealousies, too, and one of the most sensational matches in the history we describe was another televised match in 1967 from Lime Grove Baths in London, when northern promoter Norman Morrell apparently double-crossed McManus by having his man, Peter Preston, refuse to take the planned beating. McManus chose to get himself disqualified as there was clearly no straight wrestling way he could beat the younger and heavier Preston. For about 20 years this was his sole televised defeat and, for the majority of fans, the only time they had seen him beaten.
What we have yet to unearth, however, is just how and why this admittedly fiery but scarcely outstanding welterweight scaled the pro ranks from his forties debut, through the fifties, reclaiming the British Welterweight title at times from the widely recognised truly skilful Jack Dempsey, to become the major sixties name through his feud with Jackie Pallo, and how he enjoyed the in-and-out-of-ring benefits denied almost all his peers.
This clout was clear in so many ways described here and has puzzled wrestling fans for several decades. Perhaps we
should just now accept that Mick McManus showed willing reliability and energy in his early years and could be entrusted with some responsibility by the burgeoning Dale Martin Promotions in a business where punishing travel schedules pushed all to their limits. Perhaps he was perspicaciously able to apply and exaggerate some natural instincts to come across as a believable cheat and crook rather than just being an out and out rule breaking thug.
The greatest feud that Bitish wrestling has ever known started in 1962. North London rival Jackie Mr TV Pallo's wife, Trixie, habitually had a ringside seat during her husband's bouts. The pair had met many times during the fifties, but in their 1963 Cup Final day televised match, Pallo sprang from the ring only to plant a kiss on Mrs Pallo's cheek.
The pair's fortunes were sealed, and over 5 years they exploited their mutual hatred to the full inside and outside the ring, the two Cup Final day match-ups forming the absolute pinnacle of British wrestling's fortunes. Ever. McManus remained undefeated in his sixties matches with Pallo. The arrival of Jackie Pallo Junior on the scene allowed new angles, and the final series of three seventies singles bouts is reported in our Years of Wrestling sections, 1972 and 1973.
Many a nostalgic fan would hope to discover that the two were great friends and shared a laugh and a beer over the success they created for themselves. Alas, no evidence exists to suggest this, and if anything a cold merely tolerating enmity identified their relationship outside the ring.
This invincibility in the Pallo feud leads us to wonder when precisely McManus had become part of Dale Martin Promotions. Certainly from autumn 1965 and the time of his name change, shortly before Dale Martin promotions took over Paul Lincoln's set-up. But we still wonder about the preceding 15 years. No single significant event in southern wrestling was complete without McManus’s presence, most notably shows at The Royal Albert Hall in the presence of the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of Kent. Even setting aside the limited ringcraft we reluctantly mention, McManus risked over-exposure by always headlining such extravaganzas.
This ownership theory fits in with his parallel promoter contemporary, Paul Lincoln, who also liked to run his promotion from the centre of the ring, behind the mask of Doctor Death. See the two in memorable and previously unthinkable 1966 opposition, left, with a youthful Max Ward trying to intervene between his past and present employers.
It could be stated that Mick McManus’s anonymity as manager was protected even more effectively than the identity of many a masked wrestler. Equally mysteriously, it came to light in 2011 via the Wrestling Heritage Talk Wrestling forum that, in the world of music, Mick McManus wrote Hawkwind's Silver Machine. We await further evidence that this was not a hoax.
Whatever the circumstances of his fame, none can dispute Mick McManus’s lifetime dedication to the professional wrestling business, its disciplines and secrecy. As the famed Emperor Nero haircut goes on and on into Mick's nineties, protecting and promoting the good name of professional wrestling in the twenty-first century, we salute that professionalism and openly treasure one who, in this era of over-statement, can truly be termed a living legend.
Mick McManus died on 22nd May,2013
Tony St Clair's Memories of Mick McManus
Yesterday, the 11th June, I took an early flight from Hanover to Heathrow in order to attend the internment ceremony of Mick McManus. As the only flight I could get on arrived in London at 6:30 am I think I was one of, if not the, first to get to Woking Crematorium.
As I sat there waiting for the service to begin I had plenty of time to recall of my time with Mick. A Legend, a Star, an Icon, all these words had been used in the past to describe him, and I must say,he was ALL of them. Mick could hold his own in any company, regardless if it was Royalty, Press, Fans or wrestlers. He was an intelligent man, but loved to play a game of rummy in the dressing room. He could eat in the finest eating houses in London, but was equally at home when travelling at `Greasy Lil's when on the road.
I remember when I went to South Africa in 1975 for a year, I got a message from him that he was going to be in Cape Town for three weeks and that we could maybe get together sometime. As it happened my wife was singing at the Crazy Horse nightclub in Cape Town so one day I went to meet Mick, who was staying with a member of the Royal Family ( Lord ,,,,,,,) and invited them to come and see my wife sing. They came and we had a great night. The next day they invited my wife to the Lord's house for a BBQ and we had a great time. Mick was so relaxed and having a great time, `This is the life Legs `he said to me `wonder how the lads are doing on the road to Torquay !!!! `and we both laughed.
After I left J.P. s I didn't have a lot of contact to him any more, I was travelling a lot in Germany and Japan, and then working for Orig and Brian, but every now and again I would get a message from him through one of the boys, but when I found out his 90th birthday was at the time of the Reunion a couple of years ago I knew I had to make the effort to go and see him again. I was SO glad I had the chance to see and talk to him one last time.
Now the service is over, the Crematorium was packed full with Family, press, wrestlers and fans. Mick would have loved it,another sell out ! and the words from Wayne Bridges and Frank Rimmer I will always remember, Thank you Wayne, Thank you Frank !!!!
Also Mick's son Tony brought tears to a lot of eyes as he spoke about his dearly beloved Father
Now it´s time to fly back to Germany,and I´m still making notes on how to put this all together as a tribute to this Legend, Star, Icon, when it suddenly struck me from that last time I saw him at the the Reunion. He was all those things and something more. He came to the Reunion because wrestling was his life. At the time of his fame `the man you loved to hate `he couldn't be seen chatting with fans,it wasn't his ìmage`, but after he retired it was different and as I watched him, he had time for everyone, the wrestlers, the fans, he wanted to give something back to the game that had given him so much and he was enjoying every minute of it.I don't think we will EVER see anybody mean as much to a sport as Mick did to wrestling and it´s a tragedy he never got a award from his land for all that he did, but that's a different thing, I´m just happy - and proud that I was fortunate enough to be a small part of it,
God Bless Mick