G: Alan Garfield
The Turbulent Trailblazer
Not a household name by any means, Alan Garfield was nevertheless a polished career professional who, in not one but various respects, paved the way for the sixties and seventies boom in British professional wrestling.
After demob, the young Garfield had become involved with the fragmented British wrestling scene and had his first bouts at the end of the forties. At this time he also appeared alongside Richard Widmark in the renowned 1948 film noir, "The Night and the City", and he would later identify and apply movie links to his wrestling.
Way back in 1954 at 29 years of age he was the first post-war British heavyweight to travel across the pond. He made a great impact during his stay there, and returned a fully-fledged top of the bill performer in Britain, facing all those great fifties names including Assirati, Garnon, Carnera and Dara Singh. In the main event against masked Count Bartelli at Willenhall in November, 1955, the adverts proclaimed "For the first time ever in Willenhall! The roughest and toughest wrestler ever to enter the ring. After two years in the USA...Alan Garfield." In terms of results, he enjoyed a 90% unbeaten record at this time and claimed the notable scalp by two falls to one of multiple British Champion and acknowledged uncompromising Wigan shooter, Billy Joyce, at Hull in 1958.
Garfield had returned armed with experience of the outrageous showmanship that was rejuvenating American wrestling, where the leader of the pack was Gorgeous George Wagner, inspiration also for the young Cassius Clay. That Garfield applied some of what he had seen abroad to his British performances is undisputable. But he was also an original and thinking innovator, and had the verve and wit to carry off whatever antics he chose to employ.
Wrestling has always lifted and applied aspects of contemporary society, particularly from the visual arts. Alan Garfield was eagle-eyed way back in the late fifties as he planned a new persona for his second American expedition in 1962.
On the back of the great popularity of the Boulting Brothers' comedy films of the late fifties, such as Private's Progress and I'm Alright Jack, gap-toothed Garfield assumed a part of the Terry-Thomas persona. He arrived in his original 1929 Bentley which he sold towards the end of his stay. His original US tag partner was given the name Winrush, the name of the upper class twit character played by Ian Carmichael in those films, see the pair pictured below left, and combined with ample doses of self-publicity, his second tour was wildly successful, Garfield going on to become Pacific Coast tag team champion alongside his giant Carlifornia-based German partner, "The Teutonic Titan" Karl Von Schober, the pair pictured below right. Von Schober had wrestled in the UK in 1952 and we can now only muse as to what kind of friendship and arrangement was struck up in London a decade before they shared title honours States-side.
In single action in that summer of 1962, Garfield faced Ricki Starr on three occasions, and it is probable that he was instrumental in the ballet dancer coming to Britain the following year. Another opponent was the former world boxing champion, Ambling Alp Primo Carnera. Note that in the USA, Alan Garfield sometimes also wrestled under his quite different real name. Alan Garfield was billed variously from London and Sydney, and Surrey and Kent. His life-long home was actually in Beckenham.
Fellow British wrestlers would follow in Garfield's footsteps: John Foley, Henri Pierlot, Billy Robinson, Wild Angus, Hans Streiger, Judo Al Hayes, Kendo Nagasaki and Geoff Portz amongst others. All could grant a nod to Alan Garfield who had regaled them with dressing room stories of the scene and potential in the United States.
Garfield was a trailblazer in yet another respect, too. He perfected the vain and arrogant persona, designed to raise the hackles of a largely working class early sixties audience in the halls nationwide at the time of peak attendances at wrestling tournaments. Billed as having "a chip on his shoulder", he would stroll unhurriedly to the ring, exchanging witty insults with spectators of the "Evening Peasants!" variety, attired in a full length purple gown with ruff collar. Slowly, slowly, he would disrobe, and then carefully fold the precious garment, hand it to his second, and then, standing on the two middle ropes in his corner, he would watch with great concern the safe return of the gown to the dressing room all amidst shouts of "Get on with it!", and worse.
Fellow British wrestlers would follow this lead ten years later and add effemininity to the repertoire. That was less appropriate in the late fifties, and, in any case, Garfield could antagonise the fans enough with his arrogance and biting asides, not needing to invite the shouts of "Pooftah!."
All he had to do was raise his water bottle to the light between rounds to check its purity and they were in uproar. The magic of Garfield lies not in statistics but in our memories of his wrestling: a classic fifties villain, diving in cowardly fashion for the ropes at the first hint of any pain, making nasty blindside fouls, professing his innocence at every admonition. But taking heavy bumps and inflicting crunching Boston Crabs.
He was a great talker during his bouts, and we remember him leaning out between the top two ropes to engage in ongoing debate with irate spectators. When his wronged opponent finally retaliated with fouls it was Garfield who memorably and majestically would roar "Disqualify him!".
Alan Garfield's list of opponents reads like a who's who of world heavyweight wrestling and he could hold his own with Billy Robinson, Billy Joyce, Kendo Nagasaki, the Zebra Kid, Rocky Wall and Georges Gordienko, or he could play the foil to Ricki Starr, Masambula and Les Kellett, to all three of whom he was a favoured opponent. It should be noted that he was one of the very very few ever to defeat Ricki Starr in a British ring, a sure-fire measure of his stature. See the pair locked up, right.
It should not be forgotten that Alan Garfield wrestled all over the world, being a favourite at the famous Palais des Sports in Paris, regularly touring the Middle East, and even growing a beard to ham it up as Yukon Rex in South Africa. Many thanks to Jop for these rare shots of Yukon Rex,above left and right, from about 1962.
We stated that Alan Garfield was far from a household name. He made a handful of televised appearances between his tours, and then, after his second homecoming, in 1965, made what proved to be his final television appearance in a Bradford bout against Gwyn Davies. This must go down in the annals of history as one of the great mystery bouts, for it was as a result of something said to commentator Kent Walton that Garfield was apparently banned from further small screen exposure.
We remember most clearly his final ten years of action. Garfield was now content to play the supporting role to many an up and coming heavyweight, teaching them as he lost to them.
Steve Viedor was a recurring opponent during these years. Garfield was still reasonably agile, but did not need to rely on his wrestling, since his performance and backchat were now so finely tuned as to be certain of having any audience in the palm of his hand through presence alone. Towards the end Garfield was a trump card for Dale Martin Promotions. He was the most frequent of substitutes and ensured that the policy of providing at least an equal but in his case a superior replacement was supplied at all times, a policy which changed dramatically for the worse mid-seventies with no Garfield around.
The only disappointing aspect of these final years was that his frequent disqualifications came all too often as a result of a low blow. This was quite out of character with his style and left the audience unfulfilled. Wouldn't it have been better if this argumenative type had been disqualified for something he said to the referee? Wrestling must be one of the few sports where there is no punishment for arguing with the official.
The early seventies saw him touring Sweden and Scotland, and frequently facing Big Daddy, whom Garfield had opposed years before in his own heyday, when the Yorkshireman was humble Shirley Crabtree. He seemed to come to the end of his Joint Promotions contract at the end of 1973 and just did a few independent shows for promoter Judo Al Hollamby the following year, going out with a final disqualification loss against Neil Sands at Epsom.
Thirty years after that retirement the name of Alan Garfield surfaced once again as a trailblazer. As the internet debate of wrestling scaled new heights, it was the exploration of this career in particular that aroused interest amongst fans who had seen him, and those who never did. Glowing prasie from the former group combined with curiosity and research from the latter to make individuals realise that they were all in agreement in admiration, appreciation and, for a lucky few, fond memories of the great Turbulent Lord of the Manor, Alan Garfield.
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