THE BFG Gwyn Davies
Appearances could deceive. Gwyn Davies looked the part of the nice boy who every parent would like their daughter to bring home, but The Big Friendly Giant wasn't always so friendly with his opponents.
Gwyn Davies was a class act. For him villainy was an art form.
It wasn't so much the outright rule bending, more the lingering hold after an order to break, devious use of the ropes, the look of disbelief as he was admonished by the referee, and that wry smile as he punished his opponent. Gwyn appeared merciless and could convince us he enjoyed inflicting pain on his opponent, as remembered vividly by Rasit Husey when he recalled Gwyn's believable villainy combined with Steve Veidor's wronged heroics at the Royal Albert Hall in May, 1976: " I was only 7 years old at the time and found the violence and the blood pouring from Veidor's mouth disturbing. Watching it again, thirty years later, what a sensational bout it was, action packed from start to finish."
Imagine a huge frame, immense strength, wrestling skill and steely determination and you have a fairly accuurate picture of Gwyn Davies.
Gwyn Davies, or James Edward McTiffin, was born in Maesteg, south Wales on 12th May, 1935. Not that he got much time to take in the Welsh air as the McTiffin family were soon on the move. In August of 1935 young Jim's father, also Jim, was signed as a forward by Dewsbury Rugby League Club. The family moved north and settled in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. Jim senior played for Dewsbury, until transferred to Wakefield trinity in 1938.
In the 1940s Jim senior was to go on to become one of the country's top wrestlers, using the name Ken Davies. Naturally father trained his son in the art of wrestling, and passed on more than a few rugby tips as well.
Rugby was the youngster's first love. He was made for it. At fourteen years old, a pupil at Victoria Secondary Modern School, Jim junior stood 6' 2" tall, and was captain of the school's rugby team. The local paper included an article on him when he was fourteen, "He is the team. Towering above his colleagues and opponents like a Gulliver in Lilliput, he is everywhere at once."
Jim had a promising rugby career ahead of him had he wished (we were told at the time of interest by several clubs), but his father lamented that the rest of the team left it to his son, and encouraged him to take up wrestling. By now an established heavyweight father prepared his son for the professional ring. Additional help came from Eric Taylor at the Hilltop Wrestling Club in Bradford.
Just two years later seventeen year old Jim junior,was a wrestler, initially working in tag matches with his father under the name Gwyn Davies. It was the start of a tremendous near thirty year career.
Things didn't go easy for the youngster. For one thing there was the small inconvenience of two years national service. In 1953, as he turned 18, he was called up to serve in the army, and Private James McTiffin was enrolled in the York Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry stationed at Strensall Barracks, York. 1953 also saw a spell of hospitalisation with an injured knee, not the result os army life or wrestling, but playing rugby. Young Jim was now playing rugby union for Chester. Another newspaper article reported him in hospital and the young wrestler learning marquetry.
Following national service we find nothing of Gwyn's ring activities until 1958, though we have been told he continued playing rugby for Chester and worked for a brewery for a short time. Wrestling magazines of the 1960s said that he had suffered a leg thrombosis and spinal injury, but we have no confirmation of this and the 1950s hospital confinement was dismissed as "Pure fiction" by the forum poster gwyndaviesgirl in 2004, who said Gwyn was wrestling abroad for much of this time.
Whatever his whereabouts by the early 1960s Gwyn was in the process of establishing himself as one of the top British heavyweights and gaining overseas experience by working in France, Germany, Austria and Spain.
By January 1966 journalist Eddie Caldwell was predicting British heavyweight tile success for Gwyn, a prediction that was to be realised, albeit for only four weeks, the following month. On 17th February Gwyn beat Albert Wall, who had taken the championship from Billy Joyce in January, to win the British title. Just one month later Joyce beat Gwyn to regain the title he had owned for most of the decade.
The second half of the 1960s and first half of the 1970s were the heydays for Gwyn's wrestling career. Billy Robinson lodged himself as British heavyweight champion, eagerly pursued by a talented collection of eager challengers: Albert Wall, Billy Joyce, Dennis Mitchell, Ian Campbell and Gwyn. There was little to choose between the challengers and it all made for exciting wrestling for the fans. These really were the golden days.
Frank Thomas remembers Gwyn as a most convincing heel. "I saw Gwyn in his heel phase give out some stick to Shirley Crabtree, pre Big Daddy. Shirley was working as a heel then, and for one night, Gwyn was the 'goody. so to speak. Until he hit Shirley during the introductions, then broke every rule in the book! The crowd got on Shirley's side, and he won by disqualification."
In April 1970 Bill Robinson headed off into the sunset leaving the British heavyweight championship vacant. The expectation amongst fans was that Gwyn and Albert Wall would be matched for the champiosnhip. Gwyn's fans were dismayed when he was overlooked and it was Steve Veidor chosen to face Wall for the belt. With the knowledge of hindsight we can now guess that this decision was made partially due to Gwyn's outside business activities interfering with his wrestling commitments and Veidor's southern base providing a national interest for a belt that had been in the north for so long.
Championship success did come Gwyn's way the following year as he took hold of the belt for four months, and for a third time in 1975 prior to the emergence of Tony St Clair.
But as wrestling enthusiasts know success in professional wrestling was not about the belts. Credibiity, charisma and drawing power were far more important. Gwyn Davies had the full set.
So often in wrestling we lament wrestlers who extend their careers beyond credibility, deteriorating into shadows of their former self. No such criticism can be made against Gwyn Davies. In his final match, a televised contest against Steve Veidor recorded on 23rd April, 1980, he was as fresh as ever. He was still our Big Friendly Giant.
Gwyn Davies died in December, 2017.