C: Catweazle


Catweazle was one of the great comedic characters of the 1970s. We have read criticism of his style over the years from purists who objected to his style and adoption of the name of a fictional television character, but the fact is that millions loved him and he brought immense enjoyment to fans of a sport that was more about entertainment than most. Maybe undue criticism arose because Catweazle was popular at a time wrestling was struggling to maintain its credibility, criticism of comedy routines had not been applied to Les Kellett, Romeo Joe Critchley or Pedro the Gypsy. Regular bookings over many years are testimony to his popularity with the fans.

He was from Armthorpe, a village near Doncaster, born in 1939, the eldest of eight children. Although initially known in the ring as Gary Cooper we have good reason to doubt that this was his birth name. After leaving school he started work in the Rockware Glass Factory and later worked on the railways, which brought the benefit of free travel for life in those days.

He developed an interest in unarmed combat during his National Service and started attending the Armthorpe Wrestling Club. He was late coming to professional wrestling, joining the ranks in the late 1960s working for the independent promoters, most frequently Cyril Knowles. The name on the posters was Gary Cooper. It was around this time that he met Al Marshall who was to become a lifelong friend. Al told us, "I can put my hand on my heart and say he was the best pal I had in the wrestling business. Gary and I started out in pro-grappling together when we were wrestling for the small independent promoters."

It was Al's misfortune that led to Gary's next step up the pro ladder. Gary went with Al when he was invited for a trial by George DeRelwyskow. All seemed to go well for Al until he told Relwyskow that he was unwilling to travel to the most northerly Scottish venues. That was the end of Al's dreams, but before leaving he suggested to the promoter that he give Gary a try. The result was that in 1970 Gary Cooper was working for Relwyskow and Joint Promotions. It wasn't long though before Gary Cooper was replaced by Catweazle, and there was no looking back. With long straggly hair and unruly beard it wasn’t his looks that made Catweazle so popular. Arriving at the ring in sackcloth he would remove his robe to reveal a lanky body wrapped in a gaudy wrestling outfit. Having placed his lucky-charm toad on the corner post the match would commence with Catweazle literally running rings round, and generally humiliating his hapless opponent.

When we interviewed Catweazle in 1972 he was well established as one of the country's favourites, with his antics followed by members of his own fan club. Our impression of Gary was of an easy-going man who enjoyed life and suited his comedic wrestling personality. We still find it hard to believe that he told us in his early days he had tried out being a rule bender.

Al Marshall again, "Gary was a nice guy in or out of the ring. We did a lot of shows together and many of them were over in Blackpool. I always took my family with me to the seaside shows and Gary always walked around with us on the sea front helping to carry my young sons and chatting with the holidaymakers, he loved children."

His style meant he was never going to be a serious title contender, but in wrestling that was of no concern. One wrestler who did have a lot of respect for Gary was Mick McManus. So much so that Mick personally chose Catweazle as his opponent for his final television appearance.

In 1990 while holidaying in Europe Gary became ill. He was diagnosed with cancer which he fought for eighteen months and died in 1992. There was a huge turnout of wrestlers for his cremation in London.

Final words to Al Marshall, "He was nick-named Chuffer because he always said chuffing this and chuffing that rather than swearing. He was a great wrestler. He had to be to play the fool so well. He was an original and there will only ever be one Catweazle."

Page added 22/05/2022