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C: Coulton - Craggs

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Larry Coulton  (Black Jack Mulligan)

A carpet fitter by day, a rough and rugged  fighter by night. That was Larry Coulton, fondly remembered by those that saw him, but we never considered him destined for the top. Bearded bad boy of the North East maybe it was the frequency of his losses that led villainous Laurie to scowl and complain.

Nonetheless, the fans were happy to boo and jeer  Larry Coulton (family name Coulson), Black Jack Mulligan, or as he was alternatively billed. A value for money  mid card northerner from Newcastle who worked mainly for Morrell-Beresford Promotions in the late 1960s and 1970s. Trouble for Larry was that they were more interested in paying him to make their promising stars look good.

Started his career as Larry Coulton later to be morphed into Black Jack Mulligan, or just Black Mulligan, complete with long black coat and three cornered hat.

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Bob Courage

Popular Southampton lightweight wrestler of the 1960s and 1970s who trained at Bruno Elrington's gym in Portsmouth. Bob was a popular worker around the south of England, billed as British lightweight champion by members of the British Wrestling Association.

Bob lived in Soberton Heath which is near Wickham in Hampshire (between Southampton & Portsmouth) and began life working for the independent promoters. He met Joint opposition in the form of Zoltan Boscick, Steve Grey and Clive Myers whilst working for Devereaux Promotions, but preferred life on the opposition circuit where he promoted his own shows under the Intercontinental Promotions banner.

A short story about Bob, passed on by Ian Dowland, who owned Solent Wrestling Promotions, “Bob’s wife came from Yorkshire, and whilst they were on holiday visiting her family Bob went training at a gym in Leeds that he used to attend, he was training with Al Marshall, who was an Ace Promotions wrestler. Bob was practicing his ‘drop kick’ when it went wrong and knocked out Al Marshall’s teeth, I believe that Al lost about  three teeth.”

Steve Courage

Steve Stephenson was landlord of the Red Lion public house in Wadhurst, Sussex. When he wasn't he was Steve Courage the wrestler. The name Courage came from the brewer that served the pub, Courage. Whilst landlord of the Red Lion Steve met a young wrestler called Eric Dudley. The two became friends and Steve agreed to open a wrestling gym on the premises, as long as Eric taught him to wrestle. Deal done, and Steve Stephenson became Steve Courage the wrestler, as well as one half (along with Eric) of Den Promotions, training local lads and promoting shows in Sussex.

Bill Coverdale

A first degree heavyweight villain, Big Bill was a headliner from the war years until the 1960s. Eddie Rose described Bill as a softly spoken, pigeon-toed, portly Mancunian  with a lot of hidden menace. Bill had been in the Paras in WW2 (“the heaviest paratrooper in the services”) and Cowboy Jack Cassidy always joked (very gently if Bill was in earshot) that too many parachute jumps caused Bill's apparently deformed  toes and feet. During the Second World war Bill took part in airborn landings in France and Holland.
Eddie remembers …. In the ring Bill could work and with such nimbleness for a 17 stone heavyweight. One night after a show there was a police sergeant on duty at the venue; he reckoned he could "have" Coverdale, what, with his experience of street thugs etc. Bill said "Right cocker, come on" The copper lasted three seconds then hit the deck very hard: Bill let him come in, deflected his leading arm and elbowed him in the throat. Bout over! Not quite, Bill then swept his feet away, Judo style.  Then he turned to us with a little grin on his face and said "No contest!".  Priceless moment.

Bernard Hughes remembers, “I vaguely remember Bill Coverdale's physical appearance, with blond hair and that he was as tall as one of  his first opponents but not as bulky. The previous week's programme, with typical understatement, had billed him as "The Biggest,Baddiest Man on the Planet"  who was coming to whip The Ghoul. He was big , he was strong and he was tough- but not as big, strong or as tough as The Ghoul. So he lost!”  Ironically Bill often worked as the Ghoul himself.

Bill was an "old pro" in the kindest sense of the words and an engagingly laconic travel companion. Eddie Rose remembers a short tour  with him (and several others) to venues like Kings Lynn, Norwich etc in the mid-70s. I noticed he never actually ordered or paid for a meal. He nonchalantly helped himself from everyone else's plates with a "Those chips look nice, cocker. I'll try a couple."  Too big to argue the toss with as he made a circuit of the all the plates on the table!l Bill is still remembered with affection in our part of the world." Bill was a Manchester-based wrestler, a Manchester City fan, and landlord of the Bridge Inn on Manchester Road, Bury in his later years.

John Cox

Nineteen stone John Cox took a career break from the ambulance service in 1965 and spent over ten years meeting the best professional wrestlers that Britain could offer, including Albert Wall, Count Bartelli, and Kendo Nagasaki.

He was a popular wrestler who made numerous television appearances, but never truly climbed to the top rung of the professional ladder. After getting involved in martial arts through judo  John Cox trained as an amateur wrestler at the Tingley Amateur Wrestling Club as an apprentice of former heavyweight champion, Ernie Baldwin.

John's interest in wrestling began when he served as a first aid volunteer at the SS Empire shows in York. With limited amateur experience he was offered a professional debut in October 1962, against fellow Yorkshireman Jim Armstrong, at Grantham. Two more contests quickly followed, against Jesse Hodgson and Ken Manning. By then John realised that if he was serious about wrestling he needed to learn a lot more, and so he took a break of about a year whilst he really learned the business.

He returned on a part time basis in October, 1963 and  devoted his full time to the sport from 1965 until he returned to part time wrestling and ambulance driving in 1970. In the lat 1970s John revived the name of the masked Great Bula, previously used by Charlie Scott.

As a paramedic he was airlifted by the RAF from Pocklington to Lockerbie to assist with the Lockerbie air disaster.

Following his retirement John Cox was involved in local politics as an independent councillor for many years. 

Brian Crabtree

One of the famous Halifax wrestling family whose not so glorious career came to an end following a 1966 injury. Brian swapped the wrestling gear for colourful shirts and continued as a referee, working mainly in Scotland for his brother Max.  When Max was appointed manager of the northern Joint Promotion members Brian and his shirts came to national prominence as his number one referee. His style was not to everyone's liking,  tending to prefer the limelight on himself rather than the wrestlers. As  age continued to catch up with him he bought a black and red spangly jacket and became an oft derided MC.

Max Crabtree

Max Crabtree is generally reckoned to have been the best of the three Crabtree brothers when it came to wrestling ability. The less than generous may well retort that that's not saying much but we do have it on good authority that Max was a very competent light heavyweight of his day.

It was his wrestling ability, blond hair and looks that made him a very popular wrestler in the 1960s.  Shirley was already  established as BWF heavyweight champion  when Max made his debut towards the end of the  the 1950s, working initially for the independent promoters against men such as Black Butcher Johnson, Doctor Death, Quasimodo and Leo Demetral.

In the early 1960s Max began to promote wrestling and established himself as one of the most successful of the independent promoters. Success was based on Max's inventiveness and his ability to create and develop new wrestling stars. 

In the early 1970s as wrestling audiences went into steep decline Max was appointed manager of most of the Joint Promotions circuit. New faces, creative matchmaking and the higher profile of championship matches resulted in renewed interest amongst the fans.

The reprieve was short lived and by the mid eighties audiences were at an all time low with Max continuing to promote until 1994.

Shirley Crabtree (Big Daddy, Blond Adonis, Mr Universe, Yukon Eric,  Battling Guardsman)

Beginning his working life in the coal pits of Yorkshire Shirley Crabtree followed in the footsteps of his brothers and father, and entered the world of professional wrestling. He wrestled under various names such as The Blond Adonis, Mr Universe,  Yukon Eric, and The Battling Guardsman.

After becoming  the independent promoters British Heavyweight champion in 1960  he largely disappeared from the rings during the late 1960s but continued to work for promoter Cyril Knowles using various names.

In the first phase of his career Crabtree tended to rely on his strength though did show more wrestling skill than when he returned to the ring in 1972,  and soon to be transformed in to Big Daddy a couple of years later. Shirley was brought back into mainstream wrestling by Norman Morrell, not brother Max as is commonly thought. It was to be another two years before Max was appointed manager of the northern Joint Promotions group. 

 In September, 1972, he shocked television fans when he destroyed the popular Pat Curry in less than a round. Within weeks he was back on television with his destructive force quickly eliminating Pete Roberts and Steve Haggetty. The spectacle was repeated night after night in halls around the country, until the immovable object met the irresistable force, Kendo Nagasaki. In those days Crabtree, nicknamed The Battling Guardsman, was a villain, and remained so for two more years after adopting the name Big Daddy in 1974.

In the autumn of 1976 the transformation to the people?s favourite began. The dressing gown was swapped in favour of the a glittery cape, later to be followed by the trademark top hat and union jack jacket.

Big Daddy would stand centre ring clapping to the fans? chants of ?Easy, easy,? which it invariably was as his signature ?Big Splash? move brought about another ko win over his unfortunate opponent.

As brother Max reinvigorated the British wrestling scene in the late 1970s Big Daddy became an instrumental part of that revival. Fans around the country would pack the halls to witness the destruction of his next victim. His popularity spread far beyond the wrestling world with the marketing of a range of Big Daddy memorabilia, children?s tv appearances and even the opening of the famous red book in his honour in ?This Is Your Life.?

Fans soon became divided between those who loved the Yorkshireman and those who disliked his winning, yet increasingly unconvincing style. Similarly wrestlers divided between those who saw Big Daddy removing the credibility for the business and those who realized his drawing power meant extra work for all.  

In the 1980s an increasing number of Big Daddy?s bouts were tag contests, following a pattern of Daddy?s lightweight opponent receiving a beating only for Daddy to enter the ring, quickly take control and end the contest with one of those famous belly splashes. It all seemed so easy. Easy easy.  

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Bert Craddock (Wilson Sheppard)

Dwight J Ingleburgh described Bert Craddock as "Simply the best...he could hold his own with the best and always stuck out for fair wages for the lads."

Bert Craddock was a very hard man; a tough wrestler of the 1950s and 1960s. Born and bred in 1927 in Barnsley even the lure of full time bookings with dale Martin Promotions if he moved south were not enough to tempt Bert away from his Yorkshire home.

Like just about every Barnsley youngster interested in boxing or wrestling Bert was influenced by Charlie Glover who taught the sports at his gymnasium behind The Junction Public House. Bert started out learning to box at Glover's gym, and was once paid the princely sum of £2.10/- (£2.50) for boxing an exhibition match with Bruce Woodcock.

The lure of wrestling was too great and Charlie could see the youngster had potential as a professional. Bert turned professional in the late 1940s, we have a record of matches in 1949), initially using the name Wilson Shephard.  In the mid 1950s he began using the name Bert Craddock, and was by then a regular worker for Joint Promotions at the biggest halls (Belle Vue, St James Hall) against top heavyweights such as Norman Walsh, Billy Joyce, and Dave Armstrong. When a young wrestler named Max Crabtree started promoting in opposition to Joint Promotions he was quick to recruit Bert to his group of workers, resulting in Bert leaving Joint Promotions. He returned to Joint Promotion rings for a short time in 1962 (again using the name Wilson Sheppard) before retiring in the independent rings in 1964. Bert Craddock died in 2007, he had just turned eighty.

Floyd Craggs (Pretty Boy Floyd)

The North East has a rich tradition of professional wrestling and that tradition was continued for many years by Pretty Boy Floyd, a regular worker on the independent scene in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Talk amongst the North Eastern brigade reminiscing the good old days and the name of Floyd Craggs crops up quickly and regularly, alongside those of Johnny Peters, Laurie Coulton, Boy Devlin, Les Prest and more.

Floyd was a wartime baby, born on 9th October, 1944 in Mickley, North Yorkshire. He and his younger brother, Mervyn, shared an interest in wrestling and learned the business alongside their friend, Dave Parfitt, who  wrestled as Johnny Peters. Floyd, Mervyn, Dave and Steve Parfitt trained regularly at Grewelthorpe Mill , and were soon considered good enough to be given regular bookings by the independent promoters such as Cyril Knowles and Ron Farrar.  Mid heavyweight champion  Norman Walsh also had an influence on the youngster at his gym in Thirsk.

Floyd's potential was spotted by Max Crabtree, travelling to Halifax to train on Sunday mornings. This brought regular bookings for Joint Promotions and the sharing of the ring with Les Kellett, Dynamite Kid,  Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. Floyd was just 34 at the time of  his tragic and untimely death in 1978. The Crabtree brothers and Giant Haystacks were amongst the mourners at his funeral. Floyd's children are seeking information and memories of their father. Please post your memories in the forum or contact them via theriotsquad@hotmail.com

Brian Craig-Radcliffe

See the entry for Society Boy