W: Orig Williams
Defender of the Dragon
Larger than life, colourful, and flamboyant are terms that come to mind when wrestling fans remember Orig Williams. Forthright, genuine, and dependable are descriptions put forward by friends and close acquaintances; and we have no doubt other words might well spring to mind that we would not wish to print here!
Orig Williams was certainly larger than life as we remember him flying across the ring to crash into the bulk of Klondyke Bill, forthright as we recall him remonstrating, (not long after turning professional) with a well-known promoter about the quality of his ring, and always, whether in the ring or pursuing one of his many other interests he was always, without fail, exciting and unforgettable.
Occasionally, very occasionally, the passing of a famous person generates an unexplainable sense of loss amongst those who did not even know the deceased personally. Such was the case when Welsh heavyweight Orig passed away in November, 2009. Following the announcement of his death on the BBC national radio station, Radio Cymru, listeners phoned in for an hour sharing their memories of the colourful, controversial and much loved wrestler, promoter, commentator, newspaper columnist, and defender of the Welsh Dragon. Not forgetting that Orig displaying his culinary skills in the Eisteddfod, a role which did not seem to fit comfortably with the tough Welshman. Wrestling fans were sincere in their tributes to a man who had never ranked amongst the most famous of names.
Tributes at the time of his death were led by Deputy First Minister of Wales, Ieuan Wyn Jones, who said: “Orig made a significant contribution to Wales through sport and through his unique personality, and he will be greatly missed." Obituaries were published in the national press, The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and the Daily Post.
On a personal note our earliest memories of Orig go back to the 1960s when he was making his first steps up the wrestling ladder, gaining a reputation as something of a firebrand on the independent circuit. He had recently left behind a career in soccer, having played for Oldham Athletic, Shrewsbury, and various Welsh league clubs, most notably player/manager for Nantlle Vale in the Welsh league, where he led the club to success and notoriety in equal measures. Orig had acquired the reputation of a tough fighter on the soccer field long before his thoughts turned to wrestling!
When it came to professional wrestling Orig was a natural. His lack of amateur training did nothing to lessen his prowess in the professional ring. It could be argued that the absence of formal training, learning the business in the fairground booths and rings in the small halls of independent promoters liberated the development of his natural talents of speed, agility, colour and showmanship. Early bouts were against other talented newcomers such as Henri Pierlot and Jack Martin, and more experienced professionals such as Jim Armstrong and Gordon Corbett, but we enjoyed Orig mostly as the good guy bringing come-uppance to villains Klondyke Bill, Lord Bertie Topham, The Monster, and Bill Coverdale; a very different Orig from the loveable villain he was destined to become.
By the mid to late 1960s Orig was topping the bills on the independent circuit. International success came with extensive visits to Asia, and Orig was always willing to tell the tales of his numerous bouts with the Bholu brothers in Pakistan, who he came to count amongst his good friends. As both a wrestler and promoter Orig travelled the world, visiting more than two dozen countries throughout his long career.
Orig came to national prominence in 1972 when he featured as both wrestler and promoter in the BBC2 documentary series, The Philpott File. In that programme Orig could be seen pounding away at Klondyke Bill, performing a tribalistic victory dance on the prostrate giant's chest, with the unfortunate referee Brian Dixon looking on.
He established himself as one of the top independent promoters, most notably acquiring the name British Wrestling Federation. As promoter, commentator and presenter of the S4C television channel's Reslo programme Orig established himself as his nation's pro wrestling supremo and folk hero.
The patriotic fervour was never far from the surface as Orig commentated on the Reslo shows, bringing innovation and a level of excitement to televised wrestling unknown on World of Sport. At a time when British televised wrestling was in decline Orig created a new lease of life throughout Wales, later enjoyed throughout Europe thanks to the advent of satellite television
Having grown a Mexican style moustache Orig acquired the name and image of El Bandito, a cunning villain who would mercilessly take advantage of his luckless opponent in any imaginable (and a few unimaginable) ways.
El Bandito was nothing like the real life Orig who was a kind hearted mentor of many youngsters who went on to find success in the wrestling rings of the world. One of these was Barri Griffiths (Mason Ryan of WWW) who said of Orig "I owe everything to him...he became a 'second father' to me."
In his professional life Orig had the talent of engaging with fans and creating immense interest and excitement in wrestling. Outside of the ring Orig preferred a quieter life, reading poetry, enjoying the companionship of his family and friends, and championing the cause of the Welsh nation, it's culture and language. He wrote a regular column in the Daily Post, ""Siarad Plaen," fittingly translated "Plain speaking." In "Cario’r Ddraig: Stori El Bandito" Orig wrote, "I'll always thank that I can speak Welsh and can understand and enjoy her poetry. It is not safe to have 'no other language in the world with as much feeling behind their words."
Cario’r Ddraig: Stori El Bandito was published in 1985, and a quarter of a century later his story can now be read by English speaking fans, El Bandito - An Autobiography of orig Williams.
Orig Williams died on 12th November 2009, he was seventy-eight years old.
Whilst enormous publicity surrounded the recent publication of a British politician's memoirs he called "The Journey" wrestling fans have the opportunity to read of a far more interesting journey than that of any politician.
"El Bandito - The Story of Orig Williams" is a journey from a Welsh hillside village, through the fairground booths of the West country, to every corner of the British isles, across continents, but always returning to the one place that could be called home, Ysbyty Ifan.
So compelling is the style of author Martyn Williams, as he fondly recalls the words of the man himself, that the out of ring memories are just as interesting and enjoyable as those of Orig's wrestling exploits.
The memories of growing up in Ysbyty Ifan, a village where the people were resourceful, independent, sombre, strangely shy, and extremely Welsh, transports the reader to simpler times when life was hard but there was a real community. For Orig that community centred around the square. The square was everything. A place to laugh and cry, to talk and listen, but mostly to play football.
Orig's world expanded when he was called up for National Service. The short distance from north Wales to Cheshire planted the roots of Orig's success in later years. It was in the RAF that Orig developed his sporting skills in football, boxing, and, of course wrestling.
The complex nature of Orig Williams unfolds through the pages. Here was a man who was more than capable of despatching rough justice when necessary, and then recite poetry to fellow wrestlers on the journey home. Here was a man who could pull a stunt with the best of them, but was trustworthy and reliable to his friends. Quick to admit formal education was not to his liking did not prevent Orig writing a weekly column for the Daily Post. Not a man to suffer fools gladly Orig was generous with praise for those he considered worthy.
"El Bandito - The Story of Orig Williams" has been written with passion by Martyn Williams about a man who was passionate about his family and friends, the wrestling business and his beloved Wales.
This is a very enjoyable book that we highly recommend. It is a book to be enjoyed not by wrestling fans alone, but by anyone with an interest in the people we meet as we journey through life. The spirit of Orig Williams will live on wherever there is a place on the bookshelf for "El Bandito - The Story of Orig Williams."