P: Peter Preston
Slayer of Giants Peter Preston
Those old enough to have enjoyed attending live events in the fifties, sixties and seventies know very well that the promoters were skilful in assembling balanced wrestling bills that would include at least one technical contest, a couple of matches with the rule-bending no-gooders we loved to jeer, and often a light hearted humorous match.
Nevertheless, results of some of those matches were often just too predictable for the regular fans. We enjoyed Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Vic Faulkner, Dominic Pye and other main eventers but too frequently we knew at the outset how the match would develop and the inevitable result.
There were exceptions, and none more so than when Peter Preston was one of the contestants.
We could predict the tireless energy he put into every bout, and the strutting arrogance that annoyed us so much, but the final outcome? No. Probabaly more so than any other wrestler when Peter entered the ring we could not predict the winner.
Were the fans at Bradford and Blackburn expecting to see Peter's hand raised in victory when he opposed Jackie Pallo in their hall? We doubt it. Or the screaming hordes at Liverpool Stadium when he beat Les Kellett? Fans at Newcastle must have been astounded when even George Kidd went down to Peter.
Then there was the biggest upset of all time. The defeat of Mick McManus on television. That result wasn't just a shock to the fans! It was the talk of the dressing rooms for months to follow. Eddie Rose told us,
"There were many conversations but Peter was reluctant to discuss it in detail not even to Pallo who wanted to hear all the gory details about the shindig; after all Pallo and McManus were the bitterest of rivals."
Had Peter consistently beaten all the big names and those in the championship queue behind them he would be celebrated today as one of the greatest of all time. Unfortunately for him that was not the case and his record was a mixture of outstanding victories in juxtaposition with losses against midcarders of quality but lacking distinction.
It was this unpredictability that made Peter one of the most eagerly anticipated wrestlers to appear in any hall, with an audible shout of approval when the MC announced his appearance on the following bill.
There were some aspects of predictability about a Peter Preston bout. We knew that whatever the outcome Peter would be a pocket dynamo bulldozing his way around the ring.
Few, if any, could deliver a forearm smash the Peter Preston way. One forearm, two, yet a third followed by a swift leg snatch for a folding press and the pinning of his opponents shoulders for the count of three.
The unyielding attitude he displayed in the ring was a reflection of Peter's attitude towards life. Peter believed that if anyone wants to achieve something it's up to them, and them alone, to get on with it and make it happen. Maybe that's partly a result of Peter's youth. The death of his mother in his teens was a huge loss and hardened the youngster to take responsibility for himself.
By the age of seventeen he was renting his own house, serving an apprenticeship, and playing rugby for Dewsbury Celtic Rugby Club. A friend asked him to join him in his amateur wrestling classes. Peter went along to the Hilltop Club, enjoyed himself, and from then on paid his 1/6 a week to learn how to wrestle.
He was a good learner, only losing in the northern area championships when he faced Wigan's Billy Chambers, known to professional wrestling fans as Jack Fallon.
Former heavyweight champion Ernest Baldwin took note of the youngster and invited him along to his gymnasium above the Old White Bear Public House in Tingley.
When Peter was ready for his first professional bout it was Bradford promoter Norman Morrell that gave him his chance, facing Newcastle's Frank Robb in Edinburgh. Morrell was to remain a significant figure in Peter's career for many years, not that the youngster was aware the promoter was taking an interest in him.
"I rarely saw Norman Morrell, but I assumed he must have liked what I did because he kept on giving me work."
During the early 1960s Peter gained regular work throughout the north and Scotland, but he could not travel too far from his Bradford base because of commitments to his full time work in the construction business he had by then set up. Best Wryton, Relwyskow Green and Morrell Beresford each gave work to the irrepressible youngster, facing opponents such as Jeff Kaye, Mike Bennett, Terry Jowett, Bob Steele and Adrian Street.
We first saw him in action in 1965. In those early days his bustling style gave an edge of excitement to his bouts. We liked him, but in all honesty there was nothing that made him stand out from the crowd.
Certainly nothing that hinted at the unprecedented events of 14th January 1967. That was the day Mick McManus lost on television for the first time, and he lost to Peter Preston. Following years of rumour and speculation Peter Preston told his story about what really happened in Peter Preston Tells All.
Suffice to say that that fateful day changed Peter's life.
"A few weeks later I arrived at the St George's Hall and couldn't believe the length of the queue waiting at the door. I thought 'there must be something on,' and then quickly realised there was. Me!"
It wasn't just the fans taken aback with the shock result. "It's not my turnnow is it?" asked Jackie Pallo when Peter entered the dressing room just before their bout.
In the months that followed Peter was catapulted to main event status amongst the northern promoters, though the chance of employment by Dale Martin Promotions (where McManus was the matchmaker) were understandably remote.
Northern fans were not disappointed. A few days after beating McManus, it was the visiting Peruvian Inca Peruano stopped by Peter, followed by the defeat of Heavy Middleweight champion Bert Royal. Bert's brother, Vic Faulkner was another victim, as was Les Kellett, Jackie Pallo and even George Kidd. On television straight fall wins over the much heavier Ezzard Hart and Wildman of Borneo firmly established the Yorkshireman as a giant killer.
It seemed at times that Peter Preston had struck gold whilst on other occasions he would strangely lose to lesser men. As we said at the outset these inconsistencies did nothing to detract from his appeal; it was the unpredictability that made him more intriguing.
Peter's career sharply diverged on a geographical basis. In the north of England and Scotland he became the slayer of giants, now granted star billing and the opportunity to slay a succession of giants. In the south of England he was disregarded by promoters for years to come. His defeat of McManus was only eventually begrudgingly acknowledged in The Wrestler magazine, but certainly not given the prominence it deserved; a sharp contrast to the lavish praise of Al Marquette doing the decent thing and going down to Steve Logan at the Royal Albert Hall.
More of a mystery was the termination of the television broadcast in the south of England denying those fans the opportunity to witness McManus' defeat. Even the Wrestler magazine claimed that Peter's victory was off-screen!
Even giant slayers can slay only so many giants before their conquests become routine and so northern promoters added interest by partnering him with European welterweight champion, Alan Colbeck, in The Masters tag team. Personally we felt that tag matches took the edge off Peter but acknowledge that the teams record was impressive, including wins over the Royal Brothers, and not many teams can claim that!
When Peter was eventually booked in southern rings, again following the intervention of Bradford promoter Norman Morrell, he made friends with another wrestler who was to have an influence on him both professionally and personally.
That man was George Gordienko, "The perfect heavyweight wrestler, skilful and strong," according to Peter. Even though Peter was by then an established and experienced wrestler he acknowledges that the Canadian was able to teach him a great deal about timing and breathing techniques.
Gordienko was a hugely talented artist whose work has been displayed around the world and changes hands for tens of thousands of pounds. When wrestling in the south Peter often stayed with George at his home in Mitcham. George's passion for painting rubbed off on Peter and he too began to paint for recreation. It is a hobby that he pursues until this day and his home near Bradford is filled with paintings of which he is justifiably proud
.In 1969 when he was aged just thirty years old and at the peak of his career Peter discovered why his boundless energy was now seemingly in shorter supply. He was diagnosed with diabetis. Whilst remaining undiagnosed, and until he was able to manage the symptoms, the diabetis had a detrimental imapact on his performance in the ring. At least the diagnosis offered a solution for the mystery of why Peter was running out of steam in matches against men he had previously beaten.
The results of a controlled diet, regular exercise and a contented life amongst a loving family and good friends is that Peter's appearance belies his seventy two years of age.
As we left Peter he did ask us to make sure we acknowledged those in the business to whom he owed so much. Norman Morrell for giving him the breaks in wrestling, George Gordienko for imparting professional knowledge and instilling his love of painting, and fellow professionals Ernest Baldwin, Eric Taylor and John Allan, "They taught me to always act professionally, have respect for others, and conduct myself correctly both in wrestling and in life."
We are pleased to do so, Peter, but not without also thanking you for the many years of enjoyment and excitement you gave to us British wrestling fans. Thank you Peter Preston, slayer of giants.
Peter Preston died in November, 2017
Fifty years on....
Peter Preston revealed what really happened the day he became the first man to beat Mick McManus on television...
More than fifty years after the black and white images flickered across the nation's television screens one of the century's most memorable bouts is still avidly discussed by British wrestling fans.
Saturday 14th January, 1967 was the day when television viewers witnessed David actually beating Goliath. A national hero was born as Peter Preston, aggressive from the start, and taking an opening fall in the second round, uncompromisingly defeated the seemingly undefeatable Mick McManus. A disqualification win maybe, but decisive enough for the millions that witnessed the spectacle as McManus seemingly chose disqualification as the means of avoiding an even greater humiliation.
At the time it was the stuff of legends, and in the years that followed it became the stuff of rumour, conjecture and speculation. And now the rumour, conjecture and speculation has come to an end, because the man who defeated Mick McManus on television has chosen to tell Wrestling Heritage readers what really did happen.
Read the complete story in Wrestling Heritage....