In August 2015 George Kidd was the first inductee to the Scottish Wrestling Hall of Fame, and a plaque detailing his achievements was presented for hanging inside the Caird Hall, Dundee, a hall in which he wrestled and promoted. It was an award that was duly deserved, as he was a fine ambassador of Scottish wrestling during his quarter of a century reign as World Lightweight Champion.
Words such as impressive, extraordinary, remarkable, and exceptional appropriately describe George Kidd's style and contribution to the wrestling world.
So we are confident few would disagree with George being described as a phenomenon, but a peculiar phenomenon?
Well, yes. In the 1950s and early 1960s the heavyweights ruled the roost and it was peculiar, if not unique, for a lightweight to gain top of the bill status. Peculiar also for a wrestler to achieve such popularity and status without a colourful costume, or to gain fame hosting top television programmes unrelated to his wrestling work. Peculiar too to achieve such status without outrageous antics, exceptional strength, rough house tactics or an obvious gimmick.
So yes, George Kidd was a very peculiar phenomenon.
George's achievements in wrestling and the wider entertainment world as presenter of Wednesday People and The George Kidd Show on Grampian television, which culminated in him being voted Grampian Television Personality of the Year in 1965 was a far cry from his humble beginnings, born in Hill Street, Dundee, in 1925.
Returning to civilian life after serving in the navy during World War 2 George joined the millions facing the challenge of finding work. Weighing only 9 ½ stones it must have taken a determined effort to find anyone who would take seriously his ambition to turn professional wrestler, though there had been well respected lighter men such as Harold Angus and Johnny Summers before the war. George de Relwyskow was the man who succumbed and offered George his first professional match, and he was wrestling professionally by January, 1946. It was reported that at the Caird Hall, Dundee, on 8th January, “George proved himself a fast and clever wrestler, and was having a good share of the fight before being KO'd in the third round.” We believe this was George's second professional match as he had defeated Murdo White the previous evening in Edinburgh.
Clearly the boy had skill from the outset, but there was a lot of work to be done if he was to achieve all that he did.
By the end of 1946 George was wrestling in Yorkshire and seeking guidance from Olympian wrestler Norman Morrell. Eighteen months working with Morrell gave George the hard edge he needed to become a first class professional wrestler. The unique style was one he began to develop himself, guided by his study of ju jitsu and hatha yoga. We guess yoga was the source of the contortionist flexibility that enabled George to develop the style in which he could escape from just about every hold and gained him the nickname of the Houdini of wrestling. Hatha yoga refers to a set of physical exercises designed to align the skin, muscles, and bones. George supplemented his training regime of running and weightlifting with yogic muscle-stretching exercises.
It was the mixture of technical skill, suppleness, a creative brain and a dash of gimmickry that made George a star. The technical skill was beyond question, as was his suppleness, and these were used by the creative brain to develop the unique style. Whilst one of his favourite moves, the surfboard, depended upon some wrestling ability, the move for which he was most famous, rolling into a ball to bewilder his opponent was no more than a gimmick, albeit a gimmick the fans loved. Most fans, but not all, not Bernard Hughes: "I never did like the George Kidd roll up into a ball which he turned (with his opponent's help) into a pin fall. Loved to watch George, just not that move."
Whatever the mix of skill, tenacity, suppleness and gimmickry George Kidd made a quick impression on the post war wrestling scene, aided by his mentor and friend, Norman Morrell. In December, 1947, just short of two years a professional, he won the Scottish lightweight championship, when he knocked out Tony Lawrence at the Caird Hall, Dundee. Lawrence had taken the lead early in the bout, with a fall just 2 ½ minutes into the first round. George came back to knock out his opponent in the fourth. In 1948 he defeated Jack Dempsey to win the British title, and in 1949, on 25th October, took ten rounds to defeat Rudy Quartez for the World Lightweight Championship.
At just 24 years of age George Kidd could feel content that he was a wrestling star. Of course what the fans wanted to see most of all was George bamboozle the villains of the ring. He was more than capable of obliging, as were the biggest names in the business who played the role of the luckless opponent – Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Adrian Street, even heavyweight Jumping Jim Hussey.
Mention of the obliging opponent brings us back to the title of our tribute, A Very Peculiar Phenomenon. George Kidd was a wrestler skilled in the business by an Olympic champion, a wrestler acknowledged as the best pure wrestler for decades, and yet one of wrestling's most controversial characters.
Controversial? George Kidd?
How could the clean cut heroic son of Dundee ever be considered controversial?
Well, it all goes to the heart of professional wrestling and what it was all about.
We have often heard it said that George Kidd was a man without a gimmick. We would beg to differ. George Kidd did have a gimmick, and the gimmick was pure wrestling. With an apprenticeship under Morrell George Kidd would certainly know how to fight, we don't doubt that. Presumably it was the respect others had for him that allowed him to remain champion for so long; in a sport where both men are needed to produce an entertaining match the respect of colleagues was essential, without respect no doubt someone could have dethroned George long before his retirement.
But the heart of professional wrestling was very different from others sports. In the world of professional wrestling the genuine fighting ability of a man was only relevant in as far as it commanded respect from others. Professional wrestling was nothing at all like catch or so-called shoot wrestling, in these genres men could, and did intend, to hurt each other. Professional wrestlers had families to support, they needed regular work, and understood that intentional injury was not part of the business. Professional wrestlers were skilled men taking part in a risky activity working with a level of co-operation to produce a contest that was competitive in all aspects except the result. George Kidd was a top class professional wrestler and for that he should be celebrated.
George Kidd's gimmick was to not just learn, but to master just about every known wrestling hold and a counter each one. George's technical ability was an entertainment in itself. Few, if any, could equal his combination of skill, creativity, cunning and agility. He deserves the respect that he receives, but like all his colleagues he required their co-operation to make it all work.
To see him wrestle was a delight, a unique delight. Our insistence that some co-operation of opponents was necessary neither diminishes his achievements or denies what must have been thousands of hours hard work to develop the style and create the moves that would entertain fans. Others may well have tried to copy him, and a few succeeded in specific aspects, but no one had the skill to replicate his style, in that respect George Kidd was unique.
The essence of professional wrestling makes it very difficult to determine where lies the demarcation line of respect for Kidd as a wrestler and that of an entertainer. The contortionist moves for which he was famed were more entertainment than wrestling. The career span of George Kidd also adds to the difficulty of evaluating his ability. Wrestlers of the 1930s have the advantage that hardly anyone alive today actually saw them; their reputation will always remain untarnished and benefit from whatever was written at the time. Those we watched develop in the 1960s and 1970s benefit from us having a broader perspective on which to make our judgements.
George Kidd presents a dilemma. He worked from 1946 until 1976. Most readers will remember him from the mid 1960s onwards. The consensus of opinion on the forum in the past was that George's best years were before 1963, or 1965 at the latest. In the 1950s he played an important part building up the reputation of professional wrestling as a credible sport. By the late 1960s we relied on Kent Walton constant reminders how brilliant he was. George had earned the acclaim, he'd paid his dues in the 1950s, but as 1970 approached his matches were more exhibitions, increasingly relying on opponents allowing him to demonstrate his wizardry.
In the 1950s and early 1960s George travelled the country, he lived in London for some time whilst promoting his own shows. By the 1970s fans were getting seriously miffed at the long standing world champion. Much of his time was taken up with television commitments and his business interests. Wrestling appearances were increasingly rare, and whilst Jim Breaks, Jon Cortez, Zoltan Boscik, Al Miquet and Johnny Saint darted up and down the country raising the profile of the lightweight division George confined himself mostly to Scotland, other than occasional matches in the North of England for Morrell and appearances at the Nottingham Ice Rink and Royal Albert Hall spectaculars. We don't begrudge George wanting to slow down. He had devoted his life to wrestling, but nearing fifty and with so many other interests, it would have served him well to have retired ten years earlier than his final match in 1976.
Irrespective of our critical review there is no doubt that whenever wrestlers are gathered together there is nothing but admiration for George Kidd. The comment of Meru Ullah is typical:
"George was one of my heroes and was a legend and an inspiration for me to take up this grand sport."
George Kidd died on 5th January, 1998.
An outstanding professional wrestler who was arguably the greatest technical wrestler of his time, a fine ambassador of wrestling and his country, a man who could inspire younger generations, yet a man of contradictions.
A phenomenon. A Very Peculiar Phenomenon.