Fact: some stereotypes of British wrestling linger for a reason

If you indulge in social media at all, or if you read newspapers, you’ll have probably caught some of the kerfuffle around a certain article in the Guardian this week.

Tying in with Simon Cowell’s musings about bringing British wrestling back to television, TV writer Stuart Heritage brought some of his ‘World of Sport’ memories to the fore when sketching out what this new series might look like.

If you have even the vaguest interest in British wrestling history you’ll know exactly the kind of thing it included – middle-aged men with beer bellies, angry grannies in the front row berating the heels, shows staged in local leisure centres, all a plodding, working-class contrast to the glamour and polish of WWE.

Wrestlers and fans alike have been outraged. They’ve criticised the Guardian for what they see as middle-class snobbery; they’ve extended an invitation to Heritage to see what the British wrestling scene is really like; they’ve listed the lengthy roll-call of British stars who have worked abroad and not had to adopt the persona of “Duke Spiffington”.

And, obviously, they’re right – but I can’t help feeling they’re missing the point a little.

If British wrestling is ever going to be more mainstream than it is now, it needs to start to address these stereotypes, rather than throwing toys out of the pram whenever they’re invoked.

I’ve talked about it many times before – there’s still a certain “small-time” attitude among the majority of British wrestling promotions. The sub-tweeting, the passive-aggressive Facebook posts; the misspellings in promotional material; the poor production values; the over-exuberant and over-abusive folk taking up the seats in the front row without anyone telling them to quiet down or leave the room; the wrestlers watching other matches through an ajar door…

Sure, you’ve got some elite promotions in the UK who are running fantastic shows in amazing venues and selling hundreds of tickets every time – but they are very few and far between. It’s more than a bit strange to get annoyed by Heritage’s reference to the shows in leisure centres when so many British wrestling shows are indeed held there (or in working men’s social clubs).

If anyone flicks through the TV listings to find British wrestling, they’re likely to skim across WrestletalkTV and its sister show British Wrestling Round-Up – hardly the best reflection of the in-ring quality that can be seen around the UK.

As for the talent, Zack Sabre Jr himself has said that working in the US as a Brit, you tend to be forced to choose between talking like a prince (or “Duke Spiffington”) and a cockney street urchin – William Regal might have superseded that by now, but don’t forget when he was a peer of the realm, or when his English accent for some reason made Vince Russo think he should be a butch gay lumberjack. It’s all very well listing the incredible talent that British wrestling boasts, but let’s face it, the only one to get any mainstream media attention in recent years has been Grado – and he’s as old-school Britwres as they come, surely, with the comedy, the singlet and the build?

Of course Heritage is, in the main, wrong. I love British wrestling. But there’s more than a kernel of truth in the jabs Heritage’s article takes. If promoters, wrestlers and fans genuinely think the time is right for a real and televised resurgence of the scene, bringing it back to a national and international television audience rather than just the obsessive in-crowd, then those criticisms, perhaps, need to be accepted and addressed.

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