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Good afternoon, grapple fans!

The death of the legendary Dickie Davies prompted memories of fat men in pants, grappling pointlessly. Such is life, contends Colin Montgomery


Life is a cabaret, my chum. Cue Family Fortunes sound effect. WRONG…Sally Bowles. You may have kicked up a storm with your seductive Weimar warbling. But you were way off the mark there, girl. It’s far from a cabaret. That said, there was a darkness running through that song that’s just as applicable these days as it was back in 30s Germany. AW NAW! 30s Germany reference alert. Braverman’s shock troops will be upon us tout suite. Quick, hide!

“Col, spare us from ‘freedom of speech’ guff,” I hear you cry. Nae worries. I’ve no intention of unpicking that rotten thread. I will reserve the right to finger it occasionally here though. That said, any fool knows, there’s no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. In the same way there’s not really such a thing as true independence for countries. Or the slightest possibility of me becoming next First Minister for Scotland. Good luck to that patsy.

For now, let’s stop talking pants… and talk men in pants. Specifically, the 70s variety who used to prowl wrestling rings in the depths of Croydon on a Saturday afternoon. AKA, World of Sport’s finest hour; I think in reality the slot was probably about 30 minutes. But when I were a nipper it felt as though time stood still. It was basically porphyric lorry drivers in leotards, sweating a lot, while furious grannies bellowed at them. But all the better for it.

I am just about old enough to remember Kendo Nagasaki’s mystical mind games or Pallo’s beefy blonde assaults on evildoers, bringing rough – but performative – justice to the canvas. But it was the era of the lumbering titans that still looms large in my memory. Big Daddy was a bit of a dick to be honest – never liked him. But Giant Haystacks… now there was a name to conjure with. His hair and beard alone must have weighed 10 stone.

Yes, when Dickie Davies (RIP) seamlessly bouffanted us, with his purser’s twinkle, from some Latvian underwater archery to Kent Walton – ready ringside to greet us with “Afternoon, grapple fans”, it was Haystacks I looked for. He defied the old rural idiom – finding ‘needle’ in this Haystack was easy; his countenance was permanently that of a man who’d had his Watney’s Party 7 nicked. It didn’t take no Sherlock Holmes, as Alex Turner once said…

Then the Americans came. With folding chairs. And smoke machines. And fake tans. And they ruined everything. The futile, downbeat, almost shabby panto, which saw men grunt and grapple to no real avail was lost – yes it was still, panto. But they glammed it up – but glam as welcome as a Gary Glitter record at a wedding dance. Nothing ever lasts forever I suppose. But then, when news of dear Dickie’s departure arrived… I grappled with said existential lament.

Which is to say, on reflection, the theatrical grapple never dies really. That performative struggle, like a Nietzschean dance number, keeps us busy. We all buy tickets and never leave – picture the scene with Cabbie and Snake Plissken enjoying dystopian vaudeville in some wreck of a downtown theatre, full of cranks and crims, in Escape from New York. That’s us that is (said, in the voice of 90s era Rob Newman). But this just in: it’s getting worse…

The grapple is now joyless. With no bawdy charm. Or cartoon villains. Or reassuring front men, anchoring the drama. The bad guys are just bad guys. And they win now. Routinely. And the pretence is ill-concealed, not in charmingly gauche way – but just in a dead-eyed way. Democratic norms grapple with wholesale lies. Ideological zealotry (from across the political spectrum I add) grapples with civil debate. So-called progressivism grapples with anyone who doesn’t share its intolerant boilerplate worldview. The irony is a bitter one.

The outcomes seem fixed too. To the point where you wonder – at macro or micro level – whether it’s worth performing the act of voting. Many before me have grappled with this, and been damned for their cynicism. “The struggle is long yet worth it!” we’re told. But when even those advocating the struggle are so flawed, with motives so suspect, and a piety that ‘others’ those failing their shibboleth test… well, it’s a sair fecht right enough, says I.

Still, we always have the selective nostalgia of childhood to fall back on. A harmless reverie for past glories, right? And better than the pursuit of mythical past greatness as advocated by fascist juntas eh – to be honest there’s enough of that brewing all over the world.

So, for now, I shall pop Half-Man Half-Biscuit’s Dickie Davies Eyes on the turntable and take refuge in fond memories. I may even strip to my pants. Provided the curtains are closed. Obvs. ■

Illustration: Joanne Elizabeth Art Shop

World of Sport was porphyric lorry drivers in leotards who sweated a lot while furious grannies bellowed at them



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