My maternal grandmother had a hard life. She became a war widow aged just 35 like so many others did between 1939 and 1945. She brought up three children on an Army Widow’s Pension and life was not easy.
She never “took another man” as the saying went then so encouraged her sons, my Uncles Pete and Joey, to remain sharing the second bedroom in her terraced two-up, two down at no. 51 Belton Road, Forest Gate E7 as long as possible [Grandma shared the other bedroom with my mother].
Every penny counted, and when Pete and my mother moved out to marry their respective paramours she was left just with Joe – for the rest of her life.
Joe was very generous with his Board and my mother paid her handsomely for looking after me during the school holidays and sometimes weekends as well.
Grandma would always look her best for a walk in the park
The trouble for Grandma’s financial health was rooted in the way she used to religiously buy me a Matchbox toy or something equally exciting every time we walked past Chambers’ toy shop opposite Upton Park Station and home-made Kate & Sidney pie, pork chops, and very occasionally a small cut of steak itself were on my lunchtime menu.
Not many six-year-olds were asked, “What do you want for dinner?” in those days I can assure you.
Saturday was a special day in the Yeowell house and in every case, sport was our focus. I have occasionally touched on my uncles’ love of yer ‘Ammers here on MFW previously, with Pete dropping by early doors to call on Joey and his mum [Gladys] and me [Martin] to have some grub and a natter on his way to the game.
Uncles Joe [left] and Pete on their way to a do in 1958.
Sometimes he would go to the Boleyn Ground with his brother and when I got to reach the age of eight I tagged along whenever he would let me. Joey always made a late call between darts with his mates in a pub that would illegally open all afternoon and the Chicken Run at Upton Park.
But what I have never revealed before is that Saturday was really Gladys’s day. Forget football, this was the real deal. This was Professional [please try not to laugh too much] Wrestling, live from Leeds Town Hall, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, or even, yes it happened now and again, Wembley Stadium.
And this was brought to you live on ITV’s World of Sport shortly before lunchtime in the early 1960s, when I would have had no feasible option but to watch along with Grandma Gladys, which meant a few things I could have cheerfully lived without.
The television set itself was bought for her, by Joey most likely. It had an old rotary dial on the front for changing channels, and this had suffered such an intensive battering over the years that it was literally attached to the spindle inside the set with sellotape. Grandma was a little bit mutton as well, so while the volume from the screaming hordes at ringside already drowned out commentator Kent Walton, the noise emanating throughout the front room at no. 51 Belton Road became a cacophony as soon as the main bout hove into view.
It was quite surprising that Grandma coped with the TV as well as she did actually until I recall that this is the same lady who would think nothing of removing the bulb from the front room lighting socket to replace it with her household iron for post-laundry duty. This was a new one on me when I was five or six – and to this very day I’ve yet to see this ploy used in action by anybody else
Gladys took her wrestling extremely seriously. She based her love of the sport [for she insisted that this is what it was] on a few basic tenets that would do credit to an Italian ultra from Inter or Milan in the modern day:
- Words such as fixed, choreographed, stage-managed, or fake were to be ignored because Wrestling is For Real;
- Mick McManus is a dirty fighter from the wrong side of the Thames who should not be allowed in the Ring;***
- The Royal Brothers are God-like heroes who deserve to win every tag match they take part in just by turning up;
- Jackie Pallo should never be allowed on TV – the man’s a disgrace for entering the Ring wearing that gear.
There were a few more principles similar to these but a couple were very much of their time and thus unfit for MFW to repeat in 2023. Let’s just say she was more than happy a few years down the line whenever Kendo Nagasaki lost to a UK fighter and utterly freaked out when she first clapped eyes on flamboyant Welsh wrestler Adrian Street.
For something like half an hour every Saturday, Grandma Gladys was transported to her sporting nirvana accompanied by the thoughts of commentator Kent while a rather bored little boy sat in the other armchair, resigned to his fate of hearing her views on every Boston Crab, Pinfall or half-Nelson she described – vividly, graphically and loudly.
And she was no plastic supporter either, my Grandma.
Whenever the Royals or McManus [obviously, a villain well worth turning out for!] were on the Bill at the nearby Walthamstow Town Hall or other venues in the East End, she and her like-minded neighbour Madge would go along for a good time. After she’d been out, Grandma insisted on showing me the programme she’d bought as a souvenir and dramatically talked me through all the holds on display during the evening’s grappling.
I’ve no idea how he acquired the knowledge but Pete once told me both the ladies had never indulged in throwing their shoes into the ring in disgust as they thought the practice was “too common” for them to indulge in.
Always derided by the world and its kittens for being everything Grandma said it wasn’t, Professional Wrestling gave its demographic audience a great deal of pleasure over the years if Gladys and Madge were anything to go by.
And although it was a minor irritation at the time, looking back after all those years it gives me quite a warm glow, does that front room, broken television, and recalling the sheer pleasure enjoyed by a wonderful old lady.
Together with the in-every-way-unforgettable outside khazi and the antics of her two dogs, Jack and Jill Russell, these things are hard to forget.
Relaxing by the outdoor khazi with Jack and Jill Russell. Or is it Jill and Jack?
***Mick McManus was quite a character. He was indeed born on the wrong side of the river [in Camberwell, near Brixton] for East Londoners, to whom he was known as The Man You Love To Hate. He was also known as the Rugged South London Tough Guy and had his own column in The Sun, which I can vaguely remember myself.
One of his many jobs connected to the world of wrestling was when he ran the London office of well-known promotions company Dale Martin, where his job was “to determine the matches and their results”
I’m sorry Grandma, but at least it was that nasty Mick McM and not one of your favourite Brothers Royal. Bert and Vic wouldn’t countenance anything like that, now would they?
***This article is dedicated to Gladys Yeowell, who would have been delighted to see her grandson making a living as a journalist.
Whether she would be equally as pleased with her portrayal in this article is a matter for conjecture of course.
Wallowing in nostalgia for an hour or so while writing this gives me the excuse to offer this oft-ignored diamond buried deeply on Deep Purple’s massive hit album Machine Head. One that can make you think of the Beatles if you close your eyes reasonably tightly: