Shirley CRABTREE (1930-1997)

Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 514
  • Subject No: 511
  • Broadcast date: Wed 7 Mar 1979
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Wed 21 Feb 1979
  • Venue: New London Theatre
  • Series: 19
  • Edition: 20
  • Code name: Apple

on the guest list...

  • Giant Haystacks
  • Kendo Nagasaki
  • Gorgeous George
  • Mal Sanders
  • Robbie Barnes
  • Roy St Clair
  • Tony St Clair
  • Bert Royal
  • Vic Faulkner
  • Jimmy Breaks
  • Steve Grey
  • Pete Roberts
  • Mike Moreno
  • Alan Dennison
  • Dave Bond
  • Wayne Bridges
  • Johnny Kwango
  • Pete 'Tally Ho' Kaye
  • Mal Kojak Kirk
  • Biff Bruno Wellington
  • 'Goldenbelt' Maxine
  • Eunice - wife
  • Paul - stepson
  • Linda - stepdaughter
  • Jane - stepdaughter
  • Alfred - father-in-law
  • Emily - mother-in-law
  • Max - brother
  • Brian - brother
  • Jeremy - half-brother
  • Cheryl - sister-in-law
  • Susan - sister-in-law
  • Jack Wilkinson
  • Alice Stead
  • Sandy Orford
  • Anita Harris
  • Robert Robinson
  • Mick McManus
  • Hamilton Smith
  • Barbara Burkett
  • Ron Froggatt
  • Maureen Froggatt
  • Kerry Froggatt

production team...

  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

Life In The Ring

from flyweight to heavyweight

Anita Harris

Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life

Screenshots of Shirley Crabtree This Is Your Life

Shirley Crabtree biography

Ryan Danes recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, Who's The Daddy, The Life and Times of Shirley Crabtree...

Prologue The New London Theatre, Wednesday 7 March 1979

THE SHOW began with serious trumpeting. A fanfare of some importance and the audience were applauding. It felt like history was being made, although some of the people there that night, figures dotted throughout the whole of Shirley Crabtree's life, would later think differently. Once the limelight faded there would be a divided opinion on the Crabtree clan and their influence on professional wrestling, and we shall come to these matters in due course. For now, we are trying to conjure up a scene, resurrect a bit of telly history so to speak, so we're looking down at the TV cameras, which are themselves trained on the mock-auditorium set up at the front. There is empty raised seating either side of the doors centre-stage, and a backdrop of red, brown, and cream. Every set of eyes is focused on the doors and over all of this, the shows superimposed titles come and go.

"This is your life; this is Eamonn Andrews and for the next few minutes, I am the hooded monster or words there about, and my intention is to gate-crash a studio-call, a photo-call for grapplers and wrestlers which is taking place in the London room, which is part of this building. So I've got to get there in time to get close to somebody, the sort of Daddy of the grunt and groan business, but to get in and get close to him, I need some camouflage, and my camouflage takes the shape of three sporting gentlemen..."

Gorgeous George was next to appear. Dressed all in black he looked like Danny La Rue and was camper than a row of pink tents. He wafted on to the stage and waved to the crowd like he was the Queen of Sheba, and maybe that was how he managed the masked wrestler in his charge, the one some called the most controversial in the business. Out-foxing the fox, out-gimmicking the gimmick, may have been the only way he could keep a lid on the "Oriental Master" Kendo Nagasaki whose fury was relentless. Of course, all of this made one hell of a ringside show and George continued to manage Kendo's affairs until he died in 1990.

And what of the self-proclaimed mystic himself? Kendo was the third man through the doors and by then Eamonn was heading off of the stage. Besides this, he probably didn't give a monkeys about the man behind the mask, although he did know the business a bit. Eamonn had been an amateur Irish boxing champion as a kid, so he had more than a passing interest in the wrestling. He was also the original presenter of World Of Sport when it started on TV in 1965, but the chances are he probably didn't have a clue about Kendo's "supernatural powers", and the jovial Dubliner soldiered on until 1987, when he died of heart failure at the relatively young age of 64.

By the time 40-stone Giant Haystacks appeared wearing what looked like the armless remains of his mum's sheepskin coat, Eamonn had given the big man the thumbs-up and was leading George and Kendo into the audience. Off stage the only light came from a blue neon sign above a flight of stairs, which read This Is Your Life, and some of those scurrying out of the theatre at the end of the night to catch the last bus really didn't need a reminder. Britain in the late 1970s was pretty bloody bleak if you were skint, and characters from the wrestling provided light relief, whether you were watching them on TV, over a couple of pints down the Legion, or you had paid your £1.50 to go see one of the 4,500 yearly shows.

The London room was dark and filled with wrestlers, and Big Daddy stood in the centre of them all in a white leotard. At a little over 6ft 2in, the 26-stone star was well past his fighting prime and was only too aware that the Big Daddy image was what the people wanted; the wrestling came second.

The London room fell silent, and the photographer motioned for the group to look into the camera. Shirley was stood in the middle of a burly group of wrestlers wearing his white leotard; still unsuspecting. They all shouted out their lines as the scene cut to Haystacks shuffling along like he had soiled himself and Kendo behind him bringing up the rear. From the right, another cameraman swoops in as Eamonn (still masked) appears from the opposite side with the red book and microphone hidden beneath his cape. Waving it under Shirley's nose the colour drains instantly from his face as Eamonn removes his headgear, and he says: "Star of wrestling the big daddy of them all, known to millions as Big Daddy, tonight this is your life!"

THE TRUTH is Shirley pretty much knew about This Is Your Life from the start: The family spent a large period of 1979 waiting for the show to happen, and he got more nervous the nearer they got to the date. Eunice had been on form one night and blurted something out, and the cover-up gave the game away.

Although Shirley never actually questioned her about it, he could see right through her, as he always could.

Because of Shirley's involvement with shows like Tiswas, as well as the wrestling, it got to the stage where he knew influential people in television, and they would ring him up direct to ask him to do appearances so the ones in the know had to make sure they did not let on to him about This Is Your Life. Eunice told the kids what was happening and got them to promise not to tell their dad what was happening, and then she went and spoiled the surprise before they had a chance. The hints she dropped were not subtle and Shirley was not daft.

On the day, they took the train down to London where they were met by the BBC driver who took them to the theatre. They were all seated around a great big round table; Jack Wilkinson was there, and they all went through the script to make sure everybody knew what they had to say and when Eamonn Andrews sprung the trap Shirley was genuinely surprised. Like a rabbit caught the headlights, he was not naturally comfortable with the spotlight on him, but he was also thinking: "Oh shit, what are they going to be dragging out of the woodwork?"

It was the personal nature of certain types of programme which Shirley didn't like and that is why he would never do shows like Parkinson. When it was all over the look of relief he had in his eyes was there for all to see, and he just wanted to go home and curl up into one great big ball so the world could not get in. The demand and pursuit of his time was relentless; it was only when he was back home in Millbank that he could have a normal life, and this lack of freedom was the downside to what he achieved.

When everybody finally settled down and took their seats on the stage, Eamonn began his commentary and Shirley began to relax a little more. He was not as relaxed as Eamonn, who had been out the back drinking brandy with Eunice before the show, so he was certainly ready to go. They would continue their merriment afterwards with Eunice putting on all the airs and graces; she was actually putting on a posh voice and the kids were trying not to laugh. The façade would fall down as soon as she was hammered, but before that she was charming, walking around like she was Lady Muck or Cleopatra more like.

The BBC make-up artist had done her up so she looked like an Egyptian, whereas she usually wouldn't wear any make-up at all. There was a moment on stage when Jane suddenly realised that her mother had been on the drink, and Shirley realised the same thing at about the same time. Then, there was a moment of mutual panic as they wondered exactly what she might do or say, but the show passed without incident. When Anita Harris came on screen and talked about Shirley helping teach her how to weight train, Eunice was not very happy at all, and that is as close as they got to trouble. Shirley obviously hadn't told his wife about his meeting with the beautiful young ice skater and actress, and if you watch the show you can actually see his reaction to the situation.

When his colleague from the Coldstream Guards came bounding in Shirley was lost for words, but carried on even so. The truth was he had no clue who the guy was; he could have been Lord Lucan as far as he was concerned, but he shook his hand all the same. When it was all over he had no desire to hang around and watch Eunice getting drunk with Eamonn, so he and Max had it away on their toes while Shirley was still numb with shock. Jane was sat quietly in the corner with Haystacks, and being ignored by all of them when he suddenly turned to her and said: "Don't worry; nobody likes me either."

As the party went on Eunice had a blazing row with Brian, before she told Jane how disappointed she was in her as a daughter. After this, she tried to mess up Mick McManus's hair, and when Shirley later found out what had gone on he was glad that he had left when he did.

It wasn't that he did not feel honoured by This Is Your Life, he always recalled the day with great fondness, and saw it as one of the best days of his life. Sometimes it did all get on top of him though, and it felt like at any time he may suddenly wake up from a dream, or that the crowd would find him out. Like he was a phoney, an imposter living inside such a hulking frame, and if this happened there would be no Shirley Crabtree. His image soared high above what he was as a mere man, and in the back of his mind he knew that one day it would all come crashing down around his ears. He did his best to enjoy his here and now fame, and was always aware that it would end. And as the 1980s moved on and he got older, it grew harder to keep up the pretence.

"Many of you have wondered what the reaction would be if you were suddenly confronted by Eamonn Andrews, carrying that famous red book and uttering those immortal words. Well, now I know, and the impact is shattering. I was cornered by Eamonn after wrestling at Croydon's Fairfield Halls, and I can honestly say I hadn't a clue it was coming. They told me afterwards that almost a year of planning went into the programme and chief plotters were my wife Eunice and brother Max and Thames Television researcher Maurice Leonard... I enjoyed every second of the recording which took place the next day. The whole thing was done in a really relaxed way and the first to greet me was Anita Harris the singing star who I helped to learn weight training at Crystal Palace. Then after more than 20 years I was reunited with Jack Wilkinson whom I played rugby with in Halifax as a schoolboy before Jack went on to represent England at rugby league. Next came my very first wrestling opponent Sandy Orford, and later Mick McManus, who gave me some very amusing personal reminiscences about what it was like to be on the receiving end of my belly-butt. From my time in the guards came a fellow Coldstreamer called Robert Robinson and an old friend from my lifeguard days in Blackpool, Hamilton Smith, now a top international swimming coach. I was introduced to people I had rescued at Blackpool and not seen since those days, among them a lady called Barbara Burkett. Then, there was a special welcome from Kerry Froggatt, a girl from Derbyshire whose parents were kind enough to say that I helped in her recovery from a brain tumour. Kerry was ten at the time and when her mother wrote asking for a picture I sent her some flowers and chocolate too, and we have kept in touch with them ever since."

Series 19 subjects

Alice Goldberger | Michael Parkinson | Mary O'Hara | Barbara Kelly | Terry Scott | Jimmy Shand | Eric Newby | Patricia Neal
David Bellamy | Muhammad Ali | Vera Lynn | Naomi James | Leslie Thomas | James Galway | Elaine Paige | Lord Lovat
Kevin Keegan | Stephane Grappelli | Robert Powell | Shirley Crabtree | Peter Barkworth | Robert Law | Dinah Sheridan
JPR Williams | Joyce Pearce | Ian Ogilvy | Margaret Kelly