The double life of TV wrestler Roger

GENTLER PASTIME Former News reporter and professional wrestler Roger Green with one of his paintings

GENTLER PASTIME Former News reporter and professional wrestler Roger Green with one of his paintings

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Cast your mind back to those halcyon days of Saturday afternoon sport – days when you could plonk yourself down in front of the box at midday and not stir for about five hours.

Until the mid-1960s there was Grandstand on the BBC which went head to head with World of Sport on ITV. You could channel hop between the two, but if you hated sport, tough.

But in a bid to woo more women World of Sport started broadcasting wrestling with commentator Kent Walton explaining the subtleties of forearm smashes, drop kicks and half-Nelsons.

The top wrestlers became household names – the likes of Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo and Adrian Street – delighting those who yearned for a bit of groan and grunt before the football results.

One of those contestants was Havant-born Roger Green, a former reporter with The News who led a bizarre double life – journalist by day and professional wrestler by night.

The welterweight appeared many times on those grainy old black and white Saturday afternoon TV sessions grappling with McManus, pony-tailed Pallo and Street. And on one occasion he partnered Big Daddy in a mixed weight tag team match.

Now 74 he has just written his autobiography charting his rise from Havant, through the gyms of Portsmouth to TV stardom all via the newsroom of the old Evening News offices in Stanhope Road, Landport.

When we speak he is on holiday on the Algarve, Portugal. Roger moved there when he quit the ring in 1975 and set up as a freelance travel and features writer. He has recently returned to the UK and is spending his retirement years in Southsea.

He says: ‘There were only two things in life I ever wanted to do – be a reporter and a bodybuilder.

‘I started as a trainee reporter with The News in 1959 and it was during that time that I trained in bodybuilding at Bob Woolger’s gym which at that time was in Clive Road, Fratton.

‘Bob was considered to be the guru of British bodybuilding and had nurtured the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger who went on to win fame as Mr Universe and, of course, as a Hollywood actor.’

It was at Woolger’s gym that Roger trained alongside his friend Bob Kirkwood.

The two of them shared another interest, watching professional wrestling, and they would go along to the Stanhope Road drill hall paying particular attention to the career of Spencer Churchill, who had already made the transition from bodybuilding to wrestling.

When Bob told Roger about a new boxing and wrestling gym that had opened in North End the two youngsters decided to give it a try.

The gym was owned and run by the fearsome Portsmouth heavyweight Big Bruno Elrington. Having introduced themselves the boys were invited on to the mat by big Bruno for an opening session.

Bruno tested the youngsters’ stamina and courage to their maximum. Undeterred, the two of them vowed to return and slowly began to learn the rudiments of professional wrestling.

Roger adds: ‘Bruno was a huge inspiration. He not only showed me the ropes but threw me through them on occasions.’

When the time was right Bruno introduced Roger and Bob to the independent promoter Paul Lincoln, and the two of them were asked to demonstrate their skills in the ring one night at Hayling Island before the doors opened to the public for that evening’s show.

The youngsters impressed Lincoln sufficiently enough for them to be booked regularly for bouts around the country.

Roger’s professional debut was as a last-minute substitute at Wimbledon Palais and he found himself matched against the experienced Eddie Capelli.

‘I was nervous as hell,’ he says. ‘I had never performed in front of a big audience before. Capelli won, but the crowd gave me a big hand so I returned to Portsmouth that night feeling a new way of life had opened up for me.’

He was right and from then on three or four nights a week he would finish work on The News, pack his bag, and head off to wrestling halls around the south.

He soon moved on to Fleet Street and the Daily Mirror. ‘They tended to send me on the jobs where there might be a bit of trouble because they knew I could look after myself. They were fun days.’

His book Memoirs of a TV Wrestler gives an insight into the good and bad of the wrestling business, the truth about fixed matches, the showmanship tricks of the trade and highlights some of the larger-than-life characters who entertained the public before ITV pulled the plug in the 1980s in favour of what Roger calls ‘American pantomime wrestling’.

He adds: ‘Of course some of the bouts were fixed, but most weren’t. It was a tough trade to be in and my body’s definitely paying for it now. I’m plagued with arthritis. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

‘My training at The News and later in London gave me the experience to write something very personal about my experiences in the wrestling business and I’m so grateful for those early days in Portsmouth.’

· Memoirs of a TV Wrestler is an e-book published by Amazon at £3.96.

SWITCHING INTEREST TO A DIFFERENT KIND OF CANVAS

Welterweight Roger Green spent more than 15 years being hurled to the canvas in the ring, but it’s a different kind of canvas to which he is hooked these days.

For the former pro-wrestler is an avid painter who has exhibited all over Europe and is pictured here in front of one of his works.

He studied art at the Leeds School of Art and Reading University and his move to the Algarve was partly influenced by the quality of the light there.

A strange pastime for a wrestler? For Roger it made complete sense.

He says: ‘The ritualised drama of wrestling, played out within the space of the square, canvas-covered ring, with opposite corners coloured blue and red, has interesting parallels to the process of abstract expressionist art.

‘Both are about the interaction of elemental forces within the parameters of the arena.’

He moved to Portugal in 1982 to paint and write in both English and Portuegese publications from his hilltop cottage.

Apart from a passion for collecting antique bottles, when he lived in the Algarve he loved exploring and learning about the countryside around him, and rented out rooms that opened on to a patio of fig trees, views of the rolling countryside and the sound of a friendly nearby dog.

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