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Wrestling in your armchair with a man called Shirley; World Of Sport (ITV) 1965-1988.

Byline: Tony Barrett

FOR armchair sport fans Saturday afternoons meant one thing - sitting at home watching Grandstand on BBC1.

Which was unfortunate for ITV which had its own show aimed at armchair viewers in the form of World of Sport, for ever damned to be Grandstand's poor relation.

Presented by Dickie Davies, who manfully struggled against the odds given the poor quality of sporting action he had at his disposal, World of Sport only ever achieved any real popularity when it started to show wrestling.

There was something about watching overweight fellas in leotards which viewers found impossible to resist.

The national infatuation with wrestling turned the likes of Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy, Mick McManus and Kendo Nagasaki into household names - even the Queen and Margaret Thatcher were believed to be big fans!

Big Daddy (Shirley Crabtree) usually received top billing, although some critics reckoned this was because his brother, Max, was the chief booker.

Critics accused the wrestling of being staged and of being little more than slapstick British comedy performed by a couple of heavy blokes wearing spandex and there was more than a degree of truth in this.

But in August 1987 Mal "King Kong" Kirk died from a heart condition, aggravated by a trademark Daddy "splash". Crabtree was devastated.

In truth, World of Sport had been in decline long before this tragedy with viewing figures plunging as the BBC snaffled up the best sporting events for Grandstand.

World of Sport's staple diet of pubgames, poor quality boxing and athletics just wasn't good enough in the face of what was on offer on the Beeb and viewers voted with their remote controls.

Only On the Ball, which kicked off World of Sport every Saturday afternoon, provided any kind of serious challenge to the BBC's sporting dominance.

Featuring Brian Moore and former Liverpool star Ian St John, On The Ball took a look at the week's major football stories and its laid back, humorous style made it a popular alternative to Football Focus.

In fact, it probably suffered by the very fact it was part of the World of Sport recipe. Had it been a totally distinct programme it may even have overtaken its Grandstand rival, but it was forever damned by being seen as an intrinsic part of a struggling product.

World of Sport may have been fighting with one hand behind its back, such was the BBC's dominance of the major sporting occasions, but that did not stop Dickie Davies from becoming a firm favourite with the viewing public.

Always light-hearted and game for a laugh, Dickie was the main reason why many viewers continued to tune into the show on a Saturday afternoon - even when the sporting fayre on offer had become little more than mundane.

In 1988 the death knell was sounded for World of Sport when Greg Dyke assumed control of ITV and immediately axed wrestling.

Without wrestling, World of Sport was nothing and the show was soon taken off air.

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DICKIE DAVIES EYES: Your World Of Sport host, complete with trademark streak
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 18, 2006
Words:512
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