Shirley Crabtree

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Shirley Crabtree
Shirley "Big Daddy" Crabtree.jpg
Born (1930-11-14)14 November 1930
Halifax, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died 2 December 1997(1997-12-02) (aged 67)
Halifax, West Yorkshire, England
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) Big Daddy
Mr. Universe
The Battling Guardsman
The Blonde Adonis
Billed height 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)[1]
Billed weight 26 stlb
(170 kg or 375 lb)
Billed from Halifax, West Yorkshire
Trained by George Hackenschmidt[1]
Sandy Orford[2]
Debut 1952
Retired 1993

Shirley Crabtree, Jr, better known as Big Daddy (14 November 1930 – 2 December 1997) was an English professional wrestler famous for his record-breaking 64 inch chest. Known for wearing his various Big Daddy leotards, Crabtree's original garment was emblazoned with just a large "D" and was fashioned by his wife Eunice from their chintz sofa.


Crabtree was a former Rugby League player for league club Bradford Northern who never made an appearance. His fiery temper often forced him off the pitch early.[3] He also had stints as a coal miner and with the British Army's Coldstream Guards before following in the footstep of his father, Shirley Crabtree, Sr., and becoming a professional wrestler in 1952.

Crabtree Jr. first became popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a blue-eye noted for his strength and physique and billed as "Blond Adonis Shirley Crabtree." He won the European Heavyweight Championship in Joint Promotions and a disputed branch of the British Heavyweight title in the independent British Wrestling Federation before he quit in 1966 following a (non-kayfabe) campaign of harassment by aggrieved former champion Bert Assirati. He retired for roughly six years.

In 1972, Crabtree returned to Joint Promotions as a heel with a gimmick of The Battling Guardsman based on his former service with the Coldstreams. During the intervening period, his formerly muscular physique had degenerated into fat. It was during this period that he made his first appearances on World of Sport on ITV. Not long afterwards, Shirley's brother, Max, was appointed as Northern area booker with Joint Promotions and began to transform Crabtree into the persona for which he would be best remembered.

Based originally on the character of the same name played by actor Burl Ives in the first screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), 'Big Daddy' was first given life by Crabtree in late 1974, initially still as a heel. The character first gained attention in mid-1975 when he formed a heel tag team with TV newcomer Giant Haystacks and together they became notorious for crushing blue eye opponents. However, during this period, Daddy began to be cheered for the first time since his comeback when he entered into a feud with legendary masked heel Kendo Nagasaki, especially when he unmasked Nagasaki during a televised contest from Solihull in December 1975 (although the unmasked Nagasaki quickly won the bout moments later).

By the middle of 1977, Daddy had completed his transformation into a blue eye, a change cemented by the breakdown of his tag team with Haystacks and a subsequent feud between the two which would last until the early 1990s. A firm fans' favourite particularly amongst children, Big Daddy came to the ring in either a sequinned cape or else a Union Flag jacket and top hat to a theme tune in the form of "We Shall Not Be Moved" by the Seekers. In 1980, Crabtree recorded his own version of the song on EMI Records backed by rock guitarist Legendary Lonnie and this would be his ring entry music for the remainder of his career.

In addition to his feud with Haystacks, Daddy also feuded with Canadian wrestler 'Mighty' John Quinn. He would headline Wembley Arena with singles matches against Quinn in 1979 and Haystacks in 1981. Later in the 1980s he would feud with Dave "Fit" Finlay, Drew McDonald and numerous other heels. As Big Daddy, Crabtree would often team with many rising stars within the country including future international stars Sammy Lee, Dynamite Kid, Young David, Roy Regal and Chris Adams.

Though Big Daddy's size and image as an unstoppable force precluded many wrestling moves, making him a frequent user of generic throws such as body slams, he would be met by cheers whenever he wrestled. Big Daddy's most famous attack would involve using his large abdomen to great effect with bodychecks (thrusting his pelvis forward to slam his belly into an oncoming opponent) before finishing off opponents with his Big Splash in which he jumped vertically down onto the body of a fallen opponent. These moves in Daddy's arsenal were often met with chants of "Easy, Easy" from the crowd.

In 1982 ITV planned to build a TV programme around 'Big Daddy' as a replacement for the popular children's Saturday morning Tiswas show. A pilot for Big Daddy's Saturday Show was shot and a series announced but Crabtree pulled out at the last moment, leaving the hastily-renamed The Saturday Show presented by Isla St Clair and Tommy Boyd.

In August 1987, Big Daddy's career was blighted by tragedy after a turn of events during the final moments of a tag team match pitting himself and nephew Steve Crabtree (billed as "Greg Valentine") against King Kong Kirk and King Kendo. After Big Daddy had delivered his splash and scored the winning pinfall, rather than selling the impact of the finishing move, Kirk turned an unhealthy colour and was rushed to a nearby hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival. Despite the fact that the inquest into Kirk's death found that he had a serious heart condition and cleared Crabtree of any responsibility, Crabtree was devastated.

He continued to make regular appearances into the early 1990s, still performing the splash and other moves from his repertoire and generally only appeared in tag-team matches where his sole involvement would be standing firm while opponents attempted to body-charge him and simply bounced off. Crabtree eventually retired from wrestling altogether to spend the remainder of his days in his home town of Halifax.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II said they were fans of 'Big Daddy'.[4][5]

Crabtree died of a stroke in December 1997 in Halifax General Hospital. He was survived by his second wife of 31 years, Eunice and six children.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Shirley Crabtree's brother Brian was a wrestling referee and later MC, while his other brother Max was a booker for – and later proprietor of – Joint Promotions. His nephews Steve and Scott Crabtree also had wrestling careers – Steve wrestled in the 1980s and 1990s, billed as 'Greg Valentine' (named after the American wrestler of the same name) while Scott wrestled as Scott Valentine. Both would work as tag team partners for their uncle. Another nephew Eorl Crabtree is now a Huddersfield and England international rugby league player.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Big Daddy had his own comic strip in Buster during the early 1980s drawn by Mike Lacey.
  • Super heavyweight United States professional wrestler and former WrestleMania headliner, King Kong Bundy, initially wrestled as "Big Daddy Bundy", a nod to Crabtree.
  • The European version of the multi-format game Legends of Wrestling II featured Big Daddy as an exclusive extra Legendary Wrestler.
  • Crabtree's 64 inch chest earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
  • When wrestling in England years after Crabtree's death, US wrestler Colt Cabana occasionally wore a singlet similarly styled after Big Daddy's and imitating many of his trademark mannerisms, calling himself "Colt Daddy".
  • A stage play by Brian Mitchell and Joseph Nixon, Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks premiered at the Brighton Festival Fringe in East Sussex, England between 26–28 May 2011 and subsequently toured Great Britain.[7]
  • Big Daddy features on Luke Haines' 2011 album "9½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early '80s" as the proud owner of a Casio VL-Tone synthesizer.

In wrestling[edit]

  • Finishing moves
  • Signature moves

Championships and accomplishments[edit]


  1. ^ a b "OWOW Profile". Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  2. ^ This Is Your Life – Big Daddy, Thames Television 1979
  3. ^ Baxter, T. "Eorl faces Daddy of a day EASY! EASY!" Daily Mirror (Thursday, 24 August 2006), page 69
  4. ^ Hart, Bret (2009). Hitman. Reading: Ebury Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-09-193286-2. 
  5. ^ "Obituary: Big Daddy", by Pierre Perrone, The Independent
  6. ^ "Obituary: Big Daddy". The Independent. Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  7. ^ Administrator (15 April 2011). "FringeGuru - Big Daddy Vs Giant Haystacks". Retrieved 7 May 2015. 

External links[edit]