Book Review: “Who’s The Daddy” By Ryan Danes


Hamish Woodward

Ryan Danes’ biographically retelling of the life and career of Shirley “Big Daddy” Crabtree is a fantastic insight into a wrestling legend.

Published in 2013, “Who’s The Daddy” looks back to his birth in 1930 all the way to his death 1997. It details his life growing up in wartime Britain, working in factories as he helped his single mother raise three boys in their two up/two down terrace house in Halifax.

Shirley faced bullying for his name as a child, which included mistakenly receiving a doll for Christmas from the Salvation Army. He evoked the character from the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue”, and became hard-headed and resilient as a result.

The book goes on to talk about his wrestling career, following national service in the Coldstream Guards. It details his initial lack of success, before being brought out of retirement by his brother Max Crabtree to become the most popular wrestler Britain has ever seen.

Danes gives previously unknown insight into his life, including his three marriages, which include his drunken and abusive third wife. He also shares details of “The Big Daddy Show”, his own ITV kids show which was cancelled at the last minute, due to Daddy’s stage fright.

Even the most loyal supporter of the British legend will have much to learn about the man. They address his supposed hatred of children, his charity work, his time running a nightclub and much, much more. Big Daddy lived a full life, rarely devoid of entertainment, and it is all detailed in “Who’s The Daddy?”.

While it is an interesting book, there are some issues. The first would that the confusing timeline laid out in the book. While it broadly follows Big Daddy’s life, from early days to his retirement and death, the content of the chapters seem out-of-line and haphazard.

The authors sees no issue on going off in tangents, discussing a match between two wrestlers in the 1950s while talking about Big Daddy’s decline in the 1980s. While this done in moderation can be fine, the excessive use of it can take you out of the narrative being woven.

My other gripe with the writing is the pop-culture references. As a way to set the scene, the author makes a number of pop culture references

“At the start of the decade, the global positioning system time epoch began, amd the Winter Olympics started in Lake Placid, New York. Back at home, in a bid to stop people from striking, Margaret Thatcher announced that state benefits would be halved to those on the picket line. which made people mad.” etc. While this isn’t a bad technique to use, the author overuses it to a point where I was skipping these parts. I did not care who was number one when Big Daddy faced Haystacks. The poltiics of the day bore little bearing on Daddy’s life, so their inclusion in the book seemed pointless.

In fact, these two issues I’ve pointed out seemed to be an effort to stretch out the book’s lengths. Given Daddy dies year’s prior, Danes could not speak to him as part of his research. What he has got in the book is excellent, but it just feels as if he wished there was something more, so hid that feeling amongst the tangents and pop culture references.

Overall though, it is definitely a book the British wrestling fan will want to read. To learn about such a legendary figure and his humble life is eye-opening, as is the wild nights on the road, travelling the country in a fan with a band of circus clowns calling themselves “professional wrestlers”. It gives a snapshot of a business long-changed, one that will be never quite be the same again.

In our review, we give “Who’s the Daddy?” by Ryan Danes 3 stars out of 5. It is an above average read, well worth a buy, but is slightly let down by the issues mentioned previously.

Get your copy of “Who’s The Daddy?” by Ryan Danes on Amazon


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