Why Greg Dyke Cancelled The Wrestling On ITV In 1988


Hamish Woodward

It has been 34 years since Greg Dyke make the decision to cancel British wrestling.

Of course, the sport wasn’t made illegal, like it was back in the 1940s. Instead, it lost its biggest asset in their primetime TV slot, although it had been a long time coming.

The wrestling was an institution in the UK. It was a fixture on the World of Sport wrestling program from its start in 1964, all the way until the show was taken off the air in 1988.

With stars like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki becoming household names, it seemed like the good times would never end.

Cruelly, they did end.

(Note: This article is not referring to the cancellation of the 2018 World of Sport Wrestling show. You can read more about that here.)

Greg Dyke Cancelled World Of Sport And The Wrestling In 1988

The man responsible for wrestling being cancelled on ITV was Greg Dyke.

Greg Dyke was the Director of Programs for LWT in 1988. LWT stood for London Weekend Television, and was the ITV network franchise holder for Greater London and the Home Counties at weekends.

This meant that Dyke effectively controlled what was shown on TV on ITV on the weekends, and he was not a fan of “The Wrestling”. However, this was not without reason.

During the “When Wrestling Was Golden” documentary, it was claimed that ratings for the sport had halved over the years, and that there was no longer the fanbase to keep the program on air after three decades.

Dyke explained his decision to cancel the wrestling, and World of Sport as a whole, in an interview with Simon Garfield in his book “The Wrestling“.

“When I took over the sports in 1988, ITV was losing badly in the ratings to BBC. We were stuck in about 1955, and the world had changed, and we were too downmarket. Wrestling was clearly never a proper sport – that was part of the problem.”

“It was unfortunate, really. Wrestling was unlucky, but it was so tarnished with the old-style look of ITV that it had to go. We got rid of a lot of the old game shows for the same reason. We started putting money into drama, stuff like that.”

“By the late 1980s, the interest of the working class had changed dramatically, and we wanted to capture part of where they’d gone to, rather than where they’d been. Wrestling was stuck in a time warp – it personified the old English working class, sitting round the telly, staring blankly. That was the image we were trying to kill, so we decided to kill the wrestling.”

As we can see, it was not wrestling itself Dyke had a grudge against. He was a pragmatic man, and simply wanted to make ITV better. He did the same when he helped the Premier League break away from the Football League, helping make the league the richest in football history.

It was losing badly in ratings to the BBC, and something had to be changed. It was not a situation like WCW in 2001, where the show was killed off by a boss who simply didn’t want wrestling on his network. Dyke wanted to turn ITV’s fortunes around, and ditching the wrestling was one way he managed to do it.

Wrestling suffered as a whole following the cancellation, but was that the reason. One can argue that wrestling was already in decline, and that the lack of TV was a symptom, not the cause.

If wrestling in 1988 was so popular, you’d think that the BBC or Channel 4 would have snapped it up (S4C already had their own Welsh-language show, called Reslo) at a discount price.

However, that didn’t happen. Sky even launched a year later in 1989, and did put wrestling back on TV. However, they showcased the stars of the WWF (now WWE), which were night-and-day from their British counterparts.

The action was more exciting, the production values were higher and the characters were larger than life. It also brought in a new audience, with a more middle-class fan watching wrestling on Sky Sports.

Obviously, people were upset at the wrestling being cancelled by Greg Dyke in 1988. It was, at one time, one of the most watched shows on TV.

But the fact that no British promotion, outside of a disastrous reboot of World of Sport wrestling in 2018, has managed to gain a foothold on TV in the UK, says a lot about the viability of wrestling in Britain.


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