The West Midlands has been a hidden home to some of the most notable British wrestlers in the last decade; Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, Millie McKenzie and Dave Mastiff amongst those achieving success. Long before they first laced up a pair of boots, another wrestler from the West Midlands added to his impressive in-ring resume by successfully transitioning into television and film: Pat Roach.
Pat made his wrestling debut in 1960, wrestling a natural fit for a man of such intimidating height and power. Unlike some of his compatriots, he strayed from the flamboyant costumes and unique characters. In Simon Garfield’s book The Wrestling, Pat described his gimmick: “My gimmick is that I’m six foot five or six foot six inches tall, I’m nineteen or twenty stone, I’m in good condition and I can wrestle.” As a child watching Pat on television, he was always believable. You knew he was someone you would not want to mess with.
During a storied career Pat became British Heavyweight Champion in 1986, winning the title from Ray Steele and holding the title for five months. As well as being successful at home, Pat toured the world. He wrestled for NJPW and competed in India, Canada, USA, Zimbabwe, Dubai and Germany. His opponents read like a who’s-who of top competitors; Karl Gotch, Pat Patterson, Dino Bravo, Kotetsu Yanamoto, Andre The Giant and Bret Hart. A number of these encounters were never filmed or the footage has been lost to time, but there’s an awe inspiring visual to be imagined when picturing Pat standing off against the Eighth Wonder of the World. There is, however, archive footage of Bret Hart taking on Pat on the DVD ‘The Bret Hart Story: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be’.
Pat had the honour of being chosen for the last televised match on the ITV World of Sport programme. At the time, I watched not realising the true significance of the moment and the impact it would have on British wrestling for decades. After defeating Caswell Martin, Pat spoke to the legendary Kent Walton:
Pat: I think today is a very, very sad in history, that is the history of wresting that has been in our parlours for many, many years now. How many years Kent? Twenty?
Kent: More than that.
Pat: More than that. More than twenty years. And I feel the wrestlers would like to say collectively, and I’m sure Caswell Martin will endorse me here now in the ring, that we are very very very sad that in the near future we will no longer be in your front parlour.
Pat was so much more than just a wrestler. Growing up, one of my Dad’s favourite television programmes was the comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen Pet. The premise of the show was tradesman working abroad and getting into various tricky situations. Watching the show, I was immediately intrigued by a wrestler I knew from watching World of Sport. Pat played the character Brian ‘Bomber’ Busbridge, frequently helping other characters get out of trouble and always good to have around in a bar fight. The role allowed Pat to show off his sensitive side, a particular episode seeing his on screen daughter go missing, as well as his comedic side when he was pushed into a villa pool.
The show attracted over 12 million viewers and made household names of Pat and the rest of the cast. Parts followed in some of the biggest British television shows such as Casualty, Minder, and The Bill.
Television and wrestling crossed over when Pat met 1990’s British icon – Mr Blobby! A popular Saturday night television character with a pink costume and yellow polka dot spots (perhaps Mr Blobby was a nod to the American Dream Dusty Rhodes) and a number one hit single. When they wanted to film Mr Blobby in a wrestling sketch for a charity telethon, the natural opponent was Pat. Equally stupid as it is hilarious, Pat naturally shows off his always great heel mannerisms.
Pat was also a great success in Hollywood, often a go-to villain who ended up being vanquished by the best heroes around. Indiana Jones, James Bond and Superman all got the better of characters played by Pat. A number of his death sequences were memorable, his demise coming at the hands of the propeller of a plane, a rock crusher and a pile of medical syringes.
Having roles in a number of the biggest movie franchises of all time meant Pat was well known in Tinseltown. Steven Spielberg watched him wrestle in Los Angeles. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a good friend and even wrote the forward to Pat’s autobiography. Arnold recalled the time he was out from dinner with a group of wrestlers and Pat and Andre were having a friendly argument over who would pay the bill. “The frightened Maitre’d standing between us was thinking to himself: I don’t care who pays as long as I get out of this alive!”
As if having success in TV, films and wrestling wasn’t impressive enough, Pat was also skilled at judo, played American Football for the Birmingham Bulls in the early days of the British American Football League and worked as a minder for Miss World.
On a recent edition of his Gentleman Villain podcast, William Regal shared his thoughts on Pat. “Pat Roach was an incredible wrestler from Britain, he was also in a lot of movies. He was the only guy, apart from Harrison Ford, who was in the first three Indiana Jones movies. He played a different role in each one…Pat was a very good friend of mine and helped me a lot. Pat didn’t lose to many people. Pat willingly would lose to me when I was in my twenties.”
Looking back at Pat’s career the success he achieved in wrestling is impressive but when you add to that his achievements in acting it’s incredible. As the theme song to Auf Wiedersehen Pet says, ‘That’s Living Alright’.