The BBC’s "H2G2" (Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) Encyclopedia Features Kendo

Born in April 1999, h2g2 styles itself as “…an unconventional guide to life, the universe, and everything…”, after Douglas Adams’ brilliant work.

No such guide would be complete without a feature on Kendo, and their contribution on the great sensei is significantly more comprehensive than the only other two “legends” included, Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks.

Here’s what they had to say about Kendo:

Kendo Nagasaki

“A true enigma of the British wrestling scene, the man known as Kendo Nagasaki was a part of the industry for nearly 40 years and, in that time, cultivated a legend that endures to this day. Hidden behind a red mask lined with white stripes to simulate the imposing visage of the headgear worn in a formal kendo match and maintaining a stony silence, Kendo Nagasaki was an intimidating sight to behold both in and out of the ring. This combined with a genuine understanding of the theatrical aspect of professional wrestling and a certain degree of athleticism made him an effective performer and a superb villain.

Actual details as to the identity of the man behind the mask of Kendo Nagasaki are exceptionally hard to come by as the aura of mystery surrounding the character has been well maintained over the years. Some sources claim that he was born on the 14 October, but they then strangely neglect to pin down the exact year or even the location in which the event took place. Some even name the man as one ‘Peter Thornley’, which is a perfectly average moniker, but add nothing more of the mysterious Mr Thornley’s biography. And the man himself obviously never spoke, instead leaving the talking to his manager ‘Gorgeous’ George Gillette whose verbiage was more than enough for the pair of them together.

The duo of Kendo Nagasaki and Gillette went to great lengths to mystify their audience devising complex pre-match rituals echoing Oriental rites of purification and religious tribute. These rituals they would perform in the ring before the audience and the opponent, often assisted by hooded acolytes and tossing around powdered ‘salt’ much like the formalised preparations surrounding a bout of sumo wrestling (the same variety of ‘salt’ which has long been a favourite option for a villainous manager to throw in the eyes of the good guy when his charge is in imminent danger of losing the match). The masked wrestler also carried with him a Katana, the sword traditionally carried by Japanese Samurai warriors. In all it was a powerful combination of over-the-top pantomime and genuine intimidation.

One thing that can be documented however, is the exploits of Kendo Nagasaki in the wrestling ring. Nagasaki made his professional debut in November, 1964, in a match against ‘Jumping’ Jim Hussey at Willenhall Baths. Eight years later he crossed the Atlantic to work for the legendary Stu Hart (father of Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and the late Owen Hart) in his Stampede Wrestling promotion on a tour of Canada and North America.

Like many wrestlers before and since, Nagasaki also made the transition from sports-entertainer to actor. Nagasaki played the role of ‘Death Angel’ in a drama penned by the Barnsley-born wrestler turned thespian Brian Glover titled The Wild Bunch produced by Granada Television. He again appeared on the small screen in a non-wrestling capacity as a guest on the edition of the long-running television show This is Your Life which paid tribute to his in-ring adversary Big Daddy.

One of the enduring themes of Kendo Nagasaki’s career was, of course, his mask and exactly what lay beneath it. It has to be said that in general masked wrestlers in North American and European pro-wrestling have been as popular as Vaseline on toast. Unlike the luchadors of South America, whose masks form an integral part of their style and identity in the ring, a masked wrestler in the West usually has his face hidden away due to the fact that he is simply too mundane and boring to elicit any reaction from the audience without it. In the case of British wrestling in particular many promoters used to stick a mask over the head of a particularly nondescript wrestler after his first match of the night, give him a change of ring attire and send him out to work a second match as the mysterious masked grappler. Masked wrestlers like Mick Foley’s Mankind character, Kane, The Hurricane and Kendo Nagasaki himself are few and far between.

The fact that Kendo Nagasaki was almost never seen without the mask was of course one of the most intriguing aspects of the character and as a result his matches often featured an attempt on the part of his opponent to remove it. Only Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks can boast of having actually achieved this feat. Big Daddy did so on TV in December, 1975; Giant Haystacks pulled off the mask in October, 1991, in an effort to relieve Nagasaki of the CWA world title.

But none were more aware of the insatiable curiosity as to what lay beneath the mask than Nagasaki and Gillette themselves. Playing on this in the late 1970s, the pair let it be known that the time had come for Kendo Nagasaki to reveal his face to the world. So in December, 1977, at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall, the audience bore witness to an elaborate ceremony involving all the theatrics for which Nagasaki and his entourage were famous. Attended by hooded acolytes and to the backing of a droning chant, Kendo Nagasaki’s mask was slowly removed to reveal… a man with the shape of a star tattooed upon his forehead and a top-knot of black hair atop a head which had been otherwise shaved bald. As for his face, this seemed perfectly average to a world which might have been expecting a scarred or otherwise terrible visage to be hiding behind the mask.

Maybe the unmasking failed to elicit the reaction that Nagasaki had hoped for, or perhaps he realised the importance of the mask to the character that he was portraying. Either way, Nagasaki wrestled for a short time without the mask, but eventually donned it once more and continued to do so for the rest of his career in the ring.

Like many other pro-wrestlers, Kendo Nagasaki announced his retirement from sports-entertainment only to be lured back into the ring more than once by the draw of the business. In the spring of 1978 Nagasaki retired on medical grounds and devoted his attention to the world of rock management. But he was back in the ring by December, 1986. He remained active in the ring until 1993 when he retired once more, this time to ‘pursue his role in commerce’.

Still alive and well at the time of writing, Kendo Nagasaki began work on his autobiography in 2002.”

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