Sunday 25 February 2018

Obituary: Eric Tovey

Diminutive wrestler who found fame as 'Lord Littlebrook'

TALENTED SHOWMAN: Eric Tovey. Photo: Terry Dart
TALENTED SHOWMAN: Eric Tovey. Photo: Terry Dart newsdesk

Eric Tovey, who has died aged 87, was a British-born circus entertainer who found fame in America as Lord Littlebrook, one of the biggest stars of midget wrestling.

During its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, as pro wrestling matches began to be screened nationally on television, competitors of smaller stature could often be seen performing alongside their average-sized counterparts.

Though these bouts were often considered a prelude to the main event - and would later adopt an overtly comic tone, more circus act than combat - encounters could be brutally demanding.

As Lord Littlebrook, clad in a pinstripe jacket and with his hair oiled back, Tovey was both a talented showman and a powerful athlete. He put his circus skills to good use by performing somersaults off the top rope, introducing an airborne element to bouts that would later be imitated by average-sized competitors such as the 'Flying Frenchman' Edouard Carpentier.

The National Wrestling Alliance recognised Tovey as World Midget Champion in 1972, and he toured as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. While some observers balked at the word "midget", which today is considered a slur by many people with dwarfism, Tovey was less squeamish. As a working-class Londoner, he was more irritated by his stage name, which had been bestowed upon him by promoters looking to play upon American stereotypes of the English aristocracy.

In later years he reinvented himself as Roger Littlebrook and became involved in training and managing star talent of all sizes, including the villainous Colonel DeBeers - 6ft 4in tall to Tovey's 4ft 4in -and New Zealand "heel" Rip Morgan (aka "The Crusher"). His wrestling school at St Joseph, Missouri, boasted one of the only gyms in the country built for wrestlers who were less than five feet tall.

One of seven children, Eric Tovey was born on January 3, 1929, and grew up close to the East End of London, in a neighbourhood so rough that policemen would patrol the streets in threes for extra security. His schooling was disrupted by the Second World War, and at the age of 14 he left home to join the circus. After training as a bareback rider, acrobat and trapeze artist, in 1949 he departed for America with the Cole Bros Circus. A year later the circus went bankrupt and Tovey turned to wrestling.

On March 29, 1987, he appeared in front of a record audience of 93,173 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome stadium in Michigan, teaming up with the Japanese champion Little Tokyo and the 6 ft 4 in wrestler King Kong Bundy.

Although the full-sized wrestlers were not supposed to be in the ring at the same time as their smaller partners, the match ended in disarray when Bundy lost his temper and "body-slammed" his 60lb opponent, Little Beaver, leading to the team's disqualification.

Like many in professional wrestling, Tovey had a colourful life outside the ring - though it was sometimes hard to distinguish between fact and fiction. He claimed to have been married six times and to have enjoyed a fling with an underwater stripper. Another story held that he had shot a man whom he caught in bed with his wife. "I got into some trouble in Canada," was all Tovey would say when pressed, "but won my case in court."

Eric Tovey, who died on September 9, was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004. He is survived by a daughter and two sons, Chris and Robert, who compete with the wrestling company Half Pint Brawlers as Little Kato and Beautiful Bobby Dean.

© Telegraph

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