In his new book Dynamite and Davey – The Explosive Lives of the British Bulldogs, renowned sports author Steven Bell dives deep into the careers and lives of two of the most iconic professional wrestlers to ever enter a squared circle, let alone from the UK. More amazingly, The Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith were first cousins, who became like brothers and eventually ended up as strangers to each other. Dynamite and Davey – The Explosive Lives of the British Bulldogs explores the humble beginnings of both men in Lancashire and their meteoric rise to international stardom, as well as the tragic downfall of both men as they paid a heavy price for their success.
Tom Mimnagh sat down with Steven Bell to discuss the book, his history as a wrestling fan and The British Bulldogs legacy as individuals and as tag team partners.
Wrestling fans might have read your previous work on the legendary Douglas Clark, but can you tell us how you got into being a wrestling fan?
“I was a huge fan of WWF as a child in the early ‘90s when Davey Boy was The British Bulldog, and that was just coming towards the end of the era of Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior, and Bret Hart was very heavily involved, and I was a huge fan of Bret. It was a phenomenon here in the UK, and I was very much a part of the childhood era it was aimed at then, and me and my friends were very much swept up in that phenomenon. Then in the mid-90s as the standard dropped, particularly in WWF, which is more what we had access to, I think maybe we got to that age where we thought we were a little bit too old or a little bit too cool to be wrestling fans at that time and I became more of a fan of football and boxing.
“Then in the late '90s, as I was coming to the later end of my teenage years, we suddenly had the Attitude Era, which was aimed very much at my generation, and my age range. You had The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, and you couldn't help but fall in love with it. Now Davey and The Undertaker, and Davey had his troubles in the meantime and gone off to WCW, were the only two left really from that first era and transcended the two eras for me, which at that age felt like a lifetime. So when I got back into it, they really felt like the veterans, so when Davey passed away a few years later that hit me hard. By that time, I'd learned more about him and Dynamite as a team together, too, watched more of their stuff and learned they were from a mining town in the North of England, just like myself, and not far away from where I was from. So these larger-than-life characters that I knew from when I was a child, I'd learned so much more about them, and they were so much more relatable to me by that stage. So when Davey suddenly passed away, which is twenty years ago now, that's where this journey really began for me.”
What first motivated you to write about Davey and Dynamite?
“I always knew there was this amazing story about these two first cousins from a mining town near me, who'd gone and conquered this world that seemed to be almost from another planet. It was always something that stuck in my mind, since my childhood. In the meantime, I'd read Mick Foley's book, and he talks about Davey and Dynamite quite a lot, and I'd read Bret Hart's book, which obviously goes into some real detail. So that added a lot more detail to this story I already knew was there, and I wanted to learn more about. The internet had become a lot more user-friendly on the research side of things at that point, so I'd slowly built up this story about them in my mind anyway based on all the facts I'd read in books and online and in magazines. Later on in life, I became a sports author, writing two books and the second was very much pro-wrestling related, and unbelievably it tied in directly with The Bulldogs.
“Douglas Clark, for those who may not have read the book, was one of Britain's first Heavyweight champions. The title had been mostly based in London at that time, and he brought it up North and defended it for the best part of ten years in the 1930s, and that is what drove the huge popularity of pro wrestling in the North of England at that time, filling out town halls and arenas across the North of England. So when World War Two came and went, and people were on hard times, pro wrestling became a realistic career option for men in the North, which drove this whole style of “Lancastrian catch-as-catch-can to become “ its own thing, and one of those men involved was Ted Betley (mentor to Dynamite Kid) who transcended that era into the TV era with Joint Promotions. So all this information was part of the research on the book about Douglas Clark, but finding out more about Ted Betley led me to Dynamite and Davey, which felt like a real kismet moment as this project I'd had in the back of my mind that I'd always wanted to work on had come up within this existing project. So when that book did really well, the publisher said to me, “What's next?” I dared to dream that I could tackle The Bulldogs.”
It's a fantastic bridge between those two eras. With Dynamite having previously released his autobiography, telling his story from his perspective, did you feel there was a need to tell the Bulldogs' story from a more objective perspective, and with a bigger focus on Davey's career?
“Absolutely. I've actually been asked a similar question but from a different angle, with this being such an amazing story, is there a reason it's taken until now for someone to tackle it in the manner I have? Unfortunately, I think the answer is it would only have been possible once both men had passed away. With Dynamite having only passed away in 2018, and by that point, there had been his autobiography, Pure Dynamite in 1999, as well as a later Highspots documentary in 2012. He died before the Dark Side of the Ring episode, and I'd already signed the deal to complete the book before Dark Side of the Ring was announced, and it did feel like something that hadn't been talked about in a long, long time.
“I think if either man was still alive when I chose to write the book, I feel I would naturally have been forced to make their point of view the go-to research material, which I don't think would have been fair, especially with the way it ended between them. So I think the only fair and balanced way was once they were both no longer with us. It wasn't a conscious thing I was doing morbidly, but it has meant I was able to do what I think is a very fair and balanced job. I split the book into three equal parts covering The Dynamite Kid, The British Bulldogs, and “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, and I tried to give them each the same level of focus and put them each under the same microscope. I think that gave it a natural balance, because I had more sources for Dynamite's story, as there's been a bit more done on his career, and having his book to hand was a huge resource, which forced me to be a bit more resourceful and dig a bit deeper on Davey's side of the story.”
Both men were clearly very complicated characters. How hard was it to present the “warts and all” version of Davey and Dynamite?
“It was probably the most challenging thing about writing the book. It's impossible to know what every individual reader already knows about the history of The Bulldogs, or what their own opinion already is. My objective was to tell a fair, balanced, and true story that got across just how good they were inside the ring and their qualities as people, particularly in regard to their families, but I also wanted to cover the complicated parts of their lives because I think that in some ways the timing of their success, the fact they were naturally smaller men possibly forced them down avenues to deliver on their dreams, for themselves and for their families, that led to some bad choices, and choices that perhaps they didn't fully realise were bad choices at the time.
“They both went down paths that they eventually paid a higher price for. I wanted to present that as an honest, true accounting of their story, but I also had red lines in my own mind going both ways that I didn't want to cross. Red lines for things that I saw as being nothing to do with the story I was trying to tell, as well as red lines the other way of things that I felt were relevant and very much needed to be covered, and that I would be willing to fight my corner on if anyone challenged me on for being too negative because I knew I could justify that as part of the story I wanted to tell. So I narrowed the bandwidth a little of what I wanted to cover slightly, so I knew where I was going with the story. I didn't want to put pen to paper blindly. I knew from my research what was relevant and what wasn't, and I think all indications so far are that I got that balance about right.”
Definitely. It feels like a very balanced account of two very complicated personalities. How arduous was the research for writing the book? It certainly reads as though it was a labour of love, given the level of detail you include.
“Massively, and that is where that slight narrowing of what I wanted to focus on helped because I could have carried on forever! If I'd tried to read every single thing ever written about either man and interview every single person who had ever interacted with them I might never have delivered it. The Bulldogs touched so many people's lives, especially when you look at Davey as a mainstream star in the 90s. So narrowing that to the timeline of what I wanted to know, and where the gaps were in my knowledge. There were certain well-known things that had to be covered, and I wanted to add as much context as I could. So for example, I didn't just want to cover the Jacques Rougeous incident like it's been covered elsewhere already, I wanted to add more background in terms of when it was, where it fell in the timeline of their careers, and more on their physical and emotional state at the time, and why it might have happened. That also applies to things like Davey's trial, things that I think most of my readers will probably already be aware of to a certain extent, but to give more detail on those incidents than has ever been given before. I wanted to fill in the gaps in the timeline too.
“There were various lengths of time between some of these well-known incidents, and I wanted to fill in the reader on what was happening with their careers in those periods and where their relationships were, particularly with each other. I wanted that to be a focal point, the relationships they had as first cousins, not separated by many years and only separated by a couple of streets. I've visited Golbourne where they were from. I wanted to get across this roller-coaster ride they went on both personally and professionally, I wanted that to be a theme that ran through the book all the way, and I didn't want to leave people thinking about what was happening during those gaps, which is why I've done it chronologically and tried to add as much detail as I can so people get a full picture of the story.”
Throughout the book you write in very reverent tones about the Hart family, how much of a thrill was it to get Ross Hart to write the foreword, and how did that come about?
“It's been a real journey with that! When I first signed to deliver the book, I hadn't made any direct contact with any family members. So I started by reaching out to various people to try and link myself slowly to the more relevant people. I got put in touch with a guy named Bob Johnson, who was a close family friend of the Hart family to the point where he worked for Stampede wrestling for a lot of years in lots of different roles, driving the vans and all sorts of things. He's quite active on social media, and he's very good friends with Bruce Hart, and Bruce was one of the main people I hoped to speak to because Bruce had such an indelible link with The Bulldogs, both good and bad. He discovered Dynamite, from a Canadian point of view, and brought him over from the UK, and Davey later followed. Bruce himself had a roller-coaster relationship with both men, so he was the person from the Hart family I most wanted to speak to.
“We eventually had a four-hour chat one Saturday evening, and I must have come across as well-intentioned and knowledgeable because the next thing I knew Ross reached out to me. I had a long chat with Ross and we exchanged a lot of details. Ross is a bit younger than Bruce and maybe a little more technically savvy, so he was more contactable and we were able to stay in touch, and Ross became my go-to man for fact-checking, especially anything Stampede-related or Hart family-related. Once a week I would send a long email off to Ross saying, “I found a bit about this, or about this, what do you know about this story?” and he would be so generous with his time and knowledge and we were able to build up a really good relationship. So much so that he passed on his good wishes to me from other family members who then got in touch, the main one being Bronwyne Billington, Tom's daughter. We built up a really good friendship, and it was Ross and Bronwyne's fantastic support that led me to ask them to write the foreword and afterword respectively. I truly felt they deserved their names on the book, as their impact and influence on it was so big.
“That also led to Ross doing some proofreading, I was sending him various chapters, and at various points, he said “you need to speak to Keith about this story you've written because it isn't quite right,” and put me in touch with Keith Hart who would come back with these fantastically detailed versions of stories I'd heard before, providing a completely different perspective. Keith would go over and above with the level of detail, and it's one of the bits of the book I'm most proud of now. They all helped out to come together and paint this picture that I'm really proud of.”
Absolutely. It certainly adds that extra layer of legitimacy to have these people who were present for a lot of the stories in the book be able to fact check that and give you feedback, and the fact they've come back and been so positive and wanted to get more involved is just wonderful.
“Definitely. When Ross first read the draft I sent him, he sent me back some feedback to say he's found it a very rewarding and emotional experience, and almost cathartic in itself to revisit a lot of the stories from that time period in the style in which I'd written it. Bronwyne actually thanked me for allowing her to have her own voice to write the afterword, and she said what she'd written felt like “healing words” for her. Tom's brother Mark Billington sent me a text saying the chats we had helped him heal some old wounds, so that is an extra bit of legacy that I'm really proud of that I have been able in a small way to help out those individuals who helped me so much with the book.”
Are there any other wrestlers who you would consider writing about in the future or is this you done with wrestling for a while?
“Haha. Yeah, certainly for a while, I feel like I might need a bit of a break. As I said earlier, my other two sporting passions are football and boxing. I've already done a football book, and I've got an idea for a boxing book, so I might look towards that one next. If people really love this book, and if the feedback is really, really positive in terms of the way I've gone about it and people would be interested, there is a similar story that I'd be interested in telling, and that's the story of “Gentleman” Chris Adams. It's a story with a lot of the same traits of success and glory, and ultimately a tragedy, overreaching, and addiction. It has a very similar character arc to it, so if people did want to read more in a similar style and format from the same author and the same publisher, that is something I'd look into possibly. That's an exclusive for you!”
If you could match Dynamite and Davey as singles or a team against any star or stars, past and present who they may not have actually faced, who would it be and why?
“As a tag team, they transcended the time they worked in so much in terms of the style, you'd have to go with something a bit more modern because they were so ahead of their time. I think seeing them in the future against the likes of The Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian, and The Dudleys in the early 2000s is where they almost belonged if you know what I mean?”
Absolutely. They were so far ahead of their time…
“That era, they would have slotted in really nicely with their style, and as I cover in the book, Dynamite went a long, long way to revolutionising the ladder match, so I don't doubt that the ladder matches and TLC matches those three teams took part in, that Dynamite and Davey could have fit in there perfectly.”
Do you have a favourite Dynamite and/or Davey match? Either as a tag team or as singles competitors?
“For Davey, you naturally think about the SummerSlam 1992 match with Bret, but I also love their match from In Your House: Seasons Beatings in 1995. For the one match, I would say that Davey was part of in a tag team match, that Dynamite wasn't involved in, which I would put forward and urge everyone to go and watch is the 10-man tag team match from In Your House: Canadian Stampede. The reception they get in that arena, it feels like it's going to explode, even watching it on TV twenty-five years later. I've seen some extraordinary sporting events, and I don't think I've ever seen a crowd quite like that at that time in reaction to The Hart Foundation and Stone Cold Steve Austin. They got everybody to a fever pitch, and it was really quite amazing.
“As for Dynamite, the natural thing is for people to think about the Tiger Mask matches, and as I cover in the book, they do an almost seven-minute cameo on a Madison Square Garden WWF show in 1982, which is available on the WWE Network. That is basically them condensing their full repertoire into this absolute blitz given the short time span, and it's amazing. You could go and watch some even longer and better matches between them from Japan on some grainy screen on YouTube, but for a seven-minute match, if you've got the Network, just fire that up. It's fun watching the crowd's reaction, too, as it slowly changes, and they seem to be thinking, “Oh, this match is like a break before the main event,” or seeing it as a time filler because Vince McMahon had just squeezed it in so he could have a look at these two guys who were causing a bit of a stir in Japan, and you see in the first minute or two they do these high-impact acrobatic moves, which nobody had ever seen the likes of before. Suddenly a couple of minutes after no one seemed to care what was happening in the ring, the whole crowd was there open-mouthed, eyes-wide-open, and they've managed to capture everybody's attention and transfix everybody in that short space of time.”
Images courtesy of WWE/Pitch
“Dynamite and Davey – The Explosive Lives of the British Bulldogs” is available from all good bookstores and online from April 11. Find out more about the author here. Read our review of the book here.