Leeds & West Yorkshire

Sue Brittain: 'Emmeline Pankhurst' of wrestling

Media captionSue Brittain featured on Look North in 1979

Sue Brittain, whose funeral has been held in Pudsey, West Yorkshire, was an unlikely sporting heroine.

She was one of a small band of professional female wresters who plied their trade between the 1960s and 1980s.

Brittain - real name Marjorie Farrar - often had to fight local laws even to be allowed in the ring to grapple with opponents.

Fellow wrestler Al "Armour-plated" Marshall, veteran of more than 1,000 bouts, said of her: "She fought for women's rights, she was the Emmeline Pankhurst of wrestling."

The comparison with the early 20th Century suffragette came about because of Brittain's battles with local councils to be allowed to wrestle.

Equal opportunities

Her legal fight came to a head when she used equal opportunities legislation against the then Greater London Council during a two-day court hearing in 1979.

She won the case and went on to fight in the ring, against Jane St John, at Wimbledon Town Hall.

It was the first women's bout in London since the 1930s.

Ron Farrar, Brittain's husband of 54 years, said his wife would fight for her "political rights" by appearing in person before local councils to argue for a women's bout.

Image caption Ron Farrar said his wife was "a villain in the ring"

Apart from a 10-day period, she held the British Wrestling Alliance (BWA) ladies' champion title from its inception in 1970 until she retired in 1982.

She was also recognised by the American Ring Wrestling magazine and was placed in its top 10 rankings.

Despite receiving many offers to fight in mainland Europe and the US, she never did so, turning them down because she did not want to leave her family.

She did lose her BWA title for a 10-day period in 1977 when she was beaten by Indian wrestler Akala Jan in Bradford.

Leotard and tights

But a determined Brittain demanded, and won, a rematch and never lost the title again.

Mr Farrar said: "She was a villain in the ring and that suited the promoters."

The couple had a mutual interest in wrestling and she had been training in the ring for some time.

When a female wrestler could not fulfil a match in Whitley Bay, near Newcastle, she took her chance.

With a leotard and tights bought in a Leeds department store and with a pair of borrowed boots, the career of Sue Brittain was born.

Image caption After battling the local council Sue Brittain took to the ring in Wimbledon in 1979

Mr Farrar said it "didn't surprise me, but it certainly surprised the relatives and friends".

"She didn't care what the audience thought of her. She would win at any cost but outside of the ring that impression was entirely false," he added.

Fellow wrestler Marshall knew that putting the name Sue Brittain on a bill would boost the takings.

"We were just 10-a-penny but ladies were an attraction and would put bums on seats," he said. "She could handle herself."

Sue Brittain retired from the ring in 1982 and, apart from a handful of bouts in which she donned a mask and adopted the name of Lady Satan, that was the end of her wrestling career.

She died aged 76 on 28 April. Her funeral was held at a Roman Catholic church in Pudsey, Leeds, on Tuesday.

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