BOOK REVIEW: Dynamite And Davey – The Explosive Lives of the British Bulldogs

Brandon Sears reviews "Dynamite & Davey: The Explosive Lives of the British Bulldogs" chronicling Tom Billington and Davey Boy Smith.

BOOK REVIEW: Dynamite And Davey – The Explosive Lives of the British Bulldogs

By: Brandon Sears

In 1996, at the age of thirty-seven, The Dynamite Kid Tom Billington returned to Japan to compete alongside Dos Caras and Kuniaki Kobayashi as a part of a six-man tag team bout that was being billed as his final match. A shell of his former self, with trunks that hung off him like an old coat rack, Dynamite did the best he could to put on a show for his beloved Japanese fans. After the match, Tom suffered a seizure. Recurring seizures had been something he had been afflicted with recently; a problem that along with a laundry list of medical issues had helped to put a premature halt on his career. Just six years later, his real-life cousin and former tag-team partner Davey Boy Smith, would tragically pass away at the age of thirty-nine.

How had this happened? How had two of the industry’s most dynamic and exciting performers experienced tragic ends to what should have been long and promising careers? Author Steven Bell tries to answer that question by putting together what can easily be considered the definitive text on the careers of Tom Billington and Davey Boy Smith.

Bell goes through all the major ups and downs of the careers of both athletes highlighting much of their ground-breaking work in Stampede Wrestling, Japan, and of course, WWE. It’s hard to convey just how important the duo was to Stu Hart’s territory in the late 70s into the 80s. Dynamite Kid alone was responsible for several unforgettable feuds, matches, and moments when the territory was very much a revolving door for talent. When he began taking part in tours of Japan, Bell writes that he achieved near-legendary status amongst fans there. His naturally gruff demeanor and intensely physical style endeared him to crowds and peers alike. Once Davey began touring alongside Tom, the British Bulldogs became a highly sought-after act.

Given that the pair had a sordid and well-known history of steroid and prescription drug use, Bell does not shy away from many of the poor choices both men made over the course of their lives. Even though Billington’s relentless reliance on performance-enhancing drugs helped to make him a standout in an industry overcrowded with giants, it just about destroyed his body. Having that much muscle and weight on a frame that is certainly not meant to carry it while also working an extremely hard-hitting style had adverse effects on his joints and spine. Near the end of his career, even his heart carried scars from trying to keep up with an ever-expanding body operating on an inhuman schedule.

While Davey also struggled with the ramifications of prolonged steroid abuse, he had also fallen into the trap of painkillers and muscle relaxers; crutches that enabled him to get through a staggering number of injuries that went unattended given the nature of life on the road and a culture that dictates you just “work through it”. It is a sad story given the incredible heights in popularity that Davey reached when performing for WWE during their semi-annual European tours. The money was tremendous for those dates, so the level of pressure was likely unimaginable for a person who needed to push through the pain and provide for a family.

The research here is extensive. Bell includes a long and detailed bibliography with information pulled from a multitude of memoirs including Bret, Martha, and Bruce Hart as well as Dynamite’s own memoir Pure Dynamite. He also mined Heath McCoy’s excellent Pain & Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling, as well as various issues of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and media reports from print and television. He also sat down and spoke with Tom Billington’s daughter Bronwyne, who also supplied an afterword in the form of a letter to her late father.

For those who are having a difficult time tracking down a second-hand copy of Tom Billington’s long out-of-print memoir PURE DYNAMITE, I can’t recommend this book enough. Dynamite Kid’s story is a cautionary one and one that should be read by many of today’s performers. Thankfully, we’ve mostly moved past the age of rampant drug and steroid abuse that led to countless early deaths.  Billington’s reckless style and inability to recognize his own body’s limitations resulted in a career that would end far too early. The same can be said of Davey Boy Smith. While he did not take many of the same risks as Billington inside the ring, his list of injuries was extensive. While you still see examples of performers working through injuries today, the days of over three hundred days a year on the road are long behind us. And that is absolutely a good thing.

Dynamite & Davey: The Explosive Lives of the British Bulldogs will be released on July 1st in the U.S. and Canada. Author Steven Bell will be on the POST Daily News Show this Monday at 1 p.m. ET. 

About Brandon Sears 26 Articles
Insurance broker by day, constant reader and wrestling-watcher by night.