Nightingale Nobbs - a review

See The Hornet Issues 153 to 167 (13th August 1966 to 19th November 1966) 15 episodes, 48 pages)

Writer:- Not known. Artist:-Peter Sutherland. For further information about the artist please click on Sutherland's name. This site also has plenty of information about Alf Tupper.

Main cast:- Nightingale Nobbs (wrestler / singer), Ken Barry (journalist and amateur singer) and Mike Mason (Manager)

Time period:- England, Paris, New York 1960’s.

This is a humorous/drama sports story about a slightly dodgy pop music promoter Mike Mason who teams up wrestler Nightingale Nobbs and journalist/amateur singer Ken Barry to make a sensational singing team. The story is set in the fictional town of Liverport (thinly disguised as Liverpool), where in the first episode, Mason is having a bad day after a rival pop promoter has just signed his star singer. But Lady Luck is about to give Mason his biggest break yet. As he is walking along a busy high street, he hears what the strip calls ‘The VOICE – a voice that had everything. It stopped the traffic, everyone stayed to listen.’

Unfortunately, for Mason though, the person singing is Nightingale Nobbs a wrestler with a fierce some boxing ring reputation and a gruesome mug, courtesy of too many fights in the wrestling ring. Mason can’t possibly put Nightingale on stage, as his ugly mug would scare off the audience. Then Mason has a brainwave, he persuades Ken Barry, a journalist who is interviewing Nobbs to be the front man on stage, miming songs, whilst Nobbs provides the singing voice from the stage wings. Needless to say this arrangement doesn’t always go smoothly. And future storylines include Nobbs losing his singing voice, Barry having to fight in place of Nobbs, meeting an old army wrestling foe Sergeant Snarler who learns of the duos singing secret and attempts to blackmail them for money and so on.

Some of Nobbs’s wrestling opponents have some wonderful names such as The Stepney Assassin, Hammer Harris, Granite Georgie, The Blackpool Blackout and so on. Eventually, a record company executive signs Ken Barry and the pair make their first record, which is a big success. Nobbs likes to have the names of wrestlers he holds a grudge against tattooed on his left upper arm. The names being ‘crossed off’ as the wrestler gets his revenge on the various individuals. One such individual is the French murderer Jacques Ledos who seeks revenge on our hero, who caused him to be arrested and sent to jail several years previously. Nobbs and Barry are captured by the Frenchman and his cronies whilst they are in Paris, but they escape and Nightingale gives Ledos a pasting in a wrestling fight.

The end of the series sees Nobbs regaining his good looks (although not for long - he is a wrestler), and Barry’s singing voice improved courtesy of two surgeons. (Nobbs and Barry had saved them from muggers). Nobbs and Barry are both engaging creations and as the series develops the pair become a successful singing/wrestling team. Nobbs is a wrestler who fights fair and has the ability to win fights quickly and in a spectacular manner, usually by throwing his opponent out of the ring! Barry is the front man who is also a quick thinker in situations when the unexpected happens and he is able to turn the awkward moments into a success. The following episode below beautifully illustrates this point.

Sutherland’s art is top notch as always and this reviewer is a big fan of his work. Some of the storylines maybe a bit weak, but it’s the artwork that that makes this series worth seeking out.

I was curious to know if Nightingale Nobbs, was possibly based on a wrestler. And a search on the www located the following:-

Tony Lanza, one of the first accomplished muscle magazine photographers in the country, was also a professional wrestler known in the ring as Lario Lanza, the Singing Wrestler.

Lanza died Thursday in Montreal after a fall in his bathroom. He was 84. Lanza worked with brothers Ben and Joe Weider in the late 1940s to create the International Federation of Body Builders.

"Tony Lanza didn't have a bad bone in his body. He was an up-front, decent human being with a great sense of humour," Ben Weider said yesterday. "Not only was he a good wrestler, he was an outstanding photographer, the best in the world, who knew and photographed all the grand champions like Steeve Reeves, Ed Theriault and Leo Robert."

Ferdinando Antonio Lanza, the son of newly arrived Italian immigrant parents, was born in Montreal on July 27, 1920, and grew up in the Villeray district. During the war he served in the army as a military policeman and took up boxing. About the same time he befriended Joe Weider, who had begun publishing Your Physique, a muscle magazine, even before he and Ben began selling weight-lifting equipment. Joe Weider gave Lanza an inexpensive Speed Graphic camera as a gift and encouraged him to take photos for the magazine.

In 1950, Lanza won the Mr. Sante Quebec bodybuilding title, and started wrestling professionally. Intially, Lanza promoted himself as Lario Lanza, aping the name of a popular tenor, Mario Lanza. As Lario Lanza, Tony would burst into song before each wrestling match. He had other eccentric personas: the Masked Strangler, the Masked Spider, and King Kong, the Gorilla Man. In 1964, Lanza won the junior heavyweight wrestling championship title. He opened a wrestling school in the basement of his house, where he taught until the late 1970s, when he retired.

ALAN HUSTAK, The Gazette, January 26, 2005,

So was there a link between the Nightingale strip and Tony Lanza? We'll probably never know.

Nightingale Nobbs strip page 1. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd Nightingale Nobbs strip page 2. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd Nightingale Nobbs strip page 3. © D.C. Thomson Co. Ltd

© Adrian Banfield, 2008.