Peter Thornley
Birth nameBrian Stevens
(renamed Peter William Thornley upon adoption)[1]
Born (1941-10-19) 19 October 1941 (age 82)
Wellington, Shropshire, England[2]
WebsiteOfficial website
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Kendo Nagasaki
Mr Guillotine[3]
Paul Dillon[1]
Billed height6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)[2]
Billed weight15 st (95 kg) - 18 st (110 kg)[2]
Trained byKenshiro Abbe (judo),
Billy Riley (catch wrestling),
Geoff Condliffe (professional wrestling),[1]
DebutNovember 1964[2]
RetiredOctober 29, 2008

Peter William Thornley (born 19 October 1941)[4] is an English retired professional wrestler who was best known for the ring character Kendo Nagasaki. The character of Nagasaki was a Japanese samurai with a mysterious past and reputed powers of healing[5][6] and hypnosis.[2] He was one of the biggest draws of all time in British wrestling, especially in the mid-1970s and the turn of the 1980s – 1990s.[7]

Thornley wore a mask for most of his career, the one significant exception being several months following a December 1977 televised voluntary unmasking ceremony.[8] He had originally retired in 1978 but returned to competition briefly in 1981 and then again from 1986 to 1993. Thereafter he made sporadic wrestling appearances.[9]

Thornley gave occasional interviews as Kendo Nagasaki, usually photographed fully masked or with his face hidden, and often speaking through a representative. The character's voice was never heard in public. His identity as the man behind Kendo Nagasaki was first revealed publicly by a plumber who visited his house in the 1970s.[7][1] His identity became more widely known after a 2002 court case over a land dispute with his neighbour.[10] Thornley never spoke publicly about being Kendo Nagasaki until the publication of his autobiography in 2018.[6]

Away from the ring, Thornley has been a successful business entrepreneur and also had a career in rock management for around a decade from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, managing Cuddly Toys and Laura Pallas.[1]

Relationship with character of Kendo Nagasaki

Until the publication of his autobiography in 2018, Thornley and his close associates frowned on the use of his legal name, preferring that his out-of-character self be referred to as "Yogensha" (Japanese for seer). According to his official website, the Nagasaki character is "in fact, a spirit guide and sensei ... who appears by being channelled through an otherwise ordinary man"[11] i.e. Thornley/Yogensha

At the height of his career, Thornley discussed the relationship with his character in an interview for TVTimes in 1976 in which he claimed that the Nagasaki character was "the spirit of a samurai warrior who, 300 years ago, lived in the place that is now called Nagasaki" which he had contacted while in "a trance state" during meditation.[5]

Professional wrestling career

Early career

In November 1964 Thornley had his first professional contest against "Jumping" Jim Hussey at Willenhall Baths.[2][12] Nagasaki's most notable achievement during the 1960s was in March 1966 when he defeated and unmasked Count Bartelli (Crewe-born Geoff Condliffe) at the Victoria Hall in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.[2][7]

Bartelli had been Nagasaki's mentor and tag team partner until they had a storyline falling out over Nagasaki's rough tactics in the ring.[2][7] During the late 1960s, Nagasaki would feud with Billy Robinson and also with a young Jean Ferre. In 1968, Thornley toured Japan where he was billed under the alternative name Mr Guillotine (but still with the same visual image).[3]

World of Sport

Kendo Nagasaki made his ITV debut in May 1971 on the FA Cup Final special edition of World of Sport with a victory over Wayne Bridges.[13] During July 1971, in what was said to be a sensational TV contest with Billy Howes, his mask came off in the heat of the battle. Howes spent a great deal of effort in pounding Nagasaki's head and dragging his tight-fitting mask up, almost covering Nagasaki's eyes, and tried to untie the straps holding it on, before under his relentless efforts it came loose. Howes showed little sign of actually wrestling in the end stages, and was solely intent on removing the mask, which he finally did and Nagasaki quickly left the ring covering his face.[7]

In December 1971, he appeared for the first time with manager "Gorgeous" George Gillette at Dumfries.[2] He then went on to tour Canada and the United States during 1972 working for wrestling legend Stu Hart.[2] Nagasaki was renowned for his strength; in one televised match he lifted the 26 stone 9 pounds (169 kg) "The Battling Guardsman" Shirley Crabtree later known as 'Big Daddy', up on to his shoulders, then calmly walked to a corner carrying him and finished the bout with his famous Kamikaze Crash, walking out the ring as Crabtree was being counted out.

In December 1975, again facing Big Daddy (as he was by then only named) on television, Nagasaki was successfully unmasked (although he nonetheless went on to win the bout), starting a violent feud between the two.[2] The unmasking occurred two years before he had an official ceremonial unmasking ceremony at the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton in what was one of the most anticipated and most viewed moments in ITV's World of Sport.[2][7] In April the following year (1978), he appeared as an unmasked wrestler for the first time; in a contest at Croydon against Bronco Wells.[2] Following an August 1978 Nagasaki win on television over Colin Joynson, British Heavyweight champion Tony St. Clair entered the ring and announced he was accepting a title challenge from the now unmasked and therefore eligible Nagasaki. However, before the match could take place, in September 1978 he retired on doctor's orders from the ring and began a new career in rock management.[2]

Nagasaki returned in 1981-1982 in a few appearances for Brian Dixon,[2] in which the real Nagasaki feuded with notorious Nagasaki impersonator King Kendo (Bill Clarke) in a series of loser-lose-mask matches which saw Clarke defeated and unmasked night after night.

All Star Wrestling

In December 1986, Thornley made his masked return to the ring at the London Hippodrome in a ladder match with Clive Myers transmitted on ITV shortly after the New Year as the main event of the first ever edition of ITV wrestling taped at an All Star Wrestling show,[2] and by September 1987 he went on to become the WWA World Heavyweight Champion after defeating Wayne Bridges.[2] He also formed a tag team with Mark 'Rollerball' Rocco but this fell apart after a televised match in early 1988 resulting in a lengthy and violent feud between the two which would rage on at live shows during the first few years after the end of British Wrestling on TV.[14]

Another tag team with Blondie Barrett would run for several years. During his final ITV appearance, Nagasaki and Barrett defeated the 'Golden Boys' tag team of Robbie Brookside and Steve Regal when the masked man hypnotised (kayfabe) Brookside to attack Regal. This too would lead to a long running storyline with Nagasaki regularly using his 'powers' to turn Brookside over to his side at live shows.[15]

In January 1989, George Gillette died of AIDS and Lloyd Ryan officially became Kendo's new manager.[2] In October 1991, he feuded with Giant Haystacks, and at one point was robbed of a World title (said to be the CWA World Heavyweight Championship, actually held at the time by Rambo) after Haystacks deliberately pulled off his mask "forcing" him to abandon the match.[2] Footage from this match was featured in the BBC2 documentary on Nagasaki Arena: Masters of the Canvas.[2]

In 1993, Nagasaki and Ryan fell out (kayfabe) and were set to feud with Nagasaki now managed by his personal assistant Lawrence Stevens and Ryan recruiting King Kendo for a fresh battle of the Kendos. This storyline was soon aborted when Nagasaki retired once more to concentrate on his role in commerce.[2] Over the next few years, Ryan continued to manage King Kendo (with Dale Preston taking over the role from Clarke who had also retired in 1993) in feuds with various old enemies of the real Nagasaki.

Millennium comeback

He returned in May 2000 to accept the Wrestler of the Millennium trophy in a ceremony at Hanley's Victoria Hall. This began a "Millennium Comeback" campaign for Nagasaki as a month later he returned to the venue teamed with Vic Powers to face Darren Walsh and Marty Jones who had objected (kayfabe) to Nagasaki winning the award.[2] Over the next eighteen months he would appear on various All Star shows, sometimes teamed with Drew McDonald. In March 2001 he again partnered Vic Powers in a charity tag ladder match against James Mason and Walsh.[2] This run ended in December 2001 with a formal retirement match, a Four Corners bout, again at the Victoria Hall, in which he faced and defeated Mason, Doug Williams and Dean Allmark.


Since then, he was said to be looking for a young wrestler to pass his "powers" on to. In June 2007, he signed a deal with London-based LDN wrestling. In November 2007 he appeared at LDN "Legends Showdown" in Broxbourne. He represented a team in a match against a team represented by his former manager Lloyd Ryan who had again (kayfabe) fallen out with his charge, this time over Ryan's son, young wrestler Damian Ryan. This event kicked off a storyline which saw him return to wrestling. Working exclusively for LDN Wrestling he feuded with Robbie Brookside over The Sword of Excellence.[16]

In May 2008 his old tag team partner Blondie Barratt teamed with him, along with a handpicked LDN Wrestler named Gregory Cortez in a Triple Tag Team match to take on Powers, Brookside and Hakan, who replaced Yorghos who he refused to wrestle. He then began feuding with Yorghos. Barratt wrestled against Yorghos and Hakan in a Ladder match in Hanley in September 2008. Then in October he was scheduled to wrestle Yorghos in a singles match in Wolverhampton, but refused to face him again, instead teaming with Blondie Barratt to defeat Hakan and Travis to win the LDN British Tag Team Championship.[17][18] Following this match, Nagasaki left LDN and the Sword of Excellence storyline was concluded without him. He has not wrestled since that time.

Post-retirement appearances

Nagasaki appeared with Lyn Rigby (see below) at several of All Star's wrestling events in 2018 to promote his autobiography. At these shows he performed a reenactment of the 1977 unmasking ceremony with Rigby in Gillette's role. Following each unmasking Nagasaki would revert to being Thornley for the rest of the evening.

On 16 October 2022, Nagasaki, fully masked and in character, attended an All Star show at the Floral Pavilion Theatre, New Brighton and was a ringside judge at Oliver Grey's defence of his All Star British Heavyweight Championship (which Nagasaki himself had held in 1988) against former champion NIWA. During the match, NIWA attempted to grab the title belt to use as a weapon but Nagasaki used his "powers" to make NIWA keep his hands off the belt. Grey went on to pin NIWA to successfully defend the title and was presented with the belt by Nagasaki.

Other media work

The artist Peter Blake was once asked by a magazine what he would have liked to have been had he not been an artist, and he answered a wrestler, and more specifically Kendo Nagasaki. Kendo agreed to sit for a Blake portrait for the BBC Arena programme, Masters of the Canvas in January 1992.[19]

In December 2012, Kendo Nagasaki appeared in the BBC documentary "Timeshift — When Wrestling Was Golden: Grapples, Grunts and Grannies". He remained silent, and the programme also featured clips of him wrestling and the famous "unmasking" ceremony in Wolverhampton, 1977. The programme was repeated on BBC Four on 15 July 2013 and 10 June 2015.

Championships and accomplishments

Personal life

Thornley's autobiography Kendo Nagasaki and the Man Behind the Mask was published in 2018, in which he discussed for the first time publicly about being the person behind the Kendo Nagasaki persona.[24] His identity had previously been publicly revealed during a 2002 court case over a land dispute with his neighbour.[10]

In his autobiography, Thornley says that he is bisexual, and he has spoken in related interviews about the issues faced by gay and bisexual sportsmen of his era. He married, and his wife Yvette died in 1990. In his autobiography he says he is now in a new relationship with a man,[25] his longtime personal assistant Lawrence Stevens.

Thornley is a believer in Zen Buddhism. At his private estate, Moor Court Hall, near Cheadle, Staffordshire he established Lee Rigby House as a retreat for families coping with bereavement. The house was named in honour of Lee Rigby, who was murdered by Jihadists in 2013, with Lee's mother Lyn helping to run the retreat.[1][26] However, Thornley later faced legal issues with the estate (relating to the above-mentioned land dispute) which threatened its forced sale, as a result of which he asked Lyn Rigby, who was a permanent resident in the House, either to buy or to rent the site. Unable to afford either option, Rigby and the charity moved out of the estate[27][28]



Wrestling as Kendo Nagasaki

Personal appearances as Kendo Nagasaki

Personal appearances as Peter Thornley

Portrayals by others

Radio interviews


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kendo Nagasaki and the Man Behind the Mask, Peter Thornley, MinuteCircle Services Ltd., 2018, ISBN 9781908345479
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z "Kendo Nagazaki profile". OWOW. Retrieved 12 September 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Welcome to". Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  4. ^ Hébert, Bertrand; Laprade, Pat; Stabile, Tony (28 April 2020). The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of André the Giant. ECW Press. ISBN 9781773054766.
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  14. ^ " - 1988". Archived from the original on 29 April 2011. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  15. ^ "Wrestling 'Villain' William Regal returns to Birmingham | I Am Birmingham". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
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  17. ^ a b "About | LDN Wrestling". Retrieved 12 January 2020.
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  19. ^ a b "Masters Of The Canvas". Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  20. ^ "British Heavyweight Championship".
  21. ^ "WWA World Heavyweight Championship".
  22. ^ Gary Will and Royal Duncan (2006). "(Canada, Calgary) Alberta: Stampede North American Heavyweight Title [Stu Hart]". Wrestling Title Histories. Archeus Communications. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  23. ^ "Stampede North American Heavyweight Championship".
  24. ^ [1] [dead link]
  25. ^ "Kendo Nagasaki - The Man Behind The Mask". 20 November 2018.
  26. ^ Guttridge, Richard (27 December 2018). "Mother of murdered soldier Lee Rigby speaks of support from wrestling legend Kendo Nagasaki". Retrieved 12 January 2020.
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  28. ^ "Lee Rigby's mum 'to set up new retreat' for families". BBC News. 6 May 2019. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
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