Popular art forms tend to have a hot period, when art and commerce coexist to create something unforeseeable. Pop music peaked in the 1960s; Hollywood hit a sweet spot in the 1970s; TV might be too all-encompassing to go in phases, but arguably the best stuff was seen by the most people in the 1980s.
The big news in When Wrestling Was Golden (Thursday) - a documentary under BBC4's rock-solid Timeshift banner - was that wrestling was the same. Stupid, fixed, coarse British wrestling: in the 1970s, it was brilliant.
With unashamed BBC4 thoroughness, however, we started between the wars, when wrestling progressed from a curio at the bottom of music-hall bills to its own industry, built around chaotic "all-in" bouts where people were actually hurting each other. Then in the 50s, wrestling as we know it was born: a theatrical spectacle beloved of shouting middle-aged women, with a management company creating heroes ("blue-eyes") and villains ("heels") and deciding who won.
The programme was charmingly reluctant to say outright that bouts were fixed. They were, but then again there was genuine animosity between top heel Mick McManus (tiny black briefs, boot-polish widow's peak, a regular on Wogan and The Generation Game) and popular blue-eye Jackie "Mr TV" Pallo (butterscotch curls, spangly robe). Their 1967 bout was stopped after repeated headbutts cut Pallo's forehead open. Wrestler turned comic Will Hodgson put it best: "If I put you in the ring with Floyd Mayweather and said don't worry, I've fixed it, go down in the twelfth round, you'd be rightly concerned about the preceding 11."
This mix of physical prowess and basic theatrics was potent. By the 70s, wrestling was on ITV on Saturday afternoons. It was huge - so huge that it became distorted and marvellously weird, delivering legends like Adrian Street, a Welsh miner's son who came on with platinum hair, a wobbling hood made of tinsel, and heavy glam make-up giving him the brickie-in-lippy look of a lost member of Sweet. He would taunt opponents and the crowd by mincing round the ring.
For working-class dreamers like Street, the way to escape the pit was to become either a pop star or a sport star. Street had done both at once. When he "won" a title bout, he returned home and posed for an astonishing photo in a coal mine: Street in an ermine coat, parading the belt to the evident alarm of his dad and a gaggle of sooty miners in a cage lift. His reinvention was unequivocal.
King of the contrived, pop-star persona – the documentary seemed to recognise the echo with its unnecessarily cool soundtrack featuring Joy Division, the Jam, the Velvet Underground and the Creation – was Kendo Nagasaki, a masked Japanese samurai warrior who learnt that mystique was crucial. Who was he? Where did he come from? The programme scored an interview with his spiritual adviser, Atlantis Chronos Goth. "Kendo Nagasaki has had lives in the earthly plane... he perished in the siege of Kamikura in 1333." In his best life, though, he was massive on World of Sport. His real name was Peter Thornley.
The start of the end was Big Daddy, a failed wrestler reinvented by his promoter brother, who took the sport to new heights of popularity but, like Oasis or summer blockbuster franchises, was rubbish. He was just an enormous man who pushed people over and sat on them. His showdown with the even bigger Giant Haystacks, at Wembley Arena in 1981, lasted less than three flabby, money-spinning minutes. Wrestling was no longer golden.