Bradford-born wrestler Les Kellett, pictured, the Clown Prince of Europe, has died in Ilkley at the age of 86.

He moved into a nursing home there two years ago and died peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday, his son Christopher Kellett said.

Les Kellett will be remembered, along with Denholme's Alan Dennison, as one of professional wrestling's genuinely tough characters

Although he acted "as daft as a brush" in the ring, he fought his way to the sport's light heavyweight championship of Britain.

Pretending to be dazed, he would stagger about the ring, lure his opponent on to him and then snap into action with a series of tremendous forearm smashes - the Les Kellett trademark.

His son remembers how tough he was.

"When he was in his fifties I remember him asking me one Sunday morning if I felt like going with him to the gym for 'a pull' - a training bout," he said. "I used to play rugby league for Bradford Northern juniors and for Yorkshire so I thought I was pretty tough, but my dad had me on my back and was squeezing the breath out of me. I never saw it coming."

Les Kellett was born in Laisterdyke, the son of Bill Kellett - a well known Bradford engineer - and Sarah. His brother Arthur died in 1980. He left Bradford Moor School at the age of 14 and went into engineering.

"He learned amateur wrestling but didn't pursue it. During the war he was in the merchant navy as an engineer. He was demobbed in Manchester which was where he recognised a guy's name on a wrestling poster," said Chris Kellett.

It was Joe Hill, who Les knew from his days as an amateur wrestler. And in an interview with the Telegraph & Argus in the summer of 1987, Les recalled how a meeting with Joe Hill led to great things.

"I asked him how much he got. He said £5 a bout. I said: 'That's more than I get for working all week'. I said I'd like to have a try at it. He said pro-wrestling was a totally different game from amateur fights where you only had to murmur and the referee would break the hold.

"Joe taught me all about it in a small gym in Swain House Road. He had a little shed in the back and that is where he taught me."

In the 1950s he was earning £40 to £50 a bout depending on the size of the hall and its location. He was fighting on average five to six times a week all over the country.

Les Kellett became a household name on Saturday afternoons in the 1960s with the televising of professional wrestling from venues all over the North, including Bradford's St George's Hall. Commentator Kent Walton educated the public in the finer points of obtaining two falls or a submission.

"He was nominated for Sports Personality of the Year in 1967 or 68. That was ITV's World of Sport's equivalent to the BBC1 award," the younger Mr Kellett recalled.

"He taught Sir Jimmy Savile wrestling and Harvey Smith - he once fancied himself as a wrestler. He was presented to Prince Philip at the Royal Albert Hall in the 1970s.

"My dad used to train with Alan Dennison in a stone outbuilding with water running down the walls in Denholme. That's where they pumped iron.

"When Alan passed away my dad was upset about that.

"He became very disheartened at the way professional wrestling was going in the 1970s. The show business and the acting. Guys who fought in the 1950s and 60s were tough men who could really fight," Chris Kellett said.

For many years Les and his wife Margaret lived in an old black and white house on Thornton Road. The building contained a caf called The Terminus which Mrs Kellett ran. On two acres behind the house Les sometimes bred pigs and once said he kept 50 head of cattle.

He told the T&A that he retired from wrestling in 1975 at the age of 53, but Les Kellett was always a bit vague about figures and dates. He preferred to tell stories.

Les Kellett leaves a widow, Margaret, Christopher and two grandchildren, Robert and Keeley. His other son, David, with whom he used to wrestle as a tag partner, died two years ago.