R: Andy Robin
Andy Robin and Hercules
A Tale of Two Grizzlies
Memories of Andy carrying a huge tractor tyre to the ring which he could toss with ease. Or maybe, in later years, memories of Hercules the bear, his sometime wrestling partner who even outshone Andy in the celebrity stakes and was named "Personality of the Year" by the Scottish Tourist Board.
Born in 1935 Andrew Robins was the son of a miner. He was brought up in Raploch, a rough and infamous district of Stirling, and also the home of Scottish footballers Billy Bremner and Duncan Ferguson. Humble beginnings, a hard life with an interest in animals and the outdoors. Working in the timber trade as soon as he left school at fifteen, for once the lumberjack tag was no promoter’s work of fiction. Sport was another interest. Boxing at first and then Highland Games wrestling, where he met and became good friends with Willie Bell.
By 1961 Andy was earning a few pounds as a professional wrestler. In 1961 we find him working for promoter Max Crabtree wrestling Jim Bell, Don Mendoza and Bill Tunney. The following year he was working for George DeRelwyskow against a wide range of opponents from the technician Clay Thomson, experienced Les Kellett, unorthodox Masambula, rugged Danny Lynch and powerful heavyweight Albert Wall. At the same time Andy continued competing in the Highland Games as both a hammer thrower and wrestler.
In 1963 Andy made his debut on British television, a match in Halifax remembered by Dave Sutherland, who also watched Andy at Newcastle's St Jemes Hall, "He was always a great showman and a most uncompromising fighter." His opponent was Perez Polman, who would later become known as Manuel Polman in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In quick succession came televised matches from Barrow, Lime Grove in London. Wolverhampton, and Bridlington against Jim Hart, Jim Rawlings. Monty Swann and Frank O’Donnell.
By October, 1965, Andy was back in Britain, now proclaimed as Commonwealth Mid Heavyweight Champion. It wasn’t just a belt that materialised on his return, it was also an air of invincibility. His signature Power-Lock move brought an end to most opponents and was one of those eagerly awaited must see moments of any Andy Robins match. Big Ian Miller has the Power Lock inflicted on him above.
Heritage member Robin Rules said: “When myself (as a 6-14 year old) and my family used to attend the wresting at St.Andrews Town Hall the place would erupt when Scotland The Brave was played and Andy Robin would enter the hall. I'm not talking a round of applause I'm talking feet stamping, cheering, clapping, it was deafening - it was brilliant!”
Andy established himself as the King of Scotland. The mightiest matmen of the south travelled north of the border to suffer the inevitable fate of losing in front of the cheering masses. Szakacs, Wall, Zebra Kid, Davies, Marino, Ski Hi Lee …. No one was immune. Andy was a real life hero to the Scottish fans. They adored him. South of the border it was begrudging respect rather than adoration as many fans resented his reluctance to travel south, other than the occasional jaunts to take part in the Nottingham spectaculars. The displeasure of English and Welsh fans was certainly justified in the 1970s, but in fairness Andy had travelled as far as the south coast, albeit occasionally, in the early 1960s, and the distances travelled within Scotland easily matched those travelled by many English wrestlers.
It’s also a sign of the standing of the wrestler that he achieved national fame and respect without travelling south. Other Scots greats George Kidd, Robert McDonald, Ian Campbell, Clay Thomson, Chic Purvey all found it necessary to base themselves in England to achieve national success. Andy Robin did it on his terms.
Even when established as a main event pro wrestler in the late 1960s Andy still participated in the Highland Games at wrestling, putting the shot and hammer throwing. He embarked on another outdoor adventure in 1968 when, already a sailing boat owner, he took up water skiing and joined the Urgle Gurgle Water Ski Club. In 1975 Andy moved from his home in Chapel Street, Auchterarder and was granted the licence of the 300 year old Sherrifmuir Inn in Dunblane. On the opening night of the newly refurbished pub, 9th September, 1975, Andy pulled and served the first pint to his friend Sir Hugh Fraser, who was chairman of the House of Fraser, Harrods, Whyte and Mackay. The Sherrifmuir Inn was to become the home of Andy, wife Maggie and a third, very special family member for many years.
Andy and Maggie bought a bear cub from the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie. Even at the time of buying the bear, who they named Hercules, Andy had plans to teach him to wrestle. At that time Andy was working for Joint Promotions, who would never countenance such a spectacle. In the summer of 1977 Andy left Joint Promotions and started to work for independent promoters and promote his own shows.
Hercules made his wrestling debut on 26th August, 1977, wrestling Andy at the Perth Ice Rink. In the late 1970s and the first half of the 1980s Andy’s conventional wrestling career took a back seat with only occasional appearances as he dedicated time to touring with Hercules. The gimmick matches could often be seen at Scottish outdoor shows and in conventional halls; it was said Hercules preferred the former because he liked the light. On one occasion in a wrestling hall Hercules sat in the middle of the ring and refused to budge when the lights went down.
Andy made a return to conventional wrestling, and working for Joint Promotions, in 1987. He made three more televised appearances in 1987 and 1988. Our last recorded match for Andy was in January, 1991, recorded and broadcast by Grampian tv.
Andy Robin died on 4th December, 2019, aged 84.
It was the wish of Andy Robin to be buried alongside Hercules. Reason enough for their tributes to lie side by side.
When Hercules was bought by Andy and Maggie Robin in 1976 it was a life or death situation for the young cub. Born in captivity at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie Hercule’s fate was to be put down by the overfull Park if a new owner could not be found. Bought by Andy Robin in March 1976,The cub was two months old and weighed twenty pounds when they bought him for £50 in March, 1976, but they weren’t able to take him home, to the den built by Andy, until September.
The slow, frustrating process of building a relationship with Hercules and Training him is told by Maggie Robin in “Hercules the Bear – A Gentle Giant in the Family.”
In June 1977 Andy planned to familiarise Hercules with a wrestling hall environment by taking him into the ring at Elgin on a show promoted by George McDonald. The plan was abandoned when the majority of Moray District Council voted to refuse permission.
Hercules finally made it into the ring, and this time to wrestle, on 26th August, 1977 at Paisley Ice Rink. That’s when 23 stones Hercules ,made his wrestling debut with Andy when a square cage was erected around the wrestling ring. The match lasted fifteen minutes, We don’t know what Andy was paid for his fifteen minutes work but do know Hercules was rewarded at the end of the bout with a half pint of beer.
Whether wrestling or making personal appearances Hercules soon became a celebrity around Scotland. He appeared at country shows, opened shops and events, and appeared in advertisements. In 1979 Andy, Maggie and Hercules toured the country making personal appearances at the showing of a film “Hercules The Wrestling Bear – The Incredible Love Story Between a Man, a Woman and a Grizzly Bear.”
In September 1980 Hercules escaped for more than three weeks whilst filming a television commercial. The search for Hercules was followed around the world through extensive media coverage. Half starving and losing fifteen stone in weight whilst shunning sheep, cattle and other wildlife only served to enhance the bears popularity and celebrity status, appearing in the James Bond film Octopussy.
In 1997 Hercules slipped a disc whilst filming a BBC documentary but was nursed back to health by Andy and Maggie. Two years later he woke from his hibernation in February and once again was mysteriously unable to walk and again nursed by Andy.
Hercules died of natural causes on 4th February, 2001. Hercules was buried at the Robins' home but when they moved home his remains were moved to North Uist, close to where he escaped. A headstone reads: “Hercules the bear lies sleeping here, watching over his beloved islands resting in peace.”
Page added 10/12/2019