Al Murray, national weightlifting coach; born January 10, 1916, died September 27, 1998

BORN in Fife, Al Murray was a pioneer of modern progressive resistance exercise and its applications in sport, fitness, education, rehabilitation, and medicine.

In the late 1930s he was Scotland's greatest weightlifting champion and a British record holder. His obsession for methodical training led him, in time, to produce ideas and systems which made his influence felt throughout the world.

On the outbreak of the Second World War he became a sergeant-major PTI at the elite Army School of Physical Training. This was a turning point in his life, since his studies there of anatomy, physiology, and kinetics formed the basis of his many experiments and developments.

At that time, when Britain was at war and bombs were falling thick and fast, anti-aircraft guns, so necessary for civil defence, were faster than the gunners who fed the shells. The men could load only 11 rounds per minute while the guns were capable of firing 23 rounds. Murray devised a series of exercises, done with dummy shells, to build strength, speed, and stamina, and the startling results, rectifying the human shortfall, did not go unnoticed. The innovative weightlifter was honoured for meritorious services and devotion to duty.

After the war Al Murray's efforts put weightlifting and weight-training well and truly on the map. The British Amateur Athletic Association and the British Government's Ministry of Education officially recognised his efforts, and in 1948 the Ministry appointed Al Murray official, paid, British National Coach, probably the first such appointment in the world. The worldwide acceptance of weights as assistance work in competitive sporting activities came largely from the meticulous and theoretically professional manner in which Al Murray presented the subject.

Al coached at many World Championships, Olympic Games, and Commonwealth Games. After the Mexico Olympics in 1968 he decided to devote the remainder of his working life to less physically fortunate individuals. He co-operated with some of Britain's greatest heart specialists, convincing them of the benefits of the completely controllable nature of weight-training and his unique work-loading methods, which allowed monitoring calculable to a single heart beat.

The British Heart Council accepted his theories of cardiac rehabilitation and financed the experiments and innovations at his City gym. This gym set much higher standards and administration than normally available in commercial health studios, and it was a great loss when this fine facility was completely destroyed by a terrorist bomb attack on the City of London in April 1992.

Murray had experienced such catastrophes before. His first gym in Scotland, the pride of his life, was destroyed by a hurricane. On the eve of opening his new London gym, by St Paul's Cathedral, it was destroyed by fire. This third calamity was the end of the line.

Al Murray travelled far and wide in Britain and abroad, gaining enormous respect as he changed not only the public's perception of weightlifting, but also official attitudes towards the activity. He became consultant to a wide range of bodies, from the Prison Commission to the Royal Ballet School, and he could relate as easily to a tough convict as to a sensitive ballet dancer. They all had to do it his way, he would accept no less.

Over the years his commanding voice inspired many great champions to greater efforts so it is ironic that it was the increasing loss of those stentorian tones that gave the first indications that something was radically wrong. He developed throat cancer and on the morning of September 27, 1998, the multi-faceted, loquacious weight-training pioneer passed away at Wellhouse Hospital, Barnet.