An appreciation

ANDY Robin, who has died aged 84, may have been best known for Hercules, the wrestling bear which he and his former show-jumping champion wife Maggie effectively adopted as a member of their family. Robin was nevertheless a powerful and popular wrestler in his own right, whose trademark power-lock became a winning move to be feared.

Entering the ring to the sound of Scotland the Brave, sometimes wielding a full-size tractor tyre while sporting a kilt, Robin became a local hero, whose pre-Hercules success chimed with the grappling game’s boom years.

He made frequent TV appearances on World of Sport’s Saturday afternoon broadcasts, which attracted millions of viewers.

Everything changed, however, when Robin bought Hercules for £50 from the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie when the bear was nine months old.

He had hit upon the idea after wrestling another bear, Terrible Ted, while appearing at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto while on a tour of Canada. Once he trained Hercules, the pair became a formidable team that captured the public’s imagination, and the duo’s appearances in outdoor venues became the stuff of legend.

Hercules dined and drank with Robin and Maggie as part of the family, and went on to appear in films and on television as a star in his own right. He met the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and caddied for Bob Hope on the golf course at Gleneagles.

Hercules was even named by the Scottish Tourist Board as personality of the year.

He became something of an international celebrity after disappearing in the woods while filming a Kleenex TV advert on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, and wasn’t found for 24 days.

No harm was done, however, and Hercules rejoined his family, continuing to be feted by the cameras, and later appearing in James Bond film, Octopussy.

In 1997 Hercules slipped a disc following a fall, but Robin and Maggie tirelessly nursed him back to health.

The partnership ended following Hercules’ death in 2001. His presence remains etched on the memory of anyone who ever witnessed Robin and Hercules’s larger-than-life double act.

In a newspaper interview after the bear’s death, Andy said: “We are going to miss him, with his big cheeky face.”

Maggie, in tears, added: “He was getting on a bit better but he just took a turn for the worse. He had not been well for a couple of days. We are both very upset because it has come as quite a shock.

“Hercules was a battler”, she added. “He fought as hard as he could but it was too much for him. We were with him when he died. We stayed up for a full two days. It’s such a tragedy and I still can’t believe we’ll never be able to see him again.”

Andy Robin was born on August 31, 1935, the son of a miner and a hotel cook, and was brought up in Raploch, Stirling.

He developed an interest in the outdoors and the animal world from an early age. Leaving school aged 15, he became a woodsman, and initially took up boxing before moving on to Highland Games wrestling.

He began to work professionally, with opponents including the tough-guy funny man Les Kellett.

Robin made his TV debut in 1963 and the following year he went on his first international tour to Canada.

It was here that he was pitted against Terrible Ted, though the idea of wrestling a bear back home would lie dormant for several years yet.

Robin was named Commonwealth mid-heavyweight champion, and became a bill-topper on Scotland’s wrestling circuit. He also kept up with Highland Games activities, putting the shot and hammer throwing, while he also took up water skiing. In 1975 he and Maggie, whom he had met three years earlier, moved from Auchterarder to just north of Dunblane, where they ran the historical Sheriffmuir Inn. The first pint Robin pulled was for businessman Sir Hugh Fraser.

Hercules made his ring debut with Robin in 1977 at Perth Ice Rink, where a phenomenon was born.

Robin bank-rolled a 1980 film, Hercules the Wrestling Bear, which gave his new ring partner a wider audience, with Maggie going on to write a book on the couple’s experience of living with Hercules.

Maggie spoke recently of her husband’s big heart, and how he once lifted and carried a group of disabled children one by one to meet Hercules.

The film was the first of several documentaries made about Hercules. It was while being filmed by the BBC for an edition of Eyewitness that the bear fell and injured himself.

In later years, the Robins found company with their Jack Russell terrier Robbie and they remained devoted to each other. Robin suffered a stroke six years ago, the same year in which a life-size statue of Hercules was unveiled on North Uist.

In 2014, another film, Hercules the Human Bear, was screened on Channel 5. In 2016 Robin was inducted into Scotland’s professional wrestling hall of fame, and in 2017 he was named as the chieftain of the Blackford Highland Games in Perthshire.

Robin’s last wish was to be buried beside Hercules in Langass Woods, North Uist, where the Robins moved him after moving from their former ranch, where he was originally buried. It is now the site of two gentle giants laid to rest.

Robin is survived by Maggie.