These photos were kindly shared by Jim Cochrane and feature Hercules the Bear and trainer Andy Robin, at Blantyre Highland Games in Summer 1989. The games were in their 3rd year and Hercules was a star attraction, pulling big crowds for being well known at the time. The pictures show how strong Hercules was, a nervous looking Andy at times, and even Hercules tucking into a 2 litre bottle of Irn Bru.
Hercules (1975 – 4 February 2000) was a trained grizzly bear from Scotland who appeared in a number of cameo roles for various television productions, reaching the height of his popularity in the 1980s.
He was owned by wrestler Andy Robin and his wife, Maggie, who originally bought him from The Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie, south of Aviemore, as a cub in 1976. Andy, having wrestled a bear (Terrible Ted) in Maple Leaf Gardens in 1968, hit upon the idea of adopting his own bear to create a star. The wildlife park was unable to rehouse newly-born cubs, with their only option being to put them down, and sold one to Andy for £50, allowing him to take the cub home that September once he was old enough to leave his mother. Hercules grew quickly and in one year grew to a weight of 30 stone. They trained in a remote area in Sheriffmuir near Dunblane, where the couple lived.
Early Popularity – Andy commissioned a 60-minute documentary, “Hercules the Wrestling bear” in 1980 at a cost of £10,000, designed to promote public interest in their show. Hercules first appeared with Andy in his act on the UK wrestling circuit in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Playing the role of a gentle giant, the bear regularly drew audiences of 15 million viewers on ITV’s World of Sport programme. It was this which gave Hercules early success, leading to a number of small acting roles on television.
International Stardom – While filming for a Kleenex television commercial on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides on 20 August 1980, Hercules managed to escape, going missing for 24 days. In a rescue attempt joined by hundreds of volunteers, search parties looked for Hercules for three days before calling off the search (though Andy continued to search on his own). On 13 September, a crofter spotted the animal swimming; Herc was shot with a tranquilliser dart, netted, and flown by helicopter back to Andy. The story quickly made Hercules a celebrity around the world, as the world’s media gathered around the cage as the bear was brought back to consciousness. Being used to eating cooked food (he disliked raw flesh), the bear had lost 15 stone, almost half his weight. Andy found it quite remarkable that the bear half-starved to death rather than feed on the many sheep, cattle, or various other wildlife on the island. This endeared him all the more, including to all the people who had previously feared him for being a “wild beast”, leading him to ever larger celebrity status. This also led to the “Big Softy” Kleenex campaign, which kicked off his film career. For the years following, Herc continued to abandon more of his wild instincts, acting more and more like “a person” with his adoptive “parents”.
He would go on to secure higher profile roles in films such as the James Bond movie Octopussy (1983), in which he shared the screen with Roger Moore, and a documentary for the Disney company, as well as moving to California for two years and starring in a number of other small film roles, children’s documentaries, and chat shows. All this net his adoptive parents a small fortune for all their efforts.
Later Life – While filming a BBC television documentary, Eyewitness Bear in 1997, Hercules fell over and slipped a disc in his back, marking an abrupt end to his career. Andy nursed him back to health over the next six months, with swimming exercises in Hercules’ pool. The determination paid off and he slowly started to walk again. But the following winter he again lost the use of his legs.
Before entering hibernation, Herc (as he was always called) died of old age on 4 February 2000, aged 25 (which is around the natural lifespan of a grizzly). “Big Softy” Hercules is possibly the most well known grizzly bear.
In 2013, Andy and Maggie were invited to unveil a life-size statue of Hercules on North Uist. A documentary, Hercules the Human Bear, aired on Channel 5 (UK) on 3 April 2014.
On social media:
You know sometimes you wonder if things ever really happened, it wasn’t all that long ago that I was trying to describe our “highland” games to my husband. He didn’t believe that they actually happened!
Claire Mcdade Kimberley Wilkie is this down the back field??x
Ps also targgart ( Mark McManus )
Remember it very well considering I lived virtually across the road from wilkies farm!👍