Life and Times of David Gentle

David Gentle, Author & Historian,To reach the 50th issue of any publication is no mean feat, and it is still the same price, something of a record in itself. Many a similar venture has been attempted i.e. to bring out a successful muscle journal and failed in the past. Not through effort or want of trying, usually the publishers simply become too ambitious, too soon, and ran out of readers’ support or even worse money. Greatest hurdle a publisher faces is the print bill, for some reason the printers always want to be paid.  Despite authoritative, glossy thick pages, star support (oh yes??) et al; none of these qualities or advantages are enough without readership support. That means people BUYING the mag, and not just reading it at the newsstands, or nicking their mates copy.

Your editor and publisher Steve Gardener has wisely taken on board my advice and that of others who have been burned in the past, to progress slowly and avoid ego rips. Of over-publishing/printing 10,000’s of copies to wind up with piles of returned unsold copies. It is not how many you have printed (so you can boast figures) but how many you SELL, that keeps a magazine afloat. 

How do I know? Why am I so bloody clever? Because I have worked for and contributed for at least 25 muscle journal, writing up to five articles an issue, turning out all but adverts, ‘ghost ' writing for the stars, over a lifetime (50 years plus) and worked on and with most of the known names in physical culture. I have known of editors literally intoxicated with temporary success, to go on and ‘piss’ up the mags profits, so that the next print issue could not be paid for. So the mag, packs up and the publisher goes missing. Others traveled to exotic parts, stayed in the best hotels, let the life of ‘Reilly’ at the expense of the magazine, to find they could not afford to continue, yet they still took on board new subscribers. Result, readers left with useless subscriptions to yet another failed muscle magazine. Not only do they lose those readers, they also spoil it for others, as people do not usually fall for this same mistake twice.  

Despite our personal opinions, p.c. is in general of limited short span interest. Any gym owner will confirm the turnover of new members is rapid, less than 2 in 10 stick at weight training for more than six months. It is too hard for one thing, then most are led to believe. Expecting super bodies to take shape in less than that period believing all the hype and supplement baloney. Unless you ARE genetically gifted, you will not build a Mr. Universe body in six months. But you will make good gains and transform your body, if you are prepared to WORK.  

Poor genetics was the very reason I began physical culture, first attracted by a picture of an old time strongman, Hermann Goerner in a 1947 issue of yellow glossy Health and Strength magazine and inside was a guy called Steve Reeves who had just won some Mr. America title. As a result of this I too brought out my first muscle magazine, just a little time after old Joe published Your Physique in Montreal. I had three readers. Me, my best mate Jim Turner and our art teacher, who obviously had fallen in love with me, spots and all, the way she kept me in after school, so I had a six mile walk home at night. There were no photocopiers in those days, or word processors.

The 8-page effort consisted of neat print and ink drawings. Its title, why Mr. America of course, “Why Mr. America” said my art teacher (gazing into my eyes with lust). Well the main reason was because I had seen Steve Reeves, wasn’t that enough? The stapled ‘mag’ contained current news of how many press-ups the editor could do at the time (80 consecutive, being on the Charles Atlas course) and posed its readers (Jim mainly) contests for the best at the two arms chin award. Jim beat me, being able, even then to chin with one arm.

Despite my dipping and self resistance exercise courtesy old Angelo Siciliano (Atlas) I resembled a survivor of a concentration camp, it not being so long ago, we had daily witnessed graphic pictures of such horrors in the Daily Mirror. Rationing was still on in Britain, and most kids suffered in some ways from malnutrition. Along with that I had a sunken chest box, my left pectoral muscle had most of its insertions missing. I had some spinal curvature, and a shortened leg and all in all a sorry specimen. But I knew Charles Atlas could save me, and in a way he did bless him, along with Earle Liederman, who in turn had originally trained Atlas.

Health and Strength came every two weeks, and despite all round mirth and ridicule, I had copies delivered, the seed was sown and the only way was up. No six months to a Mr. Universe body, in fact it took me YEARS to begin to look ‘normal’ or average, but always it meant progress and SELF IMPROVEMENT. What more can you ask.

Life despite, or because of the experience, still in most people’s minds was more genteel. Health and Strength had its own ‘League’, which I joined in 1947. I still have the enrollment form somewhere signed by Laurie Webb. My number was 228291, like my army number, never to be forgotten. Leaguers actually were friendly and helped each other, not just at the gym but also in life itself. We said quaint things, like “Hello Leaguer” to total strangers whom we noted wore the league badge.

Famous leaguers such as Bob Woolgar, father of Dianne Bennett, ran for example the Sunshine Holiday Camp, where all varieties of bodybuilders, weight trainers and lifters gathered for fund and instruction from experts such as Al Murray.

People with common interests could communicate and share knowledge or nostalgia. It as probably Vic Boff’s OABS newsletter that inspired me. As a result of them contributing for so many muscle magazines for others, I received a whole stack of personal mail, and thought, “Why not bring US all together in a monthly magazine.  Never for one moment before, then or since did I hope to make it a commercial venture. I am already blessed with unlimited wealth in the more important values of family and friends. I called it MUSCLE MOB because as a kid I loved Humphrey Bogart and like the film star, always had my own gang or mob. I enjoyed collecting muscle memorabilia, loved nostalgia, although it is not what it used to be (the old jokes are still the best) and respected the pioneers of physical culture and lifting, upon who’s shoulders we all stand.

The hard work of literally cutting out and pasting of old muscle ads, cartoons, etc. was great fun, although it ruined many a rare muscle mag. Within a few issues going out, support grew and grew from fellow enthusiasts to whom I am eternally grateful. It would be unfair to list them, they know who they are, and any way my memory is such I now forget what the hell it was I did yesterday, and yet I can still see, hear and smell the scents and sounds and scenes of yesteryear, experiences of long ago.

Of when we were first bombed out our two up and down in Southampton, moving into a genuine gypsy ‘vardo’ or caravan, later to live and love a shanty “house” made of just galvanized tin, like the Aussies put together in the outback. We had no toilet, just a ‘dunny’ or bucket, no tap, just a well, frogs and all, no electricity, just a broken gas spout for which we could not afford ‘mantles’. My father an alcoholic rarely worked, so it meant my mother had to support the family (Me and my sister and the old man of course) on ₤1.50 a week. Rent was 50p, which I earned as a grocery boy with an old bike. Unfortunately I never did develop Reeves like calves for all my cycling. The water drawn from the well was heated on a boiler and poured into a tin bath, which we shared. Yes, you are right, it was my turn last. I also had the chore of emptying the shit bucket. We did not welcome visitors to use our ‘loo’.

I left school to help support the family and I remember working 12 hours a day in the building industry, shoveling dusty cement, and later finding I had sarcoma of the lungs. I also smoked 50 cigs a day, well did Humphrey Bogart. We copied film stars and thought it made us look ‘tough’. But I still trained. Lots of breathing squats of course. I also spent two years at a chest hospital, daily weekly, monthly and then yearly x-rays until the growth spontaneously disappeared. But from then I was never able to buy life insurance. I remember spending six years in a metal full torso and hip corset in an attempt to straighten a curved and curious spine condition. But I sill trained, why you can do incline bench work, bench presses, straight-arm pullovers and a whole lot more if you really want to train. In fact for a period I trained without missing a workout including holidays for 15 years and a total of 35 years ‘heavy' lifting. Later taking on Maxalding and strands because of spinal problems.

I remember all my old home gyms, mud floors and tin roofs. Of apparatus made from thrown out builders planks, four by four squat stands and junk weights. Plates made of concrete, strands from bike tires.  I remember being quizzed by the CID when my father died just age 49. They thought we had poisoned him. He actually died of Wiles disease within 4 days. Of getting married to a young Rosemary, living for six years in one room and then losing our first child Linda, the funeral cost me just ₤5. No counseling in those days. So we went ahead right away and had this time a healthy daughter, who herself blessed me with two grandchildren who light up my life.

I can remember earlier, when a snotty nosed kid of being machine-gunned by German planes whilst coming across fields, to only respond with Churchill salutes and laughter. Youth has great strength. I recall running literally a gauntlet of hate, because I was the only child to take and pass the ‘eleven plus’ and go to a ‘Grammar’ school where I was equally unwelcome. For a uniform, all we could afford was my cap. Daily thrown into the mud by my ‘friends’. My English teacher said I would never become anything. Some would agree, but every time I pen an article I think I have had the last laugh. The best she ever wrote was for a school play. A flop I am delighted to recall.

In fact despite the gypsy women saying to me once “David, if it wasn’t for bad luck, you would have no luck at all”. I have in fact been very lucky. I’ve survived being spat, stoned and even shot at in the army, and that was just our side (actually it was in Egypt and Cyprus when I was a regimental policeman). The Jerries missed our bomb shelter, and their gunners were bad shots, or I like to believe really didn’t wish to machine gun school kids really.

I remember being burgled, and feeling grateful that the yobs never took my bodybuilding books or personal photos, just money. I know how to appreciate fresh air, to still see and smell the flowers, to be able to walk for miles, to relate to others and understand their misfortune and losses and to value friendship.

I have met, most personalities and ‘stars in bodybuilding whom I have admitted. I cherish meeting such names as Reg Park, Bill Pearl, Steve Reeves, Reub Martin, David Webster OBE et al and most of all the late and great John Grimek. When I close my eyes, I can still hear his old gruff new Jersey voice, calling me ‘Gentle Dave’.

It was because I WAS a skinny kid I first took up Earle Liederman and Atlas courses all those years ago. A better, ‘normal’ well-developed kid would not have bothered, and he would have missed all my wonderful experiences, MUSCLE MOB magazine is a by product of my life and I am confident as birds of a feather stick together, so will Muscle Mob continue to grow and excel under the excellent editorialship and publication of Steve Gardener. Here's to our centenary issue.

Life & Times of David Gentle  © Copyright by David Gentle   All Rights Reserved  


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