Spencer Churchill - A Bodybuilder Before His Time
by David Gentle

Spencer Churchill

Muscles Unlimited” they later tagged him, and Spencer was to become one of Britain’s’ best known and most loved bodybuilders, with a physique so good, that he was almost in advance of his time. He also found fame and some fortune with his long and illustrious career as a wrestler, but for now we will recall his story and influence as a bodybuilder.  

Born  May 14th, 1929, Spencer made just 3 lbs. on the scales, not too good a start for a bodybuilder/wrestler, and sadly his mother suffering from the then almost commonplace illness of TB died soon after Spencer’s birth, leaving it to Spencer’s grandmother to retrieve the delicate child from hospital, and along with his father, do their utmost to bring up the scrawny child, and provide extra nourishment and the best they could afford nutritionally to bring Spencer up to normal bodyweight and health. 

Spencer’s grandmother tough and tenacious, a former professional sculler and swimmer in her time, decided swimming would be the answer, a kill or cure option for her grandson.  Graduated water exercises and Gran’s best cooking soon helped Spencer to catch up, and although still underweight, Spencer swam daily both before and after attending school. Then quiet and unassuming, Spencer was physically and mentally determined to improve and excel, especially enjoying other sports like sprinting, winning his Open School Championships at the White City Stadium in the 220-yard run.  Bitten by the bug to improve his fitness even further, Spencer, always  agile, introduced acrobatics to his regular swimming regime, with acrobatic ability later very useful in his professional wrestling career.

His swimming developed further into during practice, and Spencer was soon able to perform intricate dives and plunges, so much so that by the tender age of 16 Spencer’s diving reached Olympic Standards and received much acclaim.

As for most young men of that period (the days of compulsory National Service) army life interrupted his normal life and activities, resulting at first in a physical decline due to his loss of regular training and especially the swimming practice he enjoyed so well. However, his general better than average fitness was recognized by the Army, and Spencer, like many other physical training enthusiasts before and after, entered and qualified as a NCO (non commissioned officer) physical training instructor, aka PT1, which now included a lot of running, general exercise and plenty of access to the army gymnasium.

Seeing the Light

With his new rank, and qualification, Spencer was now able to resume voluntary swimming practice, along with boxing and fencing, the latter he particularly enjoyed, with its skills and fitness requisites. Helping in some to also develop his legs and quicken his reflexes, again useful for wrestling. It as around this period of Army service, that Spencer became impressed by the physique of one of his training squad, a member, who he discovered later had built up his way above average muscular development, through the regular use of training with weights. Spencer immediately saw the light and said, “That’s it, I will give weight training a go”.

Mr. Muscles Unlimited

Spencer ChurchillAnd thus began the career of Mr. Muscles Unlimited. Spencer bought a second-hand set of barbells and dumbbells, and as did most of us, at first had to feel his way around, experimenting with the then limited choice of training advice and systems on offer. Unlike now, books, courses, gyms and workable advice was limited. Muscle magazines were few and often more devoted to overall health and fitness and multiple sports, than pure hardcore muscle building. Other imported magazines, were so full of hyperbole, that it was difficult to find the truth, although plenty of build-you-quick courses were for sale to the gullible.

He like most us, began by buying a set of second-hand barbells and had to at first feel his way and experiment with the limited choice of training systems and training advice then on offer. His first attempts were indeed primitive, but still gained him enough confidence to join a club and with regular training at the St. George’s PC Club at Putney, Spence began showing championship potential, and was chosen to appear as a member of a bodybuilding team, demonstrating “Living Statuary” at the Health and Strength League Display on October 29th, 1949, the very year that Reg Park became Mr. Britain (and later close friend and training partner of Spencer’s).

Spence represented Britain in 1950 at the Universe Show and began to earn his nickname “Muscles Unlimited”. His gains were good and regular, but Spencer possibly achieved his best ever progress with the help and advice of famed Health and Strength muscle trainer, Don Dorans. Spencer was then living in Shepherds Bush London.

A Very Special Friendship

Spencer then trained with, and soon became an extremely close friend of, Reg Park, Mr. Britain and Mr. Universe with regular tough workouts bringing even more muscles. A sample workout being squats, bench press, barbell and dumbbells, cheat curls, swingbell curls, triceps extensions on bench. French press (for triceps_ calves work, chinning and plenty of abdominal work. By 1951 Spencer had become developed enough to enter and place 4th in Class 2 Mr. Universe with the late Juan Ferrari taking top title. With a physique now recognized universally as one of the very best in the World, Spencer was featured in art pages and as cover man on many muscle magazines around the world with pictures in or on for example such bodybuilding journals as Health and Strength, Bodybuilder, Mans World, Muscle Man and Reg Parks magazine. Joe Weider’s Muscle Power called him the new Star from Britain.” and featured his training routines. Spence was even pictured in the Daily Mirror (1952) and displayed in oils in London’s Royal Academy in 1951 painted by artist John Martin. He had become famous.

Spencer than progressed and influenced by Don Dorans, ran a successful “Muscles By Mail’ personal training course from Burleigh House School of Physical Culture with many, many successful pupils at the same period writing a series of totally unique styled training articles for Heath and Strength magazine. Perhaps his best ever shape was around this period, with a 29 inch wait line, massive 50 inch chest, 18 inch arms, and the good handsome looks to match a physique of a champion, some said he was as handsome as Steve Reeves, and with a whole lot of muscle packed onto a very light bone structure. Knowledgeable and articulate with a unique writing style loved by his fans, hated by his detractors, (too swanky, too Yankee said some) most bodybuilders adored him, and never understood why he didn’t successfully take more titles. Spencer wrote many excellent instruction and entertaining articles, e.g. his series of Health and Strength back in 1953, and other contemporary muscle magazines (e.g. Muscle Man) signing off with his well known line, “See you around”.

A Uniquely Superior Physique

By 1953, Spencer Churchill’s physique was considered uniquely superior enough for fans to demand his appearance and him to appear on guest spots at most premier bodybuilding events, e.g. Health and Strength League, display November 21st at the London Palladium on the same bill as one Leo Robert, America’s Most Muscular Man, Mr. Canada and later Mr. Universe. Speaking of one terrific show, Laurie Webb the Health and Strength organizer, commented, “Spencer Churchill’s performance was dazzling!” His was one of the really great performances in a success packed show and he showed us that our native bodybuilders can hold their own with the best in the world.” January 1954 The Bodybuilder, a magazine later along with many others, incorporated into Health and Strength magazine.       

Spencer now compared most favorable with just about any top physique star of the era, (the 1950”s) and was often known as “The Muscles” or billed on physical display posters as Spencer Churchill. Muscles Unlimited, guesting at that time over in Belfast as Irelands Most Muscular Man Contest, making plenty more friends as he went along. He was billed equally with Leo Robert, American’s Most Muscular Man (and Mr. Universe) at the London Palladium and also maintained similar top of the bill status wherever he went.

Born of Frustration

An all round athlete, training mate of the legendary Reg Park, Olympic standard diver, possibly frustrated by not obtaining his rightful honours in bodybuilding, often upsetting the establishment, despite how much the fans adored him, and with even professional bodybuilders making very little, if any, money those days, he turned into a fully fledged professional wrestler to display his anachronism, a physique out of it’s time, and thus turned to a successful career in the wrestling ring. Appearing at every top, and quite a few lowly venues, that catered for that tough mans game (it was the audience who were the most dangerous), including competing in international heavyweight bouts at Harringay Arena, top of the bill and described as the Muscle Miracle of Great Britain.   

This adventurous and colourful life was to keep him extremely active for over twenty years or more, adding even further to his fame and hopefully some fortune, but even wrestlers retire and Spencer quit such strenuous activities to enter the demi monde (that’s underworld to the guys on the doors) of the Night Club business, and from this venture gradually eased himself into retirement. Although not quite into stagnation, as Spencer continues to exercise regularly, swim often, dive regularly, and generally keep himself in fabulous shape, as he becomes Muscles Unlimited. He maintains regular contact with his old training buddies, including Reg Park and still regularly attends both wrestling and bodybuilding reunions, including the Oscar Heidenstam Foundations Awards in London.      

Still a likeable rogue, and most wrestlers are such, Spencer’s many fans remember him with fondness and pride. Certainly his old Gran would have been proud of him and his battle against the odds. Spencer used to write for quite a few bodybuilding and muscle gossip columns in his varied career, with his regular sign off line being “See you around”. Lets hope we all continue to see him around for a long while yet.

Exercise Workout

A typical Spencer Churchill routine, training just three sessions a week:

  • Squats: His old trainer Don Dorans always believed in doing squats early on in the routine, so you don’t make excuses, or run out of energy. Sets of 10 with 300 lbs.
  • Calf Raises: donkey raise style.
  • Bench Presses: 3 x 10 followed by Swingbell Pullovers: 3 x 20
  • Incline Bench Presses; for pecs and deltoids 4 x 8
  • Seated Dumbbell Presses: 3 x 10 Chins: behind neck 3 sets
  • Bent Over Rows; barbell 3 – 5 sets, 8 – 10 reps
  • Pulldowns: on lat machine 3 x 12 Standing laterals: for delts 4 x 8 Upright rowing 3 x 10
  • Incline Dumbbell Curls: 4 x 10
  • Seated Triceps Stretches: 4 x 8 to 10 reps
  • Sit Ups: on incline bench with high reps.

On all exercises Spencer used heavy weights, i.e. benches up to 300 lbs, dumbbell exercises with 100 lbs dumbbells etc.      

Spencer Churchill - A Bodybuilder Before his Time  Copyright by David Gentle  All Rights Reserved

Spencer Churchill

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