I first met Gil through his Maxalding website and over the years our friendship developed. We always try to meet up whenever I am in the UK. Gil’s passion for physical culture and his desire to make information and access to old books available for all was evident from the start. I know he spent countless hours and personal finance in order for this to occur. I feel he deserves to be more widely known for his efforts in preserving and disseminating the history of physical culture. This is especially relevant regarding the Maxalding system which I feel without his and friend Roger’s efforts may have been all but lost. Now however it is making somewhat of a comeback in some quarters and surviving into the 21st. Century. I appreciate him taking the time to answer my questions with a special thanks to his wife, Christine for donating her time and typing skills.
1. HOW OLD ARE YOU NOW AND WHAT AGE DID YOU BEGIN TRAINING?
I’m 74 at the moment. I started training at about the age of 13, without apparatus.
2. WHAT WAS THE REASON YOU BECAME INTERESTED IN PHYSICAL CULTURE?
If I’m honest I should say Charles Atlas on the back of my comics but I also had an uncle that was interested and had been a weightlifter in his time and had talked at length to him about my interest. I think really also I was very thin and short and I was fired also by Wilson of the Wizard but unless you’re of a certain age and from the UK you probably don’t know who I’m talking about. I’m sure you remember him Peter.
3. WHAT TYPE OF TRAINING DID YOU START WITH?
I started with press-ups as organised physical activity but, really, testing my strength down the local woods lifting logs and doing chin-ups on the branches of the trees was the start of my strength training. I was then given a course by Lionel Stebbings; the course is now featuring on HOPC. If you read it, you’ll see that it was complete rubbish but it kept my enthusiasm going. I was then given part of a Charles Atlas course, which I followed religiously, making one or two gains before moving onto my next phase, joining a local club. The club I joined was the Police Boys Club in Halifax, Yorkshire; there I was introduced to weight training.
4. WHO GUIDED YOU IN YOUR TRAINING?
It was at the Police Boys Club where I met a man called Maurice Reaney, an excellent weightlifter and instructor and a good mentor and guide to an inexperienced young boy. I was 14. And as you know, Peter, there wasn’t the amount of information around then as there is now. Weider magazines were just breaking through into the UK and the Reg Park magazine was another but these magazines were basically adverts for the publishers’ systems although they did give some kind of guide to the beginner. Then more and more Weider magazines started flooding the market along with Hoffman’s magazines Strength and Health and Muscular Development; although the information in them was not wholly for the beginner they fired the enthusiasm and gave a goal for the young trainee to aim at.
5. OVER THE YEARS WHAT TYPES OF PHYSICAL TRAINING HAVE YOU DONE AND WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST EFFECTIVE FOR YOU PERSONALLY?
Oh dear. This is a leading question. It should be what kind of physical training haven’t you tried – it would be easier to answer. I tried at first every method under the sun. Chest expanders, Bullworker, isometrics etc etc but quickly realised there was no perfect method and the only way I was going to get where I wanted to go was hard work. Along with the weight training I then discovered Maxalding, which I still practice today. This taught me one thing, how to put my mind inside the muscle. Training up till then had just been a mechanical action, the brain wasn’t brought into play at all and, as you know; getting that mind inside the muscle is the most important part of any kind of training. I then acquired a booklet of the Weider course without the charts and Weider had gathered together all the different training methods he’d come across and put them into one book. I found that really helpful.
6. HAVE YOU EVER ENTERED ANY COMPETITIONS AND IF SO WHAT KIND AND HOW DID YOU FARE?
Yes. In my early days I practised the Strength Set which was a precursor to powerlifting. The lifts were, if I remember rightly, bench press, dead lift and curl. I fared very well in this lifting fashion as I was quite strong by then, winning titles in West Riding and North Riding of Yorkshire as a junior. As a senior I went into the Yorkshire Championships in which I came second. I was quite proud of this as there were a lot of good weightlifters in the competition. I was even more proud when I found out I’d actually won it as the fellow who won it had been taking Dianobol and virtually cheated his way to the win. I tried Olympic lifting but didn’t fare well, not having the co-ordination to do the snatch and, after falling on my back several times from the squatting position and seeing a barbell dropping towards me, I decided to quit.
7. WHEN DID YOU BEGIN COLLECTING YOUR PHYSICAL CULTURE MATERIAL AND WHAT WERE THE FIRST ITEMS IN YOUR COLLECTION?
I think I really started collecting when I never parted, much to my mother’s disgust, with any magazine that I bought. Some of the magazines I gave you I actually bought as new when I was about 15/16 I think. My first book was called I believe Physical Culture but I cannot remember who the author was, it was given to me by the aforementioned uncle. I believe this book is somewhere on the site. I definitely remember the next book I bought, Muscle Control by Maxick, which became my bible then and I think still is my bible. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it. From there my collection just started growing and growing. The internet and eBay have put the prices up of the physical culture books. I remember I spent many hours rooting through old bookshops and paying pence for what I considered valuable books.
8. WHAT WERE YOUR FAVORITE AND RAREST ITEMS?
My favourite items were any Maxalding items. The rarest is probably The Construction and Reconstruction of the Human Body by Eugen Sandow. I remember I gave this copy to Kev Collings (Kev the Rev) for his collection. I have many other rare books; too many to really mention. I also have a book collection of Indian physical culture books. I took quite an interest in Eastern methods of physical training and so built up a collection of books and articles. These can be seen on the site.
9. WHICH PHYSICAL CULTURISTS HAVE INSPIRED YOU THE MOST?
This is really hard. I think really Reg Park was a great inspiration to me. I worked as a Saturday boy for a while in his warehouse or shop and was paid in protein tablets, which looking back I think the box was more nutritious than the tablets! Charles Atlas must be fairly high in the inspiration stakes but I think I follow a lot of physical culturists in this choice. Uncle Joe (Weider) was the man I think did more for physical culture and bodybuilding than anybody else. Hoffman was more interested in Olympic weightlifting and the British magazines, with the exception of The Bodybuilder, were very rejecting of any ideas that contradicted the three sets of eight method of training that me and you were brought up with. In the UK I think Oscar Heidenstam did a lot for physical culture whilst running NABBA but I believe made a mistake in joining in and taking sides in the war between Hoffman and Weider. The war was after all just a commercial battle with a lot of name calling and racism on Hoffman’s part.
10. HAVE YOU MET ANY FAMOUS PHYSICAL CULTURISTS AND IF SO WHOM?
Yes, I have. Reg Park is probably the obvious one. I met him quite a few times when he buzzed in and out of his shop in Leeds and always had a friendly word and he could be asked for advice. A man from your side of the Pennines was somebody who I met and who gave me some very good advice in strength training, Jim Halliday. Jim had been trained by Bill Pullum in what he called assistance exercises. For quite a while Jim and I corresponded, with Jim virtually writing me a correspondence course over several months and I followed his advice to the letter. I also met Tom Woodward in Blackpool. A lot of people won’t have heard of him but he was an excellent coach and wrote many courses in balancing, muscle control and strength. He ran a gym in Blackpool which was welcoming to all comers with friendly words of advice. He also published a very good publication, which was Skill Magazine which I’m sure you’ll remember well Peter.
11. YOU RECENTLY AND VERY GENEROUSLY GAVE ME YOUR COLLECTION OF WEIDER MAGS FROM THE 1950s-60s. YOU SAID YOU REALLY LIKED THE WEIDER MAGS OF THAT PERIOD. WHY WAS THIS?
I think I’ve mentioned above the Weider mags weren’t very good for advice to new starters but they were very good inspirational magazines and I looked forward to the copies of Muscle Power coming on the stall in Halifax market every month. When he published a further one, I believe it was Mr Universe, which meant that magazines were appearing on the stall every 2 weeks instead of every 4. Mr Universe I believe was first published by Reg Park but I could stand corrected on this. Weider and his magazines I believe fetched bodybuilders of the 50s and early 60s out of the cellars and basements and into gymnasiums. No more training with 2 tracksuits on and gloves. As I mentioned previously Weider had catalogued all the different training systems he came across and called them Weider principles. One principle featured each month in the magazine. I must admit I tried them all, most of them not for the beginner.
12. WHO DO FEEL HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF PHYSICAL CULTURE/ WEIGHTLIFTING/ BODYBUILDING ETC. IN THE 20TH CENTURY? CAN BE MORE THAN ONE OF COURSE.
I know I’ve mentioned this before but Charles Atlas did more to bring bodybuilding to the general population than anybody but not weight training, that was left to Weider. I’ve said all that needs to be said I believe about Weider, I just haven’t mentioned his supplements. Supplements in those days were fairly unknown. I think we had Casilan and Complan and that was it. There were quite a lot of muscle pedlars advertising in popular publications like Titbits and Weekly News which fired the imagination up of many a young man. Weightlifting I’d like to mention Hoffman, I know he did a lot for the American weightlifting team but was very partisan. Bill Pullum trained the British weightlifting team of 1948 to a high standard, these men like Jim Halliday, Norman Holroyd and others had just come back from the war, hadn’t trained and some were broken men. Pullum’s methods rebuilt them in time for the 1948 Olympics in London.
13. WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM TO START A SITE DEDICATED TO THE HISTORY OF PHYSICAL CULTURE?
On the old Sandow site there was a dedication to my daughter C E Hunter, she was the real start of the site. Catherine had asked me in 1999 what I wanted for my birthday and as I’d lost my Maxalding exercises I asked her if she could find any Maxalding exercises anywhere, knowing she was internet savvy. Not only did she find a set of Maxalding exercises but also my friend Roger Fillary.
14. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AND WHO HELPED YOU AND HOW DID YOU GATHER MATERIAL?
Roger and myself, and I honestly can’t remember whose idea it was, decided to put it on the internet and with my Maxalding books we had the start of a site but dedicated to Maxalding. It caught the attention of Maxaldists up and down the country and before long we were getting contributions to go on the site and the site grew. I had a large collection of physical culture books so I suggested to Roger that we should put these on a site running along with the Maxalding site. We didn’t have a title, not even a working title, for the site until I sent Roger scans of all my Sandow books and Roger called it the Sandow Museum. The title we found out belonged to Christian Anderson in America so we had to change our title. By this time other books were getting put on the site by other authors so we renamed it Sandow Plus, which was run until Roger’s death. Thanks to the physical culture community, we started getting books loaned for us to scan and put on the site. We then had to return them to the loaners, which cost a fortune in Registered Post but it was worth it. Looking back now, the one thing that I didn’t enjoy was being up late at night scanning. Somebody emailed me and said scanning sucks, whoever it was was never more right! The more we got known the more contributions came in and people had found out that we could be trusted with their valuable books and courses and they would be returned as soon as we’d got them onto the site. I’d just like to say thank you to all these people for trusting us with their collections. I feel as though I should mention here that scans and other stuff I sent to Roger and Roger put them on the internet. I hadn’t got the technical expertise for this – I was the collector.
15. HOW LONG DID YOU RUN YOUR SITES AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO PASS THEM ON?
We ran the site from the year 2000 to Roger’s death in 2014 and as I explained I hadn’t got the technical expertise to continue running it, besides Roger’s passwords had died with him and the people who hosted our site for us would not in any shape or form let me have access to the site, even though my name was jointly on it. They just kept quoting Data Protection. I was then helped out by my daughter’s partner Tom who managed to download the whole site and put it on his server to save it for me until I found somebody that could run it. I had quite a few offers, all of them commercial who wanted to charge for access to the site. We’d set it up free of charge for everyone and I wanted it keeping that way.
16. WHAT WAS YOUR AIM WITH THE SITES?
I felt there were many bodybuilders out there in the wide world that didn’t know the history of their sport and I’m afraid the collections of books, magazines etc were held in the hands of just a few, me included. I felt I would like to share this with the world. I didn’t think that big at first, thinking only people in the UK would read the site but I quickly realised we’d gone international with emails, contributions and support from all over the world from countries as far away as Australia, New Zealand, United States, South America, India etc etc. I was more than surprised; I was shocked but extremely happy that my dream had been put into practice. Sandow Plus had been born.
17. I KNOW YOU WERE LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT PERSON TO PASS ON THE INFORMATION TO, HOW DID YOU GET IN CONTACT WITH DIANE?
I contacted my friend David Gentle who had been a supporter of the site right from the beginning and I told him my problems. David then suggested I should try Diane, who was hosting his material on the David Gentle site to see if she could help. Diane immediately said yes. Then she found there were all sorts of technical difficulties which to this day I don’t understand, being not very technical minded but thanks Diane, you sorted it all out and the History of Physical Culture is the result.
18. HOW DO FEEL ABOUT THE DIRECTION THE HOPC IS GOING IN?
I feel it’s going in the right direction and that Diane has taken it to levels that Roger and I never could have done. Another thank you Diane.
19. THIS IS A MORE PERSONAL QUESTION BUT I KNOW YOU HAD TO DEAL WITH AND OVERCOME A SERIOUS HEALTH CONDITION OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS. HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR YEARS OF TRAINING HELPED YOU TO GO THROUGH THIS AND REGAIN YOUR HEALTH?
In 2010 I had a shock to my system when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Three weeks after the diagnosis I was on the operating table and thanks to my past training and fitness and an excellent surgeon I made a very good recovery, going back to work after only 6 weeks. But the euphoria was short-lived when I was put onto a course of chemo. This did what the operation had failed to do, it knocked the stuffing out of me and whilst on the treatment I felt myself sinking into a depression. I’d stopped training and lost the will to do most things. After the chemo finished, six months later, I started picking up again and training started again. Initially it was just light stretching exercises, some Maxalding and isometrics. This shook me out of feeling sorry for myself and I was definitely back then on the mend.
20. WHAT KIND OF TRAINING ARE YOU DOING NOW?
My daily training consists of Maxalding exercises B, C, E, GG, KK, P and exercise X every other day. All the exercises can be found on the site. These exercises are performed every afternoon along with muscle control. I am fortunate I can take control of most muscles in my body and simulate weight training exercises whilst holding the muscle in contraction. I also have an array of kettle bells, training bands, an ab wheel and a Bullworker; these are brought into play just to relieve the boredom of the same routine and also to challenge my strength. This about sums up my current training. But of course there’s also the little challenges like shifting sacks of garden compost etc etc.
21. ANY ADVICE FOR THOSE STARTING OUT TRAINING OR ANY THING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SAY?
My advice to anybody just starting out training is to get to know their own body. Training is not just lifting a barbell in a repetitious way and performing an exercise mechanically. There is a saying “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” and this is true of training. What’s good for your neighbour is not necessarily good for you. You must put your mind into the muscles, the brain is the most powerful training instrument and by using that to feel the muscles you’re using you’ll make a lot better progress.
I would also like to say, as you know Peter, I absolutely abhor drugs. They’re a poison in every sport as well as in the athlete’s body. Leave them alone and you’ll have a healthy future.
I think that’s it now Peter. I think I’ve said everything that I need to say. I never knew an interview could be so trying and I’d like to thank everybody who tunes into HOPC and keeps the history of physical culture alive.
(c)An Interview wtih Gil Waldron by Peter Yates
Thanks for taking the time to do this Gil. The body of work you compiled has been a most significant contribution to physical culture history and can certainly be seen as your legacy. All the best, Peter
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