Internationally Acclaimed Physical Culture Historian and Author
By Peter Yates, HOPC Editor-in-Chief
It is with great sadness that I write these words about a man I have come to know over the years and one I call my friend. In the week prior to his passing we had been going back and forth with emails and he was in great form and full of his usual humor and banter. I was expecting a reply but instead received the devastating news, via mutual friend Paul Shaw, David was no longer with us. Simultaneously Gil Waldron was also informing me via Skype. It took a while to sink in that I would never see or hear from my dear friend again and what a terrible loss this was to the world of Physical Culture in general and HOPC in particular.
Born in the English coastal town of Southampton in 1933 David survived the depression and the war years as an evacuee. Tall but skinny as a youth he decided to put some meat on his bones and like many a young lad started with the Charles Atlas course. This was followed over the years with courses by Earl Liederman, George Jowett, Maxalding, York, Weider and his favorite Don Dorans. Simultaneously he engaged in martial arts training via wrestling and Jujutsu. Gradually he started to beef up, something that was not easy with post war rationing still in place, and grew stronger in the process.
At age 20 and a body weight of 150lb he was able to bench press 300lb, perform an amazing body weight curl and a stiff arm pullover in competition of 120lb. He was at that time also able to bend and break six inch nails and always had a great respect for those of exceptional grip strength.
David became an avid collector early on in his physical culture journey. At first buying the available magazines and then older back copies and any old books he could find, often scouring local bookstores to unearth some gems. Over the years he formed one of the finest, private Physical Culture collections in the world. He also traded with others and at times generously gave away some of his acquisitions, myself being a recipient more than once. David along with recently departed friend Ron Tyrrell were Britain’s premier Physical Culture historians, it is a bitter blow losing them both so soon.
Quite early on David became interested in writing about all aspects of the IRON GAME and was mentored in this by a man who would become a lifelong friend, David Webster OBE. Webster both helped David develop his own writing style and helped him get his initial efforts published in Health and Strength magazine which he would continue to write for under five successive owners for almost seven decades. Besides Health and Strength he wrote for just about all of the main bodybuilding and strength related journals of the 20th century, not only under his own name but also assumed names. On top of this he would ghost write articles for many of the major bodybuilding competitors.
Of course, over the course of his career he came into contact with those at the very top of the game and also the regular trainee just trying to get stronger, bigger and fitter. David was able to relate to and write for all. Most of those he came into contact with became lifelong friends who have still kept contact to this day. He also never strayed far from his other love, wrestling. Each year he would attend the British Wrestlers Reunion to meet up with his old mat buddies. Some of those he had strong relationships with and kept correspondence with were John Grimek, Reg Park, Bill Pearl, Terry Robinson and old timers like Joe Assirati, to name a few.
Something David really enjoyed was bringing people together, especially those interested in all or any aspect of Physical Culture. In the 1990s he formed Muscle Mob magazine with that purpose in mind and it gave a forum for those involved to express their view or report on contests, etc. When David stepped down grip master Steve Gardener took up the reigns as Editor. Several years ago, Diane Robert started to collect the over 2000 articles written by David and started David Gentle’s History of Physical Culture site to make those works widely available. Since that time the site has merged with Gill Waldron’s Maxalding site and has greatly expanded the content becoming HOPC, the History of Physical Culture site. David was so proud of the work done by Diane and mentioned more than once that it had given him a new lease on life and something to get up for everyday. He especially enjoyed the Forum as once again it was way for those of like-mind to come together and share the various aspects of the strength and fitness world.
I like many, began reading David’s articles in the early 1960s and, also like many others, I received honest and useful information which aided my own journey. It was not until the mid 1980s that I actually wrote to David and very soon received a warm and enthusiastic reply. This surprised me as at that time and for many years he was being delivered weekly, sack fulls of letters from around the globe, and he replied to them all. Since that time we kept up correspondence by mail and eventually by email. David also helped me, as David Webster had done for him, develop my own writing style. There is no question that he helped many of those he knew and thousands who he would never know.
David received a few honors in his life, but those he was most proud of were The John Grimek Lifetime Achievement Award and The Oscar Heidenstam Foundation Award for Services to Bodybuilding. Apart from the world of strength David enjoyed playing guitar[he once played in an R&B band] reading, traveling, magic tricks and eating his wife’s delicious cakes. But above all
David loved his dear wife Rosemary, daughter Karen, family and his many friends made over the years. I will certainly miss my dear friend but I know he has left us an amazing legacy in his writings.
Sincere condolences from all at HOPC to Rosemary, Karen and all David’s family and many friends around the world.
© In Memorium of David Gentle by Peter Yates Jul. 31, 2020