Reg Park, Britain’s Natural Legend

By Lou Ravelle
(Reprinted with permission of Steve Gardener/Muscle Mob)


Reg Park exploded upon the bodybuilding public in just two short years. As an unknown home trainer he grabbed the limelight by winning the 1949 Mr Northeast Britain.
He captured the Mr Britain title later in the same year. From this point on his rise to fame was nothing short of meteoric and probably unparalleled in the annals of bodybuilding .By 1951 he had achieved the most prestigious goal of all, The Mr Universe crown. Up to this point British bodybuilders had been accustomed to look across the Atlantic for the world’s finest physiques, but Reg changed all that. This handsome young lad from Leeds had shown us that Britain could make ’em too.
The effect on British bodybuilding was enormous. In those early post-war days bodybuilding in Britain had grown slightly in volume, owing to the fact that many men had found that they actually enjoyed the exercise that they ordered to do while serving in the forces. Many of these formed the nucleus of Britain’s post -war crop of weight trainers. However training methods had not moved on much since the pre-war days of the Thirties. But this new shot in the arm from Reg Park was about to alter things. In 1950 a 15 inch arm plus a 44 inch chest and a body weight of say, 13 stone, had been the goal of the majority. 18 inch arms and 50 inch chests were things only to be seen in the pages of American physical culture magazines.
Now, articles appeared in British magazines such as Health and Strength and Vigour showing the training routines of this new British star. I believe this was the turning point in the history of British bodybuilding and was also the point when Britain and the rest of the world began to realise that the world’s best physiques did not necessarily have to be “Made in USA”. The Brits began to training with a vengeance and a new type of physique began to appear.
Reg maintained constant improvement and went on to become a triple Mr Universe winner, three times beating out opposition from all over the world. Bodybuilding was still in the pre-anabolic era. I refer of course, to those far off the drug – free days when muscles were built by sheer effort coupled with a high protein intake plus lots of energy food. This, in itself, raised problems in the United Kingdom because as late as 1951 meat was still on ration and this proved a great handicap. At the time when Reg began to achieve fame on international scale, the two main figures on the scene were John Grimek and Steve Reeves. Both these Americans were idols worldwide and as the style of their physiques differed widely each had his own loyal band of followers. John Grimek stood about 5’8″ with a heavily muscled physique and was a magnificent poser; he was also Reeves’s senior by about 16 years. Reeves by comparison with Grimek was a statuesque figure, topping the six-foot mark by half an inch. Though he lacked some of the muscular bulk and thickness for which Grimek was famed, the there was a grace and beauty about his physique which just about balanced out the odds.
The famous battle between these two Americans took place at the first British-held Mr Universe contest in London. A year previously Steve Stanko, also American, had won the title in the U.S.A.
The experienced and magnificent Grimek won the event by a narrow margin and Reeves, also magnificent, had to be content with second place. In the audience that night at the Scala Theatre in London sat a young, promising but as yet unknown, Reg Park. When the chairman of the judges announced Grimek as the winner, young Reg, only a week after his discharge from military service, made his decision. Reg, who had been greatly inspired by the drama of the occasion, decided, on the spot, that one day soon the title would be his. At that moment he knew where his destiny lay. I’m going to be up there on the winner’s rostrum. Anyone who knows Reg will tell you that once he’s got his mind set on a thing-that’s it.
Mindset played an enormous part in Reg’s training and his success story, not to mention his 500lb bench press. So Reg set his sights and his mind on the Universe title. He had started training three years previously at the age of 17 and at 20 his potential was obvious. It as also obvious that he had the genetics and Reg knew that to reach his goal he had to do three things- train, train and train.
The next Mr Universe show was held in London in 1950. For British fans it was simply a battle of the giants, Steve Reeves and the new British star (he now had the Mr Britain title of under his belt) Reg Park. The far more experienced Reeves (he had won the Mr America title as early as 1947) emerged the winner by narrow margin. A new, and even mightier, Reg Park won the Universe title for the first time the following year in 1951. He had truly taken his place alongside the already legendary Grimek and Reeves. Physical culture writers of the time were quick to note that he was a man whose physique combined the muscular density and sheer strength of Grimek with the grace and beauty of Reeves. The golden age of physical culture had truly arrived. Reg Park is often described as being, one of the all- time greats of the bodybuilding and strength world.
Greatness itself may be hard to define. Someone, far wiser than I, observed that some great men are born great while others have greatness thrust upon them. Reg falls into neither of these two categories. He achieved greatness by sheer hard work and determination.
I was fortunate enough to be around the time and was able to watch this slice of history being made. I was also fortunate enough to have met Reg for the first time in early 1949 before he had hit the headlines. It was obvious to me then that Reg was a one-off and destined for great honours. He didn’t let me down. Reg is a member of an elite band. He is one of the last batches of natural champions. Men who achieved their prize-winning physiques by sheer effort and hard work and of course, good wholesome nutrition. In the mid Sixties steroids began to appear on the scene and so did a different class of champion. There emerged a new type of physique contestant who would stop at nothing in order to win. Steroids offered a short cut and to hell the consequences. Out of the window went is the old concept ‘a sound mind in a sound body’
In today’s modern bodybuilding world, chemical tools, (a nice name for drugs) have become the norm, as has huge muscularity. Pumped -up muscular freaks abound and their hothouse reared bodies grace the pages of our physical culture magazines. But not everyone has lost all sight of sanity and I believe that the natural bodybuilding movement, after perhaps, losing some ground, is now actually growing. An everincreasing band of enthusiasts looking to natural methods to achieve their physical goals. To these, Reg Park along with others of his era, will always be an inspirational force. It is interesting to note that if you study Reg’s photographs, it’s obvious that he can more than hold his own against today’s chemically engineered junkies. And you know that, when you look at Reg’s physique, you’re looking at real quality. The bodybuilding fraternity has a long established tradition of giving out name tags. Vince Gironda, the controversial Californian coaches and gym owner will be remembered as the Iron Guru. Joe Weider, the famous American muscle publisher, himself an ardent Reg Park fan, became known as the Master Blaster, though this title may well have been self-inflicted for publicity reasons. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose original inspiration, during his early training, was none other than Reg Park, basks in the sobriquet of The Austrian Oak. However, when I contemplate Reg’s achievements and ponder on how he became a legend in his own time, I think he’s simply, Reg the Ledge. Reg Park, Britain’s Natural Legend
(Part 2)
By Lou Ravelle
(Reprinted with permission of Steve Gardener/Muscle Mob)

The Great Confrontation
In Part Two of this Reg Park Trilogy Lou takes us back to the Battle of the Giants- the very first NABBA Universe .. It was a contest which, for most fans, had only two runners-and they were both favourites, Reg Park and Steve Reeves. 1950 was the year of the first NABBA Mr Universe. The previous contest in 1948 had been organised by Health and Strength. It also became known in some circles as “The day they moved the goal posts.”
Many of the same athletes who had participated in the 48 contest re-appeared in this second British Universe. However, a strange thing had happened and it seemed that there had been a reshuffling of parameters . Men who had, or would have, previously completed with the “biggies”, six feet and over, were now suddenly found to be in class two, it seems that they weren’t six feet tall after all. Or, could it have been the presence in Class 1 of that formidable combination of Steve Reeves and Reg Park,caused a sudden height loss in some cases. It was obvious that the real battle this year would be between these two giants.
In the event Class 1 was a little sparsely populated whereas class 2 seemed to have several well-known competitors who’d recently discovered that their height was just 5’11 3/4″ . One look at the two favourites and who could blame them? It’s interesting to note that the following year (1951) the goal posts were moved again and the big man’s class was defined as 5’9″ and over. In any case the presence of the two front runners in Class I meant that that was where the race would be decided.
The judging was a long and meticulous process and was carried out in daylight in the glass-roofed ballroom of London’s Royal Hotel. This “Pre-Judging” was not open to the general public and was done during the morning and afternoon of Saturday June 24th.The show itself was held at the Scala Theatre the same evening. NABBA, the London based National Amateur Bodybuilding Association, was newly formed and the organisers were determined to make their first big show a memorable one they succeeded. Truly, it was to be A night to remember. On stage that night fans were treated to an unforgettable experience. Though there were some fifty men competing for the supreme title everyone in the audience knew that fortyeight of them were really just there for the ride and that the decision would go to one or other of just two men.
A magnificent and better than ever Reg Park, undoubtedly the best physique ever produced in Europe, battled it out with a Steve Reeves who was at the peak of his flawless form. Earlier in the day the judges had found it very difficult to separate the two. Each, in his own way seemed perfect. Reeves, bigger and more muscular than previously, still retained that flowing grace of line and movement for which he was renowned. Reg too was bigger and better than ever and for sheer rugged muscularity he was ahead of the American.
By this time each of the two men had a vast following world-wide and of course, as Reg was on his home ground, the greater part of the audience were rooting for him. How did the two men compare? That is indeed a very difficult question, as the judges on that day well knew. Any physique contest is all about what the judges are really seeking. One judge may be more impressed by muscular bulk than by razor sharp definition, another may favour grace and line. Faced with these two competitors they had their hands full.
As for sheer masculine beauty the Reeves physique has never been equaled. But if the judges were looking for rugged, dense and yet balanced muscularity, Reg would be hard to beat. The two men were painstakingly scrutinised and compared on that day and they have been discussed and compared by fans the world over ever since. Looking at the actual body parts, Park had the much deeper chest of the two with thick pectoral development. Reeves did not seem to have the rib- cage depth of his rival but his pectoral shape and definition were quite unique. The famous Reeves, almost straight, pectoral line, makes a photograph of him instantly recognizable even if you cut off the head.
Both men were renowned for their great shoulder-width. But Park had the edge when it came to actual deltoid development. The sheer size of these muscles was awesome, as were the striations that adorned them. Both men had breathtaking back development, Reeves having tremendous taper. Reg, while still presenting a great V-shape, had a thickness of lats, trapezius and spinal erectors that was truly formidable. Park and Reeves both had tremendous legs. Looking at Reg’s legs one could see where the power came from for those 400 pound squats that he did as part of his regular training (4 or five sets of 10) The Reeves underpinnings were beautifully moulded and gave the illusion that they had their greatest girth about 4 or 5 inches above the knee joint. Arms? Both men were tremendous in this department and very difficult to separate. When the tall man’s class was at last on stage the public and their chance to make comparisons and their chance to decide the winner. Finally, when the winner was announced it was Steve who had triumphed by a hairsbreadth leaving Reg Park second and Spain’s Juan Fererro a very popular third. Reg also won the title of Mr Europe which was judged concurrently. The crowd went bananas, Reeves received a tremendous ovation but there were many in the Scala Theatre that night who thought they knew better than the judges. After all as we said earlier the results in physique contest are purely based on opinion. It’s all a matter of what the judges are after.
Even now, fifty years later, fans and experts are still comparing Reeves and Park. Probably, in another 50 years they’ll still be at it. Why not? Enthusiasts are still discussing that controversial wrestling bout between Hackenschmidt and Gotch and that was 90 years ago.
Summing up the 1950 Mr Universe, D. G. Johnson, editor of health and strength wrote, “So once more the title of Mr Universe returns to America, the land of its birth. Next time with Reg Park as captain we will take on all comers confident in our ultimate victory.” Reg too, knowing that he had still not reached his peak, was confident that on his second attempt he would win the title, come who may. His defeat only served to increase his determination to win and to put out, in training, nothing short of maximum effort. History proved him right on all counts. At the end of that historic day, the score card, as published in the next issue of Health & Strength , looked like this.
Mr Universe Results
MR UNIVERSE 1950 Steve Reeves USARunner-Up Reg Park England Third Juan
Ferroro SpainMR EUROPE 1950 Reg Park EnglandRunner-Up Juan Ferroro SpainThird
Charles Klejniak Belgium Mr Universe Class One
Winner; Steve Reeves USA
Second: Reg Park England
Third: Hubert Thomas Wales
Fourth: Georges Dardenne Belgium
Mr Universe Class Two
Winner: John Lees England
Second: Oscar Heidenstam England
Third: Mohamed Nasr Egypt
Fourth: Reuben Martin England
Fifth: Ted White England
Sixth: Tom Knott England
Mr Universe Class Three
Winner: Juan Ferroro Spain
Second: Charles Klejniak Belgium
Third: Andre Coutoula France
Fourth: Pierre Bastiou France
Fifth: Tony Chandler England
Sixth: Jean Ladeuze Belgium
Mr Universe Class Four
Winner: Don Dorans England
Second: Leon Himitian Syria
Third: Roger Levy Belgium
Fourth: Norman Bratty N. Ireland
Fifth : John Rodgers N. Ireland
Sixth: Rusty Sellers England
Reg Park, Britain’s Natural Legend
(Part 3)
(Reprinted with permission of Steve Gardener/Muscle Mob)

The End of the Beginning.
In this third and final part of this Reg Park Trilogy we see Reg firmly planted on the ladder of success
The old Scala Theatre no longer exists but it had a long and distinguished career in Charlotte Street, which runs parallel to London’s Tottenham Court Road on its West side. The theatre was a scaled down version of the famous La Scala in Milan and many a world famous star has graced its boards. I doubt if ever in its long history it had hosted a more vociferous audience than on the evening of September the 1st 1951, when NABBA President D. G. Johnson took he microphone and announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Mr. Universe 1951 – REG PARK of England!” The theatre erupted as if struck by an atomic shock wave.
Reg’s winning had broken the American monopoly on the title and as his reception proved that it was something to shout about. The pre-judging, which was again done in the Royal Hotel, had taken three hours as the panel of seven judges had scrutinized and appraised each of the 43 competitors, who came from various parts of the world. In some cases an individual assessment lasted up to five minutes.
This year the organizers had decided to have three height classes instead of four as in the previous year. The result was that class 1, the big men’s class was for men of 5ft 9ins and above Class 2 included men from 5ft 6ins to under 5 ft 9ins Class 3 was for men below 5 ft 6ins.
The panel of judges was made up as follows:
George Greenwood and Bill Archer (England)
K.D.Arax and Lucien Besset (France)
P.E Creaye (Belgium)
Alexandre Carali (Egypt)
Bishnu Ghosh (India)
At the end of the pre-judging the judges were each asked to write on a sheet of paper of their first and second placing for the overall winner. Six out of the seven judges had Reg Park down for the supreme title.
Again, as in the previous year it was case of all eyes on Class 1. It is generally acknowledged in bodybuilding that a good big ‘un will always beat a good little ‘un. It would have been a very good little ‘un that could have stood up against this night’s Class 1 Beef Trust. Reg Park, Oscar Heidenstam, John Lees, Hubert Thomas and Robert Duranton, the French star, were all in top shape and a last-minute surprise entry from the United States and also in Class 1 was publisher Joe Weider.
Eyebrows were raised when it was known that the high-powered muscle mag magnate was himself taking to the posing plinth. Still, the ‘Master Blaster’ gave a good account of himself. He placed fifth out of the twelve men in Class 1! The short men’s class was dominated by two Indian personalities Monohar Aich (2nd) and Monotosh Roy (1st). Roy brought great drama to the show when, after his normal posing routine he did a death-defying act in which he apparently impaled himself upon a nasty-looking dagger. The dagger was fixed to the end of a long rod, so that it looked like a spear. The point of the knife was placed just below his Adam’s Apple and with a dramatic lunging movement Roy thrust his full weight upon it. The rod bent under the pressure, but Roy emerged laughing.
Also worthy of special mention was the ever-popular Juan Ferrero of Spain. Though he couldn’t speak a word of English this fine athlete’s personality got through to everyone who came into contact with him. Ferrero found himself in a unique position that night. He was now a Universe winner in two height classes. This year he had won class 2 and the previous year he had won Class 3. Obviously this phenomenon was a result of the ‘goal post juggling’ that had taken place in the height classes at the 1950 show. (See previous article). The bodybuilding world mourned the loss of a great character when, in 1958 Ferrero was killed in a car accident.
Reg Park was a young man of 23 when he won the Universe title. He was by no means at his peak, either in strength or development. He was looking ahead; there were fresh fields to conquer. Reg’s victory had broken the myth that the USA had the monopoly on the world’s best physiques. The modest Yorkshire lad had proved that Britain could make’em too. Not surprising then, that his winning the coveted title started an upsurge in bodybuilding activity in Britain.
All in all, the ’51 Universe was a great and memorable occasion. At the time I heard several people say that they wouldn’t forget it as long as they wouldn’t lived-I certainly haven’t.
Below is the final score card for the night.
Mr. Universe Contest 1951
Class 1 (over 5ft 9ins)
1.. Reg Park(England)
2.. Equal Seconds, Robert Duranton (France) and Oscar Heidenstam (England)
1.. Hubert Thomas (Wales)
2.. Joe Weider (USA)
3.. Arnold Dyson (England)
Class 2 (over 5ft 6ins and not more than 5ft 9ins)
1.. Juan Ferrero (Spain)
2.. Mario Marello (France)
3.. Robert Jama(France)
4.. Spencer Churchill (England)
5.. August Marcel (France)
6.. Johnny Stringer (England)
Class 3 (under 5ft 6ins)
1.. Monotosh Roy (India)
2.. Monohar Aich (India)
3.. Guy Marello (France)
4.. Johnny Roubalos (Greece)
5.. Jim Laurie (Scotland)
6.. Wally Wright (England)

The Mr. Universe title has now existed for over half a century and for many bodybuilders and winning of this prestigious award has been the ultimate goal. When Reg was crowned Mr. Universe it was, for him, just the end of the beginning. Like other champions before and after him, Reg found that he had a career waiting for him in films. He made several films before settling down as a very successful gym operator in South Africa. His most memorable part was the title role in Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis. Others have played this role in various films but for sheer muscular bulk and power Reg’s Hercules has never been equaled. In the 1952 it was decided to have amateur and a professional class in the Mr. Universe the first year’s title being won by Juan Ferroro. Reg won the new pro title twice. First in 1958 and then again in 1965.This last made a triple Universe winner. Always a completely natural bodybuilder Reg Park was an inspiration to millions including the great Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reg was also bodybuilder who had Titanic strength to match his great musculature.
In 1954 his 500 lb bench press was the first-ever in Europe and he had thus equaled the standard set by the much heavier Doug Hepburn who was at that time world weightlifting champion. As in all sports, with the passing of time standards have gone higher but even today 500lb is a pretty awesome weight. Reg also joined that select band (which now includes publisher Steve Gardener) who have lifted the famous Thomas Inch dumbbell. He also made short work of Inch’s equally formidable expander. In 1953 he broke the longstanding British Dumbbell record with a lift of 258 lbs. His training poundage’s were staggering:
a.. Incline and flat Bench Presses with a pair of 185 lb dumbbells.
b.. Sets of Squats with 510 lbs. Singe repSequat – 600lbs.
c.. Press Behind Neck 300 lbs.
d.. Alternate D.B. presses with a pair of 120’s
Reg is now in his 73rd year. Still living in South Africa, with his wife Mareon, he’s still in there, pitching and spreading the gospel. Reg is at present working 14 or 15 hours a day as a personal trainer. He says he really enjoys this one on one coaching and regrets that he didn’t get into it earlier. Wot a geezer!

(January 2001)