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As he serves a life sentence for double murder we look back at a 1984 day in the life of bodybuilding enigma Bertil Fox.

By Peter McGough

Prologue: Today Bertil Fox sits in a sparse St. Kitts jail cell in the Caribbean grinding out a life sentence for being convicted of the murders of his former fiancée and her mother who were shot to death in 1997. Despite his “no chance of parole” future there was a time when Bertil Fox was one of the leading stars of the bodybuilding firmament. A prodigy, he won the 1969 Junior Britain at age 17 and scooped all major NABBA titles before entering IFBB competition in 1981, where he was tipped to be a future Mr. Olympia. It never worked out that way.

Bertil Fox was a giant of a bodybuilder – his arms and chest particularly being among the best ever. At the 1983 Mr. Olympia in Munich he brought the house down, and an observing Arnold Schwarzenegger was heard to enthuse, “That, that is what Mr. Olympia should look like.” When Fox was announced fifth we witnessed one of the biggest boofests in Olympia history. That “defeat clawed from the jaws of victory” episode was really the highlight of his career and from then on he sort of settled into the role of a journeyman pro in an era many had previously expected him to dominate.

His last competitive outing was 13th at the 1994 Ironman and it was a quiet and unheralded exit for a man of whom so much had been expected. He eventually returned to his native St. Kitts to open a gym and in 1997 the double murders occurred. After initially being sentenced to death by hanging, the punishment was reduced to life without parole.

It has now been 15 years since Fox’s demons wrought their final fury, and despite the gravity of those crimes, whenever his name is mentioned it is hard for me not to recall a day we spent together in 1984 when Foxy was at the peak of his bodybuilding powers.

Mr. Fox was a Bertil with a sore head: “I hate this crap, man,” his angry lips snarled, “Cooped up in this hotel room like a prisoner. I wanna’ eat, I gotta’ train, and you chicken shit reporters come up and want to talk to me. If I was a nobody you wouldn’t want to know me, so stuff the interview.”


Dismissing the notion of asking the attending hotel manager for an exclusive on how he built his 12-inch neck spaciously ensconced in a 15-inch collar I assessed Bertil’s situation.

It was Sunday, September 9th, the morning of the 1984 British Championships. Foxy had been booked to appear at the end of the evening as a “surprise guest”, hence promoter Ron Davies’ (then President of the English Federation) tacit instructions that Bertil be kept under wraps. Foxy had flown in from Germany with fellow surprise guest Bill Grant, arriving at the Royal Hotel, Nottingham, at three o’clock in the morning. Ron was officiating at the British Championships as word reached him that Bertil was restless. Ron asked me to, “Go and see what you can do.”


Bertil was pacing up and down in his hotel room, his boyish face now displaying frustration. “I can’t even eat man,” he told me. “I’ve just rung down for twelve poached eggs and they put the phone down on me. They thought I was just some joker shooting them some shit. There’s no way I’m going to stay in this room all day. I have to train!” he boomed. The Olympia was two months away and Bertil did not want even one training day to be missed. (As it turned out he eventually pulled out of the 1984 Olympia citing a back injury, and received a suspension which was later rescinded.) He threw down a book he had been reading. “I’m going to fuckin’ train man, where’s the nearest gym.”

Thus here we were in the centre of Nottingham, a town swarming with bodybuilding fans attending the British Championships and Bertil Fox (Ron’s “surprise”) was getting ready to wander around the streets in search of a gym. He would be as inconspicuous as Barbara Bush in a Turkish brothel! For this assignment Ron should have sent Henry Kissinger, not yours truly.

“Okay, first things first,” I said to Bertil, “You want twelve poached eggs?”

“Yeah, but the stupid buggers downstairs…”

I held up my hand, “Let me try.”

Telephoning room service I eggsplained (groan) that I was speaking on behalf of one of the world’s top bodybuilder’s, that he existed on a very high protein diet, and that he required straight away 12 lightly poached eggs. After a brief interchange they assured me that the order was on its way. Bertil grunted and nodded his head in semi-approving fashion. This was another interview to be earned the hard way.

“Now where can I train this afternoon?” he demanded. I tried to clarify that the whole concept of the being the surprise at the Championships was that no one should know of his presence. So he would have to stay in his room: that was all part of the deal he made with Ron.

Bertil grabbed my shoulder, “Look, I don’t give a shit, I’m training today, even if I have to walk out of that door and find a gym myself.”

It took no deep insight to realize that Bertil meant what he said. If he was determined to train it would have to be in secret. “Okay,” I assured him, “I’ll talk to Ron and see if something can be arranged.” I was just stalling – playing for time.

I went next door and spoke to Bill Grant who was pleasantness itself. He admitted, “Yeah, I’m bored out of my skull, but I’m prepared to sit here all day. If you take Bertil out I’ll come along. He’s a great guy you know,” he informed me, “He’s just a little wound up at the moment. Like he’s in his own country, there’ll be a lot of his old friends just down the road, and he can’t even see them. I’ll go in and cheer him up. Don’t worry, you’ll get your interview.”


Dashing back to the Royal Concert Hall I outlined how serious Bertil was about working out that day to Ron. We decided that I find a gym out of the centre of Nottingham, and use Ron’s customized Transit to smuggle the Olympians there and back. “But if they’re seen,” warned Ron, “and word gets out that Bertil Fox and Bill Grant are in town, I’ll consider it your fault.”

“Ron, do me a favor next year,” I said, “Book Danny Padilla who I can transport around in my brief case.”

Walking back to Bertil’s hotel, I figured that the gym to use was at the Redhill Leisure Centre, about five miles from the city centre. I trained there (Oh! How the years roll back) and on a Sunday afternoon it was usually empty (or is it always empty when I’m there…must be the soap I use). I explained to Bertil that we would sneak out of the hotel to a gym later in the day. “The weights aren’t that heavy,” I explained, “the heaviest dumbbells are 120 pounders, but it is private.”

I went to see the hotel manager and we worked out a route from Bertil and Bill’s floor to the car park near the hotel entrance. Of course he thought I was crazy, not fully understanding all this talk about secrecy, or the instruction that under no circumstances should he mention the word Fox. But he complied with my request.

Returning to Bertil’s room I laid out the plan of ‘escape’, saying I would be back soon. As I opened the door to leave Bertil called quietly, “Hey!” I turned as he mumbled, “Thanks man…I appreciate what you’re doing.” I nodded.

All I needed to do then was to go home, change into black trousers, black polo neck, and Tom Cruise would have never had a sniff at the Mission Impossible franchise.

Mark Smith, a local bodybuilder who had qualified for the British Finals as a lightweight was delegated to drive Ron’s transit. He was to wait on the ground floor car park as I took Bertil and Bill from their rooms to a service lift which the hotel manager had on permanent hold (eat your heart out Ian Fleming.)


FOX-2aI briefed Bertil and Bill on the plan, and offered the view that if a member of the general public saw them there would be no problem: it was only bodybuilding fans who would recognize them. But as all the bodybuilders and the fans would be at the pre-judging there wouldn’t be anyone about who would recognize the illustrious duo -- famous last words.

Creeping down the corridor with Bertil and Bill behind me I froze in horror as 30 yards away a door opened and out came 220 pound Andrew Searle in his posing trunks walking straight towards us.

“What the hell?” exploded Bertil.

“Jeez the place is crawling with bodybuilders in posing trunks! What’s going on?” gasped Bill.

After all my confidence of non-detection we were coming face to face with the man who was destined to win that night’s heavyweight crown. Why me? I implored, looking heavenwards. I could be at home now picking the fluff out of my belly button, not having ten years of my life being taken away with nervous tension.

In times of crisis I either do something ridiculous or…faint.

On this occasion I chose the former, throwing an exaggerated front lat spread to hide Bill Grant and Bertil Fox! Can you believe that? In terms being ridiculous it compares with the time I asked Tom Platz if he was, “Born with legs like that?”

Bertil and Bill squirmed behind me trying to conceal their combined 430 pounds behind my 1984 185 pound frame. Today my more generous proportions could easily camouflage from view the whole of the Dallas Cowboys squad complete with their cheerleader section!

Andrew stared quizzically at my gyrations, shrugged his shoulders, turned around and disappeared back into his room. It transpired that he’d booked a room quite by coincidence on the same floor, and was using the coolness of the corridor to dry his tanning lotion. He later told me that he did not see Bill and Bertil (it’s the lat pulldowns don’t you know), but merely thought that the pressures of reporting the bodybuilding scene had finally got to me and I was in the middle of a seizure.

“I thought we wouldn’t see any bodybuilders?” rasped Bill.

“You’re talking to a man who use to thing that fat babies didn’t break wind,” I replied with complete lack of logic.

Descending in the lift I looked at the muscular duo, and said, “I feel like Lee Marvin in the Dirty Dozen

“Ain’t no way I can get Lee Marvin for you this time of day, sweetie,” pouted Bill.

We got out of the service elevator, and made our way to the second floor of the car park. The SUV was waiting one floor below down a ramp. The car park was full of cars but devoid of human life. The plan was working perfectly, General Eisenhower, architect of the Normandy Landings would have been proud of us. What could go wrong? Er, as it transpired quite a lot.

For Part 2 of this MD Exclusive check in next Wednesday when the adventure continues.

Peter will be back next week and every Wednesday looking at the world of bodybuilding like only Peter McGough can do.

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