Catch that falling star...

Bob McCrystal
Bob McCrystal

IN his film debut, he met one of his idols, John Wayne, and his on-screen appearance lasted around three seconds.

In ‘Where Eagles Dare’, he was machine-gunned by Clint Eastwood, although the two never met.

Bob McCrystal

Bob McCrystal

In the opening minutes of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, he was the orange frilly-shirted droog being hurled off a stage and doing a sprawling somersault through a window.

On television, he doubled for Dennis Waterman during the run of one of Britain’s greatest ever series, ‘The Sweeney’ – and he was at the wheel of the car which crashes through the showroom window in the opening titles of ‘The Professionals’.

There are many other credits to the name of Bob McCrystal, who spent nearly two decades as a stunt man in Hollywood and the UK.

In a remarkable life’s work – before the days of computerised special effects – the dad-of-eight performed in over 20 mainstream cinema films and was stunt arranger, adviser and performer in over 100 televison series, programmes and small-screen productions.

Serious injury in 1986 looked to have ended his career, but he stayed in films and became a location caterer, which brought him a whole new industry experience.

Lately, Leven man Bob has made something of a return, offering stunt advice to the makers of an on-line television series which has been filming locally.

Aged 64 this month, Bob has an endless reservoir of anecdotes – good and bad – about the famous people he has met and the intricacies of the stuntman’s art. But he sums up his career as having 18 years of being paid to play cowboys and Indians, so his memories are quite fond.

Originally from Johnstone in Renfrewshire, Bob’s story began in 1960 when work opportunities, and immigrant visas for £10, tempted his parents to move to the USA.

Bob with a knife

Bob with a knife

The family settled in Long Island, where Bob’s father was an engineer and his mother was a chambermaid in the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. She later managed to find Bob work there as a kitchen porter, which was to be significant.

Bob served in the US army, as immigrants were obliged to do, from 1965-67 and afterwards worked as a magazine seller, which enabled him to travel across the States.

In Los Angeles, he went to see a close friend who had an uncle working the props department at Universal Studios. Bob was amazed to see hordes of extras performing on one of the lots and wondered: `How do I get to do that?’

Bob, or ‘Scottie’, as everyone in America called him, found an agent and got a job as uniformed tour guide at Universal, where he got to know the stunt team who performed shows for the visitors. That set him on the stuntman’s path, as he recalled: “I got the best training in the world.”

Gymnastics and judo practice as a youngster stood him in good stead and he learned the skills of the trade.

Soon, he got the chance to be a stunt man on his first film – ‘The Green Berets’ – starring and co-directed by none other than John Wayne.

Summing ‘The Duke’ up as “man of a few words”, Bob was nevertheless thrilled to meet one of his silver-screen heroes, and he can briefly be seen tumbling from a blown-up church building in Wayne’s 1968 gung-ho slice of Vietnam warfare.

The work poured in but in 1970, Bob admitted he made a mistake by turning down a new three-year contact at Universal and deciding to go freelance, discovering he had virtually to start over, as he wasn’t well known in his home country.

His lucky break came with ‘When Eight Bells Toll’, when he hung beneath a helicopter while doubling as Anthony Hopkins, and took an unscheduled 90-foot plunge into the sea at Tobermory.

By 1972, Bob said he was living beyond his means and realised, with no pun intended, he had “nothing to fall back on”.

So, reviving his interest in cooking from his days at the Waldorf Astoria, he trained as a chef and qualified in catering, which was to prove a shrewd move.

Bob was largely shielded from severe injury during his career until one day in 1986 when he was working on the TV series ‘Dempsey and Makepeace’. A fall from 65 feet, through a series of awnings which should have slowed him down, went wrong - and he suffered a broken back – putting a sad end to stunt performing.

However, the world of on-set catering was on the menu and he served up the food on many other films, including ‘Braveheart’.