Knockout tale of the tragic hero who conquered the boxing world is coming to Fife

A new production which tells the story of Scotland’s first world boxing champion from his childhood in the slums of the Glasgow Gorbals to the height of boxing success is coming to Fife.

By Debbie Clarke
Friday, 24th May 2019, 1:35 pm
Stephen Purdon on stage with William McBain who plays Bennys coach and mentor Sammy Wilson.
Stephen Purdon on stage with William McBain who plays Bennys coach and mentor Sammy Wilson.

The Benny Lynch Story, which is written by David Carswell, stars River City star Stephen Purdon and tells the extraordinary rags-to-riches tale of the Scottish sporting icon.

The story covers Lynch’s road to the world belt and his untimely death at the age of 33.

The national production, which is currently on tour, also stars Holly Jack (River City, Burnistoun, Waterloo Road) as Benny’s wife, Simon Weir (High Road, River City, Taggart, Acid House, Trainspotting 2) who takes on the role of Tash the Gorbals’ sage and William McBain who plays Benny’s coach and mentor, Sammy Wilson.

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Benny Lynch after a fight at Shawfield Stadium in Glasgow in 1937.

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Stephen Purdon, who stars in River City, is playing the lead role of Benny Lynch in the production which is coming to the Alhambra Theatre in Dunfermline on June 7.

Stephen, known for playing ‘Shellsuit Bob’ in River City, said: “It’s a true story set in the 1930s.

“Benny Lynch was a world champion and one of our own. But this is a true story so we discover he had a lot of problems as well ,so tell the good side as well as the dark side of his life. There will be a lot of drama for the audience to see, but we are trying to keep it as true to his story as we can.”

Stephen said he was approached by one of the show’s producers about taking on the role.

“It was out of my comfort zone,” he explained. “I work in River City a lot and do a bit of panto so I am quite busy with stuff like that on a yearly basis.

“But I just had a good feeling about it.

“I was sucked in the minute I read the script and it was a huge compliment that they wanted me for the role of Benny Lynch.”

Lynch, considered one of the greatest flyweights, first took an interest in the sport as a teenager in the carnival booths on Glasgow Green as a form of escapism from poverty.

And even though he had a slight frame, Benny had a natural talent and could easily punch above his weight.

He turned professional at the age of 18 and it was the start of an amazing career that unfortunately lasted just seven years.

However, in that time, he had 119 fights with 88 wins.

Lynch became Scottish flyweight champion and went on to win the British crown following a rematch with Jackie Brown in Manchester, flooring his opponent 10 times in two rounds.

When he came back to Glasgow, he was treated to a hero’s welcome and the streets were lined with thousands of fans descending on Central Station just to see him.

But the fight that would define his career and earn his place in boxing history came on January 19, 1937.

Lynch faced Small Montana of the Philippines at Wembley and the two men fought it out for 15 difficult rounds before the Scot took a points’ decision.

This made him the undisputed world flyweight champion of the world.

Stephen said he quit smoking and gave up junk food as part of his training for the role: “I have been doing boxing training twice a week since January and it was an eye-opener in the beginning,” he said.

“The first month I was doing it I was struggling a bit.

“I thought I was relatively fit until I started The more I have been doing it though the fitter I have been getting.

“But I am enjoying it now and getting the bug a bit although it has been hard to train as much because rehearsals have started for River City. It was just trying to get used to things like standing as a boxer and the basics so I am not cheating the audience, but the training has been great.

“I watched some clips of Benny Lynch on YouTube but the footage is from the ’30s so the quality isn’t great, but it gives you an idea of how he moved. He was really fast though and I have been trying to keep up!”

Stephen said becoming Benny on stage was a once-in-a-lifetime role: “I don’t think many people get to play roles that are true to life and I am so invested in the whole story,” he said. “It is an amazing story, but also a sad one, and definitely a dream role for me.”

While Lynch achieved amazing success, it came at a price as the fame and fortune brought him financial difficulties and struugles with alcoholism.

Less than two years after beating Montana, his boxing licence was revoked and just 11 years after he reached the dizzy heights of becoming the flyweight champion, he died at the age of 33.

Stephen said: “When you look at athletes in the sport world these days, there is help there for them.

“But, back then, a boy from the Gorbals couldn’t talk about things that were going on in his head and the avenues for help just weren’t there.

“I didn’t realise until I started learning more about him the true extent of the problems he had with drink and the issues he had in his life,. Now that I do, I hope I can play the part properly on stage and do it justice.”

Stephen said Lynch had left an important legacy which future generations of young Scots should be made aware of.

“With social media and the internet you can look up anything but I think people like Benny Lynch are in danger of being forgotten,” he said.

“With the play we are trying to entertain people, but we are also telling a story and it is an important piece of Scottish history.

“This guy was a superstar and if he was around in this day and age everyone would know about him.”

○The Benny Lynch Story is at the Alhambra Theatre, Dunfermline , on June 7, at 7.30pm. Ticket details from www.alhambradunfermline