Prof. Bob Anderson (1922 – 2012)

Bob, more than any other fencing coach of the 20th and 21st century, represented  the ideal of the Fencing Master both at every level of coaching and competition in Great Britain and also in the wider world of film and television. He was an Olympic fencer who went on to train champions, then to train the coaches of champions, and, if that were not enough, he went on to become one of the world’s foremost fight choreographers, even taking up the sword on screen himself as Darth Vader during his fight scenes and on television during the fencing scene of The Prisoner.

Bob was born in 1922 in Hampshire and the beginnings of his career lay in his distinguished record as a competitive fencer during his time in the Royal Marines. He was the Royal Marines Foil Champion 5 times, Sabre Champion 6 times and Epée Champion once. He also won the Inter Services Championships numerous times in all three weapon categories. In September 1950 he won the European Military Sabre Championship and, in both 1951 and 1952, he won the Corble Cup International Sabre Championship.

He then went on to represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games in 1952 and the World Championships in 1950 and 1953 in the sabre event. He finished tied for fifth in the team sabre event at Helsinki in 1952.

On 1st September, 1952, having trained as a coach under the guidance of Professor Roger Crosnier, the newly qualified fencing master, Professor R. J. G Anderson was appointed National Fencing Coach to Great Britain, having been released from Royal Marines to take up this appointment.

As National Coach, his main task was to travel around the country running the National Training Scheme and training and qualifying amateur coaches for the then Leader’s Award. During this time he also ran courses in personal performance, and presiding (refereeing).

He directed residential courses in all aspects of fencing at the National Recreation Centres and at Loughborough University and supervised courses for the Army, Navy and Air Force Fencing Associations.  In addition to all this he was responsible for directing the squad training for all the British Teams. It is true to say that nearly 100% of fencing in Britain today is directly or indirectly attributable to the work of this man.

He inspired dedication from the coaches he trained, so much so that fencing in Britain began to develop almost at a logarithmic rate. The initial groups of successful advanced coaches included people like Pat Pearson, Mervyn Dinsdale, David Maybe, Ken Pearson, Mick Blight, Martin Joyce, Leon Hill, Geoff Hawksworth and Peter Lennon. All of these wore the tie pin, which Bob presented to them personally, with great pride.

The British Academy of Fencing was justifiably proud to have him as its President for many years. The Academy was saddened but fully understood when he eventually decided to put himself and his family first and to resign his post. His work has never been equalled.

It would be achievement enough for anyone to have had such a profound impact on the sport of fencing in his own country. Bob’s skills however, were to become known and influential on a far wider scale. Ten days  before he was due to compete in the Helsinki Olympics on the British Sabre Team, he was asked to act as double and as fight arranger in the Errol Flynn movie The Master of Ballantree. This was when he achieved the reputation of being ‘the man who stabbed Errol Flynn’ as a result of a mishap (for which Flynn claimed responsibility) during the filming of a duel between the two of them.

Numerous actors after that, including Johnny Depp, Viggo Mortensen, Anthony Hopkins, Charlie Sheen and Catherine Zeta Jones were to learn the skill of the sword under ‘Grumpy Bob’ the nickname he earned through his relentless desire for perfection. On the Mask of the Zorro he put actors through two months of training; sometimes up to 10 hours a day until he was as satisfied with their performance. A refusal to allow shortcuts, mediocrity or excuses characterised his film work as much as it did his work as a fencer, a coach and a teacher of coaches.

Bob retired in as National Coach in 1979. However, soon afterwards, he received a phone call from the president of the Canadian Fencing Association inviting him to take on the post of Technical Director for the association.  This post  was originally meant to last 2 years but which he ended up holding from 1980 to 1988. During this time he developed their Olympic Programme and wrote two books on the sport for Sport Canada and the Coaching Association of Canada. He lived on and off in Ottowa for some 15 years and it was during this time that his association with Star Wars began to develop.

His most famous work was as Darth Vader during his light sabre fighting scenes. Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) once said of him “Bob Anderson was the man who actually did Vader’s fighting. It was always supposed to be a secret, but I finally told George I didn’t think it was fair any more. Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition. It’s ridiculous to preserve the myth that it’s all done by one man.

More recently, Bob’s work may be seen in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and in the Pirates of the Caribbean. The list of all his film credits, both as swordsman and choreographer would take be too long to relate here — suffice to say that if it has been made in England or America in the last fifty years and includes fighting with swords of any description, then the chances are that Bob had a hand in it somewhere. A tiny selection of his credits include The Legend of Zorro (2005: Sword Master), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003: Sword Master); Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003: Additional Sword Trainer); The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002: Sword Master);  Die Another Day (2002: Sword Master); The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001: Sword Master); Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983: Stunt Performer); Superman II (1980: Stunts (uncredited)); Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980: Stunt Double for Darth Vader).

Bob died peacefully in his sleep at a hospital in England in the early hours of January 1st 2012 at the age of 89. He is survived by his wife Pearl and three children.

Bob was all that the assorted reports in the UK and here in Canada have made him out to be, but much more than this.  Few here in Canada ever knew him as a fencer or coach, and of his cinematic and theatrical exploits we have only his personal anecdotes and the media reports. Here, he was the occasional public face of fencing, using his own fame and notoriety to push past stereotypes and draw attention to the reality of fencing as a modern competitive sport, but his real contribution was to be a conciliator and institution-builder behind the scenes.  Bob used his unique position as an outsider and his exceptional abilities to inspire trust, confidence and a sense of camaraderie, in order to unify a divided and fractious Canadian Fencing Association and lay the foundation for the modern sport governing body it has since become.  He built bridges between warring factions, persuaded them to direct their energies in the common cause of building the sport, and to learn from the past but focus on the future.  He also recognized that while elite athletes and cinematic depictions are an important part of the sport, the sport itself is much more – that like an iceberg (or perhaps Bob Geldof’s laconic depiction of a swan) much more goes on below the waterline than above it.  In Canada, he played an important role not only in developing elite fencers, but in developing coaches, trainers, armourers, presidents-de-jurie, both directly and indirectly. He put me into contact with others from whom I could learn as an armourer, encouraged me to develop new skills and knowledge and to pass them on as a teacher and author. He also built bridges between the CFA and the AFA (as both then were), not just institutionally but personally:  when  my wife and I moved to London to study and practice in the late 1980s he introduced us and ensured a warm welcome creating many friendships that still endure.

It is perhaps the way of the world that many young fencers will know little more than what is published, but whether on that side of the Atlantic or this, they are nonetheless in his debt.

Christopher D. Ram, Counsel
Canada Dept. of Justice

Everyone at British Fencing is deeply saddened by the loss of this great man and our thoughts are with his family and friends. Karim Bashir  |  Communications
British Fencing

 In my name and in name of the Academia de Armas de Portugal I would like to express my deepest sympathies for the lost of a great fight director. Thank you for sharing the sad news. And thank you Bob Anderson for the dreams of adventure you staged for us so many times.
Eugénio Roque, Portugal

‘Grumpy Old Bob’ they used to call him. However he was my most influential coach accompanying me to Olympic Games and several World Championships and has been my guidance for the last 30 years.To the film industry he was without doubt the most talented ‘true’ Swordmaster ever and I had the honour of working with him as his assistant on several occasions. I will miss my visits to’ White Lodge’ and the hours of reminiscing with Bob of fencing years gone by. To quote Bob”I stand on the shoulders of those gone before me”. Bob Anderson, you truly were a Legend in your own Lifetime.
Remembered with great fondness.
Steve Paul

My Heart Missed A Beat, Felt Dizzy Reading The Sad News. He Is Truely A World Class Fencing Master And Fight Director. My Thoughts Are Also For Him and His Family and Friends Alike.
Conrad Roy Makosz, Holland

 A hero and gentleman, one of the World’s greatest teachers. It was an honour and priviledge to know and work with him
Prof. Jes Smith, London

The first two Fencing books I bought were by Bob Anderson. and I find it interesting that it was actually Bob who was Vader in the famous Star Wars fighting scene because that magnificent scene was the reason I got interested in Fencing
Örn Leifsson, Iceland

We lost a real talent. May he rest in Peace
Stuart Lee, USA

Such sad news. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Diamond Swords and he was a fantastic guy and will be greatly missed. My thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time
Stuart Clough, England

Very saddened to hear. Will be greatly missed by all
Peter Steele, England

What a Legend.
Jamie McClement, England

A great man, a good friend, I will miss him
Barry More