Dave Prowse: 'My first recollection of him was he was enormous'

By Chris Bell
BBC News

Published
image copyrightGetty Images

The first thing many people noticed about Dave Prowse was his size.

His imposing frame would take the bodybuilder and actor, who has died at 85 after a short illness, to Hollywood - and a galaxy far, far away.

As a young man, it took him to the doors at The Glen, the Bristol dance hall where he worked.

"There was never any trouble at The Glen," remembers David Warren, who told the BBC he used to visit the venue on Mondays and Fridays.

"I was standing on the edge of the dance floor - it must have been in 1961 - and was conscious of someone standing next to me. I looked down and saw a pair of feet. I have big feet - size 11 - but these were enormous, huge.

"I turned and looked up and up and up. He was a giant."

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Yet for many of those who got to know Dave Prowse, it was his generosity and kindness they remembered.

"We lived a few doors away from Dave and his family when I was growing up," Sandra Weakner told the BBC.

"Every Sunday morning all the children in the road would have keep fit with Dave and his children in his front room.

"I remember one occasion his daughter and I were told by Dave we were doing better than the boys. It made our day, especially as my brother was also doing it."

Sandra, whose maiden name is Barrett, remembers Prowse travelling to the United States to play his most famous role.

"I remember him going off to America when he was being Darth Vader. We were out in the street waving him off.

"They were such a lovely family."

image copyrightMarina Grant
image captionMarina Grant featured in a 1984 fitness magazine while she was training with Prowse

Marina Grant was 14 when she first met Prowse. She lives with a disability and uses callipers to support her legs.

"My father heard Dave on the radio talking about how he used to wear a calliper as a child for his club foot," she told the BBC.

"My dad got in touch with Dave and he kindly offered to give me personal training sessions at his gym for free."

They stayed in touch for a time.

"Dave and his wife Norma even came to my wedding in 1989," she said.

"He was a lovely man."

image copyrightIan Edmed
image captionIan Edmed (third from right) trained at a London gym run by Dave Prowse (centre), pictured with bodybuilder Frank Zane

Ian Edmed also trained at Prowse's gym, in the 1970s and 1980s.

"My first recollection of him was he was absolutely enormous," he told the BBC.

"He set me off on a lifetime in weights. And he was just one of those people who was larger than life. He was an inspiration to everyone who trained at his gym.

"He was an innovator. There weren't many gyms in London at the time and it drew people from quite a way."

Prowse's was not the only famous face Ian recalls recognising there.

"The number of people I met there - Andy Ripley, the England rugby player; [bodybuilder] Frank Zane, Mr Olympia; Peter Davison, who went on to play Doctor Who, and his wife Sandra Dickinson.

"I missed Arnold Schwarzenegger - he turned up one evening.

"Dave was the type of person who people flock to."

Ian moved away, but returned to they gym when his son, Scott, was born.

"Dave signed a photo for him. We've dug out the picture to send to my son today," he said.

"For people of my generation, he'll always be remembered as Darth Vader.

"When the mask was finally taken off and it was a different actor underneath he wasn't very happy, I can tell you."

image copyrightIan Edmed

But if there was any resentment - his voice was also dubbed - it didn't stop him from engaging with the legions of Star Wars fans.

Derek Reeves is the chairman of the Croydon Symphonic Band, an award-winning amateur community wind band. A few years ago the band was due to perform music from Star Wars at Fairfield Halls.

"We had a phone call out of the blue," he told the BBC. "It was Dave Prowse.

image copyrightDerek Reeves
image captionDerek Reeves said Dave Prowse was a gentleman happy to have photos taken with audience and band members

"He lived nearby and asked if he could come to the concert. He was a gentleman who was happy to stay behind and sign autographs after the concert and have photographs taken with the audience and band members."

Prowse was a regular fixture at conventions, too. Attendees or exhibitors paying tribute on social media have emphasised his graciousness and generosity.

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Mike Sparkes, 51, from Colchester, was at a wrestling reunion in 2010 when he unexpectedly bumped into Prowse.

"Back in the 1970s he trained a lot of the British wrestlers at the time," Mike explained.

"He was an absolute gentleman. I grew up knowing him as the Green Cross Code man and he chatted to my then 10-year-old daughters about crossing the road and road safety."

image copyrightMike Sparkes
image captionDave Prowse told Mike Sparke's daughters, Amy and Bracken, then 10, about road safety

"He told them that he had helped your mum and dad learn road safety - meaning myself and my wife Helen - which he did as we grew up with the public information films," Mike said.

"It was the only time I met him personally. But it is a really sad day today."

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