Pat Roach

Bomber in 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet'

Pat Roach, actor and wrestler: born Birmingham 13 May 1937; died 17 July 2004.

Standing at 6ft 4in tall, weighing in at more than 19 stone, sporting a beard and known to television "grapple fans" as a heavyweight wrestling champion, Pat Roach found his greatest fame as the shy, gentle giant Bomber in the comedy-drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

Bomber - real name Brian Busbridge, from Bristol - was the older, calming influence on the six other expatriate bricklayers first trying to earn a living abroad at a time of high unemployment in Britain. "Bomber's got 10 years on most of the boys," he said:

When we first met him, he was the seasoned, well travelled one who took them all to the brothels. He's very much a father-figure and they look up to him. Albeit that Dennis is the boss, Bomber doesn't say a great deal, but what he does say usually has a little bit of sense.

It was 1983, and Bomber joined the boring Birmingham electrician Barry (played by Timothy Spall), Liverpudlian Moxey (Christopher Fairbank), Cockney carpenter Wayne (Gary Holton) and three Geordies escaping unemployment-hit Newcastle - the philosophical Denis (Tim Healy), Neville (Kevin Whately) and the bigoted, violent slob Oz (Jimmy Nail).

The first series followed their scams and adventures on a building site in Düsseldorf, Germany, where they shared a hut. Three years later, a second run relocated the gang to the Costa del Sol, where they were working on a Scottish gangster's villa. "The producers were great," said Roach. "They shipped a gym-load of equipment to Spain during filming so I could train out there."

Born in Birmingham in 1937, Roach boxed as an amateur while in his teens, before becoming a judo black belt and teacher. Then, he turned to wrestling and became British and European heavyweight champion, and the first Briton to win the World Cup tournament in Hanover, Germany - taking the title twice. Frequently seen on television in ITV's Saturday-afternoon show World of Sport, he was one of the top names in British wrestling, known for his "Brumagem Bump".

The wrestler's burly frame earned him the uncredited role of a night-club bouncer in the disturbing and controversial film drama A Clockwork Orange (1971) after the celebrated director Stanley Kubrick saw a television broadcast of his performance in the ring. Kubrick subsequently cast him in Barry Lyndon (1975), starring Ryan O'Neal as the rogue-hero. "Twenty or so years ago, there weren't so many big, ugly guys around, so there was plenty of work for me," Roach said later.

He soon gained a reputation for playing screen villains, appearing in all of the Indiana Jones trilogy, starting with Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and the James Bond picture Never Say Never Again (1983). "I've played four different characters in three Indiana Jones films and have been killed each time!" he recalled. "I was the guy who got chopped up in the propeller in one of the films. They now show that stunt scene all the time at Universal Studios."

Then came the role of the lovable West Country giant Bomber in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983, 1986), created for ITV by the sitcom writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais from Franc Roddam's original idea. The character provided a welcome contrast for the actor. "I usually get to play baddies," he said. "It's always more challenging for me to play someone quite mild-mannered, which is why Bomber is such a joy."

Roach's other film roles included Hephaestus in Clash of the Titans (1981), a "man ape" in Conan the Destroyer (1984), General Kael in Willow (1988), a Celtic chieftain in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and a strongman in The Portrait of a Lady (1996). On television, he played P.O. Edgar "Taff" Evans in the "race to the South Pole" drama The Last Place on Earth (1985), Atlas in The Storyteller: Greek myths (1990) and Jarnsaxa, last of the giants of Ireland, in The New Adventures of Robin Hood (1997).

However, he was turned down for the part of Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977), which went to 6ft 7in British former weightlifter and bodybuilder Dave Prowse. Between screen roles, Roach continued to perform in the wrestling ring and opened his own gym, the Pat Roach Fitness Centre, in Erdington, Birmingham.

The chance to reprise his role as Bomber came when Auf Wiedersehen, Pet was revived by the BBC (2002, 2004). The six surviving original cast members were reunited in a new series. (Noel Clarke joined them as Wyman, the son of Wayne - Gary Holton had died in 1985.)

The likely lads had the gargantuan task of dismantling the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge and rebuilding it in Arizona. At the end of the run, Bomber confided to Neville that he had Hepatitis C and would be staying in the United States with his new girlfriend when they returned to Britain. However, he did appear in a further series, screened earlier this year, that featured the brickies rebuilding the British Ambassador's residence in Havana, Cuba, with Bomber apparently recovered from his illness.

Ironically, Roach was already ill himself, after being diagnosed with throat cancer. The series producers had hoped he would be able to take part in a new, two-part special filmed recently in Thailand, but his ailing health made that impossible.

The title of his autobiography, If: the Pat Roach story (2002), was taken from the actor's favourite poem, and a second book, Pat Roach's Birmingham, has just been published.

Anthony Hayward

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