River City actor Stephen Purdon has revealed his tough training regime to play Scotland’s first boxing world champion Benny Lynch in a stage play of his life.
Purdon, 35, is best known for playing the BBC Soap’s longest running character, Shellsuit Bob and will take on the part of one of Scotland’s greatest ever fighters when the play opens its Scottish tour in May this year.
The actor, who finished a run in pantomime in January, has thrown himself in to a gruelling and strict training schedule in a bid to appear just like the 5ft4in icon.
Purdon revealed he has quit smoking and vaping, and ditched fizzy drinks and junk food including regular takeaways.
And after filming a trailer for the play in Glasgow this week, the first pictures of him in character show he already bears a striking resemblance to Lynch.
He said: “This is a dream role for me. As soon as I saw the script I just said ‘when can we start?’
“It’s a true story and Lynch is a Scottish icon so it’s an honour to be asked to play the part. But with something like this, I’d be cheating the audience if I didn’t give it a bash to try and get in the mindset of the boxer.
“I’ve been watching what I’m eating and now that I’ve finished panto I’ve started boxing training, and I’ll be doing that right up until we go on stage.
“I’ve got right in to it. I’m enjoying it, watching what I’m eating, getting fit and looking after myself.
“I’m getting up in the morning and going to the gym or boxing training, so I’m embracing it.
“I’m taking it seriously. I was smoking 10 or 20 a day but I stopped a while ago and I was using a vape, but I’ve chucked it too, along with all my other bad habits.”
The Benny Lynch Story, written by David Carswell, will also feature Trainspotting 2 and former Highroad actor Simon Weir and River City’s Holly Jack as well as Trial & Retribution star David Hayman as the boxer’s coach and mentor Sammy Wilson.
Lynch is considered one of the greatest flyweights in world history.
He began boxing as a teenager in the carnival booths on Glasgow Green to try to escape the poverty that surrounded him.
Despite having a slight frame, Lynch could punch above his weight as well as having natural boxing skills.
So it was no surprise when he turned pro aged 18.
It would be the start of a career that lasted just seven years but took in a whopping 119 fights.
He became Scottish flyweight champion and then won the British crown following a rematch with Jackie Brown in Manchester, where he knocked Brown to the floor 10 times in two rounds.
Upon returning to Glasgow, thousands lined up to meet him at Central Station as the city came to a standstill.
But the fight that would define his career came on January 19, 1937.
Benny was up against Small Montana of the Philippines at Wembley.
The two men slugged it out for 15 gruelling rounds before Lynch took a points decision.
The lad from the Gorbals had conquered everything in his path to become the undisputed world flyweight champion.
Fame and fortune brought him money problems and alcoholism, and less than two years after beating Montana, his boxing licence was revoked and he sadly died 11 years after becoming the flyweight champion at just 33.
Purdon, who will make his debut in the dramatic play, has watched clips of Lynch on Youtube and has said the biggest challenge in becoming Benny is in the ring itself.
He has been working with one of the most successful trainers in Scottish boxing, Billy Nelson, to perfect his appearance.
Purdon said: “As soon as I go in with him we’re sparring and then going on the punch bag — that’s the hardest part, the bags. I thought it would be easy but it’s not, and he’s got me doing drills.
“He’s taking it seriously and sometimes I do need to stop him and say ‘whoah, I’m not actually fighting anybody’.
“I’ve not had to take a punch but when Billy hits me with the pads sometimes it feels like it.
“But he’s trained guys like Ricky Burns so it’s an amazing opportunity for me. When I finish I’m sweating buckets.
“I’m down to 8st 10lb now and people are saying I look just like Lynch, so I’m getting there. I just hope I do it justice.”
Purdon said that the stage role would be an opportunity for audiences to see another side of him as an actor.
He added: “I’ve been so lucky to have continuous work — 17 years on River City has been amazing — but this is a great opportunity for me.”
Trailers filmed ahead of the play show Purdon and Hayman in character training at Cathkin Park in Glasgow, where Lynch won a string of bouts, and also at Morrison’s Boxing Gym in the city.
Viewers will also get a glimpse of River City actress Holly, who plays Lynch’s wife Anne.
Producer Simon Weir, who has planned the play for seven years, and plays narrator Tash, the Gorbals Sage, said: “When I first thought about this years ago, Stephen was the only actor I had in mind for Benny.
“I was totally struck by how much he looked like him. He’s the perfect casting.
“Now that he’s in training, he’s carrying himself like a boxer — there’s been a transformation.
“It’s a hard character — he’s playing a journey from a young man on the make to world title success and international fame and later tragedy — but his commitment to the part is remarkable.
“The audience will be knocked out by him.”
The Benny Lynch Story, performing at Gaiety, Ayr, on May 18, followed by the Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock; Queen’s Hall, Dunoon; the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock; Dundee Rep; Eden Court, Inverness; the Alhambra, Dunfermline; Motherwell Theatre; Victoria Hall, Campbeltown; Helensburgh; Oban; Eastwood Park Theatre; Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh; and the Tivoli, Aberdeen.