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William Bankier's early biography reads like the exciting dime novels that were so popular at the turn of the century. However thrilling his life might have been, though, Bankier made some
important and lasting contributions to physical culture and deserves more recognition than he has gotten over the years.
Bankier was born in Banff, Scotland, on December 10, 1870, the son of a local schoolteacher. William's life of adventure began when he was just 12 years old; it was then that the lad ran off to work in a circus. Although he found employment as a common laborer, Bankier must have been seduced by the glamour of the big top. Unfortunately, he did not have long to enjoy his new life, since his father tracked him down and brought the boy back to Banff.
Even at an early age Bankier had a constitution as strong as his urge to wander. He soon ran off again and this time was more successful in his attempt to leave his homeland. He signed on aboard a ship that was headed for Canada, but his career as a sailor was quickly terminated when the vessel ran aground in the St. Lawrence River, an accident that resulted in considerable loss of life. Eventually, William was able to find work in another circus, where he was apprenticed to a hard-drinking German strongman.
Bankier's sturdy physique and ability to learn quickly paid off when his bibulous boss was fired after one too many benders. The young Scot replaced his former master and was soon achieving modest fame under his new stage name, "Carl Clynden, the Canadian Strong Boy." Soon the champion wrestler William Muldoon came to hear of Bankier, and the strong boy switched to the more prestigious surroundings of Muldoon's show. In addition to perform-ing as a strongman, Bankier now began to wrestle.
His wanderlust had not subsided, however, and he continued to move quickly from place to place; for a while he even performed as a strongman in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. It was not until the young man returned to the British Isles around 1895 that his urge to travel finally waned, and he decided to stay in one place. It was also at this time that "Carl Clynden" disappeared. When the famous painter Sir John Everett Millais saw Bankier perform, he suggested the name that stuck with the strongman for the rest of his life-Apollo.
His long years in vaudeville had developed both Bankier's muscles and his sense of showmanship. Once he had his new persona as Apollo, the pieces of his career were all finally in place. He now performed his feats in Roman toga and gladiator sandals, proclaiming himself "the Patrician Athlete."
Bankier's suave and studied movements seemed to confirm his noble stage character. A typical turn began with posing and muscle control followed by weightlifting and elegant gymnastic displays. As his act became more sophisticated, Apollo added other features. Perhaps the most spectacular of his stunts was allowing a fully laden automobile to run over him with nothing but his muscles for protection.
As the century turned, Bankier branched out into new fields. In 1901 he authored a book called Ideal Physical Culture in which he catalogued his bodybuilding theories. Two years later he started his own journal, Apollo's Magazine, and although it lasted only two years, it nevertheless established the editor as one of the leading sportswriters of the age.
In the very first issue Bankier made another revolutionary addition to the British sporting world. He published a series of articles on jujitsu. This forerunner of judo became very popular, especially when Apollo brought Yukio Tani, one of the finest practitioners of the martial art, to England. Bankier and his little Japanese partner made the rounds of wrestling arenas all over Britain challenging local champions to matches. Tani was always victorious. After succeeding as a strongman, an editor and an impresario of judo matches, Apollo decided to devote more energy to another of his favorite activities: wrestling. This time, however, it was not as a grap-pler but as a promoter. Thanks to his abilities as an organizer the strongman reportedly made a fortune arranging matches.
Apollo Bankier was active until his death in 1949 at the age of 80. Thanks to his athletic abilities and acute theatrical sense Bankier became a fixture in the British sporting scene. Even so, it was due to his intelligence and eloquence that he was able to popularize such activities as weightlifting and jujitsu. The toga-lad Patrician Athlete clearly deserves more recognition than he has ever received.