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James Bond and beyond: The incredible career of Fife stuntman Bob McCrystal

There won’t be many people anywhere, let alone living in Fife, to have fallen 70 feet into a pile of cardboard boxes after being shot at by Telly Savalas.

Unless, that is, you are Bob McCrystal, a 74-year-old based in Leven who just happens to be a former Hollywood stuntman.

Little would you know if you met Bob in the street that his years of tumbling off buildings, crashing through windows and being ‘blown up’ has earned him legendary status in the film industry.

Star Wars, Indiana Jones and A Clockwork Orange

But with a CV that boasts appearances in some of the most successful films and TV of all time, Bob – nicknamed by some in the industry as ‘Scotty’ – has certainly earned that respect.

His work as a stuntman, and more recently an extra, has seen him appear in no less than five James Bond movies, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, A Clockwork Orange and both Trainspotting movies.

Add to that The Avengers, The Persuaders!, The Sweeney, Outlander and Game of Thrones and it’s a career most could only dream of.

Bob’s 70ft fall after being ‘shot’ by Telly Savalas in Escape from Athena.

However Bob’s incredible life in front of the camera only came about by chance when, as a teenager, he attended a Thanksgiving meal while visiting a friend in California.

Bob – who was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire – and his family were one of the many who took advantage of the £10 resettlement scheme in 1960, moving to New York.

Settling into his new life Stateside, Bob – with the help of his Scottish accent – made a popular pupil who took a shine to sports, and in particular gymnastics, which would help transform his life years later.

It was an invite to go behind the scenes at Universal Studios from the uncle of his friend, Greg Flhor, that changed things.

Bob with the original Colt 45 and holster that he used as a stuntman at Universal Studios.

“Greg’s uncle was head of props at Universal who invited me to take a tour of the studios,” said Bob.

“While there I was mesmerised by a huge fight scene being filmed, so asked how I could get to do that.

“The upshot was that because of my accent, I landed a job not as an extra but as a tour guide at the studios.

“In those days the finale of the tour was a bar room brawl scene with six stunt men dressed as cowboys.

“After many months I got to know the routine inside out.

Replica pistols Bob used as props.

“My life changed forever the day I stood in for one of the actors, who had broken his ankle that afternoon, at the last minute.

“I ended up joining the team, which included such legendary stuntmen as Arnie Roberts, Hank Calino and Ron Redwing.”

Bob stayed on the stunt team for three years before itchy feet saw him quit Universal Studios in search of more lucrative freelance stunt work.

But having burnt his bridges with Universal, Bob found it impossible to get work in Hollywood and was left floundering.

A vintage promotional shot of Bob in the mid 1970s.

After several months without a single role, he was about to quit when a casting agent told him to head to England – where the UK film industry was blossoming.

“Thankfully he got me details of who to contact at Equity, the actors’ union, and said it’d be my only chance of a life in the industry after Hollywood,” said Bob.

“I’m a big believer in fate and what’s for you won’t miss you.

“Just a week or so later, and because my father was seriously ill, I was sent back to Scotland to be present at a family funeral.

“While there I contacted Equity and spoke to a man called Geoff Rice, who I would eventually end up working with for the next 45 years.

A younger Bob.

“I explained my situation in Hollywood and my experience as stunt performer, hoping it would open a few doors.

“After we’d ended our conversation, Geoff called me back a short time later asking if I was still in Scotland and whether could get to Mull for the next day.

“If I could make it he had a few days’ work replacing another stuntman who had been injured.

“I had no idea how far away it was or that you needed to get a ferry to the island but said I would be there.

“My uncle, who I was staying with, was a taxi driver and eventually offered to take me to the ferry so I could make the shoot.”

Bob’s role was to hang from the skids of a helicopter doubling for a young Tony Hopkins, later to become Sir Anthony Hopkins.

However, it soon became apparent that getting to Mull had been the easy part.

As part of the role, Bob was expected to drop about 20 feet into the sea at Tobermory harbour.

But a mix-up in communication meant that when it was time for Bob to fall from the hovering craft, he was still more than 60 feet in the air.

Plunging into the icy water from such a height while managing to avoid serious injury did not go unnoticed by fellow stuntman, Bob Simmons.

Bob with stills from his work as a Stormtrooper in Star Wars.

Bob says it is Simmons he owes most of his career to – after the pair built a friendship that lasted a lifetime.

Simmons put him up when he returned to England and, later, in his role as a stunt adviser on the James Bond films at Pinewood Studios, secured Bob his most coveted work.

Bob ended up working five Bond movies including The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

He returned to the franchise in 2012 as an extra to feature in a dramatic battle scene in Skyfall.

In between roles, Bob supplemented his earnings by becoming a trained chef – a profession that helped him provide for his family.

‘I’ve been shot at by Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford’

Bob said: “I’ve been shot at by Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare, Telly Savalas in Escape from Athena and Harrison Ford in Star Wars – and survived.

“But with the possibility of waiting months between film work I needed a career that would supplement the quiet times.

“That’s why I became a trained chef, set up my own catering business, ran a guest house, bought a couple of chip vans and in 1980 settled with my third wife, Ann Marie, in her native Fife.

“The only rule I kept was that when film work came along I’d be available to do it, and that’s how its been for more than 40 years.”

Stunt performance in films has undergone seismic changes in the decades since Bob was included in the now legendary Stunt Arrangers and Performers ‘red book’ of 1973.

Bob’s well-worn original copy of the stunt performers’ directory from 1973.

The book is still widely regarded as the stunt bible – however Bob laments the fact that he is one of an ever-dwindling few included in it that are still alive.

He said: “Everything is now ruled by health and safety and protocols, and it is a different set-up to the red book days which was the go-to guide for stunt performers.”

Despite the changes and his advancing years, the Leven pensioner is still in demand.

He is continuing to get work on hit TV series such as Outlander and Game of Thrones, and even the odd film too.

Return to filming for Indiana Jones

Most notably, he recently spent two weeks filming scenes for the latest of the Indiana Jones features – including doubling up for Harrison Ford.

Having been one of 12 stunt performers who worked on the original Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, Bob says it’s been the highlight of his career to be asked back.

“I’ve done many things but that has to be my pinnacle, it was such an honour,” he said.

However, any suggestion that it’s a perfect time to call it a day is quickly shrugged off.

“I’ve had three wives, have eight wonderful children as well as 22 grandchildren and a wonderful life appearing in the odd film,” he added.

“Seventy-four is no age to be giving up just yet, it’s in my blood and I’m too much fun to give in now.”