Benny Lynch documentary hits Glasgow

Martin Chesnutt
21/02/2017 7:28am

Martin Chesnutt speaks to producer Shane Tobin about his new documentary 'Benny' which tells the story of legendary Scottish boxer Benny Lynch and premieres in Glasgow tomorrow night...

“What makes a great story is a tragic hero at the centre. The rise is as quick as the fall in so many cases.”

In this case, filmmaker and producer Shane Tobin is speaking about Benny Lynch, widely regarded as the greatest Scottish boxer of all time.

Tobin and director Andrew Gallimore have made several boxing documentaries over the past 10 years, and like so many storytellers, they cannot resist a sport so full of characters.

Benny, their latest film, makes its premiere this week at the Glasgow Film Festival.

“Boxing is a tough sport that thrives in poor conditions," Tobin explained. "The 1920s in the Gorbals area [of Glasgow] were the worst slums in Europe and full of Irish immigrants fighting to survive. It was exploring this part of Irish, Scottish and social history, through the prism of Benny Lynch, that attracted me to this story.”

The idea for the project first came to Tobin’s attention in 2015. It was originally meant to be a television documentary, but the filmmakers' interest in the story grew with every interview.

“As the piece developed and we filmed more interviews we realised this was an amazing story and with some additional funding we were able to make a piece to showcase at film festivals,” Tobin added.

The filmmakers divided Benny into three layers: the tough surroundings in which he grew up, the skills and style which made him a popular champion, and his influence on the sport.

Despite the tragedy of Lynch, the world flyweight champion in an era long before alphabet titles, who died at the premature age of 33, Tobin didn’t want that theme to dominate.

“With this story you have a man who goes from rags to riches to rags in the course of 10 years,” he argued. “He lost his titles he had fought for years to achieve on the scales! Promoters could not trust him any more and by the end of 1938 his career was over, his licence stripped and he was in a monastery in Waterford in Ireland trying to defeat alcoholism.

“Benny was a tragic figure, but also a sporting legend and we focus more on a celebration of him rather than his demons, which he could never escape,”

Lynch is still remembered fondly in Glasgow, with murals and a campaign to have a statue erected in his honour, but he was a hero at the time of his in ring accomplishments.

“30,000 fans went to see him fight at Shawfield Stadium in Glasgow in September 1936,” Tobin pointed out. "This was in an era of extreme poverty in the city but shows the passion and pride so many in the city had in their champion to want to see and support him.”

The creators of the film have used a mixture of archived footage, as well as interviews with boxers, historians, and fans to bring 'Benny' to life.

“As our contributors in the documentary outline, everyone has a Benny Lynch story,” Tobin said. “Something about his character and his tragedy touches a core with the people of Glasgow, an often perceived tough city that has a soft spot for the first Scottish boxing world champion.”

'Benny' will premiere on Wednesday 22 February as part of the Glasgow Film Festival, and will be screened at various other festivals over the next year internationally before it airs on television later in 2017. For more information click here