Schwarzenegger's on-going Romford Road legacy

Sunday 1 October 2017

We publish this article as images of Arnold Schwarzenegger are about to feature prominently in a major UK government advertising campaign to persuade people to take up their rights for compensation for mis-sold PPI insurance.

To reach the top of your chosen profession - particularly in the USA - is some achievement. To do it in three very different disciplines (body-building, the movies and politics) is almost unheard of. To do it, with your professional and social skills being honed in Forest Gate, is unique.

We have written before about Arnold (the name by which he and those closest to him prefer him to be known as - we'll follow suit)Schwarzenegger and his Forest Gate connections: his training and stay with Dianne and Wag Bennett on Romford Road (here) and his gratitude to them and the area, expressed in his autobiography - see footnote for details (here).

Arnold and Wag Bennett, outside
 the Bennett's home, at 353
 Romford Road, in the late 1960's

This article looks at his on-going relationship and influence with the Bennett family who did so much to launch his careers.

It was a two-way street. Wag Bennett
 used AS to promote his gym, products and
 techniques, after his rise to fame, as illustrated
 in the adverts, above and below -
taken from the Liberty Clinic

Arnold's journey is an interesting one - with very little formal education, he propelled himself from a small town in Austria to the world stage, driven by self-belief and hard work. These - and a capacity to innovate and inspire people -  are characteristics he learned and developed in the home of the Bennetts of Forest Gate.

Arnold and Wag - after Schwarzenegger
 had moved on to his second career

Arnold was effusive in his autobiography for the help Wag and Dianne Bennett gave him, in the mid 1960's, when he slept on their couches and floors as he honed his body-building skills.

He expressed his gratitude to the family not only for training him as a body-builder - but for providing the social skills that were to become so important in his two subsequent professional careers.

Wag Bennett (the unusual first name was an inherited, family one) was born in Canning Town in 1930 and brought up in the district during the war years. He used building rubble caused by German bombers as some of his first weight-lifting equipment.

He developed as a body builder, and had a business head on him. He married Dianne, who was from a Portsmouth, gym-owning, body-building family. She was famous in he own right, and trained and managed a troop called "Dianne Bennett's Glamour Girls", who performed as body-builders.

Wag opened his gym, originally in the house of the recently restored 335 Romford Road, before acquiring the Emmanuel church hall, next door, and using that as his operating base.

The pair spotted AS in 1966, as a rather gauche, poor, non-English speaking, recently demobbed Austrian army conscript. He was a 19-year old body builder who entered (and came second in) the Mr Universe competition. Wag was a judge, and the couple recognised his potential. They took him under their wings and became what Arnold calls "my English parents".

They brought him back to 335 Romford Road and looked after him - and their six children - for a couple of years - during which he achieved his then goal, of becoming Mr Universe, in 1967.

Dianne Bennett with three of her children
(Luke in the middle), in part of the world
the family introduced Arnold to, in 1966
Wag - who had already achieved fame in the weight-lifting/body-building world (he was the first man in England to bench-press 500lbs), introduced Arnold to some of the sport's finest - including AS's hero, Reg Park.

Part of Wag Bennett's board of fame (now in the
 Liberty Clinic), of body-building characters
 he introduced Schwarzenegger to.
NB - mis-spelling of Park
Reg, as Arnold was to do himself, had moved on from international championship winning body-building to movie stardom - in a string of movies based around Hercules. Reg then established a series of gyms, from which he was to make a good living. Schwarzenegger saw himself as following suit, but his career took another turning.

AS, with another of his body-building
 role models - Reg Park
Having moved to the USA in the late 60's and picked up more body-building accolades, Arnold switched to the movies and became Hollywood's biggest box office star with his portrayal of The Terminator, in the 1980's.

Reg Park in a Hercules movie role:
an inspiration that took Arnie to Hollywood

It was about this time his thoughts turned to politics - and he married a Kennedy (they have subsequently divorced). But his politics were not that of the famous family.  In the 1990's he began to work with the first President Bush and by the millennium was ready to make his own pitch for political power.

He was Republican governor of California from 2003 - 2011, but in many ways his politics sat equally comfortably with the Democrats. It was, perhaps, only the USA's constitutional insistence that its presidents had to be US-born that prevented AS from entering the White House in the top job (as fellow Hollywood actor, Ronald Regan had done before him).

AS wins the California governorship,
 for a second time
Although the man reached giddy heights, he never forgot the part that the Bennett family and Forest Gate played in his rise to fame - and both proudly reciprocate the admiration.

For example, he recalls, in his memoirs, that the Bennetts made him improve his bodybuilding moves to music - mainly the film track from the movie, Exodus. Dianne Bennett, who meets with Arnold regularly (annual visits to California and meet-ups in London whenever he is in town), recently dug up her original copy of the long-player record and sent it to him, as a reminder, for his 70th birthday (at the end of this July).

A recent photo of Dianne, in her Southsea gym
 - note image of Arnold from his Pumping
 Iron film, behind her (Photo: Stefani Gratz)
Schwarzenegger also expressed gratitude in his autobiography to Dianne for reminding him of the importance of recognising and acknowledging the help given by supporters and well-wishers in his body-building career  - social skills, so important in his second and third careers.

Dianne - now in her 80's - still runs her family's gym in Southsea, having separated from Wag in the 1990's (he died in 2008). It is, in many ways, a shrine to her former protégé, as shown by some of the photographs in this article.

A tribute to Schwarzenegger, in Dianne Bennett's 
Southsea gym (photo: Stefani Gratz)
The AS connection is still maintained more locally, however, at the Liberty Clinic, 394 Romford Road, barely 300 metres from the former Bennett gym.

Luke Bennett's base, today -
The Liberty Clinic, 394 Romford Road
This has been run there for 30 years by Luke, the Bennett's fourth child, who has spent almost all of his life living and working on the road of his upbringing.

Luke is an osteopath, and is dedicated, as his parents were - to the care of the human body. His osteopathy works with damaged human tissue, and the small gym in the clinic is used to help people work on some of their physical and bodily needs.

Luke, lifting weights in his gym -
with more an eye to a healthy
body, than a "beautiful" one.
He was equally well at ease with a couple of older women who were using the gym, when we visited, as he was with a couple of former Forest Gate Community school youngsters (he has worked at the school as a personal trainer), in the relaxed, but disciplined environment of the clinic.

A motto for Luke's gym
It would be entirely wrong to describe his clinic/gym as a shrine to Wag and Arnold, but their presence and influence is there for all to see.

The Schwarzenegger memories linger,
 in the Liberty Clinic - this and the images, below

A major difference between Luke and his parents' style and approach  - perhaps - is that their efforts were dedicated to the body beautiful, while his is to the body healthy. 

Luke's mission is to work with the body and its tissues to improve and repair themselves. So, no health supplements and additives here, but more than a passing endorsement of Voltaire's observations that:

The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient, while nature cures the disease

Footnote: Arnold's autobiography is: Total Recall - my unbelievably true story, by Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Peter Petre, published by Simon and Schuster, 2012.


  1. Really nicely written and detailed article. The Bennet family come out of this very well. All the best to you all.

  2. I spent a lot of time in WAGs when I was younger, spent time speaking with Wag, even showed me some photos of when he attended Arnolds wedding. It was a proper gym, mainly full of free weights and pictures/images of the greatest bodybuilders from 1970 and 80's. Article brought back some good memories.


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