Tributes paid to Edinburgh bodybuilding champion Norman Rough

Tributes have been paid to a former bodybuilding champion from Edinburgh who has died at the age of 82 following a battle with cancer.

Norman Rough when he won the Mr Edinburgh physique contest at Palais De Danse, Edinburgh, in 1966. Picture: TSPL
Norman Rough when he won the Mr Edinburgh physique contest at Palais De Danse, Edinburgh, in 1966. Picture: TSPL

In his prime as one of the country’s top bodybuilders, Barnton-born Norman “Norrie” Rough, flexed his muscles against the best in the world.

At home, he was unbeatable, lifting the coveted Mr South Scotland title a record six times in succession.

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No-one could get near him.

Norman Rough.

Over the course of the Swinging Sixties, the bodybuilder would enjoy a Beatles-like career arc that would see him go from training with Edinburgh’s amateurs to gaining widespread recognition on a global stage.

Norman’s Shea Stadium moment arrived in 1969, when he was invited to strut his stuff at the Mr Universe (Amateur) competition in New York. The only Scottish bodybuilder to compete in the contest during that decade, he finished a respectable 6th place in his class.

The Mr Universe (Pro) title that year went to a young man from a wee village near Graz named Arnold Schwarzenegger, in what was clearly an annus mirabilis for the contest.

Just like his Austrian counterpart, the competitive nature of the boy from Barnton was apparent from an early age. As a teenager he was a keen swimmer and cyclist, was a crack shot at rifle shooting and juggled playing rugby for Daniel Stewart’s along with amateur athletics.

At the age of 20, however, his life took an unexpected pivot.

Norman had become fixated by a revolutionary new book titled Athletics & Weight Training that his parents had bought for him. “Weight training and athletics don’t mix,” scoffed his sprint coach. ‘There’s a closed mind’, the young athlete thought to himself.

He swiftly joined the Dunedin Amateur Weightlifting Club – whose members included Sean Connery - and Norman set about proving his coach wrong.

Retired publisher and long-time friend, Gordon Wright, first met the future Mr Universe contender at the Dunedin Club in 1959. Even then Norman was already head and shoulders above the rest.

“When I joined I immediately noticed a big chap who had a superior physique to everyone else; he was lifting much heavier dumbbells and barbells than any of the other bodybuilders,” recalls Gordon, 77.

“Everybody was inspired by him as he was so far ahead of everybody else.”

Norman’s amateur bodybuilding career was just getting going when he met the love of his life, Pat. They married in 1963 and started a family.

In 1964 he stunned the judges at the Mr Physique, Mr Grand and Mr Caledonia competitions, scooping all three titles. Hitting the ground running, he won his first Mr South Scotland title the following year and never looked back.

He retired from competitive bodybuilding in 1970 with a barrage of regional and national titles - Mr Britain included - to his name.

Legendary bodybuilder Ian Lawrence, who in 1975 became the first Scot to lift the Mr Universe title, said: “He was doing it in the days before the steroids became a thing. Norrie was never into anything like that; he was a true bodybuilder, a hard worker and the guy to beat in those days.

“One of his tricks was to pose with a cup of tea on his chest – it was that big.”

Hanging up his squat shoes allowed Norman to open up his own training gym: The Norman Rough Health Studio – one of the first of its kind in Edinburgh - on Portobello’s promenade.

Norman also caught the acting bug, the retired bodybuilder securing a number of minor roles in television productions, including popular BBC series’ Dr Finlay’s Casebook and The View from Daniel Pike. Often cast as the archetypal “tough guy”, the roles tended to make the most of his impressive physique.

At one point he even applied for an audition to become the next James Bond. He had the rejection letter framed in his front room.

When his TV stint came to an end, the ex-bodybuilder turned to a previous love for design. He had trained as an architect in his formative years and had gained experience at a top design firm around the time his bodybuilding career took off.

Norman set up Edinburgh-based interior design firm Rough Design, specialising in major refurbishments at bars, hotels and restaurants. It proved to be a huge success.

One of Rough Design’s repeat customers is restaurateur Dean Gassabi, who owns the Maison Bleue franchise. He became very fond of Norman over the years.

He said: “He was brilliant; a really nice guy and very easy to work with.

“We would chat often about his time as a bodybuilder and meeting Sean Connery, all of that.

“He will be sadly missed.”

Based on Buccleuch Street, Norman’s firm Rough Design The firm continues to go from strength to strength under the stewardship of his son, Grant.

Norman Rough’s funeral will be held at Mortonhall Crematorium at 12 noon on Friday, August 30.