Brian Jacks the entertainer: Four-time champion of Superstars and king of the dips is now running a hotel in Thailand and doing magic tricks
00:20 GMT, 29 December 2012
Brian Jacks has just made a glass disappear through a wooden table when he comes to hypnotise me. I am looking at a white mark above a door and swaying sideways, and backwards and forwards, my eyelids heavy, my knees weak and my arms loose before he grabs me. I briefly fall under his spell.
An Only Fools and Horses actor is with us but for now all eyes are turned on Jacks, the superstar of Superstars, as he goes through his repertoire of magic tricks. Cards, coins and notes all feature in the conjuring act.
Work those quads: Superstars legend Jacks has been in Thailand for 13 years
We are about four miles out of Pattaya, a sun-kissed, crescent-shaped bay on the Gulf of Thailand. This humid resort, a former fishing town an hour-and-a-half's drive from Bangkok, is home to go-go bars, massage parlours and sauna joints in the neon-lit twilight world close to the shady trees of a promenade strewn with women – or indeed drag queens – of the night.
Away from the centre of Sin City in a quieter, residential area known as Darkside for no more intriguing a reason than that the street lighting barely extends here, one of the most famous sporting faces British television has produced wakes early each morning to live his dream.
Brian Albert Jacks, judo champion, master of the squat thrust and king of the dips, owns apartments here – exactly 69 of them – which he rents out to expats, many of them eking out sunny retirements on meagre pensions.
Patrick Murray, better known to us as Mickey Pearce, who wore a pork-pie hat in Only Fools and Horses, now 56, slim, greying, chain-smoking but thankfully off alcohol after more than a decade fighting addiction, is one of the patrons paying between 110 and 150 a month to stay in the premises that Jacks designed.
Horse power: Jacks riding 'Copy', Kerry Packers' former polo pony
Famous faces: Jacks and his friend Patrick Murray (Mickey Pearce from Only Fools and Horses)
Snooker's Jimmy White is another
occasional caller. Three-quarters of Jacks's clientele are Britons, the
rest mostly Europeans, a couple of them American or Canadian.
An obliging chap called Odd -Jacks's trusty helper – has driven me here
from Beach Road and the Hilton hotel's balcony view of that
sun-drenched bay. Jacks comes out to greet me by extending a hand as
thick as a fillet steak. His features are slightly worn by sun and age,
as well they might be at 66. But he is otherwise a picture of enduring
athleticism. His weight, 81kg or 12st 7lb, is precisely the same as when
he was a 21-year-old Olympic judoka. When he rolls up his shirt
sleeves, his biceps still bulge.
Golf clubs lean on the office wall. Books fill up shelves. A picture
montage of his previous life in Britain shows him mingling with the
stars of sport and entertainment from the Sixties, Seventies and
Eighties: Freddie Starr, Hale and Pace, Kenny Sansom, Mary Rand, Frank
Bruno, Ian St John, Sir Bobby Charlton, David Lloyd, Sir John Mills,
Steve Davis, Frankie Vaughan, Vic Charles, Eric Bristow and Princess
So why, he wonders, have we flown all this way to visit him
I explain that a new Olympic edition of Superstars was filmed in Bath
last month. It is due to be aired this evening. Mo Farah, the Brownlee
brothers, Christine Ohuruogu and Jade Jones are among the BBC's cast
list. So what better moment to catch up with the orange-sucking legend
of the show
'I have been over here for 13 years,'
says Jacks. 'It's bliss. I wake up every day and it is a joy to be
alive. I can't wait for dawn to break.
Big dipper: Jacks breaking the World Arm-Dip record
All stars: Jacks with Sharon Davies, Bob Goody and Wayne Laryea
'I love Britain. I got emotional when I won medals and heard the
National Anthem, but I was fed up with the country, too. I was fed up
with the way it had become.
'I was fed up with the ridiculous health and safety regulations. I was
fed up with the government taking more and more in taxes. And I was fed
up with the cold weather. I was fed up with immigration getting out of
'Take health and
safety. I ran a judo club in Orpington in Kent for 20-odd years. One day
a woman health and safety inspector from Bromley Council came into my
office and asked, ''What's this''
'I said it was a fridge.
'She said, ''What temperature is it''
'I replied, ''I don't know, it's pretty cold''.
'She told me I should put a jelly in there with a thermometer in it.
Can you believe it I only kept my milk in there to have a cup of tea.
'She then spoke to me about the wash
basin. She asked which the cold tap was and which the hot tap was. I
told her the hot one was the one with red on it and the cold one was the
one with blue on it.
said that was no good because blind people couldn't tell which was
which. I told her we didn't have any blind people playing judo.
'She said I should still put a sign up. I said if people were blind
they wouldn't see it. She said it must be in braille. Well, if they were
blind, how would they know where the sign was
Youthful: Jacks the young Judo expert
Feeling sleepy: Sportsmail's McEvoy (left) is hypnotised by Jacks
'I was getting pretty irritated by her asking all these stupid
questions and she ended up going off in a huff. So then the council sent
round people to test for Legionnaires' disease and then for asbestos. I
had been hiring this building from the council for 24 years and they
suddenly send three lots of people round in the space of a few days.
This is typical of things that are going on in Britain.
'I was a PE teacher and in the end you had to write to parents asking
their permission to put a badly behaved boy on detention. I was strict.
That is the way it should be. I said what was needed. And all these
stupid rules were getting me really annoyed.
'In Thailand I know where I stand. I report in every three months. If I don't, they deport me. End of story.'
Jacks does not want to dwell too long on the negatives. He thinks of
the tapioca, pineapple and mango he can pick in the fields that surround
his apartments and the nearby house he shares with his 46-year-old
'In Britain you
can play golf sensibly for five months of the year,' he adds. 'Here
you can play every day – and for a pittance. Within 45 minutes there are
27 golf courses. That is the major reason I am here.
'I am not as good a player as I'd like to be but I am a very
competitive person and it provides me with the competition I need. My
handicap fluctuates between eight and 12. It depends, shall we say, on
the rub of the green.'
Golf usually comes in the afternoon –
virtually every afternoon – but the days start early. He jumps on his
quad bike and charges via road and dirt track to a farm, owned by a
local police chief, to feed his horses.
The biggest and oldest of them is Replica. KP is stamped on the side,
signifying that this old polo horse belonged to the late Australian
magnate Kerry Packer. Replica is known as Copy because Thais cannot
manage his full name.
Video: Jacks the big dipper
is the second horse, but it is Max, young and white, who is mad. He was
broken in by Jacks himself with skills he learned riding with his
'inspirational' late father Albert, a London cabbie.
Jacks only rides occasionally now, his
fragile back too precious to his golfing enjoyment to be gambled with.
He has not been in a gym for years.
Back apart, his body is in good nick.
The warm weather helps his arthritis. His knees feel strong despite 11
cartilage operations. He drinks sparingly. Surprisingly, he rolls the
he recalls the old times. How, aged nine, watching his dad in a judo
competition sparked his interest in the sport. How he went to Japan to
improve his judo at the age of 15 years and two days. The Daily Mail
cutting of his trip to live with Mr Ichiro Hatta hangs on his house
wall. The article records how Jacks had recently broken his leg in a
rugby accident and suffered a second serious accident involving a
pane-glass window yet was still crowned national junior champion.
While in Japan, he bought a Harris Tweed coat, glasses and pipe from
the pawn shop on the American military base so that he looked old
enough to teach English as a foreign language.
'I hadn't got a clue what I was doing,' he recalls. 'I just did Old
MacDonald Had a Farm and stuff like that. There are probably still some
Japanese people over there speaking with a Cockney accent.'
He WON Britain's first judo world championship medal in Salt Lake in
1967 and another bronze at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the global
highlights of a career in which he also won six European medals,
including two golds.
of course, there was Superstars. In that, Jacks won the British final
in 1979 and 1980 as well as the European and international titles the
same years. It is for his epic performances on the parallel bar dips (a
best of 100 in 60sec) and squat thrusts (118) that he will be longest
Video: Jacks and sliding squat thrusts
He recalls that Philips sponsored the show, giving contestants a colour TV if they set a world record. Jacks managed the feat so regularly he had nine of them. 'I told them, ''I'm sick of the bloody things, can't I have a fridge instead” I used to do 400 dips in the course of an hour, building up each day how many I could do in one go. Then I would do thrusts, 400 of them. I trained hard. I loved it.
'I went down with my training partners to Crystal Palace for 6am in my Granada estate with my canoes and bikes on it. I would spend one hour in the canoe towing a dustbin for the 125m sprint. The canoes would go back on the car.
'Then we would get the bikes off the back and ride them for an hour. Then breakfast. Then basketball dribbling and crossbow or longbow practice while the food went down before weightlifting – clean and jerk. Then I'd swim for 45 minutes.
'I was off then from 2 to 6.30pm and then I'd train in the judo club for three hours.
'I liked all the guys I competed against – John Conteh, Allan Wells, Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett, David Hemery.
'Lynn Davies, the (1964 Olympic) long jump gold medallist, was a great athlete and a gentleman. He was the toughest rival, not because he was the most powerful but because he was the most wonderful competitor. He was good at so many disciplines.
'Malcolm Macdonald was a great sprinter – he did the 100m in 10.9sec – but wasn't so good at the other events. You could choose which two disciplines from the 10 to drop and I was not built for sprinting or cross-country running so didn't do them. We all got on so well. There was only one person I didn't like and that was Daley Thompson. Do you know what, I brought 60 kids along from the judo club and he wouldn't sign one autograph He was an arrogant, big-headed *******.
'I remember when he put his watch down in front of him before he was doing the squats. Do you think that would help him Ridiculous.
'So when it was my turn I put my orange down – as if that would help me – just to show what an idiot he was. I did 35 more than him. He tried to keep up with my training but he couldn't.
'But I have so many memories. There was
Kevin Keegan falling off his bike on the cinder track and burning
himself. They filmed three heats on that same day and I had got within
1.2sec of the actual cycling world record for one lap. There was Alan
Minter in his canoe going straight into the rhododendron bushes. Stan
Bowles put his 2.2 pistol down and it went off – blowing a hole in the
Video: Keegan takes a fall
'A few years ago when they last brought back Superstars they allowed the contestants to get off the bars and then get back up and start doing more dips. That's not how it was when I was doing it and it shouldn't be like that. It makes it too easy.'
You wonder whether the class of 2012 will have Jacks's manic determination for a TV show in this more professional age. For him it was about winning. Good job, because he received an entry fee of just 500 with 2,000 going to the winner.
'That's all we got, even though we got audiences of 16 million – the same or more than EastEnders gets now. Everybody was talking about it. I remember David Vine, the presenter, coming over before the canoeing to ask me whether I would win. I said I had not come here to lose. It was not that I was being arrogant. I was just competitive. That was me. That was the way I was. I was there to win.'
And the oranges that Jacks chomped 'I have never done stupid adverts on TV,' he says. 'I don't want to endorse something I don't believe in.
But I do believe in Jaffa oranges. You can't get such good oranges over here. The tangerines are OK, though.'
There were spin-offs. For a time Jacks was opening sports centres, appearing in pantos, delivering talks. He never refused an autograph, however late in the day or restless his travelling companions were to head home.
He claims never to have been rich, though he was well enough off, living in a five-bedroom house in Orpington with space for eight cars that included a Rolls-Royce. Does he have any regrets at casting himself away from those home comforts for a new life in Thailand
'Not even in the smallest way,' he says. 'Health is more important to me than money. Here I can eat well at little cost. It tastes great and it isn't fattening. I live off 1,000 a month. I don't do anything I don't want to.
'I promise you no amount of money on God's Earth would tempt me back.I am the happiest person in the world. And by the way, I can still do my own age in dips.'
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