Monday, 21 May 2007

The Hebridean "thirds" rule and a bear in the (local) woods

[Warning: contains toilet humour. Literally.] 

While in Lapland, I caught a glimpse of possibly a bear in the woods. "Possibly" as there were a lot of trees in the way, and not knowing "bear etiquette" I decided not to get any closer.

This was a reminder of the recent time the Outer Hebrides had a resident grizzly bear. When I first heard about this from a local, the "thirds rule" flashed through my mind. Basically, this rule-of-thumb states that:

  • a third of local anecdotes, stories, gossip, innuendo and rumour are truthful and accurate

  • a third are exaggerated, especially if the "information" has been passed on through several people, some adding their own layer

  • a third is completely made up nonsense

I immediately placed the "Bear roaming on Benbecula" story into the third category, and wished the local well.


But later, the story was retold by other people, and a quick bit of research online dredged up the whole story...

In 1980, Kleenex, makers of toilet paper, were filming an advert in the Outer Hebrides. The main character in this production was Hercules, an 8 foot 4 inches tall, half ton grizzly bear. He was transported over from the mainland as, not surprisingly, grizzly bears are not native to these islands.

Filming took place on the island of Benbecula.

Benbecula is flat; see the picture, above, by Flickr user Squigster.

It has no trees. If you stand on nearly any point on Benbecula, you can see for a long, long way. Much the same goes for neighbouring islands such as South Uist.

Hercules promptly escaped.

He went missing for 24 days.

Eventually, Hercules was spotted, tranquilised and unceremoniously taken back to his specially-made van in a net under a helicopter:


...where he was revived. During his little adventure, he lost 20 stones in weight, going from 54 to 34. Obviously these were the days before Tesco online shopping made it much easier to obtain food, and Hercules had a hard job scaveging. His much-publicised adventure (all of which passed me by) made him more famous:

"He made the cover of Time magazine and went on to promote anything from Russian vodka to the Miss World contest. He secured a cameo role in the James Bond movie Octopussy, appeared on Hollywood chat shows and did cabaret in Las Vegas."

Searching around the net brings up various anecdotes and comments. Some may explain why he managed to stay "undetected", on an island flatter than the Netherlands, for nearly a month:

"Yes, he used to come up to the bottom of the croft. The kids fed him boiled sweets. He never did us any harm, so we left him well alone." 

Boiled sweets in Benbecula? Hmmm (thirds rule).

Hercules died in 2000, aged 25 after one heck of a life. And a 24 day holiday in the Outer Hebrides.


As a postscript to this, the BBC Off the Ball team crudely considered the implications of the philosophical question "Do bears s**t in the woods?" and our treeless islands. Which is fair enough, considering the original point of Hercules going to our islands:

Incidentally, can you imagine how disappointed Andy Robin's bear Hercules must have felt when he escaped on the Hebrides and couldn't find enough trees? We hope you enjoy the image of a bear desperately trying to hold in a jobby as it searches desperately for a wood to take a dump in. "Come on, trees, I'm a bear on the run. Where are you now? I've been baking one for hours."


  1. Just to let you know that you have an avid reader from sunny Jamaica.Regards

  2. I was only 5 when he escaped so don't remember it, but I have seen Hercules name come up in credits a few times. Great story, I had a good chuckle reading through it. Thanks for sharing :)

  3. Yes i remember this a number of years ago. We would go touring on a Sunday hoping to catch a glimpse of him. We even took food to entice him. Not sure if he liked trifle but we did. I think he was found on the island of Wiay east of Benbecula.