The Remarkable Story of Victor Herman, Piper, Boxer, Painter

It is 20 years since the death of Vic Herman. He was an extraordinary character. He was born in 1929 in Manchester the son of an immigrant cabinetmaker. The family moved to Warwick Street in the Gorbals in Glasgow when Vic was still a toddler. The Gorbals then was a byword for squalor and deprivation.

By a Special Correspondent

Vic’s father was obsessed with work. He worked constantly and was never at home. He and his brothers and sisters were at the mercy of their mother. They ended up in an orphanage after she was convicted of neglect.

Undaunted and irrepressible, Vic as a child aged only nine, vowed to become a painter. He had been captivated after seeing a Rembrandt when on a trip to Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery. He believed he would have inherited artistic skills from his father.

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When a little older he started on the pipes in the Jewish Lads’ Brigade, a boys organisation styled on Sir William Smith’s Boys’ Brigade.

Like many BB companies, the JLB had a pipe band too. Before long young Vic was on the pipes and on parade with the band. But Victor Herman needed more than piping and painting to make his fortune.

Leaving school at 14 he would take on any job that came his way. He started as an apprentice barber in Glasgow’s Anderston district. His first duties were as a ‘soap boy’.

The Jewish Lads Brigade Pipe Band. Courtesy ‘Glasgow Life’

His journey to the boxing ring began when one day in 1947 he lathered-up the face of Jackie Paterson, World Flyweight Champion. Never slow with a precocious remark, Vic commented on the somewhat gnarled features of the champ.

Paterson explained that he was a professional boxer and encouraged the young, fascinated Herman to come down to his gym on his day off. Shown the ropes, Vic proved a natural and vowed he would follow Paterson as a champion.

Successful bout followed successful bout. Fighting at just over eight stone, Vic was Scottish Area Flyweight Champion 1951-52. To publicise his fights he would march into the ring playing the pipes and did so when in 1951 he unsuccessfully fought for the British Flyweight title at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow.

His publicity material read ‘Vic Herman, Jewish bagpiping flyweight’. His non-stop aggression in the ring was in brutal contrast to his piping and painting.

He was voted the World’s third best flyweight in 1953 by ‘Ring’ magazine. Feted in America, it was around this time he moved to New York.

As his boxing prowess faded, he started painting in earnest. He moved to California where boxing connections and a rich patron, Dan Solomon, arranged exhibitions of his work. He sold more than 100 paintings to individuals and galleries. 

Later he fell out with Solomon and returned to the UK and set up as bagpipe maker in Catford, London, and continued portrait painting.

Faithful to his piping background, he would replicate photographs of famous pipers in oils. One was obtained by the College of Piping in 2004. Typical of his work is the painting above of Bob Brown signed ‘RU Brown, Balmoral 1939’.

In 2001 Vic Herman contracted cancer and his friends wrote that his dying wish was that a painting of his could be exhibited at Kelvingrove Art Gallery, his inspiration as a child. That wish was granted by Glasgow City Council. 

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