RICHARD BATSON

He's a larger-than-life London “geezer” but Ron Russell often gets forgotten in the story of a dramatic attempt to kidnap a member of the royal family.

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He's a larger-than-life London “geezer” but Ron Russell often gets forgotten in the story of a dramatic attempt to kidnap a member of the royal family.

Tonight, the 6ft 4in former boxer hopes a television drama documentary will put the record straight on how he helped save the life of the Princess Royal 32 years ago.

The have-a-go hero tackled a crazed gunman, who shot four people as he tried to drag the princess out of a royal car in the Mall in March 1974.

Attacker Ian Ball is locked up for life - after Mr Russell landed a punch on him, enabling police to overpower the assailant who planned to ask the Queen for a £3m ransom in used fivers.

It was an act of bravery that earned the staunch royalist the top peacetime gallantry award, the George Medal, and a moment of fame which has followed the now 58-year-old ever since, as he ran pubs and a roofing business in Norfolk.

The East Ender, now living in East Runton near Cromer, is looking forward to seeing how the ITV programme To Kidnap a Princess tells the tale.

The other people involved in the incident were security men and police who were doing their jobs, but Mr Russell says he was just a passer-by with no time for “bullies and liberty-takers.”

Then 26, he was heading home, at 7.30pm, after a day's work as an office cleaning manager, when he saw a car swerve past the princess's limousine.

“I pulled over and heard a lot of banging and smashing which I thought was the general rumpus. But then Ball shot a policeman, and I thought 'that's a liberty, he needs sorting'.”

The former heavyweight boxer went to punch Ball but only hit the back of his head.

“He turned round and fired at me. It missed by millimetres and hit a taxi windscreen.”

After trying to help the shot policeman he returned to the car, where Ball was trying to drag Anne from the car and Capt Mark Phillips's grasp, like a “tug of war”, said Mr Russell.

“Ball had a gun at her head. I lent in to the car and said 'come this way Anne, you'll be safe.' I pulled her out and held her in front of me. Ball got behind me, and I thought 'if he shoots me in the back it won't hurt as much'

“I turned and we were face to face. He was pointing a gun at me. I hit him fair and square on the chin. He went down and police were everywhere,” recalled Mr Russell.

The next few hours were spent at the police station as it became clear he was the main prosecution witness.

A phone call home to worried wife Eve, to explain his excuse for being late, was greeted with a “likely story” response.

When he received his medal, the Queen told Mr Russell “the medal is from the Queen of England, the thank-you is from Anne's mother.”

The incident has followed Mr Russell everywhere he has gone in the subsequent decades. His nickname in the roofing industry became Muttley, the medal-seeking dog sidekick of cartoon character Dick Dastardly.

When he and Eve ran pubs at East Runton, North Creake and Worstead word of his fame soon spread.

“I don't mind. We have had some laughs and I enjoy telling the story. And I am pleased that I get mentioned in my grandchildren's modern history school text books.

“I am a 'get involved' sort of person, and would do the same thing again today,” said Mr Russell, now the boss of EA Roofing at Cromer, and long-time owner and manager of the Arena Essex speedway team.

Ironically, he will miss the programme because he is racing with the team at Wolverhampton tonight - but will have the video on, and will watch it when he gets home in the early hours of the morning.

To Kidnap a Princess is on ITV1 tonight at 9pm.

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