Keith Bird, community campaigner who helped bring fireworks to Primrose Hill
'People may not know his name, but their lives are enhanced by what he did'
26 July, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
IT was a display that lit up the night sky above and became so popular that thousands would head to Primrose Hill to watch every November 5.
Keith Bird, who has died 85, helped establish the community association behind these famous Guy Fawkes Night events, and would buy thousands of pounds’ worth of fireworks to fill the air with colour. It was only when the sheer numbers arriving on the hill each year became a safety issue that the display became a victim of its own success and was discontinued in the early 2000s.
Mr Bird’s influence on making Camden a better place did not end there. He worked with the Auden Place Tenants Association, where he helped set up a successful youth club, a football team and a nursery.
The association would serve baked potatoes at those fireworks celebrations. In warmer months, Mr Bird would be behind a barbecue, serving sausages at the area’s summer fair.
In the 1980s and 90s, through his work with the Labour Party, he had become aware of the conditions in the famous Arlington House hostel in Camden Town. He was a key figure in a campaign that saw it renovated and made fit for purpose. He later became an advice worker to single, homeless men, helping them to access the benefits they were entitled to.
Mr Bird had been born in Edmonton in 1933: His mother died when he was two years old, and he was raised by his father and his older brother, Phil. Aged 18, he joined the Merchant Navy and travelled the world, later regaling tales of adventures to his children as they were growing up.
He met his future wife, Betty Osmond, at the Lyceum dance hall in the Strand in the 1950s, living first with her parents in Islington before moving to Newcomen House in Parliament Hill.
They had two children, Carole and Martyn. Later, in 1975, they would settle in Auden Place. A family man, he used his legendary babysitting skills to look after grandchildren Rachel and Ellie, introducing them to games of backgammon and cards.
He had been delighted to learn of the birth of his great-grandson, Finley, on July 5 and chuckled with laughter on hearing Finley’s cries of hunger over the phone.
Primrose Hill Community Association member Jim Mulligan told the New Journal: “Keith’s legacy is experienced every day by the people who live in Camden. They may not know his name, but their lives are enhanced by what he did.”