Dennis Bird

Encyclopaedic historian of figure skating

For over half a century, Dennis Bird was one of the world's foremost authorities on figure skating, a walking encyclopaedia for the history of the sport. Up to his death, despite the computer era when facts are easily obtained with a few strokes of the keyboard, "Dicky" Bird's phone number was a prized research tool. He was still fielding occasional telephone calls from around the world while in hospital from the stroke which felled him earlier this year. In this he was aided by Anne, his wife of 46 years, and a giant master index he had assiduously created.

As archivist of the National Ice Skating Association of Great Britain, he produced Our Skating Heritage: a centenary history of the National Skating Association of Great Britain, 1879-1979, an outstanding book commissioned to celebrate the association's 100th anniversary which is unmatched both for its detail and its lack of errors. He was also an occasional but authoritative contributor to The Independent's obituaries, most recently in 2003 recording the life of Vivi-Anne Hulten, the Swedish skater who in 1930, aged 19, captured the heart of the young Peter Scott.

Earlier this year, the sport's largest commercial figure skating magazine, International Figure Skating, reproduced an article he wrote on the 1952 Olympic Games, under a nom de plume, John Noel, for Skating World. It was with this magazine, which has long since ceased publication, that Bird had first established his credentials, covering national and international events and writing features. He became the skating correspondent of The Times in March 1959, when he deserted his wedding preparations to attend a skating competition, filing a story three days before his marriage.

His relationship with his sports editor, John Hennessy, was not always smooth but it survived a blow-up during the 1976 Winter Olympics. The big story in Innsbruck was John Curry's gold medal for Britain. Bird always wrote his stories meticulously in a large book in which he had drawn a grid to show the exact word count. Wanting to speed up the process by dictating the early part of Bird's story to meet a deadline, Hennessy attempted to tear out the first sheet but Bird was horrified at the idea of destroying his record book.

Their relationship further deteriorated when Bird learned that Hennessy had suppressed a message that Bird's wife's father had died earlier that day, delivering it only when Bird had completed his assignment late at night. Bird was mortified that he had not been able to contact and provide consolation to his wife earlier in the day. The association ended finally when The Times went on strike in November 1978, but Bird continued to write whenever and for whatever publication requested a skating story.

Dennis Bird was born in Eastbourne in Sussex, moving at six months to Shoreham-by-Sea, where he lived for all of his life, other than the 20 years he spent in the RAF, which he left in 1968 as a squadron leader. He then became a senior lecturer at the Civil Service College until his retirement in 1991.

His love of skating began after his sister, Joan, who was four years older than he, took him to the Brighton Sports Stadium to watch a competition. At that time, in the late 1940s, it was one of the leading centres of figure skating in Britain. Training there were Jennifer and John Nicks, who won the 1953 pairs world title, and Jeannette Altwegg, who was the 1951 world champion and 1952 Olympic gold medal winner.

Bird developed a crush on one of the competitors, Barbara Wyatt, and took up skating as a ruse to meet the famous skater, who had a notoriously over-protective mother. He quickly decided that his talent was very limited, however, and, since he had written for his school newspaper, directed his fascination with the sport into publicising it.

Although he is most known for his knowledge of skating, Bird was a man of multiple interests. In later life, he was a popular lecturer on many subjects including schoolgirl fiction. He also co-wrote Shoreham Airport Sussex (with T.M.A. Webb, 1996), a definitive history, and was a classical music aficionado. He appeared on Mastermind (in 1975), answering questions on opera, and on other television and radio programmes including Brain of Britain. His last public appearance was in 2002 at the opening by the Queen of the National Ice Centre in Nottingham.

Bird could not have accomplished all he did without the support of his wife. He maintained that he was pre-ordained to marry Anne, since the two would never have met but for an accident. He had been asked to be the best man at the wedding of a schoolfriend but declined because he was stationed in the Outer Hebrides. However, he broke a bone while riding his bike and was given leave. Anne, a cousin of the groom, was a bridesmaid. It was love at first sight and he proposed the second time they met.

Sandra Stevenson

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments