Obituary: David Bird
Wednesday 20 January 1993
A FLAVOUR of the roles performed by David Bird may be found amongst Sir Tunbelly Clumsy, Toby Belch, The Devil in Don Juan in Hell, Boniface in The Beaux Stratagem; rollicking parts played with the vocal relish in which Bird revelled. The theatre critic JC Trewin wrote, 'Silky and glutinous, it is a voice like a fine treacle tart with a touch of cherry pie.'
Paradoxically, Bird was a shy and contemplative man. His long, companionable silences often surrounded some distilled profundity which had been teasing his mind and which he wished to hang in the air. He had a formidable intellect, was widely read and had a deep love and knowledge of the pictorial arts.
He was educated at Alleyn's School where the vocal diapason disconcertingly revealed itself during a performance of Euripides' Alcestis in which Bird was cast as the lady herself. From Alleyn's, Bird went up to St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he read English. He intended to become a writer and after gaining his degree he travelled to Poland as tutor to a family. During his time in Drobnin, he wrote,
At Oxford, for three years I kept myself going with moral slogans which I knew were wrong, I was a failure there. And hurt because I hadn't the stuff to succeed. One evening I wasn't thinking of suicide but I met it, cold and sickening. It was then I realised that I had been insulting some force within myself by allowing myself to be driven to a state where the verdict on that force was death. After that, nothing mattered, results, parents, school authorities, holy platitudes, when all the effect they had was to make me stop living. I regarded this discovery as a challenge, I accepted it.
He celebrated his subsequent life with happiness as a man who had come to terms with his future.
Influenced by James Joyce and Bernard Shaw, he wrote in the form of literary dialogue. When he returned to England in 1932, he joined the backstage staff of the Croydon Repertory Company to study the craft of the playwright. He soon became an actor; the voice projecting his talented and humorous personality. And it was at Croydon that he met Joyce Wodeman, with whom he made a marriage of true minds.
Bird's career embraced the work of virtually all the classic playwrights. Pre-war seasons at Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Shaw Festivals at Malvern were interspersed with provincial tours and weekly rep. At the Intimate Theatre, Palmers Green, he worked for the first time in many under the management of John Clements. During the war he joined Alec Clunes' Arts Theatre Company for revivals of Restoration comedies and the production of Peter Ustinov's first play, House of Regrets. Numerous West End performances included excursions into musicals such as Oh, My Papa and Auntie Mame. He played Shakespearian repertoire at the Old Vic and the angry young moderns in London and elsewhere. Seasons at Chichester Festival Theatre included Vivat] Regina], The Workhouse Donkey and The Fighting Cock.
He continued to sculpt away at his literary plays. They were carved out of deeply felt personal experience, and he was reluctant to offer them for public performance. His comedy Tom, written in praise of life and literature, was produced in 1957 at the New Lindsey Theatre Club, London.
Bird's work as an actor lay mostly in the theatre; film and television appearences were rare: sadly he had been born with defective sight. He had little vision in one eye and a continuing threat of recurring tuberculosis in the other.
Ironically, his pleasures lay in reading and in looking at paintings. During the run of a play, he would visit a gallery, select a picture and 'learn' it, against the day when his sight would desert him. Happily it never did.
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