The Bird Lady Of Haggerston

Dean Nicholas
By Dean Nicholas Last edited 130 months ago
The Bird Lady Of Haggerston

The year was 1959, and in an often overlooked corner of Hackney, one of the world's most recognisable Hollywood beauties was bringing just a touch of Californian colour to a peculiarly English affair: a budgie show.

Jayne Mansfield, living in London while making the film Too Hot To Handle, was invited to the All Saints church in Haggerston in September 1959 to help judge the East London Budgerigar and Foreign Birds Society show. Michael Allen, son of the society secretary, knew of the actress' ornithological interest, and she was asked to be guest of honour. To the amazement of locals, Mansfield and her husband showed up, and hundreds of people clamoured for a glimpse of genuine Hollywood glamour in the East End. In modern equivalent, it's probably something like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt rocking up unannounced at the Hackney Wick Pigeon Fancier's Collective on a wet and windy Tuesday.

Mansfield's appearance at the show was captured on the front cover of the Hackney Gazette, and a copy of that edition was recently unearthed by Iain Sinclair from Hackney Archives during research for a new book on forgotten stories from the borough. Now the author has enlisted the help of local artist Susanna Edwards to recreate the event in a fundraiser for the church.

Billed as a "general celebration of the budgerigar", the village fete-style event will bring budgie-owning folk from across Hackney to come and display their pets' plumage. The whole thing is aimed squarely at non-professionals, and photos from the day will be displayed in an exhibition at the Tatty Devine gallery in June.

The only thing missing will be the Hollywood glitz. As if half-proving Marx's dictum that history repeats itself as farce, Hackney's own Barbara Windsor was initially tapped up to reprise Mansfield's blond-bombshell role, although Miss Edwards has wisely decided instead to dress up herself.

The competition will be held on Saturday, May 10th, at All Saints church, Haggerston. Anybody wishing to enter should contact Susanna Edwards on 020 7502 0546

Budgie photo courtesy of furyksx's Flickrstream

Last Updated 09 March 2008