David Bowie (1947-2016)

David Bowie was born David Robert Jones on 8 January 1947 at 40 Stansfield Road, Brixton, South London. He was born into poverty and his lower-middle class parents were more interested in post-war survival than in any particular social ambition. His mother was a cinema usherette and his father a promotions officer for Barnardo’s. He lived in Brixton until he was six.The family then moved to Bromley in Kent. He always had a sense of  the ‘dark cloud’ of mental illness hanging over his mother’s side of the family. His life-long journey was to move away from this and find his own voice as an artist and musician.

He embarked on a professional career in 1963 having lived at that time in the Beckenham and Penge area. He held popular gigs in the Three Tuns pub in Beckenham and articles about him appeared in the local papers such as the Beckenham and Penge Advertiser. He performed on the bandstand in Croydon Road Recreation Ground.

He had many friends in Penge, in Maple Road particularly, and references Penge memorably  in an early song:

‘You can walk around in New York while you sleep in Penge.’

From Did you ever have a Dream?

His first single was Liza Jane in 1964 by David Jones and the King Bees. In 1965 he officially changed his name to David Bowie and made his first album in 1965.

In 1969 Space Oddity became his first hit single.

Ever the dreamer, forward-thinking creative artist and innovator, he reinvented himself many times through his music, evolving through various personas: Major TomZiggy Stardust and the Spiders from MarsHalloween JackThin White DukeStarman. Ziggy’s red and black platform boots were made by Stan Miller of Greenaway & Sons in Penge.

Perhaps the personas helped him transcend his humble background or simply fuelled the urge to forge a truly original creative path. His creativity was undimmed even while suffering his last illness which produced that remarkable album Black Star (2016).

Leaving Bromley Technical High School for Boys with one GCE O level in Art, Bowie was a self-educated deep thinker with an interest in the occult and the psychology of Carl Jung. This thoughtfulness can be seen in many broadcast interviews and discussions. His artistic side is given full rein in his many outlandish but chic outfits and clever make-up. If he was struck by the lightning of creativity this is evident in all that he did.

Bowie became an actor, starring in two prestigious films: The Man Who Fell to Earth directed by Nicolas Roeg (1976) and Labyrinth (1986) directed by Jim Henson.  All of his films were distinguished and unusual choices. Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence in 1983 was based on Laurens Van Der Post’s autobiography.

As he said, ‘I wanted to express myself, and who can express themselves if they want to do the same thing all the time?’[1]

He would never have wanted to be simplified and might have agreed wholeheartedly with the poet Keith Douglas: ‘Simplify me when I’m dead.’[2]

In June 2017, David Bowie was the subject of the Penge artists’ Picturing David Bowie exhibition in the Penge Library during the Penge Festival.

In 2018 a bronze pavement plaque is to be installed in David Bowie’s memory in Arpley Square.

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Remembering David Bowie:


[1] Dylan Jones, David Bowie: A Life (London: Preface Publishing, 2017), p. 31.

[2] Keith Douglas, Selected Poems (London: Faber and Faber,1964).