Tributes to Victor Birkett

Victor Birkett SUS-140327-113333001
Victor Birkett SUS-140327-113333001

Popular Eastbournian, Channel swimmer and former estate agent Victor Birkett has died.

Eighty-eight-year-old Mr Birkett passed away at the DGH on Thursday after a long battle with diabetes.

He had been ill for some time after having his foot amputated and had lived a reclusive lifestyle in recent years.

Friend Michael Harding said, “Vic was a real character and a lovely guy. He was also very well respected in the business community.

“He was also an immensely impressive chap in size. He stood at 6ft 3 and had a large barrel chest. He was a gentle giant though.”

Mr Birkett was born Victor Norman Albert Birkett in Eastbourne and attended Downsmede School, an independent school in the town.

He joined the Royal Marines as a Green Beret and was involved in the D Day Landings. After the war he returned to Eastbourne where he worked as a civil servant before setting up his own business as an estate agent.

It was in 1952 he fulfilled an ambition to swim the English Channel. The then 26-year-old estate agent trained for the event at the old Devonshire Baths in the town and on August 18 1952 was one of three swimmers who swam from France to Dover.

News of the swim was relayed onto a public address system outside the Picturedrome Cinema in Langney Road where crowds were waiting to hear of Mr Birkett’s progress.

Aside from his swimming, he played rugby for the Combined Services, auditioned for the Carl Rosa Opera Company, played water polo for the county, taught sport at Eastbourne College, was a life-long Conservative and received the Freedom of Eastbourne.

He was also a famous wrestler in the 1960s and 70s and was known as the Hooded Outlaw.

Mr Birkett had a sister in Germany who is coming to Eastbourne for his funeral, which is on Friday April 11 at St Mary’s Church in Old Town at 2.30pm followed by a private committal at the crematorium at 3.15pm.

His funeral is being organised by his friend Avril Francis.