ARTIST Bill Kirby – the man whose colourful scenes of Sheffield’s past became a long running series of popular Christmas cards for St Luke’s Hospice – has died at the age of 85.
His paintings were strongly associated with his love of Sheffield, but Bill was actually originally from Liverpool and would always describe himself as a son of Liverpool but a man of Sheffield.
And although fans of his work would assume he had spent a lifetime in art, he actually spent most of his working life as a top hair stylist to the stars and successful salon owner.
Born in a Liverpool tenement in March 1934, Bill started to draw as a way of escaping his surroundings and found work as an errand boy for a screen printing company specialising in vast cinema posters.
His drawing moved to another level in the print shop and at the Liverpool School of Art where he studied at night between his evensong duties as a choir boy at Liverpool’s Protestant Cathedral.
Called up for National Service, he fought in Korea as a marksman and mortar bomber in some of the most intensive actions of that war, his only injury a lifelong profound deafness in his left ear.
Even under fire, though, Bill sent home drawings from the front line which were featured in magazines and national newspapers.
On his return from Korea he married wife Audrey and it was she who spotted an advert for an apprentice stylist at the Andre Bernard salon in London’s Knightsbridge.
Taking a leap of faith, they used their savings to pay for Bill’s training and after three years he was a fully trained stylist in a salon which saw him cut the hair of the world elite of the late 1950s.
The celebrated and controversial socialite Lady Docker would always ask for Bill and even recommended him to Hollywood star Joanne Woodward.
When Andre Bernard expanded north to Sheffield, Bill became the salon manager and its huge success prompted Bill to establish his own salon, William and Graham, with musician Graham Bower.
And it was in Sheffield that Bill and Audrey raised their three children – Carlton, a writer and sports commentator, Paul, who is a renowned Hollywood set designer and daughter Sally, a gifted sculptor and Head of Art at the Lichfield Cathedral School.
Painting was always close to Bill’s heart though and along with friends Joe Scarborough and George Cunningham, he developed a style which captured a nostalgic view of Sheffield past.
For many years Bill provided one of his works to be used as a Christmas card for St Luke’s Hospice and it was at St Luke’s that he died on September 15 following treatment for a spinal stroke and other subsequent complications.
He is survived by Audrey and his family, including seven grandchildren.
Son Carlton said: “Dad was a staunch supporter of St Luke’s creating a series of paintings which were used as Christmas cards for sale in aid of their fine work.
“He held the hospice in such affection that he described his move there in his final days as being like coming home.”
St Luke’s Retail Area Manager Chris Quinlan, who worked with Bill on the Christmas card project, said: “Bill was a wonderful man who gave his time so generously to St Luke’s over many years.
“His cards have become an important part of Christmas for many St Luke’s supporters and we are proud that Bill was able to create a final image for us for our 2019 Christmas range.
“I know he would have been delighted to know that his work continues to support St Luke’s and we are enormously proud of our association with him.”