Liar, thief and alcoholic: I always liked him. This all round lovable rogue occasionally disgraced himself by being sober. Educated at Oxford University and Reading Gaol this Falstaffian fraud was a barrel of laughs. He was a colourful character but according to himself there was nothing mundane about him at all.
Davin Church was born Davin Radcliffe. Never trust a man who cannot even tell the truth about his name! Davin hatched in 1945. His father was a Maths teacher. Davin claimed to be a quarter French. He was brought up a Catholic as he liked to tell us. This is one of his more probable statements. Less credible was his boast that his father took the seven children skiing in St Moritz ever winter in the 1950s. On a teacher’s salary that is unlikely. Unless there was a large pot of family money around that is.
Davin’s father has been at Oxford in the 1930s. He read Maths. ”My Dad wanted to be a don but missed his First.” Davin’s father served as a navigator in an RAF bomber crew in the Second World War. David said his father felt guilty because he knew that the bombs they dropped mainly killed civilians. ”It was a bad job but it had to be done.”
Davin attended Wellington College where his father taught. Church was expelled for what he called ”rebellion” but most people would call ”homosexuality.” When I broached his sacking from school with him his self assured demeanour suddenly deserted him. Davin was liberal in many ways but was homophobic. This was possibly to cover up a schoolboy dalliance with same sex relationships. Being at an all boys’ school in the 1960s it was not uncommon for boys to have liaisons with each other.
Davin got into Corpus Christi College, Oxford to read English. He was in the same year as Hon William Waldegrave.. This grandee Tory Wet was very respectable- unlike Davin. Davin took an extra year and switched to Psychology. He graduated with a Third. He said he was a third generation member of the Bullingdon Club. This might not be true. Bullingdon boys tend to be very affluent and upper class. Moreover, they are sharp dressers and Davin dressed as though he was homeless.
What Davin did after university is something of a mystery. He lived in London in the late 60s and early 70s. Once a television journalist approached him and asked him whom he would vote for. David was monumentally pissed off with the main parties sending vans with loud hailers along the street so he said ”I will vote Communist”. They were the only ones who had not disturbed him by actually campaigning. David noticed his phone was not cut off for months despite his not paying the bill. He presumed this was because his phone had been tapped.
Davin was not one to resist a fashionable cause. He was a trendy lefty. He certainly made a convincing socialist. He exploited the taxpayer as much as he could, he never worked and he hated the US Government.
Davin bummed around London and the world. He claimed to speak taxi driver French, Spanish, Arabic and a clutch of other languages.
Whenever he met a Frenchman he liked to tell them his grandmother was French. He often liked to quote the motto of the French cavary, ”l’audace, l’audace et encore l’audace.” Dacid certainly lived up to this maxim. He was as brass necked as they come.
Davin was not over burdened with modesty. He told me he had bedded over 100 women. He vouchsafed that is favoured modus operandi was to sit alone at a party crying. Within minutes a soft hearted girl would sidle up to him. ”What’s wrong?” this kindly type would inquire. He would narrate a lachrymose tale with himself as both hero and victim. Having shown his vulnerable side it was time to be more masculine and obtain sympathy sex. He assured me this stratagem never failed! He sometimes bribed scouts 5 pounds – a small fortune in those days – to turn a blind eye to the fact that his latest pull was staying in his room.
‘ Being a young man in the 60s this was unlikely that he really did garner 100 notches on his bedpost. Getting a girl”s knickers off in the days when the Pill was very new was probably not as easy as it is now. He told me if you got a girl up the duff before 1967 you would find yourself having to pay for a backstreet abortion. So despite his much vaunted Catholicism he was not Catholic enough as to believe in the core moral teaching of Catholicism.
Davin is best known for founding the Dangerous Sports Club or DSC. This was set up in the 1970s. It attracted members who were either super posh or else from penurious families. They used to ski down slopes in Switzerland on bizarre conveyances. Skis were put on a grand piano and an invalid carriage. This much is definitely true. I have seen the video.
Davin said he was very well traveled. He regaled with me with his tales of adventures in South America and the Far East. He said he has a Vanuatu driving licence! He told me whoring in Venezuela with several chums including a German named Clemens. Clemens had searched long and hard for a whiskey bottle with an unusually wide but short neck. Clemens would dip his ”wurst” into it to disinfect it before and after doing each hooker. This was in lieu of a prophylactic. In France Davin said he was on a motorbike when he lasooed a police motorcyclist. He was arrested for that. On his passport in those days he gave his occupation as ”writer.” He recounted how he sweet talked his way out of being charged with anything. That one stretched credulity too far. Would the policeman have been badly injured? David was a writer though – mostly of bad cheques.
Although he purported to be a lady killer he freely admitted paying for sex on many occasions. He said the ride of his life was a 21 year old Thai on speed. She was on speed, not him.
Davin r also said he was an amateur graphologist. He looked at my handwriting and told me what he could divine about my personality therefrom. As he knew me well already this was not a fair test.
On April Fool’s Day Davin achieved his greatest feat. Bungee jumping had been going on in Papua NEW gUINEa for centuries. The New Zealanders had made a scientific study of it and did it with modern materials. Davin brought it to Britain. On 1 April 1979 he was filmed bungee jumping off Clifton Suspension Bridge. He jumped into the pages of history. For this alone he deserves some credit. He had plenty of bottle – in both senses.
In the 1980s the Dangerous Sports Club caught the eye of television producers in Japan. A Japanese television crew came and filmed the DSC at their antics. It was shown in Japan as ”Extraordinary Freaks of the West.” Davin was shown being put into a curious contraption atop the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. He was about to be fired out over the cliff 400 metres above the Atlantic. In the video he jovially says goodbye to his mother and apologises for being so stupid as to get himself killed. Davin was a confabulist and larcenist but he was surely very brave. Another was to put it is that he was monumentally stupid. His back problems in later life are likely to be attributable to these exploits.
Davin jumped off many a bridge wearing morning dress complete with a hot hat and a pipe in his mouth. He was ever the poseur. This was the only time he dressed up. Mostly he was attired like a tramp. He lost numerous toppers and pipes this way. Perhaps his most magnificent feat as a daredevil was bungie jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. A motor boat spirirted him away. He was drive straight to the airport. SOme of his comrades were not so fast or fortunate. The were arrested. Their paraphernalia was confiscated. This being San Fransciso the police did not return the harnesses. Davin speculated that the homosexual constabulary kept the harnesses for their own kinky games.
Davin was a shameless name dropper. He knew Monty Python somewhat. In the late 1980s something occurred which Davin described as being ” a misunderstanding with a credit card” which everyone else described as ”fraud.” As his friend Graham Chapman lay dying of cancer Davin was thoughtful enough to relieve Dr Chapman of his credit card. Davin went on a spending spree around the United Kingdom and France. He was not spending out of necessity. This went on nights in hotels and fine dining. He eventually returned to face the music. He handed himself in and confessed all. He was charged with ”obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception.” Over 60 counts were taken into consideration. There was a crime wave in those days and the prisons were choc full. This was the time of the Strangeways Prison Riot. The Conservative Government was so effective on crime that is had managed to double crime in a decade. Because there was hardly any room in prison perhaps this was why the beak on the bench went easy on David. He was a non violent first time offender who pleaded guilty. David recalled that the judge had also been to Wellington and viewed the defendant (him) as a class traitor. David was sentenced to nine months. It seems remarkably lenient.
Davin served his sentence in Reading Gaol or as he delighted in calling it ”Oscar’s Diner.” I hate to spoil a good tale. The prison that Oscar Wilde was held in is not the same one that is presently Her Majesty’s Prison Reading. Davin served only four and a half months – in other words half his sentence. He described it as ”a very agreeable mid life sabbatical.” It was after he came out of the penitentiary that he changed his surname to his mother’s maiden name. I imagine this was a crude attempt to escape his criminal past.
Davin blew his own trumpet as a principled man of the left. One of the few principles of the left wing agenda or any decent agenda that he did not embrace was anti-racism. He cheerfully described the black prisoners as ”sooties”. He retailed how his first day in prison he was in the communal shower. The thought of being raped crossed his mind. But this was not public school so rape was not that likely. ”I saw some of the sooties looking at me.” They thought about it but they thought again. Davin was by that stage 45 and overweight. He was not the fresh meat anyone would want. He also gave a self-flattering reason why no one would try to violate him, ”they read in the newspaper that I was the first man to bungie jump in Britain. If it came to a fight they knew I would go the distance.” He said he felt great leaving prison because he had lost weight and had not had a drink in a few months so his mind was clearer than ever. He claimed to be very humane and that most men in prison did not deserve to be there but 25% were such evil psychopaths that they needed to be there.
In the 1990s a documentary is made about the DSC. Davin is seen seated on a canal boat in London telling his tall tales. A flag keeps blowing into his face.
In the late 1990s Davin moved to Oxford. He lived first of all in Paradise Square where I once had luncheon with him. He later moved to Barton. He was often to be seen shuffling around Oxford in a tatty overcoat, threadbare trousers. stained white trainers and a dark jumper that had seen better days.
On Fool’s Day 2000 I saw him on SKy News jumping off Clifton Suspension Bridge. It was 21st anniversary of the first ever bungee jump in the United Kingdom. In 2000 the police came along ”who is in charge here?” said the copper. David was arrested but released after a few hours. I recognised him in the Union bar a couple of weeks later. It was the first time I ever clapped eyes on him. I came to know him very well.
He walked around Oxford forever sporting a beret. He usually had a small hold all with him. It would be clunking. He would whip out a bottle of wine. ”I always carry a couple of bottles of wine to help me cope with back pain.” It was a novel excuse for dypsomania. A friend said that Davin’s lips showed signs of cirrhosis of the liver. He must have been consuming about four fold the recommended daily limit. It is staggering that he lived to the ripe of age of 69. He usually had a pipe in his mouth which he gesticulated with when becoming especially animated telling his numberless stories. He was a magnificent story teller and great fun to be around. This enabled some to forgive him is many demerits. He was the thinking man’s wino.
Despite his loudly proclaimed left wing opinions he was a crashing snob. This was one of his myriad internal contradictions. He gravitated very much towards public school people. He never tired of mentioning he had been to Wellington. He once organised a punting race. In the email about it he mentioned the schools the girls and boys participating had attended. Every one of the 20 or so had been to public school.
He was a member of Skid Row in the Union. This was a group of hard bitten heavy drinkers notable for their motley clothing, stagnant careers and messy private lives.
He was also a member of the Twelve Caesars. On one occasion a furious row between him and a certain numismatist erupted over the bill. David was notorious for not paying his fair share. I would not give him the benefit of the doubt. He ended up being banned from the Dozen Caesars.
The only way you would get a meal out of him was by being young and female. He often asked boys to buy him drinks. I sometimes obliged. In 2004 I was going to DUblin. He told me I must visit the Francis Bacon Gallery. ”If you don’t you are fined two glasses of wine/” I visited and brought back the ticket. To give him his due; he did buy me a drink. It was the only time. That is why I cannot forget it.
He was forever chatting to young foreign students – if they were of the opposite sex. He introduced me to my first ever Kazakhs. He could be charming and fun. He had a huge store of anecdotes and quips. He claimed to drink with Colin Dexter at the Dew Drop.
He was later barred from the Union. I cannot remember for what offence. Someone has told me it was for disseminating calumnious rumours about the staff.
He was an abominator of George W Bush. He sent round robin emails about how evil the liberation of Iraq was. He was gunning for John Kerry to win in 2004. On election day he said that Kerry’s wife had blown it by saying something rude about teachers. In 2005 he wanted the Conservatives to within notwithstanding his left wingery. He said this was because Blair was guilty of war criminality. In some respects he was a trendy lefty but I suspect that underneath all this bluster there was a genuine political opinion.
He was pro Irish and he was anti Irish. When I was late to his place he chuckled that the Irish were never guilty of punctuality. When he was pissed off with me he made anti Irish remarks. ”WHat is it with you Irish and murder?”
I once introduced him to my father. We were in the Far From the Madding Crowd. Noel Reilly was already with us. Noel loathed Davin. ”What did you bring him here for?”
He was always on his travels. He claimed to be going to Burma to help Aung San Suu Kyi. He also bragged that he had been in the Jordanian Army in 1967. He had seen many men killed by the Israelis. He was stridently anti Zionist.
An old man named Ranald retired to Oxford about 2000. This old boy had been at Wellington wwhen David was a baby. Ranald said that Davin boasted that he had served at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. It was an astonishing accomplishment for Davin as a nine year old!
Davin would always say he knew the top people in each country. He would tear off pieces of newspaper and write down phone numbers for you. Once in the Far From Nick the German imitated David to his face. David started to cry!
When Davin was about 60 he claimed to have had sex with a girl aged 21 or so. Tallulah, as I shall call her, vehemently denied it. I know who I believe. Kirke was badly dressed, bald, bearded and had a huge paunch. He was not most women’s idea of a good lay. Being an obese, alcoholic sexagenarian it is improbable that he could get it up.
It was a subject of much conjecture how Davin managed to live so well despite having never worked in his life. The rumour went that his brothers were wealthy bankers and they sometimes gave him a bung. Some said he skimmed the DSC. He had previous so it would not surprise me if he had his fingers in the till.
I was once without a place to stay in Oxford. He let me stay a night in his gaffe. I had to buy him plonk though. His flat was commodious and roomy. There were thousands of books there.
He used to frequent the Morse Bar in the Randolph Hotel, Oxford. He was on good terms with the Irish barmaid there Ailis but he could never pronounce her name. Ailis has sadly also gone to her reward.
The last time I spoke to him was three and a half years ago. I phoned him up and put on a Scots accent. I claimed to be from the Foreign Office. Aung San Suu Kyi had been released an hour ago. Would he be willing to fly to Myanmar on a special mission on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government? He eagerly agreed. ”You will be alood to bring back a couple o broon gerls and a suitcase full o heroin.” At this point even David stopped believing this bull. ”I will take you up in a helicopter and drop you off in any part of the North Sea you like.” I hung up. He later left me a voicemail. ”I will find you.” He never did. He did not have my number at that time as in he did not know whose number it was.
He has several nieces and nephews. He was full of avuncular pride about their achievements.
He was strongly anti gay. He told a gay friend of mine ”do not touch my nephew. I know what sort of diseases you people get.” Davin also accused an ale soaked Anglican priest of attempting to seduce his Etonian nephew. The disreputable cleric in question is so physically disgusting that even he knew that he would turn Graham Norton straight. This accusation is false. The vicar in question may be mendacious, alcoholic, perverted, unhygienic, self pitying, benefit scrounging, foul mouthed monstrosity but he is not a pederast. I pointed out a girl in the Union who had been a lezzer at Wycombe Abbey. David was pleased to hear she had grown out of it. Davin said that male homosexuality was degrading, painful, unhealthy and repugnant. The looks started to go and these men became all the more tragic.
Davin was in some ways a hero and he surely had heroic flaws. He was physically brave and morally cowardly.
Davin claimed to be able to help me land jobs. His leads never amounted to anything. He was often crowing about being mates with the former Tory MP Oppenheim and other persons of influence.
How do I know all this? Much of it comes from the horse’s mouth. The rest is from the reminiscences of others.
My summation of Davin is that he was a first class shit – in both senses. To animadvertt – he was as dishonest as the day is long. He plainly harboured a deep sense of inadequacy. This compelled him to invent fantastic stories about his deeds. He background in Psychology should have enabled him to analyse himself. He was a chancer and he ripped people off a lot. Now he has got away with most of it. He was a live wire and very creative.His entire adult life was fun. It seems to me he never did anything he didn’t want to do. For that alone I admire him. I often enjoyed his company. The world is the duller and the safer for his passing.