The Bognor Birdman event first started on the South coast of Britain in Selsey way back in 1971,
where a prize was given for anyone who could fly the grand distance of 50 yards. Nobody managed it! After a few years
the event started to attract quite a crowd and in 1978 the term Bognor Birdman
was coined when the event moved to Bognor Regis. Why Bognor Regis is open to debate - perhaps it was some forward thinking person at the local council - perhaps it's because the sea has a strong incoming tide to help bring people back to the beach, perhaps it is because one of the original competitors came from Bognor, it certainly isn't because it is an easy place to get to. Anyway, the event has evolved and gets ever more popular. Every year a collection of brave daring men and women dress up in bizarre outfits and
become Bognor Birdmen. They compete against one another by trying to fly through the air the furthest. Some people would say
that they are just a bunch of adventurous nutters who jump off the end of a pier and end up getting cold and wet when they land in the sea. Either way, it's a fun event which benefits a number of good causes.
The event gets bigger and bigger every year but now the, ahem, "organisers" at
the ludicrously named Arun District Council restrict the numbers of Bognor Birdmen taking part! That's Helf and Safety for you. Although these local government workers would struggle to get a job outside of the public sector, they feel they can restrict people having fun. How mistaken are they? They cannot stop people having fun, and taking part - so the event has found a new home down the road in Worthing.
Today the birdmen of Bognor event is very popular and has a tremendous following with many nationalities taking part and the whole event
attracts media interest from all around the world. Many spectators
go along for a day out in the sunshine and take great pleasure in seeing people jump off a
pier. The spectators also witness a number of 'professional' Bognor Birdmen who make quite an effort at seriously trying to fly! These brave souls are normally unhitched extreme sports types and/or experienced hang gliding types who generally don't mind having their hang glider get trashed when it crashes into the sea!
The Bognor Birdmen event also attracts serious international competitors and in 1984 German Harold
Zimmer flew 57.8 metres and walked away with £10,000 so it's not all totally
batty! In fact, during the 1980s the event was dominated by the Germans and by 1990 the
record stood at an incredible 71 metres. Also in 1990 the Germans took 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.
These days if anyone "flies" 100 metres, the prize is a cool £25,000 - about 40,000 US Dollars !
Although Carl Christensen made a valiant attempt in 1999, and won the prize for best fancy dressed Bognor Birdman, but his magic flying carpet stalled so he did not fly too far - something like 6 metres, so he was some way short of the record distance. The current unbroken record which stands at a staggering 89.2 metres, was set in 1992 by a local lad, Dave Bradshaw.
The event is now known as the International Birdman event, and let's hope the local Arun District council do not try and wiggle out of staging the event, as they have done before, even handing the event to Worthing, citing ludicrous PC elf and safety excuses. As the popularity of the event has spread, more people want to come and watch and see who will be the crowned best International Birdman and let's hope the event is in Bognor, where it belongs. Everyone who takes part has fun, and as the cliché goes, everyone is a winner at the International Birdman event. The day is always be popular for the spectators, the competitors, their friends and families. Maybe if the local council get their act together they could stage a successful Birdman every year, but don't hold your breath. They seem to forget Bognor is more famous for its Birdman competition than it is for anything else, including the local Butlins.
Bognor Birdman Competition
If you are considering being a competitor, please bear in mind that it isn't really a competition in the normal sense of the word. Sure there will be a winner, so it is a competition, but very few of the people who take part are in with a chance of winning the event. Most people taking part in the Bognor Birdman competition are well meaning folks, trying to do their bit for charirty, and have no intention of winning the competition. They are doing it primarily for fun. That is not to say that people taking part are not competitive, it's more that they are fun loving nutters.
The event has now got so popular, it has gone international, with competitors from many different countries eager to take part and entertain the crowds which often number up to 25,000. Most of the International Birdmen will be jumping trying to raise money for charity. There have been all sorts of International Birdman entries over the years including a flying tardis from Dr Who, a skateboarding cow and even a chicken and mushroom pie. Historical note - the first Birdman competitors were not international - as competitors such as Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and a naked man called John were all British, but now International Bognor Birdmen come from throughout the world.