Programme will launch to celebrate Keith Austin’s birthday

Keith Austin
Keith Austin
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When ‘Mr Bonfire’ Keith Austin died last year, hundreds of people turned out to remember a great supporter and campaigner for the fifth.

Now a year on, Southover Bonfire Society, for which Mr Austin was a friend, secretary and life member, will remember him by launching its bonfire programme on his birthday every year.

Bonfire society chairman Stephen English said: “We are launching the programme on September 16 every year in tribute to Keith and we will do that now every year, forever more.”

Speaking to the Express last year before the annual bonfire, Mr English said: “I think every member will have a tear in their eye.

“He used to say an old bonfire saying ‘True to each other’ and we will be remembering him and his words.”

Mr Austin, who was 74, died on August 20 last year.

He upheld the tradition of the fifth for more than 50 years and came to be known as Mr Bonfire in the town.

This year has been particularly poignant for Southover Bonfire Society as it experienced its first full year without the advice of Mr Austin.

As well as his involvement with Southover, Mr Austin was also a former secretary of the Lewes Bonfire Council and was an honorary life member of Commercial Square Bonfire Society and a life member of Cliffe Bonfire Society.

In the 1960s he ran The Den Coffee bar in Cliffe High Street.

In a remarkable show of respect, Mr Austin’s ashes were fired into the night sky above Lewes as part of the various fireworks displays on the fifth last year. Mr Austin had suggested the idea of the explosive finale himself.

Hundreds of well-wishers attended his funeral last year. A procession of some 400 people followed his coffin as it was drawn through the streets of the town on a bell cart, accompanied by the music of a jazz band.

Mr Austin was found dead at his Priory Street home in August last year.

To see our bonfire preview for this year’s event turn to pages 44 - 54.