Keith Green, first Foreman of the revived Eynsham Morris side, died at the age of 72 on 15 January 2013 after a long and debilitating illness. Keith was born in Eynsham on 13 March 1940. He left school soon after his father died just before Keith’s 14th birthday. He had a variety of jobs, including working at a local butcher's, before taking over the family builders’ business. This was adjacent to the family home, which Keith had converted from two smaller cottages in the very centre of the village. In later years Keith also ran the family undertakers’ business, which eventually became his main occupation, helped by his son Ian and daughter Anne.
In many ways Keith was central to Eynsham life, be it organising the local business contributions to the Christmas tree in The Square, fundraising for the Eynsham Cricket Club or supporting the Eynsham Scouts. He was also a volunteer in the Eynsham Fire Service, becoming Leading Fireman before his retirement, and was a prominent participant in the annual parade of floats in Eynsham Carnival until the morris revived and became another central element in the Carnival.
At Keith’s funeral on 1 February Robin Saunders, who took over the village DIY shop 37 years ago, described how ‘I first met Keith … when I moved next door to him in the High Street. Typical of Keith, he jumped over the wall and introduced himself... I soon learnt that Keith had a love of all things traditional especially the folk songs. It wasn’t long before he was dragging me off to folk clubs and pub singing sessions. He gave me the confidence to start singing myself and we sort of became a double act.’ Keith and Robin were regulars at the weekly music session in the nearby village of Long Hanborough at the time, and at one of the sessions Dave Townsend suggested to Keith to re-form the morris. Robin continued, ‘Keith was immediately full on for re-forming the side… without Keith it could not have happened. He was the only person that was brave enough, or was it daft enough, to convince eight friends and acquaintances to dress up like nineteenth-century shepherds and prance around the streets waving hankies and with thirty-two girt big bells strapped to their legs. But convince us he did and I, along with many others past and present, have him to thank for some truly wonderful experiences.’
An inaugural meeting was called for 2 October 1979 in the clubroom of the Red Lion. All eight who attended were Eynsham residents, and residence or birth in Eynsham is still a requirement for membership. More men soon joined, making the revival viable. Almost all of the original members of the team in 1979 were Keith’s friends, colleagues or family.
Dave Townsend, who taught the side, investigated afresh all the sources, written as well as verbal. Every effort was made to talk to as many former dancers as possible, including Sid Russell. Although he was delighted at the prospect of the revival, sadly, he died before the first public performance of the new side. All the dances were demonstrated before dancers from the twenties and thirties for their approval, and their corrections incorporated in the dances. Some of the figures now danced are named after those who described them to the side. For its costume the side returned to the traditional smocks, breeches, top hats and hob nailed boots.
The first public performance of the revived side was on the May Day Bank Holiday, 5 May 1980. The revived side has never looked back, and rapidly gained a reputation as one of the most colourful and flamboyant (and noisy!) Morris sides in existence. The old vigour, so often remarked upon in the past, has not been forgotten.
Several of that team of over thirty years ago are still dancing, but the side has thrived and there is a healthy number of younger members.
The side took great pride in the fact that Phil Lambourne, of the 1930s side, was for ten years a valuable member of the current team, acting as collector, traffic warden, baggage attendant and public relations man par excellence. The last survivor of the 1930s side, Phil died in 1989; Keith has now been laid to rest just a few steps away from Phil’s grave in St Leonard’s churchyard.
Until his illness took hold, Keith continued to dance and to marshal the side. At the funeral, Robin Saunders concluded, ‘I could regale you with morris tales of … catastrophic collisions on the main stage at an international festival, people being mysteriously locked in toilets and landlords being cajoled to open early or close late – all part of Keith’s repertoire. But for myself, and all those that were lucky enough to be around … the most abiding memory will be of those sessions in the pub after dancing when he held the attention of the whole pub with his rendition of songs such as ‘Buttercup Joe’, ‘My Sarie’, ‘Tavistock Goosey Fair' and countless others, not forgetting ‘The Anatomy Song’ (‘I Touched Her on the Toe’). There will never be another Keith and I consider myself lucky to have had the joy of being there and entertaining with him.’
Mike Heaney, with help from Robin Saunders and family members.
An abridged version of this page appeared in English Dance & Song magazine Summer 2013.