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The eccentric daredevil who invented the bungee-jump

Kirke taking the plunge in 1979. Dafydd Jones

On April Fools’ Day in 1979, a young man wearing a morning suit and clutching a bottle of champagne flung himself off the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. And then, says The Economist, he “bounced back up”. David Kirke, founder of the Dangerous Sports Club (DSC) in Oxford, had completed the first modern bungee-jump. The stunt was inspired by a documentary about young men in Vanuatu leaping off bamboo platforms with only a vine tied around one ankle. Other DSC members did their homework before the 245-foot jump, calculating the “false extension curves” of the elastic ropes. But Kirke, who has died aged 78, was a purist – he felt that too much preparation would mean he wasn’t doing something truly dangerous. His only thought was “Whoopee!”

Bungee jumping was just the start. In 1986, Kirke flew over the Channel in a giant inflatable kangaroo, only narrowly avoiding a jumbo jet. He found skiing “especially boring”, so encouraged DSC members to “swoosh down the slopes of St Moritz” on whatever they liked: an ironing board, a rowing boat, a grand piano, even a Louis XV dining suite complete with wine waiter. (Authorities finally drew the line at a double-decker bus.) His stunts tended to be “formal occasions” – he once held a cocktail party “on the rim of an active volcano in St Vincent”, with attendees in full black-tie and tails. The DSC, whose emblem was a “bloodied silver wheelchair”, gradually broke up. But Kirke never stopped, performing more than 80 bizarre stunts over his life. Many thought him mad, but for him, jumping off a bridge wasn’t as mad as living a “humdrum life”.