The Camberwell Society

Society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell

Former mayor Bill Skelly


Ian Wingfield remembers the Geordie painter who mingled with filmstars, fought for trade union rights and was always a good samaritan.

Former Mayor (1997-98) Bill Skelly who died in November at the age of 89 was a long-term Camberwell resident. He served on Southwark Council first for St Giles ward 1994-98 and then for Peckham ward 1998-2002.

Bill earned a great deal of respect cross-party on the Council. His soft, lyrical Geordie accent, wide grin and the twinkle in his eyes made it impossible not to fall enchanted by his tales. His natural charm and ability to chat to people from all sections of society were second to none. He was always smartly turned out, learning attention to appearance from his national service days in the army. A true gentleman he was, as it is called in modern parlance, a brand ambassador for the Borough.

He led an interesting life. First and always, he was a Geordie proud of his Gateshead roots, always unmistakable in his accent, even after spending most of his life in London.

An accomplished painter, artist and signwriter by trade, Bill was full of stories from his time working on film and TV production sets in 1960s and 1970s. He met the top stars of the day such as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Sir Roger Moore and Sir Michael Caine.

A committed trade unionist, he nearly brought the construction of the National Theatre to a halt to prevent the Lump contract system of casualised labour prevalent in the industry at that time. He fought to get women and BAME workers recognised for apprenticeships at a time when this was not universally appreciated. Bill was an Executive member of the construction union UCATT and eventually became the Union’s President. One of the Union’s highest honours was the Skelly plate designed by Bill.

A good samaritan, he was always prepared to help, offer advice and care to others especially those with alcohol addiction. And worked patiently with Al-Anon to help many recovering addicts.

Bill was often seen listening to the band concerts at Ruskin Park on long summer Sunday afternoons. He will be greatly missed .He is survived by his partner Susie.

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The Camberwell Society was formed in 1970 and is the recognised amenity society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell.

The Society’s objectives, as defined by our constitution, are: to stimulate public interest in Camberwell, to promote high standards of planning and architecture in Camberwell, and to secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Camberwell.

We are a charity and raise money for local charities. In the past we have raised money for Southside Rehabilitation Association, St Giles Trust, Cambridge House, the CamberwellCommunity Choir, the HollingtonYouth Centre and the Camberwell Arts Festival