Keith Collins obituary

Other lives: Actor and companion of Derek Jarman who enabled him make his later films

Keith Collins, who has died of a brain tumour aged 54, was the long-time companion of the film-maker and artist Derek Jarman. A practical, dependable and vigorous man, Keith believed his greatest achievement was keeping Derek alive long enough to finish the film Blue (1993). His presence in the last eight years of Derek’s life enabled the film-maker to make an abundance of late work including painting, writing and the creation of his garden at Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, Kent.

Born in Lanchester, County Durham, Keith grew up in Burnhope and went to Greencroft grammar school in the neighbouring village. His father, Stanley, was a bus driver who went on to work in a tyre factory, while his mother, Valerie (nee Robson), gave piano lessons to local children.

Stanley was a strict Methodist who often preached in the local chapel where Valerie played the organ. However, neither Keith nor his sister, Kay, could be persuaded to take up the piano. Kay remembers her mischievous younger brother cutting up insects and reassembling their various parts, attaching them to string and dangling them in front of her. Keith left home at 19 and moved to Newcastle, where he began working as a government computer programmer.

Keith Collins won a legal battle to locate and release dozens of Jarman’s artworks.
Keith Collins won a legal battle to locate and release dozens of Jarman’s artworks. Photograph: Unknown

In 1987, Derek spotted the strikingly handsome Keith in the audience of a screening of his 1976 film Sebastiane at the Tyneside film festival. Derek cajoled him into visiting him in London, where Keith stayed.

Referred to as Hinney Beast or HB in Derek’s diaries, most notably in Modern Nature, Keith became the backbone to all Derek’s activities, including acting in his films The Garden (1990), Edward II (1991) and Wittgenstein (1993) under his stage name, Kevin Collins. They were never lovers (Keith remained throughout this time with his lifelong partner, Garry Clayton, a builder), but his relationship with Derek became for them both an essential companionship.

Keith Collins, left, with Derek Jarman and Tilda Swinton
Keith Collins, left, with Derek Jarman and Tilda Swinton Photograph: Unknown

After Derek’s death in 1994, Keith lived in Dungeness and became a fisherman, crewing with the Thomas family, one of the oldest fishing families in the area. After eight years, he became a driver on the London Underground for the Bakerloo Line. He continued to maintain Prospect Cottage, tarring its weatherboarding and painting its distinctive woodwork canary yellow every few years, and tended its famous garden. Recently he fought and won a lengthy legal battle to locate and release dozens of Derek’s artworks.

After his diagnosis in June, Keith donated his lush black hair to an organisation that makes wigs for children who have undergone chemotherapy and married Garry at his bedside in Orpington hospital.

He is survived by Garry, his parents, his sister and two nieces, Christina and Kathryn.


Tacita Dean

The GuardianTramp

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