Sparkie (now stuffed) with June Holmes, archivist at the Natural History Society of Northumbria
Forest Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
|Known for||His repertoire of more than 500 words|
Sparkie Williams (1954–1962) was a talking budgie who provided the inspiration for a new opera by Michael Nyman and Carsten Nicolai. The opera was performed in Berlin in March 2009. Sparkie had a repertoire of more than 500 words and eight nursery rhymes, becoming a national celebrity after fronting an advertising campaign for Capern’s bird seed, and making a record which sold 20,000 copies. After he died, he was stuffed and put on show at Newcastle’s Hancock Museum.
Born and bred in North East England, Sparkie was owned by Mrs Mattie Williams, who lived in Forest Hall, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He earned his name after Mrs Williams called him ‘A bright little spark,' and she taught him to speak, recite songs and sing nursery rhymes. Sparkie had a huge repertoire of words and sayings. By the time he was three-and-a-half, he had won the BBC International Cage Word Contest in July 1958. He was so good, in fact, that he was disqualified from taking part again.
Sparkie was courted by bird seed sellers and fronted the advertisement campaign for Capern’s bird seed for two years. He was recorded talking with budgie expert Philip Marsden on BBC radio, and appeared on the BBC Tonight programme with Cliff Michelmore. When Sparkie died, he was stuffed by the best taxidermist in London and taken on a tour of Britain in an exhibition of his life and work, before coming back to the Hancock Museum in 1996. Sparkie Williams is acclaimed as the world’s most outstanding talking bird in the Guinness Book of Records.
He is now part of the collections owned by the Natural History Society of Northumbria.
The new opera inspired by Sparkie is based on Michael Nyman’s 1977 piece Pretty Talk. The original piece used material from a record made by Capern’s bird-food company to help customers teach their pet birds to talk. The 7-inch flexi disc played short sentences spoken by Sparkie’s owner, Mrs Williams, to encourage her pet to speak - followed by replies from Sparkie himself. The new opera, Sparkie: Cage and Beyond, features further recordings from the ‘Sparkie’ archives of the Natural History Society of Northumbria. A CD of Sparkie talking has already been released.
Work on a £26 million extension and refurbishing of the Hancock Museum in Newcastle was completed in May 2009 and it has now re-opened as part of the Great North Museum. Sparkie is among the exhibits on show to visitors.
- BBC website (2009-03-25). "Linguistic budgie inspires opera". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-03-25.
- David Alderton - Guardian newspaper (2002-04-06). "Talk the squawk". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-03-25.
- BBC website (2006-03-23). "Tongue-twisting budgie is CD star". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-03-25.
- Northern Echo newspaper (2002). "Straight from the budgie's beak". Retrieved 2009-03-25.
- The Journal newspaper (2009). "Sparkie Williams Part 2". Retrieved 2009-03-25.
- The British Library (2002). "The language of birds: 5.1 Talking birds". Retrieved 2009-03-25.
- Jack Malvern, Arts Reporter, Times newspaper (2006-03-22). "Budgie tops the bill as mimicry is put on CD". The Times (London). Retrieved 2009-03-25.
- Daily Mail newspaper (2006-03-22). "Storytelling budgie stars on new CD". London. Retrieved 2009-03-25.