George Underwood punches David Bowie

David Bowie was punched by his schoolfriend George Underwood on Monday 12 February 1962. The fight left Bowie hospitalised and with a permanently dilated pupil.

The seeds of the argument were sown a week previously, on 5 February. Underwood celebrated his 15th birthday with a party at his home on Murray Avenue, London. Underwood and the young David Jones were close friends.

Bowie was drunk at the party. Also in attendance was a girl, Carol Goldsmith, whom both boys wished to date. During the event Underwood arranged to go out with her the following Friday at a local youth club, and informed Bowie of his success.

That Friday, 9 February, Underwood was preparing for the date when he received a telephone call from Bowie, who informed him that Goldsmith wanted to back out, but was too embarrassed to tell him herself.

I was upset, wondering why she didn’t want to speak to me directly. Anyway, I decided to go to the youth club, albeit later than originally intended. There, Carol’s best friend told me that she had waited an hour for me and thought I had stood her up.

I realised then what had happened; David had tricked me. I couldn’t believe he would do that.

George Underwood
Any Day Now, Kevin Cann

On the bus journey to Bromley Tech the next Monday, 12 February, Underwood heard Bowie bragging that he was dating Goldsmith. A fight broke out in the playground that morning between the two boys.

By the time I got to the school I had had enough. I saw a friend in the playground and I told him what David had done. He said, ‘If that happened to me, I’d smack him one.’

I’m afraid that’s exactly what I did. David wasn’t capable of fighting me so I thought that one short sharp punch would deliver the message. I wasn’t wearing a ring or holding a battery – those stories are rubbish. I certainly never intended to cause him real damage.

After I punched him, David went to have his eye bandaged by the school nurse, and, to his credit, he told the teachers he had fallen over, so as not to get me into trouble.

George Underwood
Any Day Now, Kevin Cann

Bowie was looked after by the school secretary Sheila Cassidy. Later in the day the headteacher, Frederick French, took him to Farnborough Hospital. He returned home that evening to recuperate.

The Jones family were incensed by Underwoods actions, and considered having him prosecuted for assault.

Two days later, on 14 February 1962, Bowie was taken to Moorfields Eye Hospital for an emergency operation. His eyesight was saved, but his pupil was left permanently dilated – a condition known as anisocoria.

David Bowie, 1960s

In 2000 Bowie was asked by a reader of Q magazine what he would say to “that kid at school who punched you in the eye, in case he’s reading”.

Probably something along the lines of, ‘It was great seeing you last week, George. Did I leave my lighter in your car?’ George Underwood, for it is he, is one of my oldest friends, and a wonderful artist. In fact, you can see scads of his work on – yawn! – BowieNet. Buy one for yer mum this Christmas. He does a very cool Presley. The girl we fought over? Can’t even remember her name.
David Bowie
Q, July 2000
David Bowie receives a saxophone for Christmas
David Bowie receives emergency surgery on his left eye
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