Tish Harnett R.I.P.

I have received the sad news that Tish Harnett has died after a long illness.

Tish is not as well known as he should be.  I got to know him in the mid 1990s. when he rang me to enquire if I had any birds for sale.  He was not a specialist Lizard breeder, but an all-rounder with a fondness for the breed.  He was intelligent, knowledgeable and sincere; I liked him.

Thereafter we would meet up at the National and have long chats over the phone; and what enjoyable conversations they were, especially his tales of trips to the continent. He told me of one occasion when he was giving a talk in France about British type canaries.  He noticed that when he was describing the show features of the Lizard, and the importance of the spangles, a young man in the audience kept nodding in agreement.  He introduced himself at the end of the lecture.  “Look out for him” Tish told me, “he will reach the top.  His name is Vincent Coquet . . .”

Tish may not have achieved fame as a top exhibitor, but he deserves recognition for his role as an ambassador in continental Europe.  He was one time Secretary of the IOA and helped to build relationships with European canary fanciers that paved the way for British breeders like Stan Bolton, David Allen, Robert Bunting, Joe Coakley, Tony Horton, Lloyd Le Page and myself to compete on the international stage.  As we saw at Cesena,  it is the Lizard fancy that has probably benefitted most from his good work.

One of his long standing friends was Ernesto Benussi, probably the most knowledgeable Lizard man in Italy.  Here are his memories of Tish:

“I’m afraid Tish was more loved abroad than in the UK.  As we say in Latin nemo prophets in patria (no man is a prophet in his own country)!  A tribute to him has already been published on a Germany website:  http://www.dompfaff-koeln.de/  .


We met the first time in ’83 in Piacenza during the world championships, and we “clicked” immediately.  He was a real character with tattoos on his arms (a frogman in the Navy) and incredible hair with a perm!  At first sight you had the impression of a clever, honest man, genuinely interested in birds and totally disinterested about money, “power” (power in our fanciers world? I imagine Tish laughing, like me!), deals and strongly against every dirty game which he would call ‘mafia’.

The feeling was immediate and, as the treatment of the judges was totally disappointing, I felt ashamed about the negative image of Italian hospitality that he was receiving. I promised Tish that I would arrange an invitation for him to judge at the Reggio Emilia international show, where I knew the treatment (in those times, not today!) was really splendid!  And so I did.  He came by train to Venice (he was ‘Franciscan’, in ‘84 the flights were expensive and he didn’t want to weigh too much on the association !! ) and stayed with me for two days.  Then we went together to Reggio, where we had a very good time, both in the show and in the restaurant !

The next year my daughter and I visited him in Ramsgate, where I could learn another side of his personality: he was involved with the local youth club, and generously open to the needs of society, giving money to help the miners striking against the Iron Lady!

( a moment of pause, as I am getting emotional……)

This was Tish, always ready to give a hand in a disinterested way!   He visited me many times in Venice and so I did in Ramsgate, staying in touch through a continuous correspondence (always by letter, he was an enemy of computer and e-mails).”


  • My thanks to Ernesto for his tribute and photographs.
  • The full 60 second interview is published below.



4 thoughts on “Tish Harnett R.I.P.

  1. I’m so sorry. If all of us “similar” lived in a single village, maybe on the hills somewhere in Tuscany, we could enjoy our friendship until the last moment, having fun together happily. It is sad to be scattered in the four corners of the earth!

  2. s’est une grande tristesse d’apprendre le déces de tish harnett.
    l’année 1994 quand il était venue en France donner une conférence sur le canaris lizard.
    j’avais vu que je pouvais apprendre énormément ce jour là.
    tish aimait transmettre ses connaissances au jeune éleveur.
    quand tish regardait un bon lizard s’était toujours d’un œil perfectionniste.
    sincères condoléances a ses proches
    vincent coquet