The Croydon North West by-election took place on 22 October 1981. It was caused by the death of Conservative Member of Parliament Robert Taylor on 18 June 1981.
The Conservative Party selected John Butterfill, then vice-chairman of Guildford Conservative Association. The Labour Party, the runners-up at the 1979 general election, selected a local councillor, Stanley Boden.
The Liberal Party had come a distant third in 1979, but the by-election came shortly after the formation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), with whom the Liberals had entered into an electoral pact, the SDP-Liberal Alliance. It was therefore expected that the election would provide a platform for Shirley Williams of the SDP to return to Parliament, having lost her seat in 1979. However, the Liberal Party insisted on their own candidate and selected the lesser known Bill Pitt who had stood in the seat for the previous three general elections and at the time was the London Regional Party Chair.
22-year-old Nick Griffin (who became leader of the British National Party in 1999) stood in his first election in Croydon North West, representing the National Front. Bill Boaks, a road safety campaigner and perennial candidate, was also on the ballot. In total, a record twelve candidates stood, one more than in the Lambeth Central by-election, 1978. This record would be broken at the Chesterfield by-election, 1984.
Pitt duly won the seat on the surge of support for the Alliance and a 24% swing, strengthening the Liberals' hand in negotiations with the SDP.