- Kenneth Horne is not to be confused with the playwright Kenneth Horne (1900–1975)
|Born||Charles Kenneth Horne
27 February 1907
St Pancras, London
|Died||14 February 1969
Dorchester Hotel, London
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Occupation||Comedian and businessman|
Kenneth Horne (27 February 1907 – 14 February 1969) was an English comedian and businessman. The son of a clergyman and politician, he combined a successful business career with regular broadcasting for the BBC. His first hit series, Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh, written with his co-star Richard Murdoch, arose out of his wartime service as an officer in the Royal Air Force. Ill health forced him to choose between commerce and show business after 1958, and, choosing the latter, he made two further popular radio series, Beyond Our Ken (1958–64) and Round the Horne (1965–68).
Charles Kenneth Horne was the seventh and youngest child of Charles Silvester Horne and his wife, the Hon. Katherine neé Cozens-Hardy. Silvester Horne was a Congregationalist minister, Liberal MP for Ipswich, and powerful orator. His maternal grandfather was Herbert Cozens-Hardy, the Liberal MP for North Norfolk who became both the Master of the Rolls and Baron Cozens-Hardy on 1 July 1914.
Horne was educated at a preparatory school in Shrewsbury, followed by St George's School, Harpenden and the London School of Economics. His tutors at the LSE included Hugh Dalton and Stephen Leacock. Horne was dissatisfied there, and through the generosity of an uncle, Austin Pilkington of the Pilkington glassmaking family of St Helens, he was enabled to go instead to Magdalene College, Cambridge. He represented the university at tennis, partnering Bunny Austin, but was academically undistinguished and so neglectful of his studies that he was sent down in 1927.
Austin Pilkington was aggrieved at Horne's failure to make the most of the opportunity he had provided, and he decided against offering him a post in the family firm. However, through his contacts within the industry, he secured for the young Horne an interview with the Triplex Safety Glass Company at King's Norton, a district of Birmingham. Horne's sporting record commended him to the manager of the Triplex factory, and he was taken on as a management trainee on a very modest salary. In 1930, despite his unimpressive finances, he married Lady Mary Pelham-Clinton-Hope, daughter of the 8th Duke of Newcastle. The marriage was happy at first, but they were sexually incompatible. His wife left him and returned to her family home. The marriage was annulled in 1933 on the grounds of non-consummation, although the two remained on friendly terms thereafter.
When Horne's first marriage was dissolved, he was sought out by a former girlfriend, Joan Burgess, daughter of a neighbour at King's Norton. Unlike his first wife, she had much in common with him, including a liking for squash, tennis and golf and for dancing. A month before her 21st birthday they were married, in September 1936.
Royal Air Force
Shortly before the Second World War, Horne enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on a part-time training scheme. He was commissioned as an acting Pilot Officer, and on the outbreak of war he served in the RAF full-time. In between carrying out his RAF duties, Horne formed a concert party from his friends and colleagues. On the strength of this he was invited by the BBC to take part in a programme for the armed forces, Ack-Ack, Beer-Beer (the title taken from the then-current phonetic alphabet), which he compered. It eventually ran to 324 episodes. Within a year, Horne was promoted to Squadron Leader, and in 1943 he was posted to the Air Ministry in London with the rank of Wing Commander. In his spare time he made more BBC broadcasts, during the course of which he met Flight Lieutenant Richard Murdoch. They quickly formed a friendship, and Horne arranged for Murdoch to be promoted and posted to his department at the Ministry. Murdoch, a professional actor and entertainer for 12 years before the war, recognised Horne's talent as a performer, and used his contacts to secure him more broadcasting work. The principal result of this was their joint invention of Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh, a fictitious Royal Air Force station.
The BBC producer Leslie Bridgemont was responsible for a show called Merry-go-Round, which featured, in weekly rotation, shows based on the Army, Navy and RAF. In 1944 he gave Horne and Murdoch a trial, and Much-Binding, with Horne as "an officer so dim that even the other officers noticed" and Murdoch as his harassed second-in-command, became a popular hit. In 1944, Horne met and fell in love with Marjorie Thomas, a war widow with a young daughter. Joan agreed to his request for a divorce; she soon remarried very happily. Horne and Thomas were married in November 1945.
In 1945 Much Binding was well enough established to be given its own weekly slot for a 39-week run. With the coming of peace, the supposed RAF station became a civil airport, and the show continued much as before, written by and starring Horne and Murdoch, with Sam Costa and Maurice Denham. By now, Horne had been demobilised from the RAF and returned to civilian life as Sales Director of Triplex. His business career was demanding, and his radio commitments had to be fitted in around it. After nine years in his senior position at Triplex, he moved in 1954 to be managing director of the British Industries Fair, a government-backed organisation promoting British goods worldwide. In the same year, Much Binding came to the end of its run. In 1956, the government withdrew its funding and the BIF closed. Horne received several attractive invitations, and chose the post of chairman and managing director of Chad Valley toy manufacturers. He was a success in the post, but in 1958 he suffered a debilitating stroke. His doctors warned him that when he had recovered he would never be fit enough to combine a full-time business post with his broadcasting work. He decided to give up the former in favour of the latter.
After easing himself back into broadcasting as chairman of the radio panel game Twenty Questions, he began the second of his three major BBC radio series, Beyond Our Ken. This show was written by Eric Merriman and, for the first two series, Barry Took; Horne's supporting players were Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Ron Moody (soon succeeded by Bill Pertwee). Around the imperturbable establishment figure of Horne the other performers played a gallery of grotesque characters, including the exaggeratedly upper class Rodney and Charles, the genteel pensioners Ambrose and Felicity, the cook Fanny Haddock – a parody of popular TV cook Fanny Craddock, and the gardener Arthur Fallowfield.
When Beyond Our Ken came to an end in 1964, the BBC commissioned a replacement series, Round the Horne, on similar lines, from Barry Took and Marty Feldman. Horne remained the genial and unflappable focal figure, and the writers invented a new lot of eccentric characters to revolve round him. They included J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock, the walking slum; the Noël Coward parodies Charles and Fiona; the incompetent villain Dr Chu En Ginsberg; the dreadful folk singer Rambling Syd Rumpo and the outrageously camp Julian and Sandy.
Towards the end of his life, Horne starred in the ABC television series Horne A'Plenty. With Barry Took as script editor (and later producer), this was an attempt to translate the spirit of Round the Horne to TV, though with different actors supporting Horne: Graham Stark, for example, substituted for Kenneth Williams and Sheila Steafel for Betty Marsden. The first six-part series ran from 22 June to 27 July 1968, the second (by which time ABC had become Thames Television) from 27 November to 1 January 1969. No recordings survive of either series other than a videotape of the Christmas edition in rehearsal.
His other TV appearances included Down You Go, What's My Line?, Camera One, Ken's Column, Trader Horne (a weekly advertising magazine for the Tyne Tees region), Let's Imagine, Call My Bluff (as team captain), and various specials with Richard Murdoch such as Free and Easy (1953) and Show for the Telly (1956). In addition, he hosted a 1965 game show called Treasure Hunt for Westward Television. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in February 1962 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in central London.
His radio appearances were legion, including hosting Housewives' Choice and acting as chairman of Twenty Questions and Top of the Form. He was twice a castaway on Desert Island Discs – first in April 1954 in tandem with Richard Murdoch and then on his own in January 1961. He was also popular on Woman's Hour and wrote a monthly article for She magazine for over a decade, starting in January 1957.
Because of his heart condition, Horne had been prescribed an anticoagulant, but had stopped taking them on the advice of a faith healer. He died of a heart attack on 14 February 1969, while hosting the annual Guild of Television Producers' and Directors' Awards at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Presenting the awards was Earl Mountbatten of Burma; an award had just gone to Barry Took and Marty Feldman (writers of Round the Horne) for their TV series Marty, and Horne had just urged viewers to tune into the fifth series of Round the Horne (due to start on 16 March) when he fell from the podium. The televised version of the event omitted the incident, bridging the gap with announcer Michael Aspel saying, "Mr Horne was taken ill at this point and has since died."
He was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.
After his death, Horne was eulogised in The Times as "a master of the scandalous double-meaning delivered with shining innocence," while The Sunday Mirror called him "one of the few personalities who bridged the generation gap" and "perhaps the last of the truly great radio comics."
In The Sunday Times for 16 February 1969, Paul Jennings wrote of him: "If I ever knew a gentleman, it was Kenneth Horne. He moved, after all, in a world with a plentiful supply of synthetic personalities, but you never saw that glazed showbiz look in his eye. He gave you his whole attention, his whole courtesy. And what a courtesy it was! He would go literally miles out of his way to do anyone a kindness. I knew him in the context of panel games, to which his marvellous unforced humour, spontaneous but beautifully timed, always added sparkle."
In the December 1970 issue of The Listener, Barry Took recalled Round the Horne and said of its star: "He was an unselfish performer, but it was still always his show. You just knew it. A Martian would have known it. His warmth tempered the sharpness of the writing ... To say that everyone loved him sounds like every obituary ever written – nonetheless it's true ... Horne was one of the few great men I have met, and his generosity of spirit and gesture have, in my experience, never been surpassed. I mourn him still."
By 24 February 1969 it had been decided that Round the Horne could not continue without its star. As a result, the scripts for Series Five (which Horne had jokingly suggested should be subtitled 'The First All-Nude Radio Show') were hastily adapted into a new series for Kenneth Williams called Stop Messing About, which was widely judged a failure and discontinued in 1970.
Horne has since been made the subject of two biographies, Norman Hackforth's Solo for Horne in 1976 and, 30 years later, Barry Johnston's more detailed Round Mr Horne: The Life of Kenneth Horne.
Editions of Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne are regularly broadcast on the digital radio service BBC 4 Extra.
In October 2003 a successful stage show called Round the Horne ... Revisited opened in London, compiled by Series Four co-writer Brian Cooke from original scripts, and ran until April 2005 – also siring three nationwide tours and a BBC television film.
Horne was played in the West End and in the film by Jonathan Rigby, who in 2008-9 reprised the role in a new show, devised this time by Barry Took's ex-wife Lyn, called Round the Horne – Unseen and Uncut. In the touring version of Round the Horne ... Revisited (2004–05), Horne was played by Stephen Critchlow, who also played him in the BBC television drama Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!
On 27 February 2007 (Horne's centenary), BBC Radio 4 broadcast a half-hour documentary tribute entitled Sound the Horne. The following year, on 18 September, another Radio 4 documentary was broadcast; called Thoroughly Modest Mollie, this one focused on Horne's frequent ghost-writer, Mollie Millest, and featured Jonathan Rigby as Horne.
Then, in 2009, an unproduced pilot script written by Horne and Millest in 1966 was revived by the same Radio 4 team. Called Twice Ken is Plenty and intended as a two-man showcase for Horne and Kenneth Williams, the 21st century version was performed by Jonathan Rigby and Robin Sebastian. The show was recorded at the Radio Theatre, Broadcasting House on 10 June 2009 and first broadcast on 1 September.
- Ack-Ack, Beer-Beer (1939–44)
- Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh (1944–53)
- Twenty Questions (as panellist, 1956, 1958; as chairman, 1949–51, 1961–68)
- Beyond Our Ken (1958–64)
- Top of the Form (1965–66)
- Round The Horne (1965–68)
- Free and Easy (with Richard Murdoch) (BBC, 1953)
- Down You Go (BBC, 1953–54)
- Find the Link (BBC, 1954–56)
- What's My Line (BBC, 1955)
- Camera One (BBC, 1956)
- Show for the Telly (with Richard Murdoch) (BBC, 1956)
- Trader Horne (Tyne Tees, 1959–60)
- Top Town (BBC, 1960)
- Let's Imagine (BBC, 1961–63)
- Ken's Column (Anglia, 1963)
- First Impressions (BBC, 1965)
- Home and Around (Tyne Tees, 1965–66)
- Treasure Hunt (Westward, 1965–66)
- Top Firm (BBC, 1965–67)
- Happy Families (Southern, 1966)
- Celebrity Challenge (Southern, 1966)
- Strictly for Laughs (ABC, 1967)
- Horne A'Plenty (Thames, 1968–69)
- GRO Register of Births: JUN 1907 1b 5 PANCRAS – Charles Kenneth Horne
- GRO Register of Deaths: MAR 1969 5E 1072 WESTMINSTER – Charles K. Horne, aged 62
- Took, Barry. " Horne, (Charles) Kenneth (1907–1969)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, May 2005, accessed 17 April 2007 (subscription required)
- Hackforth, p. 12.
- Hackforth, pp. 25–26
- Daily Telegraph 'How bona it was to vada Mr Horne's jolly old eek again' 30 July 2006
- Hackforth, p. 30
- Hackforth, p. 37
- Hackforth, p. 42
- Hackforth, p. 43
- Hackforth, p. 50
- Hackforth, p. 59
- Hackforth, pp. 64–68
- Hackforth, p. 69
- Hackforth, pp. 83 and 85
- Hackforth, p. 94–97
- Hackforth, p. 98
- Hackforth, p. 102
- Hackforth, pp. 107–08
- "Mr Kenneth Horne – Witty Radio and TV entertainer", The Times, 15 February 1969, p. 10
- This is not to be confused with the later Kenneth Kendall–Anneka Rice show of the same name.
- Hackforth, Norman: Solo for Horne: A Biography of Kenneth Horne (Angus & Robertson 1976; hardback, ISBN 0-207-95650-2; Coronet Books paperback, ISBN 0-340-24274-4)
- Johnston, Barry: Round Mr Horne: The Life of Kenneth Horne (Aurum Press 2006; hardback, ISBN 1-84513-123-1; Aurum Press 2007; paperback, ISBN 1-84513232-7)
- Took, Barry: Laughter in the Air: An Informal History of British Radio Comedy (Robson Books 1976; hardback, ISBN 00903895781)
- Kenneth Horne at the Internet Movie Database
- Sue Montague recalls her stepfather's appearance on This Is Your Life