Miles Kington

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Miles Beresford Kington (13 May 1941 – 30 January 2008) was a British journalist, musician (a double bass player for Instant Sunshine and other groups) and broadcaster. He is also credited with the invention of Franglais, a fictional language, made up of French and English.

Early life[edit]

Kington was born to William Beresford Nairn (also "Nairne", depending on the source) Kington (1909–1982), of Frondeg Hall, Rhostyllen, Denbighshire, Wales, and his first wife Jean Ann (1912–1973; daughter of John Ernest Sanders, of Whitegates, Gresford, Denbighshire) in Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland, where his father, a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, was then posted.[1] Subsequently, Bill Kington ran the Border Brewery in Wrexham, North Wales. The Kingtons were a branch of a landed gentry family that married into the Scottish Clan Oliphant and produced the line of Kington-Blair-Oliphant Chieftains of Gask.[2][3] Kington had a younger brother, Stewart (1943–2009), who followed his father in the brewing trade, later becoming a cameraman.[4]

Kington was educated at Bilton Grange, a prep school in Rugby, then Trinity College, Glenalmond, a boys' fee-funded boarding school (now Glenalmond College). During a gap year Kington worked as a translator in New York City, and lived in Greenwich Village. He then studied Modern Languages (French and German) at Trinity College, Oxford. After graduation he spent some time writing with Terry Jones, an Oxford contemporary; but the teaming did not click, and Jones was in reality waiting for his friend Michael Palin to graduate.[1]


Inspired particularly by the American humourist S. J. Perelman, Kington began his writing career at the satirical magazine Punch, where he spent some 15 years. It was during this time, in the late 1970s, that he began writing his Franglais columns, written in a comical mixture of English and French. These short sketches purported to be a study course taking as their raison d'être that "les Français ne parlent pas le O-level français" ("the French do not speak O-level French"). They were later published as a series of books (Let's Parler Franglais!, Let's Parler Franglais Again, Let's Parler Franglais One More Temps, and so on). During the 1980s he presented Steam Days, an informative programme about Britain's railways. He also presented one episode, "Three Miles High", in the first series of the BBC's Great Railway Journeys, travelling through parts of Peru and Bolivia.

Taught the piano from the age of seven, Kington discovered when he fell in love with jazz during adolescence that being able to read music meant he felt unable to improvise; he therefore took up the trombone. At Oxford he found that several fellow undergraduates played better, so he switched to the double bass when someone pointed out the shortage of bass players at the university. Kington was for many years a member of the cabaret quartet Instant Sunshine. To his regret, he only played in a jazz group for a brief period in 1962 during a summer job in Spain, where he ran into the British politician Enoch Powell, apparently looking somewhat displeased. Meeting Powell years later at a Punch meal and reminding him of their previous meeting, he was amused by Powell's comment: "I never forgot a face". Kington moved away from London in the 1980s, remarried, and worked from his home in the village of Limpley Stoke, near Bath.

He wrote a humorous column for The Independent, which he joined in 1987 after six years at The Times. He also wrote a similar column for The Oldie. Regular topics for his columns included:

  • Answers to a Christmas quiz that was never printed
  • Fictional court reporting
  • Jazz
  • Motorway ballads
  • Proceedings of the United Deities
  • Spot the fictional news story
  • Things for which there is no word
  • "Albanian Proverbs" which appear profound at first glance, but are actually meaningless
  • Letters concerning a recently deceased celebrity's supposed love of cricket

He also satirised Bertrand Russell à la Punch in "Bertrand's Mind Wins over Mater", in Welcome to Kington: Includes All the Pieces You Cut Out From The Independent and Lost (1989). In addition, Kington wrote two stage plays. Waiting for Stoppard, a good-natured pastiche of early Tom Stoppard plays and simultaneously a convoluted farce involving the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, was seen at the Bristol New Vic, Southwark Playhouse and other venues in 1995. The following year came The Death of Tchaikovsky – a Sherlock Holmes Mystery, in which Kington appeared in person at the Edinburgh Festival.

Death and legacy[edit]

Plaque on Kington's memorial bench
Kington's memorial bench

Kington died at his home in Limpley Stoke, near Bath, after a short illness, having just filed what became his final copy for The Independent. He had suffered from pancreatic cancer. In October 2008, "How Shall I tell the Dog?", written by him about events after receiving his terminal diagnosis, was serialised by BBC Radio Four, featuring Michael Palin as Kington.

A quotation frequently attributed to him is: "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad."[5]

He is commemorated by a memorial bench alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal, near Blackberry Lane, Conkwell. It bears a plaque, with the inscription:[6]

In Memoriam

In fond memory of Miles Kington, who hated this spot, because there was never anywhere to sit down and enjoy it from. Miles Kington, humorist. 1941–2008


Franglais books[edit]

  • Let's parler Franglais! London: Robson, 1979, ISBN 0-86051-081-6.
  • Let's parler Franglais again! London: Robson, 1980, ISBN 0-86051-114-6.
  • Parlez vous Franglais? London: Robson, 1981, ISBN 0-86051-150-2.
  • Let's parler Franglais one more temps. London: Robson Books, 1982, ISBN 0-86051-178-2.
  • The Franglais lieutenant's woman. London: Robson, 1986, ISBN 0-86051-398-X.

Other books[edit]

Stage plays[edit]

  • Waiting For Stoppard. ~1995.
  • Death Of Tchaikovsky – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. ~1996.


  1. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2005–2008, ed. Lawrence Goldman, Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 649
  2. ^ Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage 2003, vol. 1, p. 132
  3. ^ Burke's Landed Gentry 14th edition, ed. Alfred T. Butler, 1925, p. 1338
  4. ^ "Michael Bywater remembers Miles Kington". The Independent. 1 February 2008. Archived from the original on 14 May 2022. Retrieved 3 November 2021.
  5. ^ Philip Sheldrake The Business of Influence: Reframing Marketing and PR for the Digital Age, Chichester: Wiley, 2011, p. 153
  6. ^ "Miles Kington". Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  7. ^ Kington, Miles (18 October 2018). My Mother, the Bearded Lady: The Selected Letters of Miles Kington. ISBN 9781783526505.
  8. ^ "My Mother, the Bearded Lady: The Selected Letters of Miles Kington".

External links[edit]