Those of you who can remember listening to comedy on the radio in the 1960s may have fond memories of the dulcet tones and dry wit of Kenneth Horne in programmes such as ‘Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh’, ‘Beyond Our Ken’ and ‘Round the Horne’. But many of you may not know he was the son of a well known Congregational Minister, and grandson of a Cuckfield Congregational Minister.
In an age of great preachers, Rev Silvester Horne was said to be one of the greatest. When Kenneth once described Winston Churchill to an old friend as a great orator, his friend looked at him and said, ‘Yes, but then you never heard your father speak, did you?’
Silvester was born in Cuckfield in 15 April 1865 the son of Charles Horne, who was born in 1830. At the time his father was Cuckfield's Congregational minister in Broad Street, Cuckfield between 1862 and 1865.
This church was established in 1820 as the Providence Congregational Chapel it was rebuilt in 1869/70 closed in 1900s and continued to serve the local community until its closure in 1979.
Departure from Cuckfield
But Kenneth’s grandad, who was born in Cuckfield, found it was not easy to raise sufficient money for the stipend. His health suffered ‘owing to the nervous strain of the pastorate’, so Rev Charles resigned from the ministry and moved with his family and new baby to Newport in Shropshire, where he edited a local newspaper.
Young Silvester (Ken’s dad) following his father’s footsteps started preaching in Newport where he learned and practiced the skill of oratory. He built ‘The most considerable Nonconformist place of worship in the town’. He then went to university in Glasgow and Oxford.
After moving down to London his fame and speaking reputation grew after he took over Whitefield's Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Road in 1903, which he rebuilt as Whitefield's Central Mission. He wrote hymns such as ‘Sing to the King who is coming to reign’ which are still sung today. From 1910 until his death he had a national platform for his views as an MP.
Cuckfield Connections featured Silvester’s recollections and observations written in 1914 about Cuckfield in an earlier article ‘… glimpse of country life in Cuckfield’. This was his final visit to Cuckfield as sadly he died the same year while on holiday in Toronto. His memorial service was attended by David Lloyd George who would be Prime Minister two years later.
Kenneth (Charles) Horne was born half a mile away from Tottenham Court Road where his father preached at their home in Ampthill Square, on 27 February 1907, the seventh and youngest child of the Rev Silvester Horne.
One of Kenneth’s earliest memories was going to watch his father in church. Being the smallest, Kenneth was allowed to stand on the pew so that he could see better, and for fun he would sometimes try to sing the hymns faster than the others so that he could beat them to the end.
His father also had a very keen sense of humour and Kenneth believed that it was one of the reasons why his father packed his church three times every Sunday: ‘He wanted his congregation to have a good laugh and sing some good songs, and then tell them what they had come to hear.’
After leaving the RAF, Kenneth successfully combined two careers, as a businessman and a broadcaster, until he suffered a stroke in 1958 and had to cut short his business career.
During his convalescence he helped to devise the legendary radio series ‘Beyond Our Ken’ in which he presided amiably over a cast of anarchic characters played by Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee. This was followed by ‘Round the Horne’ which has been called 'the funniest comedy series in radio history'.
This all came to a sad end when in 1969 Kenneth Horne collapsed and died on stage while presenting a television awards programme, the show was carefully edited with the compère Michael Aspel explaining what had just happened. But the brilliance of his comedy programmes lives on in audio recordings that are still avidly listened to today and the double-entendres are also sometimes repeated on staged recreations.
Wikipedia Silvester Horne: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silvester_Horne
Round Mr Horne: The Life of Kenneth Horne, by Barry Johnston, 2013
Portrait of Charles Silvester Horne (featured in frame at top), by Reginald Haines (1872-1941)
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.