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Kenneth Horne
Born Charles Kenneth Horne
27 February 1907(1907-02-27)
St Pancras, London[1]
Died 14 February 1969 (aged 61)
Dorchester Hotel, Westminster, London[2]
Cause of death Heart attack
Nationality British
Occupation Comedian and businessman

Kenneth Horne (27 February 1907 – 14 February 1969) was an English comedian and businessman.


Early life

Born Charles Kenneth Horne,[3] he was the son of Charles Silvester Horne (1865-1914), a Congregationalist minister, Liberal MP for Ipswich, and powerful orator who built the White House in Sandford Avenue, Church Stretton as the family home, and is commemorated by the 'Silvester Horne Institute' in Church Stretton, Shropshire. 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.

He was educated at St George's School, Harpenden and at Magdalene College, Cambridge, from where he was sent down for neglecting his studies. He found a job with the Triplex Safety Glass Company.[4]

During World War II, Horne served in the RAF, reaching the rank of Wing Commander. As part of BBC Radio's support of the war effort, entertainment programmes were devised to target each wing of the armed forces, which led to Horne's involvement in initially, Ack-Ack, Beer-Beer - the title taken from the then-current phonetic alphabet - which he presented, aimed at the Home Defence Systems personnel, and which ran to 324 episodes, and later Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh, set initially at the titular fictitious Royal Air Force station.


Horne was the star of three of the BBC's most popular postwar radio comedies - Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh (with Richard Murdoch, from 1944 to 1953), Beyond Our Ken (1958-64) and Round the Horne (1965-68).

In the last two shows he was supported by Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee. These four played a succession of grotesque characters revolving around the imperturbable establishment figure of Horne himself. He was particularly close to Kenneth Williams, who looked on him as a substitute father. Written for the most part by Barry Took and Marty Feldman, Round the Horne is generally rated alongside The Goon Show and Hancock's Half Hour as the very best of British radio comedy. At its centre was the unflappable Horne, his aura of impeccable respectability lending comic gravitas to scripts that pushed the boundaries of verbal surrealism and sexual innuendo.

As well as being a masterful comedian, Horne was also chairman of Triplex Safety Glass (later merged into Pilkington) and Chad Valley Toys, until giving up his business concerns in 1958, when a debilitating stroke prompted him to concentrate on comedy.

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. Sadly, all that survives of either series is a recording 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 (not to be confused with the later Kenneth Kendall / Anneka Rice show of the same name) for Westward Television. He was made the subject of This is Your Life on 19 February 1962.

His radio appearances were legion, including hosting Housewives' Choice and acting as chairman of Twenty Questions and Top of the Form. He was twice made a guest castaway on Desert Island Discs - first in April 1954 (in tandem with Richard Murdoch) and then in January 1961 (on his own). He was also popular on Woman's Hour and wrote a monthly article for She magazine for over a decade, starting in January 1957.


Kenneth Horne married three times:

  1. In 1930, to Mary Pelham-Clinton-Hope daughter of the 8th Duke of Newcastle. This marriage was annulled in 1933 on the grounds of non-consummation.
  2. To Joan Burgess from 1936 to 1945.
  3. To Marjorie Thomas from 1945 to 1969.


Horne died of a heart attack on Friday 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."

Because of his heart condition, Horne had been prescribed blood-thinning pills, but had stopped taking the anti-coagulants on the misguided advice of a faith healer. 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.

Editions of Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne are regularly broadcast on the digital radio service BBC 7.

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 (2004-5), 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.

Finally, Kenneth Horne is not to be confused with the playwright Kenneth Horne (1900-1975), author of such comedies as Love in a Mist, And This Was Odd, Wolf's Clothing and A Public Mischief.



  • Horne A'Plenty (1968)


  1. ^ GRO Register of Births: JUN 1907 1b 5 PANCRAS - Charles Kenneth Horne
  2. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: MAR 1969 5E 1072 WESTMINSTER - Charles K. Horne, aged 62
  3. ^ Barry Took, "Horne, (Charles) Kenneth (1907–1969)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2005 [1], accessed 17 April 2007
  4. ^ Daily Telegraph 'How bona it was to vada Mr Horne's jolly old eek again' 30 July 2006

External links

Further reading

  • 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)
  • Took, Barry: Laughter in the Air: An Informal History of British Radio Comedy (Robson Books 1976; hardback, ISBN 0-09038-9578-1)


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