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In 1975 gained a place at Clare College, Cambridge to study Music and English as an undergraduate. He then deferred his entry and said he : "Spent a gap year touring the Middle East, working on a kibbutz and riding in North Africa, as well as teaching English and music. That's when I learned to appreciate Islamic culture, which has, of late, been so sadly misrepresented".When he returned and joined the University he said he : "Sang under the guidance of the great John Rutter", but also : "Spent far too much time in the 'Footlights' or undergraduate theatres, with many now well-known and distinguished actors there at that time, including Stephen Fry, High Laurie, Emma Thomson and Gryff Rhys Jones". “We seemed to spend most of our time in frocks, having the most fantastic time”.
Kit later said about his audiences : "If you can coax them in your beautiful Oxbridge accent and you choir boy training and careful lyric writing to get their attention and then you stick the knife in, you're not preaching to the converted and you were preaching to the unconverted, which is much more valuable. Too often, looking back, we were perceived as toffs. I'm not really a toff. I'm not really and imperialist, but I can pretend to be a toff and an imperialist". Then, for example, he would 'stick the knife in' drawing attention to Clause 28, the series of laws across Britain which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities or would say : "Look, Africa's on its knees. We should be helping it" and in relation to states in Africa : "But look, China's buying everything".
Kit took great pleasure when he described when he met Margaret Thatcher after she had retired as Prime Minister. He and Richard were to play at Jeffery Archer's house at the Old Vicarage in the village of Granchester, Cambridge, where she and her husband Denis were in the audience. Kit had half an hour's chat with her after the performance. He recalled : "She was just beginning to lose it. All her power at that stage was diminished, but her acolytes were there. You could see her thinking that : 'This is quite an interesting way of speaking truth to power' and the old girl slightly melted". (link)
The house was close to the River Cam and Kit continued : "It was wonderful because Denis was still alive and he was trying to shake off his 'Close Protection Squad' and went down to the secret grove where Rupert Brooke, where the golden children of the Edwardian period used to swim naked and got it out and started pissing away. And all the guards came down on him and tried to drag him back he said : "Can't a fellow have a piss in peace ?" There was wee everywhere. It was lovely. I giggled".
At the age of thirty-six in 1987, it was film producers Merchant-Ivory who had asked him : "To co-script their next project, the award-winning film 'Maurice', I took the job gladly", featuring Hugh Grant in one of his first screen roles. (link)
In 1990, the great American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim was made the first visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at St Catherine’s College Oxford for one year and Kit was recruited as he he said, as one of his small group of eleven students who were his "disciples". He said that he benefited from the great composer's "intellectual generosity" and said he had that : "Quiet confidence of a man who knows he's a genius" and : "He upbraided me for rhyming 'sirocco' with 'morocco' saying : "Because it's an 'identity' not a 'rhyme'. Go away and think of something else. A near rhyme is worse than no rhyme at all". Kit concluded : "We all benefited vastly form the experience and the little flames he lit are still burning away, a bit haphazardly, because theatre is very haphazard business".(link)
Kit said that he loved appearing in pantomime, usually playing the baddie such as 'King Rat' in a Dick Whittington at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, where as a child he had been taken by his grandmother. He regarded panto as an important part of a child’s cultural development and said of his role : "It's always 'villain' and I wouldn't do anything else. Villains traditionally come on first, so you've got a minute and you've got kids in the audience who've probably never been to the theatre before. You've got people in the audience who don't normally go to the theatre. It's a wonderfully diverse audience and you have, in that minute, to tell these kids : "This isn't X BOX. This isn't Disney. This is theatre and theatre is wonderful and astonishing and I'm going to scare the bejesus out of you". My record is nine children carried out screaming in the first minute and you think : "I've done it" and they came back, pacified with sweeties and then they're rapt".(link)
Kit appeared in his first Comedy Prom at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011 and it was one of the last times 'Kit and the Widow' appeared together on stage. He later re-emerged with the pianist James McConnel as 'Kit and McConnel', though the routine remained largely unchanged. He described James as : "A very talented composer and pianist and generally, all-round genial good egg".
His eight years in Nyasaland had a formative influence on him to the extent he said in 2018 : 'It was a magical childhood from which I learned a great deal, and for which I am very grateful. A few years ago, my sister and I visited this second poorest nation on earth. It is run down these days, but the people remain the same - beautiful, positive and sunny'. In 2020 he told Paddy Cooper : "Growing up there was incredibly instructive of human values of kindness of the environment and I hope that, that has inspired what I've written. My politics, despite my horrible imperialist past, are entirely liberal". In Kit's eyes, his father, played a major role in the creation of an independent Malawi and he said : "My Dad's job was to make sure that Nyasaland was handed over peacefully without bloodshed without a revolution with enough legislature and judiciary and a government structure of Nyasaland Africans, capable of running it smoothly and, bless him, he achieved it. There wasn't a revolution and there wasn't too much bloodshed".(link)
Many years later he recalled 'The Nyasaland Cookery Book' and said : 'All wives of district commissioners were given this book, and my mother's battered copy is something I treasure. It's hilarious. Ovens were incredibly primitive, and the book tells you to throw a piece of paper into them. If it doesn't discolour it's alright for meringues; if it goes yellow it's alright for sponges; if it goes brown it's alright for roasts; if it catches fire, your oven is too hot'.
In 1964 Kit was packed off to an alien country called Britain and, in the family tradition, became a pupil at the boys boarding school, the Cathedral Choir School at Canterbury where, as he said : “Instead of football, we ran races around cloisters where Thomas Becket’s assassins once ran; we played hide and seek amid the tombs of kings; and our rite of passage was to piddle off Bell Harry, the 365ft tower of the cathedral”.
His school experience was to have the second biggest formative influence on his life, as he later reflected : "As a chorister we had to do a service eight times a week, so you got to learn all the great music, a lot about architecture and Latin and how to address an archimandrite and those useless bits of information proved, in the event, terribly useful" and 'In those days, with 30 masters for 50 pupils, it was an intense, extraordinary education'.(link) He considered himself to be : 'A professional musician at the age of 12' and "It was hard work. By God, I was grateful for that".
What a fantastic tribute! He deserved it. JxReplyDelete