Kit Hesketh-Harvey biography

<span>Photo: Ian Cook/Getty Images</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/” data- src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/”/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Photo: Ian Cook/Getty Images

You could easily assume that Kit Hesketh-Harvey, who has died unexpectedly aged 65, was a return to the literary, sarcastic and wonderful tradition of singing – as a lyricist – by Cole Porter. , Noël Coward, Michael Flanders and Tom Lehrer. And you would be right.

He used this gift to put words to music, over four decades, for several obsessions and talented contemporary composers. His cabaret act with pianist and composer Richard Sisson, Kit and the Widow, became a popular UK club, restaurant and touring gig.

He and the “widow”, Sisson, had a hearty hatred for each other, according to their friend and colleague at Cambridge University, the tenor Simon Butteriss, but they created a body of work that he and they deserve lasting recognition.

When the cabaret Figgy Pudding (1988) appeared as a Christmas show at the Lyric, Hammersmith (with an unknown Steve Coogan swooping in with impressions), comedy critic Bruce Dessau admitted his guilty pleasures: cheap chocolate, boy bands, vote Labor … and Kit and the Widow.

Their songs, along with Aida’s Interesting songs, take you back to a melodic, witty and voluminous, pre-Monty Python, revue era. Hesketh-Harvey himself appeared in Cameron Mackintosh’s second Stephen Sondheim cabaret, Putting It Together (1992), at the Old Fire Station in Oxford alongside Diana Rigg and Clarke Peters; in a touring revival of Mackintosh’s Tomfoolery in 2005, celebrating Lehrer’s sharp genius; and in another revival of Cowardy na Mermaid’s wonderful revue, Cowardy Custard, in 2011.

Kit Hesketh-Harvey telling The Story of James Bond, A Tribute to Ian Fleming, at the London Palladium in 2008.

Kit Hesketh-Harvey telling The Story of James Bond, A Tribute to Ian Fleming, at the London Palladium in 2008. Photo: Rex/Shutterstock

He was also a distinguished opera librettist: BBC Radio 3’s Petroc Trelawny approved of his light hand in comic opera translation and the skill with which he could recreate European operatic plots – Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia, La Belle Hélḕne with Offenbach – for English sensibilities at the ENO. His last opera work, with composer Anthony Bolton, was The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko for Grange Park Opera in 2021. Thrilling, but flawed, said one critic.

Kit was born in Zomba, Nyasaland (now Malawi), to Susan (née Ford) and Noel Harvey, a Foreign Office diplomat who, on his return to England, joined the BBC as a manager – a post which made it easy to get into son BBC arts and music world in 1980.

He was educated at the cathedral choir school, Canterbury – where he was a senior chorister – and at Tonbridge school, Kent, before going to Clare College, Cambridge, where, as a choral scholar under the composer John Rutter, he studied English and entered the College. Footlights. He graduated in 1978 and toured the UK and US in a student production of The Comedy of Errors, with his future agent, Peter Bennett-Jones.

From 1980 to 1985 Hesketh-Harvey was a BBC producer, linked to music and arts and an 11-episode theater history presented by Ronald Harwood, All the World’s a Stage. His first script – and only script – was for the film Merchant Ivory Maurice (1987), directed by Hugh Grant. In 1998, he wrote Writing Orlando with James McConnel (winner of the Vivian Ellis award) and joined him on the Dame Edna Everage show at the Haymarket, directed by Alan Strachan.

It may be true that Hesketh-Harvey was the ultimate act – when that word wasn’t always offensive – but such innovative, argumentative creatures are rare and precious.

The “thought” of a highly critical artist such as Hesketh-Harvey, contradicting his privileged background, is endemic to our cultural evolution. He was a significant figure even if not quite appropriate in the current era of censorship.

That said, his appearance in Ned Sherrin’s revival of Salad Days in 1996 was a disaster. This was in the same theater, the Vaudeville, as the show premiered in 1954, but this time with the expression the wrong tone and it fell flat on its face. However, Hesketh-Harvey remained friends with the author, Julian Slade. Much better was his Christmas show 1998, Meat on the Bone, also at the Vaudeville, where he excoriated white vans and the Minister of the Labor Party at the time Peter Mandelson, and introduced Coogan.

For all his talent and intelligence, Hesketh-Harvey didn’t make it through, which we regret. He was the private knight of the aristocracy, and indeed royalty – King Charles thought he was very funny – enlivening parties and birthday celebrations at, say, Highclere (the setting of Downton Abbey).

He was a pantomime boy at the Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford, and a regular on such BBC Radio 4 programs as Just a Minute and Quote… Unquote. It showed a waning, though still fragile, literacy where words and inflections still matter.

In 1990, he signed up for the first Cameron Mackintosh-sponsored professorship at Oxford, directed by Sondheim, who became his friend and mentor. After that, he wrote several other clever and piquant shows with Sisson before they went their separate ways in 2011. That year he was part of the first Comedy Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, appearing alongside lyricist (and clever composer others), Tim Minchin. This was at the invitation of Roger Wright, director of the Proms at the time and director of BBC Radio 3, another mentor.

A duo with his long-time collaborator, Kit & McConnel, continued to perform whenever he was invited. Crazy Coqs in Brasserie Zedel, near Piccadilly Circus, was a favorite venue.

His marriage to actress Katie Rabett in 1986 ended in divorce in 2021. He is survived by their children, Augusta and Rollo, his sisters Sarah and Joanna, and his mother.

• Kit (Christopher) John Hesketh-Harvey, writer, broadcaster and cabaret performer, born 30 April 1957; died 1 February 2023

Leave a comment