Kit Hesketh-Harvey, screenwriter, composer and lyricist, dies aged 65

The British entertainer said to be a favourite of King Charles, whose credits ranged from Merchant Ivory and opera to The Vicar of Dibley, has died

Kit Hesketh-Harvey, the British composer and screenwriter who counted the royals as fans, has died aged 65.

The entertainer had a long and multifaceted career, working in theatre, television, music and film. Hesketh-Harvey worked on BBC shows, including the hit sitcom The Vicar of Dibley, and until 2012 was part of the long-running cabaret duo Kit and the Widow alongside pianist Richard Sisson. He wrote the screenplay for the 1987 Merchant Ivory film Maurice, which starred a young Hugh Grant, and was adept at playing a variety of pantomime baddies. King Charles was said to be a great admirer of his work.

Born Christopher John “Kit” Hesketh-Harvey in the former Nyasaland (now Malawi), he was educated at Canterbury Cathedral and then Tonbridge School in Kent. He studied English literature at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was also a member of the Footlights drama club. Later he would study under Stephen Sondheim during his visiting professorship at Oxford University.

Hesketh-Harvey and his then wife Catherine Rabett in 2004.
Hesketh-Harvey and his then wife, Catherine Rabett, in 2004. Photograph: Judy Totton/REX/Shutterstock

A keen lyricist, Hesketh-Harvey also boasted a great knowledge of classical music and opera. In 2010 he wrote a piece for the Guardian about the challenges he faced working on a script for Monteverdi’s Flying Circus, a stage show about the father of modern opera’s final days: “His musical vocabulary is arcane to modern ears. There are long episodes of recitative which are too often accompanied by restless coughing in the stalls. The instrumentation and the ornamentation are unfamiliar. The three or four-hour operatic scenarios are less approachable to an audience used to those punchier, later Italians, Verdi and Puccini.” His version of Donizetti’s comic opera Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali – which he had titled Viva la Diva – was performed at Buxton international festival in the summer of 2022.

Until their recent divorce, Hesketh-Harvey had been married to the actor Catherine Rabett, an original member of dance troupe Hot Gossip and a former girlfriend of Prince Andrew. The pair split in 2021, after 35 years of marriage. They had two children, Augusta and Rollo. Hesketh-Harvey was also the brother of former Today editor Sarah Sands. Speaking to the Independent, Sands said: “Kit was dazzling – clever, original, funny, kind. The last time I saw him he was busy mapping out pilgrim routes across Norfolk; there was always the next adventure, the next joke. He gave and gave and gave.”


Tim Jonze

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Kit Hesketh-Harvey obituary
Writer, broadcaster and half of the renowned cabaret act Kit and the Widow

Michael Coveney

03, Feb, 2023 @3:47 PM

Article image
Composer Harrison Birtwistle dies aged 87
The prolific British composer drew on poetry and folklore for his uncompromising but lyrical music. A Proms’ premiere, Panic, brought him national notoriety

Imogen Tilden

18, Apr, 2022 @2:04 PM

Article image
Composer Oliver Knussen dies aged 66
Peers pay tribute to a force of nature, the British composer and conductor who was ‘one of the most important musicians of our time’

Imogen Tilden

09, Jul, 2018 @12:47 PM

Article image
Peter Zinovieff, British composer and synth pioneer, dies aged 88
The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk all used Zinovieff’s EMS synthesisers

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

26, Jun, 2021 @11:13 AM

Article image
Neal E Boyd, opera singer who won America's Got Talent, dies aged 42
Singer who was inspired by the Three Tenors and won the contest in 2008 suffered heart and kidney failure

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

12, Jun, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky dies aged 55
The Russian singer, hailed as one of the world’s greatest, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2015

Imogen Tilden

22, Nov, 2017 @12:20 PM

Article image
Les Misérables lyricist Herbert Kretzmer dies aged 95
Former journalist penned English lyrics to the megahit musical and wrote songs including Aznavour’s She

Tim Jonze

14, Oct, 2020 @12:12 PM

Article image
Effigies of Wickedness review – Nazis' 'degenerate' songs pack a powerful punch
The subversive, hard-hitting - and funny - music by composers banned by the Nazis is the real star of this charming cabaret show

Erica Jeal

16, May, 2018 @11:49 AM

Article image
Now I’m Fine review – candid gem mixes standup and mesmerising music
Ahamefule J Oluo’s 2014 show about having an autoimmune disease is a moving hybrid of comedy, theatre and jazz

Arifa Akbar

02, Apr, 2020 @12:15 PM

Article image
Influential composer Krzysztof Penderecki dies aged 86
Polish musician won numerous awards, scored The Exorcist, and was admired by rock stars

Imogen Tilden and agencies

29, Mar, 2020 @11:42 AM