Obituary: The Rev John Knight
Thursday 03 February 1994
JOHN KNIGHT was rarely extrovert in the pulpit, although his well- prepared sermons usually included at least one mention of a stage show, an actor or a film star. But the gentle priest did admit to being 'a frustrated actor and singer trying to get out of a shy exterior' and elsewhere he could do an impressive Liberace impersonation in costume, turn into a Cockney dame or become a Somerset yokel.
As a London wartime curate he entertained in the Underground and later as Vicar of St John's, Bethnal Green, found that doing turns in pubs to raise money for the church brought him nearer to the people than any other activity. As a theatre chaplain he once appeared on stage at the Old Vic in The National Health. 'I just went on as I am,' he said, recalling the ward scene.
John Knight was doyen of the theatre chaplains and much loved backstage. He began in the year of his ordination, 1937, with the Chesterfield Hippodrome and for the past 30 years was an Actors' Church Union chaplain in London. During the 1970s he was in charge of St Anne's Soho, in the West End, and assisted at St Paul's, the Actors' Church, in Covent Garden.
Soho was his last parish post but he never even considered giving up work. This year, at the age of 84, he was still looking after the Coliseum, the Fortune, the Duke of York's, the Duchess, the Playhouse and the Royal Opera House, where he might stand for a whole performance. He was also chaplain to the forgotten War Widows Association of Great Britain, whom he would accompany to the Cenotaph on the eve of Remembrance Sunday.
His final church base was as an Honorary Curate at St Alban's, Holborn, where priests vest for Mass next to a memorial to the actor- manager Ben Greet. There in 1987 he marked the Golden Jubilee of his ordination with a magnificent and long Solemn Mass. He was delighted that actors who had never before entered the church had been 'quite overwhelmed by the music, ceremonial and the joyousness of the worship'.
Although a city priest, he enjoyed gardening at his cottage in Islington. This may have been a throwback to his roots in Sussex where the family had worked on the land for generations. John Knight and his brother, the artist Charles Knight, were brought up in Brighton. John became interested in the town's Anglo-Catholic churches and, after studying art and drama, went to Kelham College while Charles moved to Ditchling along with other leading artists.
John could always be relied on at Holborn to produce a well-lettered show-bill-sized notice for the church's courtyard entrance at the end of Brooke Street. It was there that he collapsed last month. He was not in church but in the St Alban's Centre next door singing on stage before an enthralled audience.
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