My father, Noel Harvey, was District Commissioner in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in Africa. His final job there was transferring British Rule to Independent Rule in the mid-1960s. Mother was the daughter of a timber merchant. During WW2, her father was the Chief Fire Officer for Surrey. They have now retired to Swaffham, and Dad, at nearly 90 and a keen birdwatcher, spends much of his time on the marshes peering through binoculars or swimming with his old school mate, the Reverend Kit Chalcraft. My widowed and much loved mother-in-law, Jane Rabbett, also lives nearby, in Northwold. My sister Sarah lives at Marham (Abbey).
I was born in the Officers’ Hospital in Zomba, a stunning Dutch Colonial town on the slopes of a high, misty plateau reminiscent of Scotland. There were three of us children, of whom I was the eldest. We spent weekends on the Lake shores amid the fishermen, and the crocs and hippos. 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.
My sister Joanna is married to a charming Scotsman. Sarah is editor of the BBC ‘Today’ programme. Her son lives at Bodney Hall, on a bend in the Wissey by the military training area. It’s wonderful to have them all so close.
In the tradition of my family, I was sent to the Cathedral Choir School at Canterbury where I served as Head Chorister. In those days, with 30 masters for 50 pupils, it was an intense, extraordinary education. I feel privileged to have lived and worked amidst that magnificent architecture, to be exposed to such great music, to learn Latin and medieval history and to be a professional musician at the age of 12.
From there I went to Tonbridge, an independent school on the other side of the county. Although noted for sport, I preferred literature, drama, and music. Afterwards I 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.
I then went to Clare College, Cambridge as a music and English scholar, where I sang under the guidance of the great John Rutter. And 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, both were going through a Golden Age.
After graduating I worked for five years as a Staff Producer in the BBC Music and Arts Department. The playwright Ronald Harwood, a genial man, was my first boss. Later, it was Alan Yentob. It paid badly, so I began singing in the growing cabaret scene in London’s Soho. When film producers Merchant-Ivory asked me to co-script their next project, the award-winning film ‘Maurice’, I took the job gladly.
After which, during the past 30 years, I have worked variously in cabaret as Kit and the Widow, later Kit and McConnel, and on several West End shows and Channel 4 TV Specials, as well as touring alongside the late Joan Rivers. Fringe theatres in N. London pubs, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden have made use of my directing. I still get royalties from script writing for ‘The Vicar of Dibley’. I’m looking after Alexander Armstrong’s upcoming National Tour, and I’m a feature writer and ‘Agony Uncle’ for Country Life magazine. For a seventh season at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, I’ll tackle the panto villainy.
So I’m a jack of all trades, but master of very few. I’ve no unfulfilled ambitions because I’ve never had any. I’ve just taken the job that came along. But I would like to see a staging of ‘Yusupov’, the musical I wrote while studying under Stephen Sondheim. And that might happen —–
My favourite cabaret venues? The Dorchester and Savoy for bigger events, but I’m thrilled that with the revival of cabaret in the UK there are now two specially restored venues in London at which we’ve had residencies.
I met my wife Kate in Panto in Brighton in 1984. We were married in Canterbury Cathedral. Her family is local and I too have ancestral connections to East Anglia, which is why we came here at the birth of our first child, Augusta, in 1987. Our son Rollo was born at King’s Lynn and the children have lived here all their lives. Both are presently in London, but both, I’m happy to say, have partners with Norfolk connections, so I’m sure they will be returning here at some stage.
We bought Park House here and set about restoring it. There are considerable Harvey family links to Stoke Ferry and the many Harvey’s in the church are all, like myself, connected to the Dr. William Harvey who discovered the circulation of the blood. When the church was put up for sale in 1999, the central carpet was pulled up, and the organ casement removed, both revealing further Harvey tombs. We now use the chancel as a chapel and the former nave for arts events: concerts, exhibitions and carol services. I have a writing room in the former vestry
My favourite part of Norfolk is here, the Breckland. Its a magical and unique landscape, with its blond heathlands, twisted pines, dark forests and murmuring waters, which ought to be fiercely defended against depredation. For me, its best seen on horseback.
Stoke Ferry’s future? As my views are well known there is no need to go into them here. Nor is this the right place.
I write, I love words. My favourite reading – Orhan Pamuk, Tolstoy, Sebag Montefiore, reflect that.
My favourite local foods – samphire, seafood, venison. Kate is an amazing cook and I therefore dislike chancing it in restaurants. For a holiday I do like to go to Cornwall for its waves, and to south-west Morocco for its music and its horses. But I’m a homebody when it comes to holidays. Nothing can beat Park House, the church in which I write, and the forests and friends and family amongst which I am lucky to live…..
Edited by Jean Marler on behalf of the Editor