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Autumn 2010



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A profile of John Whitworth

In Barrow we seem to be extremely lucky to have a wealth of talented people. Through the pages of Barrow Voice it is possible to show off one of them and learn more about him.

John Whitworth, Pat his wife and their three girls moved from Quorn to Melton Road, Barrow in 1986.

They have always been involved in art and music and from our own experience, as their immediate neighbours, there was nothing better than hearing summer evening rehearsals of The Vautor Ensemble held in their garden. The wonderful sounds of unaccompanied early choral music could be heard wafting over the garden wall under the watchful baton of John, often I might add, accompanied by hoots of raucous laughter as a joke was shared!

John was born at Ely, Cambridgeshire on the 27th December 1921. He recalls a very happy childhood, the youngest of four children, having an older brother and two sisters. His father had a good bass voice and his sister Angela was musical and a talented pianist. John remembers his first musical experience, at the age of four, sitting on his brother's knee and playing the piano with him.

He was educated at Kimbolton School, Huntingdonshire, which he hated! John recalls hating the food, being away from home and the Headmaster! However he had no trouble studying or with other members of staff.

In the 6th form he was the only pupil to study the Arts and English, French, Music etc. He also enjoyed sport, especially cricket and even football, then! Cricket continues to be one of his passions.

When war broke out in 1939, John was 18 years old and his schooling was interrupted as he volunteered for service in the RAF. His desire to be a pilot was thwarted by his failure to pass the eye test so he trained as a Flight Mechanic and served as a Flight Lieutenant. He was transferred to Canada in 1941, travelling on the Queen Elizabeth. Here he worked on Harvard trainer aircraft. While in Canada, John was fortunate enough to sing in the RAF male voice choir and also in the Cathedral in Kingston Ontario, where he regularly practised on the Cathedral organ.

From 1946 to 1949 he was an undergraduate at Kings College Cambridge, having won a scholarship as a Choral Scholar. As a male alto he sang in all the services. On his graduation in 1949 he was appointed as Alto Lay Vicar at Westminster Abbey, a position he held for 22 years. During this time at the Abbey, John developed his career as a soloist and performer. This included singing in specialist small groups such as The Deller Consort, The Golden Age Singers and the Well Tempered Singers, which was a very successful male voice quartet, giving nearly 80 public concerts. John also sang in other specialist choirs such as Schola Polyphonica, and the Renaissance Singers, which he directed for seven years.

He sang as a soloist both in England and abroad, including performing at the Three Choirs Festival and the Festival of Britain, to name two of many. Other solo performances have been at the Albert Hall in the Proms, the Festival Hall, Brompton Oratory, St Paul's Cathedral and of course Westminster Abbey.

He gave over 100 broadcasts for the BBC until his retirement, as well as making many recordings.

During this time he also taught at the Guildhall giving singing lessons to aspiring counter tenors.

John was commissioned to write musical arrangements for groups such as the world renowned Kings Singers.

He was organist from 1965 to 1970 at St Paul's Covent Garden, the Actors' Church as it is known.

In 1963, when they both sang in a Bayswater church choir, he met and married Pat and the next year they had their first daughter Alexandra. Juliet was born the year after, followed by Victoria in 1969. John and the family moved to Leicestershire in 1971 on his appointment as Assistant Music Adviser to the Local Education Authority. Outside education, John was organist and choirmaster at Holy Cross Priory in Leicester until he retired at the age of 80.

John's passion for aircraft is only exceeded by that for his cars. During his life John, has owned over 35 cars including three vintage Rolls Royces (they were cheaper in those days), two Daimlers, two Jaguars, and a Morris Oxford called Emma.

Many people will know John through the family dogs, William and Freddy, and previously Henry, who he regularly walked around the local fields. Some will recognise him as the father of Vicki of Wash and Wags fame. Few will be aware of his remarkable history and his contribution to the world.

John has just completed a book about his life entitled 'Musical Notes'. It will be available to buy at a cost of £20.

To order by email: whitworth833@btinternet.com Ceri Fairbrother