Born in Margate, Trevor Howard and Ballard Berkeley.

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The accounts given in books about the lives of our favourite stars of the screen are usually pretty informative, but there are always exceptions and that was the case regarding an actor that I admired greatly, the late, great Trevor Howard. Folk were always asking me where it was in Cliftonville that he had been born, and I had to answer that the fact was nobody seemed to know exactly where the happy event took place and, equally to the point, when it happened, as he published, date of birth seemed to vary quite a lot, Eventually, Alf Beeching and myself decided that we had to find the truth.

The details proved to be a bit of a devil to unravel, but perseverance eventually paid off. It all started some 25 years back now when I bought a postcard showing the naming of a boat, the JOLLY ROGER, at Margate Harbour in 1927, by actor Fred Kitchen. Fred Kitchen’s picture made me sit up just a little bit as his facial features bore more than a passing resemblance to Trevor Howard. I had this card in my pocket one day when, during a chat with veteran Margatonian, the late Norman Dening, I showed it to him, and pointed out the people in it, Boatman Fred Mackie he knew straight away, and then, pointing to Fred Kitchen, he told me that he was Trevor Howards uncle, and that he had done decorating work for Fred Kitchen’s brother Clement, who had lived in Tivoli Road, and a quick check in Kellly’s Directory confirmed that fact to be true.

Information gleaned from biographies told us that Trevor Howard was the son of a gentleman who worked in the Colonial Office, and that he was born on the 29th of September, 1916, at Cliftonville. We then tried to confirm this date by enquiring at the Register Office at Ramsgate, but there was no record for the birth listed there for that date. A computer search for a period of a year either side of that date was instigated, still with no result and then the search was extended to 2½ years either side still he wasn’t there.

It was frustrating to draw a complete blank over this 5 year period, and we decided that a different tack might produce a result. Study in my old film books and Alf’s researches eventually produced the breakthrough. Alf discovered that Fred Kitchen hailed originally from Vancouver, as did Mabel Grey Wallace, the mother of Trevor Howard, so it may well be that any link with the Kitchen was through the female side of the family. But although we had gone so far in our search, the main goal still eluded us.

Eventually, a search was initiated by Alf into the National Register of births and finally located the vital missing piece of this very strange jigsaw puzzle. The National Register provided the information that Trevor Wallace Howard Smith was born on the 29th of September, 1913, (so he was 3 years older than he let on!) at number 2, Harold Rod, Cliftonville, which was a private hotel and boarding house run by Misses Mant, The birth was not registered until the 15th of December, by his mother, and his father listed as Arthur John Howard Smith, not of the Colonial Service but the Manager of a Life Assurance Company, The mystery is solved at last!

A quick word about another famous character actor who was born here. Remember Ballard Berkeley, the wonderfully urbane and confused Major Gowan of “Fawlty Towers” fame, in which he provided a superb foil for the manic activities of John Cleese? He started life in 1904 at number 194, High Street, where his father, J. Blascheck, a concert party comedian, was lodging with his family whilst appearing here. A change of surname to the more acceptable English sounding Berkeley after the Great War saw him embark on a successful film and stage career in 1930, which endured until his death in 1984.

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