The renowned Classical (Straight) and Theatre Organist, John Howlett (1906-1985), enjoyed a remarkable musical career.  As a Theatre Organist, his career began in 1925 and continued until 1958.  He was greatly admired by fellow Organists and public  alike and his genial manner made him a popular host and member of any group.  He held a number of positions as Resident Organist throughout Britain during his career and also presented a huge number of broadcasts for BBC Radio between 1928 and 1958.  In addition to his theatrical career, he remained a Church Organist and a Choir Master, pursuits which began at a very early age and which continued well into his retirement years.  During the Second World War, he was a member of the Royal Navy and escaped death on several occasions.  After the war, he resumed his career as a Theatre Organist in a number of cinemas together with making a large number of broadcasts for BBC Radio.  However, it was his final post that was perhaps his most prestigious.  This position was as Resident Organist of the Odeon Theatre Leicester Squarewhich he jokingly referred to as The Leicester Square Mission Hall and which is perhaps why the Theatre Organist, Gerald Shaw, gave Mr. Howlett the nickname of The Bishop.  He remained the Resident Organist at the Odeon Theatre Leicester Square from 1947 until 1958 after which he retired to live in Kent, but still accepted invitations to play both Pipe and Theatre Organs.  During his retirement, he enjoyed tending to his garden and giving dinner parties for his many of his friends and erstwhile colleagues.  In addition, he traveled abroad where he was invited to give a number of concerts which were always well received.


John Howlett playing his signature tune, My Song Goes Round the World by Hans May (1886-1958), at
The Theatre Organ of The Granada Theatre Tooting on 9th March, 1965
to introduce a programme for the BBC Light Programme



See below for a list of all pages of this series

3 thoughts on “JOHN HOWLETT – ORGANIST

  1. Emma Coleman

    I have to say I was welling up as I read this biography. I was just ten years old when he passed away and although I know of my grandfather’s life from my mother’s stories, it was deeply moving to read about him in the lovely, glowing terms in which you wrote. It was like being able to look back in time for me at a man I only knew after his strokes when my mother nursed him so compassionately and selflessly.

    I thank you very sincerely for this opportunity to see the elderly, very poorly man I knew with fresh eyes. I can now see him in my mind’s eye as a young vibrant, talented man which makes me smile and replaces the images I had previously of a heart-breakingly diminished man.

    May he live on forever young in your kind words.

    With love and affection for you for doing this.

  2. Jean Collen

    I was most interested to read your account of the life of John Howlett, an organist previously unknown to me. There are some fascinating photographs of the organist included in your articles. By the way, the tune which you have called “My Song Goes Round the World” is actually a melody which was popular in World War One, entitled “Let the Rest of the World Go By”!


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