Knights' founder dies on day Sidmouth store shuts
PUBLISHED: 15:20 05 June 2010 | UPDATED: 14:03 18 June 2010
ON the very day that Knights of Sidmouth closed its doors for the last time on Saturday, its founder, Gerald Knight, died at Sidmouth Hospital aged 96. The strange part about it is it was almost exactly to the hour.
ON the very day that Knights of Sidmouth closed its doors for the last time on Saturday, its founder, Gerald Knight, died at Sidmouth Hospital aged 96.
"The strange part about it is it was almost exactly to the hour. It is a real coincidence, he started and finished the business," said his widow, Joanna, at her Manor Road home.
Gerald Winston Knight was born in Richmond in 1913 and his future wife was born in Oxford but lived in Bournemouth where Gerald's family moved to.
"I met him as I was leaving school," said Joanna, who was born in 1916. "Gerald started the business in Sidmouth in 1937 - when he was 24 - and we married in Bournemouth in 1938 and moved to Sidmouth together."
Although she didn't help in the fashion store, Joanna helped her husband do the buying, something they continued to do for most of the 73 years Knights was in Sidmouth.
"I don't think he retired until he was 89 because we were still buying," she said, adding Gerald also held fashion shows for charity, using Sidbury Manor as one venue.
Gerald expanded his store by buying Vanity Fayre next door. Over the centuries the building has been a fashion shop. Younger son Keith said: "Most people remember it as a cinema, but it was only a cinema for 16 years until 1929. In the late 1700s it started as a ladies' outfitters and went through several guises as a clothes shop."
Both Keith and older son Gordon, have worked in the store, with Gordon keeping an eye on the finances for the past 50 years. Keith joined in 1967.
But Gerald Knight will not just be remembered in Sidmouth as being the man behind Knights' store, as he founded Sidmouth Musical Comedy Society in post-war 1940s. "The main part of his life was starting the Musical Comedy Society," said Joanna. "He wrote, composed and orchestrated works for the society. All the shows were done for charity and Gerald and I performed in them as well."
Ivor Novello gave him special permission to stage his favourite, The Dancing Years, in which he played the Count, and he also wrote original works, such as School for Love, Gypsy Moon and Queen of Hearts.
A review in the Sidmouth Observer in 1945 of Over She Goes - Gerald's third production - says: "The essence of a Winston Knight production is its joyousness...Particularly noticeable is the way Mr Knight discovers someone who has never been on stage before and gets him inside the skin of a part with extraordinary felicity."
He also wrote many pantomines for local children and one, Simple Simon had positive reviews in 1949.
"He played the organ and was a very fine pianist," added Joanna.
Next week SMCS will present High Society at Manor Pavilion Theatre, dedicating it to his memory.
Mr Knight's funeral will take place at Sidmouth Methodist Church at 2pm on Friday, June 11. His favourite song from The Dancing Years - My Dearest Love - will be played during the service.