Kenneth Essex, a London violist who performed with the Beatles, has raised over £16,000 for Moorfields Eye Hospital by walking 10 km before his 100th birthday.

Kenneth Essex holding his thump up in show of support.
The viola virtuoso is raising money for an eye hospital. Photo: Kenneth Essex’s family.

With a musical career spanning nearly six decades, Mr Essex was a former member of the Hurwitz String Quartet, founded in 1946 by prominent British violinist Emanuel Hurwitz. The ensemble performed on the iconic Beatles track ‘Yesterday’, recorded in the summer of 1965. 

Among his many achievements, Mr Essex played in the string quartet that worked on the theme tune for the 70s British sitcom Fawlty Towers, performed at the Royal Variety, and recorded a solo piece for the soundtrack of the 1981 romantic drama The French Lieutenant’s Woman, starring Meryl Streep. 

The Muswell Hill resident also took part in several Eurovision competitions and played the incidental music for the British sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. Mr Essex’s distinguished career as a prolific orchestral and session musician has made him a well-respected figure in the classical music scene. 

Mr Essex was born on July 20, 1920, and raised in Hinckley, a market town in southwest Leicestershire. His father was a baker and confectionery manager who encouraged Mr Essex to take up the violin. 

Mr Essex went on to win the under-14 violin solo competition at the Loughborough Music Festival and was encouraged by his teacher to take up the viola.

Mr Essex recorded music for film scores, TV show theme tunes, and pop stars. Photo: Kenneth Essex’s family.

In 1937, Mr Essex was accepted by the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, the UK’s oldest conservatoire, where he studied the viola and became a member of the Hurwitz String Quartet. 

Mr Essex spent six years in the Royal Navy during the Second World War where he was posted to HMS Euryalus and HMS Belfast. After the war, Mr Essex joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra and later the London Symphony Orchestra as principal viola. 

Mr Essex is currently undergoing treatment for macular degeneration at Moorfields Eye Hospital. In an effort to raise money for Moorfields Eye Charity, he organised a walkathon and planned to walk 500m in the ten days leading up to his 100th birthday to reach his goal of 10 km. 

Having exceeded his fundraising target of £1,000, Mr Essex has increased the target to £20,000.

Chief Executive of Moorfields Eye Hospital Robert Dufton said, “Kenneth is an inspiration and we can’t thank him enough for his support. Research into macular degeneration at Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology will help us understand this eye condition and change the lives of people with sight loss in the UK and around the world.”

Beatles violist holds a card from the Queen on his special day.
Kenneth holds a card from the Queen on his special day. Photo: Kenneth Essex’s family.

On his 100th birthday, Mr Essex was sent a letter from the Queen and celebrated the milestone with his family. He was greeted by his neighbours outside his North London home as they sang ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’.

Click here to help Mr Essex achieve his new fundraising goal.

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Zayna is an events content producer at Salesforce Ben, a freelance writer at LeadGeneratorsDigital, and a journalist at Good News Shared. She hopes to cast light on the ripple effect of small acts of kindness that lead to great waves of change.

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