John Howlett RIP

John Howlett 1942 - 2019

John Howlett, who died on Sunday in the Conquest Hospital, “was certainly one of the characters that makes Rye what is,” writes Rye News editor John Minter,” and, as always with the passing of another of them, the town loses, as well as family and friends”.

This week’s acting editor Charles Harkness, as John is away celebrating Mardi Gras, or The Canaries’ equivalent, adds: “I expect others will want to add comments (good and different) as John Minter also wrote (understating things as usual) “[John Howlett] and I may not always have seen eye to eye but I respected his views and his undoubted literary achievements”.

John Howlett appeared in Rye News nearly 40 times, sometimes writing his own opinion column, but often having his activities featured.

John Howlett wore many hats, sometimes putting forward an opinion in a regular column, sometimes in letters, and sometimes in news stories – and always expressing strongly held viewpoints.

Rumour has it that an obituary may appear in The Guardian, and he had a long history as a writer – for film, radio, TV and stage – as well as being a novelist and biographer.

As his books reflect, he read history at Oxford University, and he was one of the  scriptwriters for film director Lindsay Anderson’s award winning film “If….” set in an English boarding school – which was quite critical of the British establishment, and was first drafted during his time at Oxford.

First and last in series
Some of John’s novels

The last meeting I can remember that I had with him was near his Love Lane home at the community garden’s barbecue – and we talked at length about many subjects until the drink ran out, including my experiences at boarding school with a sten gun (but not like “If….”).

However I was surprised to find out, when I used the search button at the bottom of Rye News front page, that foraging for wild food was among his interests.

His activities in the Campaign for Democracy in Rye and the Campaign For Action in Rye showed his concerns for the town and his feeling that politicians had let the town down for years.

However, while on the one hand he could talk about Rye deserving to be a World Heritage  Site, he could also support the move towards a high speed train service and the need for proper parking controls – as Ashford and Tenterden have had for years.

He leaves a wife Ada and daughters Isabelle and Susanna and had a long connection to Italy, apparently even having a farm there at one time.

And he was also once employed in Tunbridge Wells gas works, where a disaster was narrowly avoided when he was engrossed in reading Brecht and not noticing danger signals on the dials in front of him.

Rye News editor John Minter will complain if I write much more – as he often did to John Howlett who would admit he tended to rant (occasionally) at length.

Those on the receiving end of such rants included all three local councils – town, district and county; the government and governments in general; the Highways Agency and the Environment Agency; railway companies and their staff; and the academy then running local schools.

John Howlett presides over an animated Q and A session

And he was always concerned about what did, or might, impact on local people – whether it was the schools sinking into a large puddle; pedestrians being mown down in Deadman’s Lane; or town traffic causing life or death situations.

But he talked as well as writing and, apart from asking awkward questions at public meetings, he also gave entertaining talks in Rye and the surrounding area about his life and work.

For more information visit, search Rye News or look at any comments below – as a few observations or anecdotes are anticipated.

Image Credits: Ada Howlett , Seana Lanigan .


  1. We knew John as a neighbour, and as a warm and generous host. It was not possible to visit his house without accepting something to drink and a delicious Italian delicacy made by Ada. Our experience of John was that of being in the company of someone fiercely clever and amusing, happy to have fierce arguments for hours on end that always ended on a friendly note. He was a huge character and will be sorely missed.

  2. I knew John (and Ada) for almost 40 years and am returning to Rye this month after a long absence to a huge void in my social diary as well as the loss of a dear friend. John was unique, fascinating and above all warm and loving man; time spent in his company was a time never to be forgotten.

  3. To be in John’s company’s was to experience warmth, energy, engagement, sharp and ready wit; all built on a foundation of compassion. This was a man who filled a space much larger than his physical frame; for whom plain goodness was a habit of life. We mourn him because we have lost a vital presence, a trusted point of reference but most of all a friend.


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