Anthony Kilmister, chairman and driving force of the Prayer Book Society – obituary

Anthony Kilmister
Anthony Kilmister

Anthony Kilmister, who has died aged 90, was a founder and standard-bearer of the Prayer Book Society, established in 1972 to defend the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Kilmister was one of many Anglicans concerned that the Church of England planned to supplant its established liturgy with the “modern” Alternative Service Book, and in June 1972 he attended a meeting at which it was proposed that a society be established to ensure the continued use of the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible in English churches.

A society was formed which quickly morphed into the Prayer Book Society with a mission “to uphold the worship and doctrine of the Church of England as enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer”.

Kilmister was its founder secretary, then served as deputy chairman before being appointed chairman in 1989. By the time he stood down from that role in 2002 – and became a vice-president for the rest of his life – he had spent 29 years as a national officer of the society.

Kilmister brought many attributes to the Prayer Book Society and his contacts were not the least of them. As a Conservative Party agent from 1954 to 1960 he was well acquainted with politicians, and as secretary of the Cinematograph Trade Benevolent Fund, organising the annual Royal Command Film Performances from 1961 to 1972, he knew many stars and had useful contacts in royal circles.

The Society became strongly established with a branch in every diocese and secured the patronage of the Prince of Wales, who famously declared in a speech in 1989 that by turning its back on the Book of Common Prayer, the Church had helped push the English language into a “dismal wasteland of banality, cliché and casual obscenity” and likened the Church’s modern prayers and services to the “newspeak” of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

A meeting with Charles (now Lord) Moore, then editor of the Spectator and a Society trustee, led to the creation of the Cranmer Awards – a prize competition for schoolchildren declaiming by heart passages from the Book of Common Prayer. The competition has been held annually since 1989.

During Kilmister’s time with the Society there was no staffed office. His house in Northwood, north west London, effectively fulfilled this role and Tony and his wife Sheila were the staff.

While the Church of England (Worship & Doctrine) Measure was passed and new liturgies authorised, it is to the credit of the Society and Kilmister’s hard work that the Book of Common Prayer has continued in use. Indeed today its standing with the clergy is said to be growing.

Charles Alaric Anthony Kilmister was born in Swansea on July 22 1931, the eldest of three sons of Claude Kilmister, a GP, and his wife Margaret (née Gee). He was educated at Shrewsbury School and during his National Service was commissioned into the Welch Regiment.

Following his appointments in the Conservative Party and the Cinematograph Trade Benevolent Fund (he was elected a Barker of the Variety Club of Great Britain), he was executive director of the Parkinson’s Disease Society from 1972 to 1991.

In addition he and his wife founded the Prostate Research Campaign UK.

Anthony Kilmister was awarded a Lambeth MA by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, he became a Freeman of the City of London in 2003 and in the 2005 New Year’s Honours List he was appointed OBE “for services to health and the Prayer Book Society”.

In 1958 he married Sheila Harwood. She died in 2006. They had no children. In 2016 he married Christine Woodworth (née Batho), whom he met in the retirement village to which they had both moved, and who survives him.

Anthony Kilmister, born July 22 1931 , died March 13 2022