Fred Kitchen: Cooked Up Comedy with Karno

Fred Kitchen (1872-1951) was the most legendary member of three generations of British music hall Kitchens. His father, Richard Henry “R.H.” KItchen (1830-1910) was on the boards for six decades, a ballet master, panto artist, and clown who worked at Drury Lane. Fred made his debut at age seven. He’d been a professional for nearly 20 years when Fred Karno caught his act in Glasgow and hired him to be his lead comic. It was as the star of Karno’s Speechless Comedians that Kitchen gained his lasting fame, for not only did he star in such sketches as “His Majesty’s Guests”, “Moses and Son”, “The Bailiffs”, and “The Football Match”, but he was a mentor to and major influence on a young Charlie Chaplin, who borrowed his oversized slapshoes and splay-footed waddle from Kitchen. This photo of Kitchen as a pantomime dame circa 1900 provides a little pictorial evidence:

After 1910, Kitchen went out as a solo, and Chaplin became the star of the Karno company. In 1913 Kitchen gave a command performance to King George V. In 1914 (probably inspired by the success of Chaplin), Kitchen starred in his one silent film comedy Freddie’s Nightmare, but the process seems not to have agreed with him, for he made only a handful of scattered film appearances after that. But he remained a hard working man of the stage for three more decades.

However, his son, Fred Kitchen Jr (1902-1973), who started out with his dad in music hall and pantomime, did have a decent career in films and television from 1944 through 1967.

Fred Kitchen Sr’s popular catchphrase was “Meredith, we’re in!”, which I’ve also seen rendered as “We’re in, Meredith!” and “Meredith, We’ve arrived!” It became the title of his autobiography, which was discovered posthumously and published by his grandson Frederick Simon KItchen-Dunn in 2013. 

To learn more about vaudeville and music hall, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on slapstick and physical comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.