Brigadier John Cornell, one of the leading lights of the Kennet Valley Arts Trust, has died following a short illness, at the age of 81.

Brigadier Cornell, who died on May 5, served as chairman of Kennet Valley Arts Trust for many years. He leaves his wife, Caroline, three sons, Mark, David and Tom, and 11 grandchildren.

KVAT colleagues said this week that, due to Mr Cornell’s determination and tenacity, the charity is building up a very strong audience base for popular movies and exciting live performances, such as The National Theatre and The Glyndebourne Season.

They said Mr Cornell, who lived at Sharcott near Pewsey, never wavered in his enthusiasm for promoting the aims of KVAT to bringing arts events to the local community.

Rosie Hill, a fellow board member of the arts organisation, gave a tribute at the town hall on May 23, packed out for the showing of Quartet. She said: “We owe him a big debt of gratitude and he will be very much missed.”

Diana Turnbull, who worked closely with Mr Cornell, said: “It is deeply regrettable that he left us just as our film programme is becoming so successful, and before the final development of a cinema, on which he had spent so much time.

“It was his vital interest to re-establish the development of a new cinema for Marlborough, and in keeping the idea alive, he enabled us to achieve all that we have accomplished to date.”

Born in London and educated at Winchester College, Brigadier Cornell was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade in 1952, serving in Kenya, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and India.

He was made a CBE in 1981 and retired in 1986. His last posting was as military advisor to the High Commission in New Delhi.

After retiring from the Army, he took over the charity Gap Activity Projects, the body dedicated to international volunteering.

Over 14 years he rebuilt GAP from near obsolescence to an international organisation responsible for providing vital volunteer support across an array of services including teaching, healthcare and environmental work. At its peak GAP operated in 35 countries.

He was also responsible for opening up the GAP year from privately educated English men to young men and women from every social stratum.

A sold-out live screening of The Audience from the Gielgud Theatre in the West End, and starring Helen Mirren as the Queen, will be presented in tribute to Brigadier Cornell on Thursday, June 13 at Marlborough Town Hall.

A second screening will be shown on September 4.

A thanksgiving service will be held at Salisbury Cathedral on Monday, September 23 at 11am.