The Island recently lost one of its characters and gentlemen with the passing of former BBC news reader Kenneth Kendall.
Kenneth, who was the face and voice of BBC News for more than 25 years, died aged 88. He spent more than 20 years living on the Island with his partner Mark Fear, and was a popular and highly respected figure, especially around Cowes, where he was often seen at his Kendall’s Fine Art Gallery.
I was privileged to meet Kenneth some 18 months ago, and believe it was the last full interview he gave. I found him a warm, welcoming character, with a wealth of anecdotes about his life in front of the TV cameras. As a tribute to Kenneth, here are parts of that interview.
He told me that in the initial years while he was bringing television viewers all the latest stories from around the world he had to remain totally anonymous.
He sat behind his desk in a small studio, becoming the first newscaster to appear in vision to deliver the news. But he told me he was not allowed to say who he was, and his name did not appear on the screen – simply because the BBC did not want Kenneth and his fellow newsreaders in those early days to become stars.
“We had people ringing up all the time asking what my name was, but the editor of news didn’t want us to become personalities,” he smiled. “I was once looking in a shop window in London’s Regent Street, and two women were standing close by. Suddenly one said ‘he looks a lot older than he does on television’. I felt like bashing them!”
After a successful Army career, he initially joined BBC radio, transferring to television in 1955. He said: “You were aware that perhaps two to three million people were watching you, which made it very nerve-racking. When I became the first person in vision to read the news I was absolutely terrified because I didn’t know how to sit or behave. There was no autocue; I had to read from a script with my head down which was not popular with the viewers.”
He was asked many times which piece of news stood out in his memory. He reckoned: “It had to be the first space ship – Sputnik – which went around the world with a dog inside, before the first spaceman Yuri Gagarin went into space. When you think what has happened as a result of that, it was an earth-shattering achievement.”
There were lighter moments. He revealed: “We were not allowed to laugh or smile, but on one occasion at the end of a bulletin there was a funny story. I started laughing and the editor was absolutely furious. He later insisted no one be given a story that made us laugh or smile!”
Kenneth last read the news on television in 1981. He later became the studio anchorman for seven years for Channel Four’s ‘Treasure Hunt’, in which Anneka Rice flew around the country with couples trying to solve clues to win money.
He first came to the Island as a visitor in the 1960s and moved here permanently in 1990, after realising his native Cornwall was too far away for regular commuting to London. He was 87 when I interviewed him, and he told me: “I have been awfully lucky. During my time a lot has happened to me and to the world. But I wouldn’t change much.”
Kenneth Kendall: August 7, 1924 – December 14, 2012