KENNETH Kendall was the first newsreader to be seen on British television screens and later found fame as the host of Channel 4’s successful Treasure Hunt. Kendall was unflappable and relaxed, remaining calm even when cameras or sound went down and foreign links disappeared. He embodied the traditional BBC style: clear diction, dapper in his appearance and a stickler for correct English.
Before September 1955, newsreaders were never seen on screen. News was provided with sound only and a few pictures of Westminster. A few weeks prior to the arrival of ITN, the BBC realised the competition was going to be fierce and Kendall joined Robert Dougall and Richard Baker to become familiar and much respected television figures. “In the early days, our names were not even allowed to be mentioned. That was far too showbizzy,” Kendall once commented.
Although born in India, Kendall returned to England aged ten, was brought up in Cornwall and then attended Felsted School, Essex. He read modern languages at Oxford University, but his studies were interrupted when he was called up to serve with the Coldstream Guards at the end of the Second World War. Kendall was wounded during the Normandy landings and was demobilised as a captain.
After the war, he taught at a prep school but, in 1948, he got a contract with the BBC as a radio announcer on the Home Service (later known as Radio 4).
There was an air of authority and assurance in all the announcements that Kendall made, so he was the obvious choice to move to television in the mid-1950s. He had the knack of presenting even the most sombre and heart-rending news in a factual and unbiased manner. He was punctilious in ensuring he pronounced foreign names correctly and often corrected the grammar that had been written for him to read.
In 1961, Kendall left the BBC and went freelance in a bid to earn a larger salary – and capitalise on his own personal popularity. He did get commissions for radio and regional TV work – and some cameo parts in TV dramas (Dr Who and The Troubleshooters) but nothing lasting or lucrative.
He returned to the BBC in 1969 and became a valued member of the news team. His ability to cope with technical break-downs was widely recognised and such unexpected events as the time when one of his crowns popped out on to the desk in front of him. Without dropping a word, Kendall lisped on without a pause.
By the early 1980s, the presentation of BBC news was changing radically. It was decided that the main evening bulletins should be fronted by journalists who would grill public figures and also write their own copy. John Simpson and John Humphrys led the change and Kendall was left to do the early evening and weekend slots.
At the end of 1981, Kendall decided to leave the BBC. Unfortunately, he slipped on ice and broke his arm and was thus unable to read his final bulletin and say farewell. He left with a few sharp comments about the lowering of standards at the corporation and criticised the “sloppily written and ungrammatical stories” he was expected to read.
Kendall lived in Cornwall for a year and refurbished a 300-year-old cottage in that period, but he was lured back to television by the fledgling Channel 4 as the studio presenter of its Treasure Hunt. Along with the enthusiastic Anneka Rice, dressed in flamboyant jumpsuit, the programme ran for seven years. Rice jumped in and out of helicopters, while Kendall directed her to treasure that would help a studio-based competitors solve some puzzles. The show proved popular with viewers and consistently topped the Channel 4 ratings.
In 1977, Kendall joined all the newsreaders in the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show. They sang There is Nothing Like a Dame and appeared to do cartwheels around the set. Kendall cut a dash in his sailor’s uniform.
Like many other colleagues, Kendall acquired a host of admirers – mostly, in his case, female. Proposals were a regular item, but Richard Baker recalled that at Christmas, while he generally received knitwear and Robert Dougall would get bottles of whisky, Kendall got “rather distinguished things in leather”.
He returned to the BBC in 2010 to appear in The Young Ones, which featured six celebrities examining the problems of ageing. “I wish I could sort out my balance. I fall over a bit too much,” Kendall admitted. Still handsome with his wavy grey hair and ready smile, Kendall added that a major regret was not having a dog.
An enthusiastic sailor, Kendall had lived with his long-time partner Mark Fear for many years on the Isle of Wight. There they ran a restaurant and then a gallery, which specialised in showing local artists.