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Friday 20 April 2018

Kenneth Kendall

BBC newsreader was first of his colleagues to appear on TV and went on to present a host of shows

Kenneth Kendall, who died on December 14 aged 88, was the first BBC newsreader to appear on television.

Kendall's long association with the BBC began in 1948, when he became an announcer on the Home Service. He transferred to Television News in 1954, presenting with Richard Baker.

At first the newsreader did not appear in vision, for fear that facial expressions would suggest that he had opinions of his own (and indeed Kendall once stood as a Tory councillor).

Instead briefings were read over a series of still images and maps. Only in 1955, with the imminent launch of ITN promising a less formal news service, did the BBC decide to take a risk; Kendall became the first "in-vision" newsreader, broadcasting from Alexandra Palace on September 4.

He stayed with BBC News on and off for three decades, gaining a reputation for his immaculate appearance, clear diction and unflappability.

In the end, however, his firm adherence to Reithian values led to clashes with his producers, and in 1981 he left the BBC, three years before he was due to retire, complaining about the "sloppily written and ungrammatical" stories he had to broadcast.

He soon resurfaced as the studio presenter of Channel 4s Treasure Hunt, which featured Anneka Rice, clad in a jump suit, leaping in and out of helicopters while Kendall played host to contestants in the studio, helping them to solve clues that would guide her to the "treasure".

Kenneth Kendall was born on August 7, 1924 in southern India, but moved to England aged 10 and spent his teenage years in Cornwall. He was educated at Felsted School, Essex, and at Oxford University, where he read Modern Languages. Towards the end of the war he served in the Coldstream Guards, and was wounded during the Normandy landings before being demobilised in 1946 in the rank of captain.

He began his career as a teacher in a Sussex prep school until a friend, thinking he had a clear voice, suggested he might apply to the BBC. He auditioned as an announcer on the Home Service and was successful, joining the corporation in 1948. In 1959 he stood as a Conservative candidate for his local council in north Kensington.

By 1961 he had decided that he did not want to read the news for the rest of his life and transferred to the BBC's programme planning department. But he hated it so much that he went freelance and presented, among other things, the quiz show Pit Your Wits. Towards the end of the decade work began to dwindle, and by 1969 he was back at the BBC as one of the "big three" newsreaders, alongside Richard Baker and Robert Dougall.

During his career with the BBC, Kendall did short stints on programmes such as Songs of Praise and Fascinating Facts and took part in an adult education series on physiology. He also made a number of unlikely appearances in series such as Dr Who and Adam Adamant Lives.

After his final news bulletin in 1981, he freelanced for many television companies but became best known as the host of Treasure Hunt.

Like other newsreaders, Kendall acquired an army of female fans, who deluged him with letters and even proposals of marriage – one woman wrote to him for 25 years, and he was even stalked for a couple of years. Richard Baker recalled that at Christmas, while he generally received knitwear and Robert Dougall would get bottles of whiskey, Kendall got "rather distinguished things in leather".

Kendall was immune to such blandishments, however, and returned to Cornwall, where he opened an art gallery exhibiting the work of local painters. Later he moved to the Isle of Wight, where he and his partner opened a restaurant, called Kendalls. They disliked running the business, however, so opened an art gallery in the same premises, where Kendall worked until his death.

Kenneth Kendall is survived by his partner of 23 years, Mark Fear, with whom he entered a civil partnership in 2006.

Sunday Independent

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