All about the United Kingdom’s national, regional and local press

Sir Ludovic Kennedy

Sir Ludovic Kennedy, the journalist, broadcaster and author famous for campaigns against miscarriages of justice and the death penalty, died on 18 October 2009. He was 89 years old.

Lord Steel, writing in The Guardian, describes him as “an establishment figure who was gloriously anti-establishment”:

He was born with, if not a silver spoon, then at least a silver-plated spoon in his mouth, being a scion on his father’s side of the Kennedy earldom which used to own Culzean Castle in Scotland, and on his mother’s side of a Scottish baronetcy. His great-grandfather was principal of Edinburgh University, with an elegant Adam house in the New Town where Ludo was born and which he loved as a boy.

But his childhood was not one of unalloyed happiness, the Daily Telegraph explains:

His early years were blighted by his relationship with his mother, a “hearty, beefy tweedy sergeant-major of a woman”, who treated her only son with cold contempt and stern discipline. “She was an ogre. I hated her. I never knew what it was like to be kissed and cuddled. For years I used to burst into tears when a woman kissed me because I was so grateful.”

On the other hand, he idolised his father, Captain E C Kennedy (RN), who The Independent tells us

had been forced to leave the Royal navy in 1922 after a court-martial for not taking adequate measures to suppress an outbreak of insubordination during a period of industrial unrest…

Kennedy had only one year at Christ Church, Oxford before war broke out and interrupted his course. Following family tradition he immediately enlisted in the Navy and was still a midshipman when his father was killed in the first surface naval action of the Second World War. The Navy had reinstated Captain Kennedy at the age of 60 and given him command of an old passenger liner converted into a semi-armed merchant cruiser, HMS Rawalpindi. It had defied two powerful German battle cruisers in a heroic defeat against odds. Captain Kennedy died a hero.

The younger Kennedy’s own naval career gave him material for several books. The Telegraph quotes a favourite anecdote:

…while serving as officer of the day on HMS Tartar he was summoned by the captain who told him: “I was on deck a little while ago and the cat’s gone adrift”. Since the fleet was at battle stations, Kennedy wondered about his commander’s mental stability, wondering: “Should I perhaps arrest him?” Having decided against, Kennedy eventually found the ship’s cat lying on a coil of rope. “Are you trying to make a fool of me Kennedy?” the captain demanded as he reported back. “No, No, you bloody idiot. The catamaran. Bugger the cat.”

After the war, Kennedy returned to Oxford, as The Scotsman records:

He spent his summer holidays in Scotland and struck up a friendship with the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. They were all keen on Scottish country dancing – especially Princess Margaret – and Kennedy was invited by Captain Peter Townsend to spend the weekend at Balmoral. But he asked to be excused as he had to get back to Oxford – in fact Kennedy admitted he was, “assailed by feelings of inadequacy”.

The Independent describes how he met and married his wife towards the end of the 1940s:

In 1948 Kennedy, like many others, had fallen in love with the screen image of the ravishingly beautiful ballerina Moira Shearer, the star of The Red Shoes. The following year she and Ralph Richardson were due to present to prizes at a ball, to which Kennedy had been given tickets. He suddenly summoned up the courage to introduce himself and ask her to dance. While he was pondering his affrontery she surprised him by saying that she did not dance very well. It turned out to be true – of ballroom dancing. Ludo’s courtship flourished and in 1950 the dark, handsome newscaster married the glamorous ballerina in “the wedding of the year”.

Having started a career in journalism, Kennedy soon took a sideways step, as The Times tells us:

After the war Kennedy began to edge his way into broadcasting, becoming an editor of the BBC Third Programme’s First Reading in 1953 and then, in 1955, the presenter of ATV’s Profile. He reached a wider audience when, in 1956, he joined Robin Day as a presenter with ITN. Kennedy’s authoritative yet relaxed television style made him immensely popular with the viewers while his intelligence and independence commended him to his superiors at ITN, who were consciously trying to break away from the established BBC format of simply reading the news. ITN newscasters were encouraged to be more individualistic, to put more of themselves into the programme.

Both the Telegraph and The Scotsman quote one television critic’s description of Kennedy’s news-reading style: “as though it were a letter to faraway relative [sic] whom he wished to interest”.

He had a brief foray into party politics at the end of the 1950s, best described by his party colleague Lord Steel in The Guardian:

His own face was becoming known on ITV, so when a byelection arose at Rochdale, north of Manchester, in 1958, and he expressed a willingness to stand, his selection was a shoo-in. His candidature was greeted with much press scoffing, but his six-week campaign was hard-working and effective. He came a creditable second with the biggest Liberal byelection vote since 1935. It was a sensation, and led two months later to Mark Bonham Carter’s narrow win at the byelection in Torrington, Devon. It was the start of the long road back for the near extinct Liberal party, which in the previous two elections had scored less than 3% of the vote and was down to five MPs, of which two were in local pacts. In the 1959 election, Ludo came within 3,000 votes of winning the seat, but that was his last foray as a candidate.

For the Liberals, at any rate, as The Times points out:

In 2001 he resigned from the Liberal Democrats party after more than four decades and having fought and lost two elections as a Liberal candidate. This followed the refusal of the party leader Charles Kennedy, who was no relation and was a Catholic, to place the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia in his party’s manifesto for the general election, despite a conference vote by eight to one in favour of the policy. In the general election of that year Kennedy stood in the constituency of Devizes, where he had lived for many years, on the platform of legalising voluntary euthanasia. He took on Michael Ancram, a Catholic and the chairman of the Conservative Party, but secured only 1,078 votes, while Ancram increased his majority to almost 12,000.

Kennedy was perhaps most famous for his campaigns on miscarriages of justice, beginning in the early 1950s and resulting in numerous books and a play. Leonard Miall (who predeceased Sir Ludovic by four years) wrote for The Independent:

Of all Ludovic Kennedy’s versatile roles, I believe the one that brought him the most personal satisfaction was that of campaigner against miscarriages of justice. He wrote numerous books and a play dealing with crimes and those he was sure had been unjustly convicted of them. 10 Rillington Place was the best known, concerning Timothy Evans, who lived at that address and was hanged in 1950 for the murder of his wife and baby daughter. Sixteen years later the Queen granted Evans a free pardon, on the recommendation of the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins. It was Kennedy’s book that cleared his name.

The Daily Telegraph notes that he was a stern critic of the British judicial system:

From 1961 onwards, Kennedy published a steady stream of books about crime, the law and miscarriages of justice. He believed the main culprit in nearly all these cases to have been the “extremely childish” British system of adversarial justice in which “each side does its best to vanquish the other and truth falls by the wayside”. He campaigned for many years for the establishment of a Ministry of Justice and a change to a system more like the French inquisitorial system in which a juge d’instruction battles away to find out the truth.

His campaigns led him to fall foul of the establishment, as The Scotsman explains:

Kennedy, as a result of his espousing controversial legal issues, fell foul of some high-ranking Edinburgh figures. He was blackballed for membership of Muirfield where he had played as a guest since his youth. He admitted “I found the lunches the best in any clubhouse in Britain”, but he withdrew from the election as he did for Edinburgh’s New Club.

The Times looks at length at Kennedy’s atheism and morality, which Kennedy himself wrote about in his 1999 book, All in the Mind: A Farewell to God:

The book also allowed him to chart a much more personal journey. He wrote movingly of his father, a Christian, who died when the ship that he was captaining was sunk off Iceland in the Second World War. Describing the shattering effect of this loss, Kennedy concluded that it aptly illustrated “the uselessness of prayer”. “[My father] had a very simple faith,” he wrote. “He prayed every night and morning of his life, and I know he would have done that on the morning of the battle, and look what happened to him.” […]

Kennedy thought of himself as a humanist — a believer in the power of human values outside any religious framework — although he rejected the term itself for having “all the impact of soggy cement”. He was more fond of — and found much solace in — a remark by Leslie Stephen on reading Darwin’s theories of evolution: “I now believe in nothing, but I do not the less believe in morality. I mean to live and die like a gentleman, if possible.”

The Herald describes his advocacy for voluntary euthanasia:

He argued that allowing euthanasia would help end the suffering of, for example, people with cancer who had to endure distressing side-effects such as incontinence, nausea and breathlessness, all of which led to the disintegration of mind and body. “What these people want, in the words of the poet Keats, is to ‘cease upon the midnight with no pain’. But as the law stands that is forbidden them.”

Last word goes to The Scotsman, quoting Sir Ludovic’s own thoughts on his obituary:

In one of his last interviews, he said: “If there are obituaries of me, all I want them to say is: ‘He tried to do good, but may have failed.'”

(Sir Ludovic Henry Coverley Kennedy, born 3 November 1919 in Edinburgh, died 18 October 2009 in Salisbury)