Media: Guns in the Moscow sun: Bridget Kendall's BBC reports from the former Soviet Union won wide acclaim. Now she is briefly back in London. Rosalie Horner met her

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The Independent Online
Bridget Kendall arrived late for the interview through no fault of her own. She had been travelling on the Underground when a security alert halted her train and she was forced to travel the rest of the way by taxi.

When we met she asked anxiously whether this happened often in London. Since 1989, Ms Kendall has been the BBC's radio correspondent in Moscow, covering the momentous events taking place in the former Soviet Union. Her vivid, thought-provoking reports have won considerable praise, and she is the first woman to have received the James Cameron award for journalism.

Ms Kendall studied Russian at school in Cambridge and later modern languages at Oxford. This was followed by postgraduate work at Harvard University.

She is the daughter of David Kendall, now retired as professor of mathematical statistics at Cambridge University. He had many personal contacts in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and it was meeting these people in her parents' home that originally stimulated her interest in Russia's culture and people.

There is more than a hint of a Tolstoy heroine about Ms Kendall, 37, something that has proved useful in her job. Covering the civil war in Tajikistan 12 months ago, she discovered that her main problem was finding out where the shooting was. 'It was definitely an advantage being a woman correspondent when you would come to an army checkpoint,' she says. 'They just assumed I was a local Russian and ignored me, so I walked straight through.'

Ms Kendall is now back in London working in a BBC that now demands experience in television as well as radio. The Corporation has arranged a three-month stint on Newsnight as a reporter, beginning this week. A decade ago, and a good deal more nervous, she did six months on the programme as a presenter and producer. After Newsnight she moves to the BBC's Washington office.

During her four years in Moscow, however, she was witness to a number of changes beside the dramatic fall of Mikhail Gorbachev, the break- up of the Soviet Union and the recent state of emergency.

When Ms Kendall arrived, newly married to Nick Worrall, a fellow journalist, there were no computers in the BBC's Moscow office and obtaining a telephone line to London took anything up to half an hour. The two-bedroom flat they moved into was also home to an army of cockroaches and had to double as a workplace while her office was being renovated.

'For the first couple of months I would get up in the morning, get dressed, go through the hall and into the spare bedroom where all the typewriters, files and the translator were,' she says. 'I didn't need a translator, but I certainly did need someone to help me, because life is so bureaucratic and difficult you would spend your time fixing your own airline tickets and press passes and have no time left for journalism. It was quite a struggle to get the story, but the real struggle was getting the story to London.'

Eventually she was joined by two other radio correspondents and a second television correspondent. Later the renovated office was exchanged for a combined BBC radio and television operation. This came complete with a direct satellite up-link, a result of the BBC's investment in improved foreign coverage. The office is situated in a hotel suite close to the White House, home of the former Russian parliament.

Last month, on the afternoon of 3 October, Ms Kendall drove her husband, who had broken his hand in a traffic accident, to the airport. He freelanced in Moscow and was returning to England a month early. The night before they held a farewell dinner for friends at their flat. Thoughts of home and change were uppermost in both their minds.

'After I'd dropped Nick off I thought I'd better go and find out what was happening at the Parliament,' she says. 'I drove back into town and found the traffic being directed in different ways. I got as close as I could and parked the car. There was shattered glass on the street. People were standing in groups muttering and there was a smell of tear gas.' The doomed second October revolution had begun.

'I walked up to the White House just in time to witness a very loud gun battle, so I got out my tape recorder,' she recalls. 'It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and the curious thing was that the streets were full of people walking their dogs, out with their children, as if the bullets couldn't possibly hit them.

'Part of the problem was that the police were either engaged in the confrontation or running away, but there was nobody policing the crowds.'

From then on Ms Kendall worked intensively. She returned to the office where one of her colleagues, Kevin Connolly, was sitting on a chair nursing a bloody knee that had been injured in the first clash. The demand from London for news was huge, and the three radio correspondents, wearing flak jackets, took turns to go and find out what was happening.

Ms Kendall says that even when major stories were not breaking, life was rarely quiet in Moscow. The demands on foreign correspondents are considerable, especially if they have to rely on Russia's internal airlines, which, on average, Ms Kendall used at least once a month. Kevin Connolly had been on a couple of flights which crash-landed. There was not even the certainty of knowing whether there was an aircraft available, and delays of up to two days were common. Once Ms Kendall was left waiting on a freezing runway for half an hour. To offset this kind of frustration she and her husband were determined to establish some order in their lives. Tennis, they decided, was the answer.

'We came to the conclusion that we had to protect ourselves from the stress and the unhealthy diet,' she says. 'We discovered some excellent indoor courts and resolved to play tennis twice a week at nine o'clock. Then, two days later, I was woken at 6.30 in the morning with the news that the President was ill and an emergency committee had taken over. We didn't play tennis for a month after that.'

(Photograph omitted)

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