Prebendary W. D. Kennedy-Bell

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The Independent Online

Winnington Douglas Kennedy-Bell, priest and broadcaster: born Richmond, Surrey 22 June 1915; ordained deacon 1939, priest 1940; Deputy Priest-in-Ordinary to the Queen 1976-85; married 1943 Evelyn Ritchie (one son); died London 24 June 2001.

W. D. Kennedy-Bell will be remembered both as a musician and broadcaster of distinction and for a ministry covering nearly 60 years, at St Martin-in-the-Fields and, simultaneously, the Temple Church, in London, and the BBC.

Winnington Douglas Kennedy-Bell was born in 1915 into a clerical family and educated at St Paul's School, where his father taught. He himself taught for four years at Pennthorpe Preparatory School, in Chislehurst, before going up to Keble College, Oxford, where he read Theology. He trained at Wells Theological College, and, on his ordination in 1940, became the fourth generation of priests in the Kennedy-Bell family.

Curacies at St Michael's, East Wickham, in Kent, and Richmond Parish Church, in Surrey, were followed by a further curacy at St Martin-in-the-Fields, where he was to work with Eric Loveday, well-known both as vicar and broadcaster.

Two years earlier, in 1942, at the height of the Blitz, Loveday had formed a choir from a group of fire-watchers who sang together during their quieter on-duty moments. Kennedy-Bell, a tenor, joined the St Martin Singers (distinct from the church choir), who continued to meet and sing together when the Second World War ended.

In 1947 Kennedy-Bell was asked to stand in as conductor during Loveday's absence on a trip to Australia. Loveday died while on that trip and Kennedy-Bell became the Singers' conductor, leading the group for almost 50 years in many broadcasts, both for the BBC's domestic and overseas services.

His love and knowledge of English literature, and choral music of all periods, inspired him to devise many programmes of words and music on particular themes, subtle and illuminating, celebrating the great festivals of the Church's year, the seasons, the several conditions of man. Leading actors, their voices familiar from BBC drama broadcasts, gave of their time and talents. The St Martin Singers travelled throughout England, performing in cathedrals and village churches, hospitals and prisons. They visited Europe and North America, and many thousands of pounds were raised for charitable causes.

In 1948 Kennedy-Bell was appointed to the staff of the BBC's Religious Broadcasting Department. Although officially a producer he proved a consummate broadcaster in the Daily Services and weekly Complines. His influence as a producer was probably at its greatest in the weekly broadcasts of Choral Evensong.

For the World Service he produced several series of weekly 15-minute broadcasts in A Story, a Hymn and a Prayer format, together with programmes on the origin of the words and music of Christian hymns. The recording of many of these broadcasts (three at a time) took place in a City church, dimly lit, in the evening after the noise of rush-hour traffic had died down. For the participants, organist, reader, tenor and soprano, Kennedy-Bell had infinite patience and was a source of inspiration.

One of his colleagues at the BBC was George Thalban Ball, organist of the Temple Church, and they were to work together at the Temple when, in 1955, Kennedy-Bell was appointed Reader (the equivalent of a cathedral precentor). Possessed of a superb singing voice, he held the post for 40 years, singing the services and reading the lessons and prayers. Many of the services were broadcast, notably the annual live transmission on Good Friday of the Litany and Ante-communion.

The clarity of diction, impeccable intonation and apparent ease with which Kennedy-Bell graced those fiercely demanding chants was the subject of admiration. In his 1961 book about the Temple Church choir, A Spiritual Song, David Lewer writes of Kennedy-Bell's "intoning and his reading of the scriptures as object lessons for all who would improve the quality of church services".

Although Kennedy-Bell's curacy at St Martin's ended with his appointment to the Religious Broadcasting Department at the BBC his long association with the church continued as celebrant at the early morning service of Holy Communion until 1993 and Chaplain at Charing Cross Hospital until it moved from the Strand in 1973. In 1958, on 19 December, the St Martin-in-the-Fields Christmas Matinée was held for charity at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. This was a nativity play for which Ralph Vaughan Williams composed and arranged the music (dying before he completed the task). Kennedy-Bell's influence was much in evidence, since his friend Simona Pakenham,provided the libretto and her husband, Noel Iliff, produced, and the numerous roles, spoken and sung, were willingly undertaken by professional friends of Kennedy-Bell.

He was made a Prebendary of Islington in the Diocese of London in 1973, with his own stall in St Paul's Cathedral. From 1976 to 1985 he served as Deputy Priest-in-Ordinary to the Queen.

"K-B", as he was affectionately known to his colleagues (while his relatives and close friends knew him as Jim), said that Eric Loveday's great love of literature had a profound influence on his own life. Another influence was George Thalban Ball's instruction to choristers to "approach any musical phrase as if you were singing it for the first time".

Eileen Poulter

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