Lena KENNEDY (1914-1986)

Lena Kennedy This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 703
  • Subject No: 698
  • Broadcast date: Wed 16 Apr 1986
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Mon 14 Apr 1986
  • Venue: Royalty Theatre
  • Series: 26
  • Edition: 25
  • Code name: Memory

on the guest list...

  • Fred Broughton
  • Bella Broughton
  • George Newman
  • Nell Newman
  • Jessie Staples
  • Claudie Staples
  • Georgie Staples
  • Bill Flatt
  • Diddy Goodwin
  • Emmie Goodwin
  • Lily Corrin
  • Georgie Corrin
  • Marguerite Fairfold
  • Georgie Fairfold
  • Edie Davis
  • Lily Davis
  • Ronnie
  • Florrie
  • Fred Smith
  • Rosie Smith
  • Fred - husband
  • Angela - daughter
  • Alan - grandson
  • George - grandson
  • Keith - son
  • Pat - daughter-in-law
  • Molly - sister
  • Arthur - brother-in-law
  • Mary - aunt
  • Doris Tunning
  • Dolly Swift
  • Betty Spilling
  • Gladys Birchall
  • Doreen Chisholm
  • Terry Oates
  • John Man
  • Angie Man
  • Robert Arnott
  • Andrew Spencer
  • Leslie Thomas
  • Horatio - grandson

production team...

  • Researchers: Angela Clark, Claire Jenkinson, Tom Wettengel
  • Writer: Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Terry Yarwood, Michael D Kent
  • Associate Producer: Brian Klein
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

A Novel Life

a page-turning good read

This Is Your Life

The Daily Mail profiles the programme's history

Leslie Thomas

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Screenshots of Lena Kennedy This Is Your Life

Lena Kennedy's autobiography

Lena Kennedy recalls her experience of This Is Your Life in her autobiography, Away to the Woods...

The family were behaving strangely – relatives avoided me as if I had the plague, and Angela and Fred were always whispering together. I got a bit worried and thought they had heard bad news about my illness and I must be about to pass over, but I was asking no questions and therefore hearing no lies.

Then one day my publishers sent me on an assignment to Kingston, which I thought rather strange, and I was even more suspicious when I saw a large crowd waiting for me. Then Eamonn appeared with his big red book and you could have knocked me down with a feather. Yes, I was to appear on This Is Your Life. I couldn't help saying, 'You're better looking than you are on TV, Eamonn.' He was taken aback for a moment, then his face beamed in that wide, cheerful smile.

'Why me?' I asked. 'I'm not a celebrity.'

'We think you are,' said Eamonn, with such a charming smile that no one could refuse him anything.

Feeling a bit like the Queen Mother, I sat with Eamonn in a big posh car, and we drove to the studio. On arrival I found my best dress hung up in the dressing room, and I knew the family had conspired together. From then on it was all go.

The show was wonderful but I was a little apprehensive because of the trouble in my family. When my son arrived, his red beard well trimmed, and looking happy with Pat by his side, I was so pleased. I asked him where the baby was and he told me, 'He's minding the sheep,' but I knew Horatio would not be far away. Sure enough, at the end of the show he was announced and came in carrying his pet lamb Charlie – from then on he stole the show. Auntie Mary, who was eighty-four years old, managed to come along and I am sure she was happy when after the show she was given a little dish of jellied eels.

All the girls I had worked with in the past and lots of friends and neighbours from my old address were there – it was all a great laugh.

Fred was the first to come in and he kissed me – he doesn't do that too often in public – he had known all about the special evening and had kept it all dark. 'Wait till I get you home,' I told him.

After the show there was a grand party and I was able to meet some of the celebrities who had come along. It was good to have a chat with the writer Leslie Thomas, who gave me a hug. We had previously met to judge a short story competition for Pebble Mill TV and he admitted that I had given Bob Langley and himself a really hard time when it came to picking the winner. I introduced him to Angela, who looked lovely in a crocheted green dress that set off her golden hair. I was so very proud of my family.

All the neighbours and friends from Hoxton were there – all those kids who had played in those slum streets with me long ago. Some of them I had not seen for many years and they all hugged me and said they were so proud to have known me. We all danced and talked of old times and I realised how very lucky I was to have achieved this wonderful tribute, and I was very grateful to all those who had worked so hard to give me such pleasure.

After the show Angela and I got together and sat out on the lawn under the branches of the oak and spent a lovely afternoon talking over the events of that evening. I couldn't believe my ears when she told me her tale of woe about how Apples had refused to let the children go on the show, and thought it just as well that I hadn't known about this dilemma at the time. Apparently the researcher had almost camped outside Apples' house as he refused to answer the door and had warned him off, saying that he and the boys wanted nothing to do with their mother or grandmother. By the end the researcher was afraid he'd get a black eye.

'I didn't tell you at the time,' confessed Angela, 'as I was told the show had to be kept secret, and that if you found out it would all be cancelled.'

Eventually Apples had agreed to negotiate with the TV people – provided they supplied him with a guest list. Once this was in his possession he cut out all the people he thought should not go on the show; otherwise he would not let the grandchildren appear. The poor researcher for the show was the go-between for the irate Angela and Apples, and I couldn't help feeling sorry for him as I listened to her tale. Evidently he had informed Angela that she should agree to Apples' demands, otherwise Lena would be very upset if the children were not there. Many names were therefore crossed off the list, all friends and relations who had helped us when he drove Angela from her home, and he hated them. The researcher admitted to Angela he had never been involved in a show like this before.

The funny part of it was that when the night of the show came Apples demanded a place in reception where he could view the guests as they came in. Evidently he was adamant that if they tried to bring in any of the people that he had deleted from the list then he would take the boys away and they would not go on the show.

It seemed he had even insisted on a limousine to pick him and the boys up – he made so many demands and got away with it. I could just imagine him sitting there with his fag and a very superior expression on his face.

By the end of our conversation Angela looked almost sorry that she had told me, but we had always been so close and found it difficult to hide things from each other. However, we were both happy that Georgie had been found. He had gone missing and we had wandered the streets searching for him, but it seemed his father had been hiding him out somewhere. We were glad that the show had brought him out into the open and safely back to his family.

'You'll win the children back in the end,' I told her. 'You've been a good mother.'

I couldn't get over the fact that Apples had actually succeeded in holding Thames Television to ransom. It all seemed hard to believe, and more like something out of a movie than anything that could happen to us. I felt quite sorry for the researcher, who'd had a terrible ordeal, and Angela exclaimed in a mischievous tone, 'I wonder if his nerves will ever be the same again, Mum.'

We both burst into laughter. 'After all,' she said, 'it was a Kennedy show. I don't suppose they'll forget that one in a hurry.'

Roy Bottomley This Is Your Life book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

Lena Kennedy's Life was an East Ender's story to rival the BBC soap opera. A remarkable grandmother, she started her working life in the rag-trade 'sweat shops' of Hoxton, at thirteen, and didn't have her first book published until she was sixty-five.

Her best-sellers include Lily My Lovely, Autumn Alley, Nelly Kelly and the one she was there to autograph at Bentall's in Kingston on 14 April 1986, Down Our Street.

It was based on the real street where Lena was born and brought up. For the first time in half a century the programme reunited the neighbours of Witham Street, Hoxton, long since demolished.

Lena's novels evoked the hardship of life there, but romance, too.

She was fifty-eight when she heard the local council had started creative writing classes at night school. Students had to read out what they had written.

Lena took hers in a huge hold-all. It was her first ever crack at writing a novel and she called it Maggie. So entranced were the rest of the night-school class they asked her to read an instalment each week.

What followed no Eastenders writer would have dared to invent. Her daughter Angela and son Keith looked up 'publishers' in the Yellow Pages, found one nearby, and left the manuscript of Maggie there in a carrier bag. The book came back with the message, 'Sorry, we only publish cartoons.'

Then Angela got a job as secretary at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. One night in the bar she was introduced to 'a publisher'. He was the next recipient of Maggie, but Terry Oates turned out to be a music publisher.

So Lena's first novel gathered dust on his office shelf for two years until one night he met a pal who was a publisher's editor. John Man read it to his wife Angie – a brief passage from Maggie every evening, just like the night-school class. Angie liked it. And that's how Maggie was finally published.

After nine novels, all best-sellers, had Lena changed? According to Bob Arnott, captain of the QE2, definitely not. Sailing to New York on the luxury liner for a promotional tour, Lena was offered the wine list at dinner – a list containing some of the world's great vintages.

Lena ordered a Guinness.

Series 26 subjects

William Roache | Dennis Taylor | Elisabeth Welch | Sheila Mercier | Richard Branson | Maurice Denham | David Ellaway
Terry O'Neill | Gerry Marsden | Joyce Carey | Chas n Dave | Oliver Reed | Felix Bowness | John Harris | Bonnie Langford
Henry Cotton | June McElnea | Derek Jameson | Richard Vernon | Martyn Lewis | Peter Shilton | Ted Rogers
Simon Williams | Larry Slater | Lena Kennedy | Denis Quilley