Kelly, Barbara (1924-2007)
Barbara Kelly was born in West Vancouver B.C. on October 5th, 1924. She was unwillingly pushed into elocution lessons by her mother, and at the age of 16 she was’ discovered’ by CBC radio and given her first professional engagement as the Virgin Mary in the Christmas 1940 episode of a series of British medieval plays being produced by the CBC at the time. She also did some fashion modelling, and toured with a stage company, before moving on to work with a talented group of Canadian actors doing plays for CJOR Radio in Vancouver, and for the CBC, among them Fletcher Markle, John Drainie, Andrew Allan – and Bernard Braden, whom she married in 1942 when she was only 17.
Shortly thereafter they moved to Toronto, where Barbara gained useful experience acting in both stage and CBC radio productions, including a 1947 CBC Radio production of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (which was released by the CBC on audiocassette some 50 years later),in which she co-starred with Lorne Greene, Bud Knapp, Alice Mather and Alan King. With her husband she later worked on CBC Television’s Sunday night Stage series.
In 1949 Barbara and Bernie emigrated to Britain. There, their broadcasting and stage experience in Toronto, flavoured and enhanced by the proximity to the best of the US entertainment world, gave them a head start in getting work. It also helped that casting directors also tended to regard a Canadian accent as just fine for American roles. She was soon cast to star in the West End in James Thurber’s The Male Animal. By 1950, Bernie had his own Breakfast with Braden BBC radio series, on which Barbara guested from time to time as she did on the follow-up, Bedtime with Braden. The two also appeared in a 6-episode television series for the BBC in 1951, An Evening at Home with Bernard Braden and Barbara Kelly, and a one-off sketch comedy, Barbara with Braden, in 1953. Much later, in 1968, the twosome starred in another brief BBC-TV series, B-and-B.
Barbara also played parts in U.S. television series Hawaii Five-0 (1978) and Magnum P.I. (1981)
Back in 1950, Barbara had first leaped to prominence in her own right before BBC television audiences, and thereby soon became a household name, when she was picked to replace actress Joan Greenwood on the panel of the British version of the Goodson-Todman panel game What’s My Line? Her fellow panellists were Jerry Desmonde, Marghanita Laski and Ted Kavanagh, and the host was Eamonn Andrews. Gilbert Harding was to join the panel soon thereafter: other panellists during Barbara’s 13-year tenure included Lady Isobel Barnett and magician David Nixon, and when the BBC revived the series in 1984, Barbara was the only holdover from the previous panel, and in the new series she was joined from time to time by Penelope Keith, Angela Rippon, Jilly Cooper and Ernie Wise. Other British TV shows featuring Barbara included Kelly’s Eye, Criss Cross Quiz and Leave Your Name and Number.
On stage, in 1954, she appeared at London’s La Scala theatre in the title role for the annual Christmas production of Sir James Barrie’s play with music, Peter Pan.
She made several minor films, including The Desert Hawk (1950), A Tale of Five Cities (1951), Glad Tidings (1952), Love in Pawn (1953) The Flying Fontaines (1959), and, much later, Lust of a Eunuch (1977).
Although she was a frequent and highly successful performer, Barbara never really liked stage work, or even doing broadcasts before studio audiences. By the 1970s, she had given up performing almost completely, except for the occasional TV appearance, and was concentrating her efforts on running Prime Performers, an agency for providing personalities for commercial clients. In 2000 she embarked on yet another enterprise, Speakerpower, which provided personal training for business and community leaders who had to speak in public and needed help.
Barbara Kelly died in London on January 24th 2007, at the age of 82.
Written by Pip Wedge – March, 2007