Robert Kee was one of those broadcasters who lived amazing lives before they ever set foot in a TV or radio studio. He was an RAF bomber pilot in World War Two,was shot down,captured and sent to the prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft 3. He was friends with some of those who took part in the ‘Great Escape’ from the camp and escaped himself.
He wrote a book about life in a POW camp ‘A Crowd is not Company’ which he said was a novel but turned out to be the true story of his own time there. In the introduction he wrote;
‘Everything that has happened to me since seems somehow secondary to what happened then’.
He went on to live what he called,in 1981, a ‘reasonably full life’,which is putting it modestly.
After the war we worked for Picture Post,the Observer,the Sunday Times,was Literary Editor of the Spectator and then went into television in 1958. He was a reporter on Panorama and then in 1972 was invited by the then Editor of ITN,Nigel Ryan,to present Britain’s first proper television news programme at lunchtime.It was called ‘First Report’ because there was no TV news before lunchtime in those days. There was also little newsfilm ready by lunchtime so the show was based around Kee himself.I worked on the programme as a junior producer .Kee interviewed all the newsmakers of the day and in a bold experiment that didn’t entirely come off he did live ‘vox pop’ interviewing people in the street via an outside broadcast camera and an amplifier through which he barked questions to rather startled citizens.
Kee was also no great fan of the teleprompter,preferring to read from a cluster of scripts which he clutched in front of him.When he and the rest of the ‘famous five’ launched the breakfast TV programme TVAM that didn’t turn out quite the way they planned.
But his greatest legacy to broadcasting and to literature was his interest in Ireland. Books like ‘The Green Flag’ and his 1982 BBC Two series ‘Ireland-a Television History’ were Robert Kee at his absolute best. You can get a flavour of the great man in clips from the series here.
I did an interview about him for the Radio Four programme PM on the 11th January 2013 which should be on their Episodes page here.