Barbara Kelly (1924-2007)

Canadian actress Barbara Kelly, who died in January aged 82, was the voice of Moonbase Alpha’s Main Computer in 10 episodes of Space:1999, where she was often heard making chilling emotionless pronouncements of the deaths of Alpha personnel – notably in the episode Force Of Life. However, she was best-known to British television viewers as a regular panelist on the BBC’s What’s My Line? throughout the Fifties and Sixties.

Born on 5th October 1924 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Barbara Kelly made her professional debut as the Virgin Mary in the York And Chester Mystery Plays for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1942, she married fellow actor and comedian Bernard Braden and the pair became well-established as a showbusiness partnership on radio and the Canadian stage. The couple moved to the UK in 1947 where they successfully auditioned for the BBC, subsequently hosting a popular radio variety show, Breakfast With Braden, which was later retitled Bedtime With Braden when it was moved into a more high-profile evening timeslot. In November 1950, the Bradens made their TV debut in First Date, a five-part comedy series shown as part of the BBC entertainment magazine series Kaleidoscope. The following year they starred in the sitcom An Evening At Home With Bernard Braden And Barbara Kelly which, while popular, ran for only six episodes. In 1953 they appeared together in the comedy sketch show pilot Barbara With Braden and Barbara joined What’s My Line? in which host Eamonn Andrews would invite Barbara and her fellow panellists Gilbert Harding, Isobel Barnet and David Nixon to guess the occupations of members of the public. The programme was enormously popular, running for 10 years until its cancellation in 1963, but Barbara later appeared on an ITV revival of the series in 1984.

Barbara made her feature film debut in an uncredited role as a harem girl in Frederick de Cordova’s The Desert Hawk(1950), a low-budget Arabian adventure starring Yvonne DeCarlo, Richard Greene and Rock Hudson. She went on to appear in more significant parts in A Tale Of Five Cities (1951), Castle In The Air (1952), Love In Pawn (1953), Glad Tidings (1953), Jet Storm (1959) and The Flying Fontaines (1959), but her increasing television profile largely put paid to any future film work. In 1957, she hosted her own BBC TV series, Kelly’s Eye, and continued to be seen regularly on television over the next decade in shows such as Criss Cross Quiz, Leave Your Name And Number and her husband’s series On The Braden Beat. In 1960, the Bradens were to appear in a new sitcom series, The Rolling Stones, for ITV regional broadcaster ABC. Although scheduled, it was withdrawn at the eleventh hour as the Bradens felt that the scripts and general standards were not good enough. Eight years later, they starred in another BBC sitcom, B-And-B, with their actress daughter Kim (later renowned for her leading role in the acclaimed 1972 BBC adaptation of Anne Of Green Gables and its 1975 sequel Anne Of Avonlea).

In the Seventies, Barbara concentrated her time on developing Adanac Productions, a company established with her husband which specialised in conference presentations. For 25 years she also ran her own company Prime Performers which provided celebrity guests for after-dinner speaking engagements – among them Barbara Windsor and Joan Collins. She retired from that business in 1999 and the following year she founded Speakerpower, a consultancy which employs celebrity tutors – including Sylvia Syms and Miriam Karlin – to train people in both formal and informal public speaking. She was honoured as the subject of an episode of This Is Your Life in 1978.

Barbara Kelly died on 14th January, 2007, while being treated in a Marie Curie home in Hampstead, London. Her husband and her son Christopher predeceased her. She is survived by her two daughters, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Originally published in FAB 56.