I didn’t meet Ken Riddington while researching my Tenko book as by that time he had been suffering from dementia for several years, nevertheless I still felt that I got a measure of the man from the memories of those who had worked with him on the show. There was of course the recounting of the infamous incident at the Acton rehearsal rooms when he asked his cast to check with their menfolk if it would be OK with them if they stopped shaving under their arms during production – an indication of just how unfamiliar he was with this new, chiefly female, territory, but there was also much praise for his deft handling of the series and his growing appreciation of its subject matter. Tenko’s creator Lavinia Warner remembers how Ken, who had initially turned down the show fearing it would not work, gradually became one of its greatest exponents and ‘a firm supporter of the women’s ensemble.’ Ann Bell remembered him very affectionately (‘he was a dear man’) particularly his inclination to worry: ‘If he wasn’t worried it would be extraordinary,’ precisely why one of his nicknames on the show was ‘Eeyore’. Stephanie Beacham recalled: ‘You’d say “Lovely day Ken,” and he’d reply: “Oh I don’t know, looks as though it could rain before noon.”’ Another nickname was ‘Madge’ after reading very badly for Athene Fielding’s character at a readthrough. However, Riddington proved he had a good sense of humour and signed his 1981 Christmas cards to many cast members with his new moniker! But the mickey-taking was always affectionate and cast and crew alike recognised how lucky they were to have him as their leader, a fact that was underlined to me by Stephanie Beacham’s unprompted outburst of: ‘God! I love that man!’ and Lavinia Warner’s careful and repeated acknowledgements of his significant contribution to Tenko’s success.
As well as bringing with him 8 years of experience as a producer, having first taken up that mantle on the second series of The Brothers in 1973, Riddington also brought aboard some of Tenko’s most praised actresses, including Jean Anderson – matriarch Mary Hammond in The Brothers; Patricia Lawrence, who he had worked with on To Serve Them All My Days; and Ann Bell who he first met on An Unofficial Rose in 1974.
Of course, one other actress who he brought into Tenko was much closer to home, so to speak. When a Dutch actress proved unsuitable for the part of Mrs Van Meyer, Ken asked his actress wife, Elizabeth (‘Liz’) Chambers, to step into the breach. It proved to be a fantastic decision as Chambers would of course go on to immortalise the character of the maddening but ultimately loveable ‘Metro Goldwyn’. I have been lucky enough to meet Liz several times, most memorably when we enjoyed a fish-and-chips lunch by the Thames at the legendary Grapes pub in Limehouse, where she fondly recalled not only her own memories of Tenko but also related to me how important the show was to her husband. I got a clear impression that although he had enjoyed producing so many series and clearly had ‘The Midas Touch’ – three immaculately realised R. F. Delderfield serials (A Horseman Riding By, To Serve Them All My Days, Diana), the acclaimed House of Cards trilogy, thriller Mother Love, classic detective drama Campion, hugely popular period drama The House of Eliott, and the off-the-wall A Very Peculiar Practice, to name just a few – Tenko had a very special place in his heart.
Nominated for six BAFTAs, two Emmys, and winner of at least three further awards, including the 1985 Television and Radio Industries Club drama award for Tenko’s final series, thankfully most of Ken’s work is now available to us to appreciate all over again on DVD, so there’s little chance that his amazing legacy of work will ever be forgotten.
Ken died on 26 December and his funeral will take place tomorrow (Monday 12 January) at 11.45am at West Norwood Crematorium in South East London.