Bridget Kendall MBE was the BBC’S VIP

Bridget Kendall
Bridget Kendall

It was full house at the Wigtown Book Festival last Saturday for the former BBC Moscow and Washington correspondent Bridget Kendall, MBE.

The broadcast journalist has during her career interviewed the titans of the world stage such as Thatcher, Putin and Gorbachev.

Her intimate knowledge of the political climate, the fall of communism and the rise of the new capitalist Russia under the autocratic rule of President Putin gave her audience in the festival marquee a fascinating insight into the state of the world in 2017 as nationalism and bombast threaten stability.

Ms Kendall admitted that her love of all things Russian began with learning the language aged 14 and winning a university scholarship to study in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, making the vast country part of her life.

Her years in front of the TV camera with a backdrop of Red Square has led to her involvement in 30 programmes called Cold War: Stories from the Big Freeze for Radio 4 featuring interviews with, not so much the politicians, statesmen or diplomats, but ordinary citizens, who lived day to day through the long years of the Cold War between the superpowers of the Soviet Union and the West, as well as other key historical events like the Cuban Missile crisis and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Bridget explained that some of the best eye-witness interviews were with children who, as she explained “just see what they see and come without any political baggage”.

She also found it surprising to hear another perspective on a familiar story. One example was her interview with three Soviet soldiers who were involved in the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Their mindset was they were going to do good and save people, so, she continued, you can imagine their shock when they get to this country and these people want to kill them. Their initial shock and surprise turns to anger and they then want to retaliate.

Her time in Moscow covered the Perestroika era when Gorbachev embarked on a programme of openness, much to the shock of foreign journalists who were used to getting most questions rebuffed by state spokesmen. Her status as the BBC’s reporter led to one of her favourite moments when she arrived in Chechnya to cover the conflict there in 1994 to find that, as hardened fighters were leaving in droves, she was welcomed with open arms by the militia who announced she would be their honoured guest and provided her with her own bodyguard. “I felt like a VIP!”, said a beaming Bridget.