About Henry Edward Kavanagh
<The Times, September 18, 1958>
<MR. TED KAVANAGH>
<THE MAKING OF "ITMA">
Mr. Henry Edward ("Ted") Kavanagh, whose scripts for the B.B.C. radio programme "Itma", in which Tommy Handley played the leading part, became remarkably popular during the Second World War, died after a short illness in a London hospital yesterday. He was 66.
Henry Edward Kavanagh was born in 1892 at Auckland, New Zealand, and educated at the Sacred Heart College, Auckland, and Auckland University. He came to England in 1914 to study medicine and later joined the New Zealand forces. After demobilization in 1918 he resumed his medical studies in London, and later in Edinburgh but did not sit his finale xaminations. Instead he decided to devote himself to free-lance journalism and to sketches and lyrics for the stage.
During this time he acted as London Correspondent for New Zealand papers, preparing editorial material for firms concerned with medical supplies, and wrote for various revues, including the "New Witness" and its successor "G.K.'s Weekly", to which he contributed editorial notes and articles, in addition to playing an active part in the weekly meetings held by Chesterton's supporters.
Meanwhile he had forseen the enlarging opportunities presented by the development of broadcasting. He recognized radio in its early formative stages as something that, going beyond a mere improvement of acoustics, was really a medium that imposed its own special limitations on performers, while offering scope to his own special talents. Before the British Broadcasting Corporation came into being he began to write numerous monologues for his friend Tommy Handley, following them, in 1927, with the broadcast revues which prepared the way for the remarkably successful "Itma" programmes, Kavanagh had the ready flow of ideas, sharp sense of character and powers of satire and irony to which Handley could add skill in delivery and timing that he had perfected by long experience on the stage. Yet it would be a mistake to regard them as two persons: for the shaping of a script from its original form to the quick-witted, fanastic version heard by listeners owed so much to collaboration, with the producer Mr. Francis Worsley, as well as between themselves, that no one really knew where Kavanagh began and Handley ended.
This much is clear, however, that the invention of a host of characters and situations and the playing on words and sounds that distinguished the "Itma" programmes owed a great deal to the fertility and wit of Kavanagh. He insisted always that he could find jokes only in serious subjects and he carried into his scripts a personal sympathy with the understanding of others that excluded malice from anything he wrote. It was largely for that reason that his characters won widespread popularity, so that the phrases they used were repeated ad nauseam in general conversations. "Itma" was accorded signal honour when the company gave a command performance at Windsor Castle. In December, 1947, the Royal Family, during a visit to Broadcasting House, joined the studio audience while the programme was being broadcast.
In addition to his scripts for "Itma" Kavanagh prepared material for a number of other B.B.C. programmes, none of which achieved anything like the same popularity, in spite of the skill and humour they displayed. Nor could it be said that he was really successful as a film scenarist. His first venture in the cinema, indeed, a visual recreation of the most popular "Itma" characters, provoked the criticism that he had failed to give reality on the screen to people of whom each listener had a different mental impression.
In 1944 Kavanagh formed his own company of writers, artists and producers, which, under the title of Ted Kavanagh Associated, was interested in numerous broadcast programmes and in ventures in the general field of entertainment.
Apart from his professional work Kavanagh was well known among Roman Catholics in this country for his devoted work on behalf of a number of vocational and other lay organizers, including the Catholic Stage Guild of which he was chairman after its revival in 1946 and the Catholic Writers' Guild of St FRancis de Sales. He played an important part also in the organization of the Hierarchy Centenary Congress in 1950 and of subsequent rallies and pageants, besides being in constant request as a speaker at Roman Catholic meetings.
For the past six years he had contributed a popular feature "Ted Kavanagh's Roundabout" to the Universe. In 1952 he was awarded a knighthood of St Gregory by Pope Pius XII.
He published works including a biography of Tommy Handley, a serious work on dieting, "Why Die of Heart Failure?" and "The Memoirs of Colonel Chinstrap".
He married in 1919 Miss Agnes O'Keefe, of Edinburgh, who, with their two sons Kevin and Patrick, survive him.