William Denis Kendall, generally known as Denis Kendall, (27 May 1903 in Halifax, West Yorkshire, England – 19 July 1995 in Los Angeles, California), was a controversial, British, Independent, Member of Parliament. From 1942-1950, he was the Member for Grantham, Lincolnshire[nb 1] and was the subject of investigation by the British Security Services, MI5 and MI6. In April 2008, the British government finally released his dossier.
When he was fourteen, William Denis Kendall ran away to sea and made £5,000—a huge sum at the time—helping police raid opium dens along China's Yangtze River before running a waterfront cabaret in Shanghai. He then relocated to the US as a steeplejack. Later, he went to work for a Philadelphia car plant and eventually became works manager for the Paris Citroen car factory.
In 1938, Kendall went to Grantham in Lincolnshire, England, and became Managing Director of an arms production company. He was aided in this by the Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, Lord Brownlow. Kendall became a member or affiliate of the British National Party (BNP). His company, the Manufacturing and Research Company Ltd (MARCO or BMARC), was closely linked to a Swiss-based firm with German connections. Kendall attracted the notice of the British security service for his Fascist sympathies, his suspected German links, his possible involvement in arms trafficking and his notorious indiscretion.
By 1942, MI5 security service files describe him as a "larger than life" figure. He won the parliamentary seat of Grantham in a 1942 by-election when he defeated the National Government candidate, retaining it in 1945 with a 15,513 majority until his defeat in 1950. When he won the by-election, the magazine Picture Post published a lengthy interview with accompanying action pictures and the eye-catching quote: "I won´t sit down and I won´t shut up". As the Managing Director for the British Manufacturing and Research Company in Grantham, Kendall had controversial views on war production, which he took every opportunity to publicise. He learnt his engineering skills at car factories in the US and France. His factory was highly productive, where workers were well-paid and provided with endless music and dance parties. He hired an organ and cinema organist to entertain them. According to the Security Service files released by MI5, "Brownlow"[nb 2] used his [Kendall's] position to smooth negotiations by wining and dining local councillors in Paris".
National Archive files
Three files available in the National Archives  reveal that Kendall had come to the attention of the Security Service well-before his election. Shortly after his election, a reporter visiting his office saw that he had letters pinned up from Winston Churchill, King George VI and Lord Beaverbrook commending him for his part in the rescue of four people from a bombed house. However, the security files also showed how Beaverbrook, then Minister for Aircraft Production, had raised concerns about Kendall's activities. The file at the National Archives suggests real fears that Kendall planned to smuggle secret plans for a new 20mm aircraft cannon out of the UK to America.
As a result of Beaverbrook's intervention, Kendall's letters were intercepted, as were those of his wife, Virginia. She despaired of his lavish lifestyle; and in one letter to a US friend, wrote:
"...[he] has completely lost his head... has one woman friend after another... spends thousands on silver and diamonds... some day the British people will want to know what is happening".
The Security Service MI5, continued to watch his activities, and expressed concerns that he was carelessly revealing wartime production figures in his election hustings speeches in a way that breached the Official Secrets and the Defence of the Realm Acts. Kendall's popularity however, thwarted any attempt to arrest him.
The files cover Kendall's election in 1942, including copies and summaries of his speeches. His victory was a surprise. He had initially been supported by the local Labour Party, which then withdrew support on orders from headquarters. A file minute of 14 September 1944 summarises the low opinion in which the Service held him
"The not very satisfactory Member of Parliament is said to boast that he can get his own way on everything."
A copy of the Picture Post article featuring the interview is included in the National Archives files. The files go on to record speculation about his presumed post-war gun running and smuggling activities in India, the Netherlands and Palestine, involving Kendall's boat, which had a double hull for concealing illicit items.
In 1949 a court ordered him to repay £15,000 provided by a private donor as an investment, but which he tried to use to pay off creditors. The security files also disclose that MI5 also kept close eyes on another company, Russian Oil Products, which was suspected of being a cover for Soviet espionage though Kendall's involvement, if any, is unclear. The company was sold to Regent Oil Company in 1948, the forebear of Texaco in the UK.
Kendall ceased to be an MP at the 1950 election. Interest in him appears to have declined after 1953. The files contain summary reports of his ongoing activities, and a career summary from 1950 concludes that
"during the war he was involved in the Black Market and there is in fact little doubt that he is a currency smuggler".
The files record his close association with leading right-wing extremists throughout.
- Manthorpe News
A article posted in the web site "Manthorpe News" has a picture of Clark Gable, Lord Brownlow and Kendall taken around 1943 with Gable in US Army uniform with the rank of Captain. The caption indicates that Gable was on a morale-boosting visit to Kendall's factory. The cutting is from the Grantham Journal, a newspaper still in publication. Gable was posted to RAF Polebrook in 1943, in Northamptonshire but not far from Grantham.
The website also publishes a report headed "British MARCo military history of the second world war as seen by William Denis Kendall" (undated but presumably post-war) with the following quote:
[...] "About this time the Ministry of Aircraft Production came into being headed by Lord Beaverbrook with Lord Brownlow being his Parliamentary Private Secretary.
All guns and shells were produced to equip our Spitfires and Hurricane fighter planes[,] 4 cannons per plane.When world war2 [sic] heated up and the bombing of Britain commenced, few people realised that my factories were the most bombed in the country, and during the raids I lost approximately 200 of my workpeople killed and wounded when their shelter sustained a direct hit. I had a fine medical staff of three doctors and thirty nurses out of a total 7,800 employees" [...]
Grantham was said[nb 3] to have received 21 raids by the Luftwaffe, which killed 70 people in 1941, around the Commercial Road area. This is in the town centre and north of Springfield Road where Kendall's factory was.
- Kendall's wife, Virginia
The following posting was made by Anne Tracy’s brother, William Tracy, and his wife Lillian, of Portsmouth, OH, USA on this site:
Denis Kendall’s wife, Virginia, was my first cousin. She was the daughter of my mother Anne, born "Anna Laura". She became a ballroom dancing instructor there, and escaped Portsmouth for Paris in the mid to late 1930s. In Paris she found work, also as a dancing instructor. One day Denis Kendall came to her studio to take some lessons. The charming Englishman literally "swept her off her feet" so to speak. They married immediately and of course she moved to Grantham.
Virginia was a tall, lithe redhead with very large, expressive blue eyes, charming and with the grace of a dancer. She was cheerful, and a real tease with small boys like me. They (both, I believe) were dual-citizens and so needed to touch base in America from time to time. It was on such an occasion, during which they merely stayed the required minimum time in a hotel in New York, that I met Denis when I was about 10 or 11, let’s say 1938 or 9, possibly as late as 1940. The war was on but we were not yet in it. Atlantic travel was restricted but they had special access because of his war work. Denis utterly charmed me, my parents and everyone around us, as he seems to have done with everyone. I recall his telling me a long involved story about capturing a German U-boat single-handedly by surrounding it on his white horse!
We knew that Virginia worked for the OSS, but all we knew beyond that was that she was attached to the Manhattan Project. The marriage ended in divorce, and I remember that there was a great deal of pussyfooting around the reasons for it in the family ("He was cruel to her" and so on). In the light of the recent evidence about Denis, one wonders of he was the reason why the disaffected wife was recruited by the OSS. I suppose we will never know. One also wonders if he was up to something on those New York visits! One has to make a certain allowance for the fact that he was passing secrets to us, but I suppose the British can take a dim view of even that. Seems to me more like industrial espionage.She returned to Paris after the war where she met and married Col. Thomas Davis, then attached to NATO headquarters with whom she had her only child, a daughter, Tracy Davis.
- MI5 files refer to the constituency as "Grantham and Cleethorpes". However, given the location of each, this appears to be an error and the correct name was "Grantham"
- Brownlow was Peregrine Cust, 6th Baron Brownlow, Mayor of Grantham from 1934-35 and also Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire from 1936 to 1950. He lived at Belton House, just north of Grantham. The article on the Manthorpe site (referred to in Reference 3 i.e. "The Other Side of the Kendall Coin") mentions Kendall dining there.
- (according to the BMARC Wikipedia page)
- "MI5 files - British Security Service". Retrieved 2008-10-13.
- "Lincolnshire Echo". Retrieved 2009-01-04. (fee-based retrieval)
- "UK General Election results February 1950". Richard Kimber's political science resources. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
- "The Other Side of the Kendall Coin". Retrieved 2009-01-04.
- "British National Archives". Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- "Chevron's history in the UK". Retrieved 2008-03-18.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Denis Kendall
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Grantham