Dennis Bardens: prolific journalist, author and secret agent

Dennis Bardens died on 7 February, aged 92. He needed all that time to pursue enough careers to occupy a host of other people. He was a prolific journalist, author of 15 books, Foreign Office mandarin, Cold War spy, television writer, wit, tireless gallant and leading authority on the occult.

Like many writers, Dennis was driven by the need to escape the legacy of an unhappy childhood. By that token, Dennis received an ideal – almost too ideal – start in life.

Abandoned by his mother at three, barely recognised by a father, a major who was mainly stationed abroad, Dennis was largely left to his own devices. He left his grammar school in Portsmouth early and started as an equally fractious mail room boy for a paper in Cardiff.

When sacked, he left for London, where he barely survived, often in poor health, on odd jobs as gardener and cook, thanks to support from both the Salvation and Church Army.

In the Twenties for frolicking with models at Epstein’s studio, Dennis earned a reputation for lechery, for which he was famed for the rest of his life.

By the Thirties Dennis had established himself as a journalist in the Sunday Chronicle, Sunday Express, Daily Mirror and others.

He became so famous as a reporter of the Blitz in 1940, that the Ministry of Information charged him with the running of a clandestine press, should Britain be invaded. After his discharge from the Royal Artillery on health grounds, Dennis worked from 1943 with the Czech Government in exile and after the war as a secret agent in Czechoslovakia, before joining the Foreign Office.

Dennis then found his natural niche, first in broadcasting and then in television. He made his debut in 1949 as editor of Focus, the BBC’s radio documentary series. He showed uncanny prescience in 1953 by founding Panorama, theatre for the interplay between establishment and liberal values. A move to ITV in 1955 was another step by Dennis towards the future of the medium.

Dennis’s reputation rests mainly on his books, especially those on the occult, which include Ghosts and Hauntings (1965), Mysterious Worlds (1970) and Psychic Animals (1987).

Dennis was not blessed with a happy family life. Marie Marks, whom he married in 1936, never recovered when their son, Peter, drove them both into a lorry.

Peter, with whom Dennis had a strained relationship, died in 2002, though after a reconciliation between the two. In recent years Heather Smart, the daughter of his deceased sister Doreen, gave Dennis valuable family support. For the last 18 years Dennis’ life was prolonged and enlivened by the loving care of Joyce Wischhoff.

Dennis’ many friends will remember best his indomitable high spirits.

At his 92nd birthday, when he was already dying, and while awaiting the ambulance, he burst into song with Life is just a bowl of cherries.

Three weeks before his death, with a lascivious glint in his eyes towards the nurses, he declaimed: “A rabbit has a charming face Its private life is a disgrace! I cannot even hint to you The awful things that rabbits do!” Dennis Bardens’ ashes are being put to rest on 26 May at 2pm, St Bride’s, Fleet Street.

John Mackrell, freelance writer

John Mackrell

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