Kendall, Sir Maurice George

(1907-1983), statistician

by Alan Stuart, rev.

© Oxford University Press 2004 All rights reserved

Kendall, Sir Maurice George (1907-1983), statistician, was born on 6 September 1907 in Kettering, Northamptonshire, the only child of John Roughton Kendall, engineering worker, of Kettering, and his wife, Georgina, of Standon in Hertfordshire. At matriculation stage in the Derby central school he was primarily interested in languages but, becoming interested in mathematics, he won a scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge, where he was a keen cricketer and chess player. He obtained a first class in part one of the mathematical tripos (1927) and was a wrangler in part two. He entered the civil service in 1930, and was employed at the Ministry of Agriculture on statistical work. This led to his becoming co-author with George Udny Yule for the eleventh to fourteenth editions of Yule's An Introduction to the Theory of Statistics, which had first been published in 1911.

In 1941 Kendall became statistician to the British chamber of shipping, and in the following years published many papers in the theory of statistics, primarily in the theory of rank correlation coefficients of paired-comparison experiments, and the analysis of time-series, in the construction of a theory of randomness, and most originally and most intricately in the theory of symmetric functions of the observations in a sample. One of the two most important rank correlation coefficients was named after Kendall, who discovered it in 1938. His two-volume treatise, The Advanced Theory of Statistics (1943-6), was followed by the award of a Cambridge ScD in 1949.

In 1949 Kendall was appointed professor of statistics in the University of London, holding this chair at the London School of Economics, where he founded a research techniques division and published the first major dictionary of statistical terms (1957) and the first comprehensive bibliography of statistical literature (3 vols., 1962-8).

In 1961 Kendall again changed the direction of his career by joining the computer consultancy later called Scientific Control Systems Ltd (SCICON), where he was successively scientific director, managing director, and chairman. His interests ranged widely: he was president not only of the Royal Statistical Society (1960-62) and the Institute of Statisticians, but also of the Operational Research Society and the Market Research Society. When he retired from SCICON in 1972 he began yet another, and perhaps his most testing, career as the first director of the World Fertility Survey, a very large multinational sample survey project, from which illness forced his retirement in 1980. Kendall was twice married. On 11 February 1933 he married Sheila Frances Holland (b. 1908/9), daughter of Percy Holland Lester, rector of Ashton upon Mersey. They had two sons and a daughter. After they were divorced in 1947 he married, on 1 March of the same year, Kathleen Ruth Audrey (b. 1904/5), the divorced wife of Frank Whitfield and daughter of Roland Abel Phillipson, dentist. They had one son.

Kendall had an orderly mind and an enormous capacity for hard work. He was at his best in the organization of research, where he had an almost infallible capacity to delegate responsibility. He wrote seventeen books and about seventy-five papers in statistics alone; a memorial volume, Statistics: Theory and Practice (ed. Alan Stuart, 1984), reprints seventeen of his papers and contains a select bibliography. Perhaps the greatest influence that he exerted was through The Advanced Theory of Statistics, which was revised into a three-volume work (1958-66), later retitled Kendall's Advanced Theory of Statistics, and became the leading treatise on the subject.

Kendall's literary style, lucid, balanced, and sometimes ironical, reflects his early interest in language. He constantly played with words, writing sometimes under the anagrammatic names Lamia Gurdleneck and K. A. C. Manderville, and many pastiches, of which the best known is 'Hiawatha Designs an Experiment'. His inaugural lecture, 'The statistical approach', and his presidential address to the Royal Statistical Society, 'Natural law in the social sciences', demonstrated that it was possible to write interestingly of statistical matters. Kendall was a tall, good-looking, and friendly man, who managed to get on with all those with whom he worked.

Many honours came to Kendall. In 1968 the Royal Statistical Society awarded him its highest distinction, the Guy medal in gold. He received doctorates from the universities of Essex (1968) and Lancaster (1975). In 1970 he became a fellow of the British Academy, and in 1974 a knighthood was conferred on him for services to the theory of statistics. When, finally, he retired from the World Fertility Survey, his exceptional work there was recognized by the award of a United Nations peace medal. Kendall died in Redhill General Hospital, Redhill, Surrey, on 29 March 1983.


A. Stuart, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 147 (1984), 120-22
The Times (31 March 1983), 16g
personal knowledge (1990)
private information (1990)
m. certs.
d. cert.

Wealth at death  
£119,503: probate, 25 Aug 1983, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Oxford University Press 2004 All rights reserved


GO TO THE OUP ARTICLE (Sign-in required)