I was sitting at my desk at Grampian Television in Aberdeen, Scotland, when the telephone rang. It was James Coltart, Deputy Chairman of the Thompson Organization. I had met him about six months previously when I had arrived in London and left my resume with his office. He told me that the Thompson Org. was getting involved in setting up TV stations in developing countries and that they wanted a Canadian style look to the operations. They didn’t want a CBC model but one that was similar to the independent commercial stations in Canada. He felt that my background in Canadian TV (Hamilton – Producer/ Director, Edmonton – Commercial Production Manager, Calgary – Production Manager, Winnipeg – Executive Producer) would meet the requirements for their operations.
Coltart asked if I would be willing to go to Kenya and set up a TV station there. At that time the Mau Mau’s were very active and were cutting off the heads of white folks. I said thanks but no thanks. But I gave him the name of a Brit who worked with me in Calgary and who was now back in England. As it turned out he contacted this person who eventually went to Kenya and did a great job.
Two weeks later Coltart called me again. This time he asked if I would like to go to Trinidad and set up the station there. I knew that Trinidad was somewhere in the Caribbean but that’s about all the knowledge I had of the place. I told him I would call him back in a day or two. Off I went to a travel agency and picked up whatever literature I could find on Trinidad. The agency also had a 16mm film on Trinidad that I was able to borrow. The film was all about Carnival. Bingo! Coltart had his man.
Five weeks later I was sitting in Coltart’s office getting last minute information and instructions before flying off that afternoon to Trinidad. The station’s financial structure was: Thompson owned 40%; Rediffusion owned 40%, CBS New York had 10% and the Trinidad Government had 10%. Thompson was to be responsible for the production/programming end of things while Rediffusion would look after the engineering requirement. I was to be the overall Advisor/Consultant in the operation and was to also train staff. The General Manager was Ron Goodsman who, up to that point, was Redifussion’s Engineer of radio operations in Trinidad. He had no TV background at all but was able to convince the powers-that-be that he could do the job.
Before I prepared to leave, Coltart dropped a bombshell into my lap. He had received word the previous day that the person who had been hired to be the Program Manager had changed his mind and had taken a job as General Manager of the Chamber of Commerce. That person was Ken Gordon. I now had to add the Program Manager’s duties to my job description.
At that point a “rotund” gentleman in spectacles wandered into the office. I was introduced to Lord Thompson. The conversation went like this:
Thompson: So, you’re the fella that’s going to set up my station in Trinidad.
Me: Yes, sir.
Thompson: You know what kind of station I want, don’t you?
Me: You want a Canadian style operation. I imagine you would like it to be similar to your stations in Kingston and Peterborough, Ontario.
Thompson: Oh, you know about them?
Me: Yes. You want a cameraman who will push the camera with one hand and operate the mike boom with other.
Thompson: Yes! But haven’t you forgotten something.
Me: No. We’ll also stick a broom up his rear end so he can sweep the floor at the same time.
Thompson: That’s it! That’s it! That’s exactly what I want. Have a good trip and good luck!
With those words ringing in my ears, I flew off to Trinidad by a BOAC Britannia airplane with a stopover in Bermuda for refueling. I arrived in Trinidad late in the evening and checked into the Queen’s Park Hotel. In the morning, feeling fully refreshed, I went down to the lobby. I was approached by a slightly built man who said “Are you Barry Gordon?” (He must’ve recognized me by my pale complexion.) I nodded. He said “I’m Ron Goodsman. I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing here but I didn’t send for you.”
And so the adventure begins.
At my meeting with James Coltart in London he advised me that construction of the station was underway and that equipment had been ordered. Indeed, some of the equipment had been delivered already. Then he dropped the bombshell. The station had to be operating in time for Trinidad’s Independence…..two weeks hence!
Ron Goodsman drove me to the site of the station on Maraval Road. As I looked around a horrifying thought struck me. Could that concrete slab on the ground be the “construction” that Coltart was talking about? My work was more than cut out for me if we were to keep our commitment of televising the Flag Raising Ceremony at midnight on the eve of independence followed by the Opening of Parliament the next morning. The engineer on location, courtesy of Redifussion, was Bill Corkhill. Bill, a Scotsman, was extremely energetic and knowledgeable. We arranged to have a room quickly erected on the slab which would house telecine and a desk for an announcer to sit at. Mervyn Telfer was the announcer who made the first on-air appearance for TTT.
Because there was a tremendous amount of engineering work to be done in an extremely short period of time we called upon CBS to lend a hand. They sent in 2 engineers from New York and a film editor from Los Angeles. CBS also arranged for a mobile crew to cover our opening events. The mobile crew was the cream-of-the-crop.They would follow President Kennedy around and cover his travels from aircraft carriers to foreign visits. The 2 engineers who came to Trinidad from CBS turned out to be the Director of Engineering for CBS, Joe Stern, and the Assistant Director of Engineering, Ron McKelvey. Along with Bill Corkhill, these two gentlemen put in 14 hour days doing all the wiring and getting the engineering requirements in place. Bob Parris joined in later.
The transmitter was being set up by Canadian General Electric and a crew headed by Bruce Reid was already at work. As I recall at the time of TTT’s initial broadcast there were only about 80 TV sets in the country. Besides those owned by private residences the government had arranged to set up TV sets in various parks throughout the country.
Ron Goodsman and I had our first major clash when he told me he was ordering a negative film processing machine. I told him that TV stations in the early years had negative machines but were now switching to reversal processors. Film processing time was less and, operationally, there was less chance for error by an operator who might forget to switch polarity when a negative film was being run. But Ron steadfastly claimed that negative was the only way to go and that those who had switched really didn’t know how to operate efficiently. He ended up buying the negative processor only to change to a reversal processor some two years later at a cost of $25,000. We went through a similar exercise regarding a lighting grid. He was adamant that lighting would be fixed and never touched again. I tried to impress upon him that lighting was constantly being altered based upon the event that was being televised. His inexperience was very trying on me. But after initially setting up fixed lighting it wasn’t too long afterwards that lights were made adjustable and Charles Magloire became the unofficial lighting expert.
The Flag Raising Ceremony and the Opening of Parliament went off without a hitch. The CBS crew was extremely efficient. After the Flag Raising Ceremony at midnight they worked the rest of the night tearing down and re-setting the equipment for the Opening of Parliament. Joe Stern and Ron McKelvey stayed in Trinidad for about a month. I shudder to think about what might have happened if they hadn’t been around.
Bob Archibald was hired to look after the film department. And the first film assignment that came along was to film Trinidad’s first Ambassador to the United Nations as he was departing for New York. Bob assured me he knew how to use the Auricon camera so off he and I went to Piarco. I was to be the interviewer. David de la Rosa arranged for us to do the interview on the steps leading up to the Pan Am plane. Bob seemed to be doing a lot of fidgeting with the camera but I finally got the signal to go ahead from him. When we returned to the station I told him to get the film processed and call me when it was ready for viewing. It wasn’t long before he called.There had been no film in the camera.
The actual arrival of television was a long-awaited, but somewhat dubious event. Trinidadians had long become accustomed to announcements of great happenings to come but only to see these proposals fall by the wayside. But when August 31, 1962 dawned on the country it marked a momentous occasion for the population. Independence! It was actually happening. But another event was also taking place that was initially greeted by skepticism. The Independence ceremonies were to be televised throughout the country. Not many people believed that this would actually occur. But when people began gathering in the Square across from the Red House, where a TV set had been erected, they were amazed to look at scaffolding, television cameras and huge lights being erected near the base of the flag pole. Television had indeed arrived and this single occasion gave Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) a sense of reality and validity.
And now the hard work began to structure a complete TV operation. Neville Welch, a former pilot for Varig Airlines, was hired to head up the Sales Department. Neville was a big gregarious man who loved a good joke and always had a smile on his face. Joyce Marshall was his assistant. Neville’s work was more than cut out for him. Nobody wanted to advertise on television initially because there were so few sets in the country. But it wasn’t long before the set count began to climb dramatically. And that created its own problem. Retailers were clamouring to buy TV time but they had no visual material. Our Commercial Production Dept. consisted of Ann Winston and John Barsotti along with Louis Sorzano as a film cameraman. At first I handled the actual directing of the commercials. But pressure of other responsibilities (training announcers, set construction, training operators and cameramen, sales advice, administration, programming, etc.) became somewhat overwhelming. I put a call out for Charlie Moore in Canada. Charlie and I had worked together in Calgary and I was always impressed by his work ethic and his amazing amount of energy. Charlie arrived and immediately took over Commercial Production as well as some of the operational training. I was now able to concentrate a little more on the on-air look.
In my view our on-air staff ended up being some of the finest and most talented group of people I had ever worked with. Mervyn Telfer was the anchor who was always available to fill in at whatever assignment came along. Clyde Alleyne was a “steady Eddie” who always gave his best. And then there was Hazel Ward. I had never seen anyone prepare themselves so thoroughly for the program they were handling. She always amazed me with her professionalism. Hazel and I had many conversations usually about television in general. I will always remember her telling me that “you should have been a lawyer because you’re so analytical”. Lloyd Rohlehr, the gentle giant, set up a news department that required almost no guidance from above. His news readers eventually included a sterling cast of Bobby Thomas, Trevor McDonald, Ed Fung, Hans Hanoman, Errol Chevalier (I always thought of him as the voice of doom), Jimmy Wong, and Don Proudfoot. In the latter stages of my time at TTT Yussuf Ali joined Lloyd in the newsroom and added immensely to the on-air presentation.
Meanwhile the Sales Dept. was expanding along with the increase in TV sets in the country and the expansion of programming hours. Neville now had Jean Mouttet, Lloyd Rochard, Winfield Aleong and Vernon Legere, to “pound the beat.” The ever-efficient Claudine Pantin was handling the traffic aspect of programming and sales assisted by Marilyn Leong Poi. Michael Clarke, George Tang and Louis Sorzano looked after the filming of news items and commercials. Louis also doubled in Film Editing.
Although Ron Goodsman and I had our differences from the beginning I will always be grateful to him for one specific aspect of TTT. A secretary had been hired for me prior to my arrival in Trinidad. I had worked with four secretaries in previous television operations and knew how important they were to keep things running smoothly in an administrative capacity. So when I was introduced to Ethel Bethelmy I inwardly had reservations about her capability because of her lack of television knowledge. But she absolutely amazed me with her quiet efficiency and the manner with which she absorbed the industry. She took a huge workload off my shoulders.
I have often been asked if I ever had any interference from any government officials. Well, there was an incident that took place that may, or may not, be classed as interference. I had a phone call from a government minister one day (whose name will not be revealed). He asked me to employ a niece of his. I tried to explain to him that television was a very specialized business and that I couldn’t just hire anyone off the street. The conversation went like this:
Me: Is your niece a film editor?
He: Uh, no.
Is your niece an audio operator?
Is your niece a cameraman?
Is your niece a technician?
Is your niece a commercial writer?
Well, Mr. Minister, as you can see there is just no position available for her right now.
Uh, yes, I see. Thank you.
I never heard from that Minister again with regard to employing any of his friends or relatives but we became good friends after that.
As the months flew by and the television on-air programming expanded it became necessary to increase responsibilities to various personnel. To that end I had ensured that all operations personnel should experience the different functions that took place on a day-to-day basis. Everyone had to take their turn at audio, telecine, master control, camera, etc. In that manner they would have more respect for one another and the jobs they had to perform. I was also looking for the cream to rise to the top. And rise it did in the person of Errol Harrylal. This deceptively quiet and unassuming individual began to exhibit a professionalism and creativity that totally stunned me. He absorbed the intricacies of television production at an abnormally rapid rate. It was with complete confidence that I could turn over programs for him to direct and eventually produce. Another person who rose to the top was Ossie Maingot. His calm intelligence and leadership capabilities were very evident in planning sessions.
Another bonus for me was about to emerge that would allow me to stop working seven days a week. Farouk Muhammad arrived. He had received his television training at Ryerson Institute in Toronto. At that time Ryerson was the only school in Canada that offered a television course. Farouk’s desk was placed in my office and I can still recall his first day sitting there. He kept eyeing me in a suspicious manner and I too kept eyeing him in a questioning manner. I don’t know what went through his mind but I can certainly relate what I was thinking about. There were two incidents in Canada that I was aware of where Ryerson grads took jobs at functioning TV stations. Unfortunately they came to work with an attitude of “I know it all” and this caused a good deal of disruption among the regular employees. Suffice to say that in both of these locations the Ryerson grads only lasted two weeks before they were let go. And now I was faced with a Ryerson grad.
But Farouk did not exhibit any of the “qualities” of the Ryerson people I had heard about. He was quiet, polite and enquiring. There was never a sign of pushiness or superiority. He handled all assignments with the efficiency of a television pro well beyond his years. As time went by I increased the pressure on him to see if I could find any weak spots. I’m sure he sometimes must’ve felt that I was picking on him for no good reason. But in the back of my mind, I knew he was my replacement and I wanted him to be the best there was. And he was.
During this period of time Ron Goodsman and I were having our professional problems. I recall one meeting where Ron jumped up from his desk and shouted at me “You’re accusing me of incompetence!” I jumped up and responded “If the shoe fits wear it!”
I knew my days were now numbered as I had heard that he had approached the Board about having me removed. However, I was stopped on the street one day by Sir Patrick Hobson, Chairman of the Board, who told me not to make any plans to leave because the strained situation between Goodsman and myself would resolve itself soon. And shortly thereafter Goodsman was sent back to England.
A new General Manager was appointed and as I was ushered into his office to meet him for the first time I was greeted with “I don’t know a damn thing about television so I’m going to need all the help I can get”. This unbelievable breathe of fresh air was named Sonny Rawlins. I had unbounded respect for him. He was the fairest individual I had ever come across. I admired him tremendously and supported him with all my heart at all times. How could I not.
I had one failure at ttt that I was most proud of. If that sounds like an oxymoron so be it. Scouting For Talent was probably the most successful local commercial show on television. While the talent that appeared on the program deserves a lot of credit for this success I feel it was mainly due to Holly Betaudier the host. I had many sessions with Holly where I tried to correct his grammar and presentation. And then I realized that I was wrong. Holly was a son-of-the-soil and represented the average local person….the clerk in the stores, the cutter in the cane fields, the cutlass-wielding vendor at the coconut carts. Holly was Holly and I was wrong to try to mould him into the likes of a sterile host as seen on North American television. Holly was one of the most caring and warm persons I ever met.
I can honestly say that I was very proud of everyone who worked with me at ttt. They arrived at the front door of the station without an ounce of television knowledge but their eagerness to learn was more than a joy to behold. Because of them the station became a leader in the Caribbean. On more than one occasion representatives from Jamaica and Barbados television stations came to ttt for guidance about production, programming and operations procedures. I knew then that the station was in good local hands and it was time for me to walk out the front doors for the last time after seven of the most rewarding years of my life.
A new era was about to begin!