The Early Years

John_Barsotti_.jpg

The year was 1964 and the month was July, roughly two years after TTT began its operation in Trinidad & Tobago.

I distinctly remember walking through the corridor leading from the Sales Department where I had just concluded business on behalf of a client for Corbin Advertising when I met Barry Gordon, the Thompson representative at ttt who was also Programme Director with the Station. We chatted for a moment and then Barry invited me to his office because as he put it, there was something he wished to discuss with me.

I never expected what was to come next and was very surprised when asked if I would be interested in joining the staff of ttt. Naturally, the invitation left me speechless for a few seconds and my immediate reaction was that I knew very little about the television industry. Barry then explained to me that he and the other expatriates were there to get the station up and running and they were mandated to employ and train locals like myself to eventually take over the entire operation.

My next visit to Television House was for an interview with the General Manager, Ronald Goodsman and the job offered to me was that of assistant to Charlie Moore, specifically in the area of programme promotional writing and commercial production.

It was mid-October of 1964 when I joined the company and began what was to be a career in an industry that shaped my life forever.

The learning process did not come easily. In fact, it was by trial and error because from simply writing commercial and promotional scripts, I was also called upon to report and write news stories under the very competent guidance of Lloyd Rohlehr, the Head of News. I remember also being taught the hard way how to use a hand-held film camera.

On Barry’s instructions, Louis Sorzano and Michael Clarke, two very experienced Cameramen taught me how to load film into a Bell & Howell Camera and I was told to go out that weekend and shoot anything I felt like. On the Monday when I returned with the film and had it processed, most of the scenes were either out of focus, too jerky and generally horrible. But, I soon got the hang of it and improved as time went by.

George Tang, another Cameraman was assigned to teach me editing and that too took some painstaking weeks. A few years later this process paid off handsomely because I was selected as the Cameraman to accompany Hazel Ward to Expo 67 in Montreal.

There are so many fantastic memories about the early years at Television House that it would take chapters to really put it all together, but here are a few that readily come to mind. One area that was truly amazing, was our coverage of Horse Racing which was done on film, hustled back to the station, processed, edited and ready for transmission following the news. In those days, the grand old man of sport Raffie Knowles voiced each race without a prepared script just like he did in his sports segment of Panorama.

Charlie Moore decided that the time was right for me to be exposed to work in the studio and again at times looking and feeling totally ridiculous I sat in the Control Room and made silly mistakes, but learned and soon became quite efficient as a Director of programmes and later on, Video Taped Commercials. Then, there was that unforgettable day that the Duty Announcer was late in arriving to sign on the station and I happened to be standing in the Control Room just listening to Barry Gordon as he tried to figure out what should be done with just about ten minutes before “Sign On” time.

I then put my foot into my mouth by stating quite openly that I could do it because signing on the station and reading a few scripted news headlines was no big deal. Barry immediately got me a jacket which was at least two sizes too big and with the help of Miley Duke and Charles Magloire, I was ushered into the Presentation Studio, seated and lit, and before I even had time to look over the script, there I was on the air with a cue from Shaffick Mohammed who was at Master Control that evening. Somehow or other, I managed to stare straight into the lens of the camera, look professional and get over the most nerve-racking five minutes of my life. There was laughter and even congratulations throughout the Technical Area and it was also the start of another step for me in television. Thereafter, I was given a lot of voice work, but not too many on air appearances because the station had its full complement of full-time as well as free-lance personalities.

My second and perhaps most nervous on air appearance occurred about a year or so later and again it was because of a mix-up with presenters. Don Proudfoot was scheduled to host an advertising magazine programme called Showcase, but thought that Melina Scott was the host. So, neither showed up for the LIVE presentation. Once again, there was Barry Gordon at my desk and without even asking whether I could handle such a task, he put that old funny smelling jacket on me again and took me down to Studio “B”.

This time I was able to get in a couple rehearsals and the guys on the floor really helped by scribbling pointers on the floor behind each of the products.

Naturally, I was nowhere as good as Don or Melina, but with sweaty palms hanging out of the big jacket, I made it and none of the clients complained. And so, the learning process continued with the generous help of so many people at all levels…Barry Gordon, Charlie Moore, Farouk Muhammad, Lloyd Rohlehr, Hazel Ward, Miley Duke, Charles Magloire, Shaffick Mohammed, Hugh Pierre, Victor Daniel, Louis Sorzano, Michael Clarke, George Tang, Errol Harrylal and others too numerous to mention. Training was a priority in those early days and although most of it was hands-on at the station, a number of overseas courses in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. were arranged for many members of the staff.

The Chief Engineer in the early days was Jack Elvin from the BBC and his assistant, also from the BBC was Graham Shaw. Eventually, they both returned to the UK and Deighton Parris took over as Chief Engineer with Jim Richards as his assistant. In the Commercial Production Department, Charlie Moore returned to Canada and I was then promoted to Commercial Production Director, a position I held for about four years until Farouk Muhammad took over from Barry Gordon as Programme Director and I became Farouk’s assistant.

No article about the early years will be complete without mentioning the names of some of the staff that worked so conscientiously to get ttt off the ground and assisted in making it the number one station in the English speaking Caribbean.

In the area of programming, Barry Gordon and Farouk Muhammad stand out. Farouk for instance, was responsible for contracting Sesame Street and the day the programme was launched is still very clear in my mind. He was also one of the founders of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, an organization that has grown in strength over the years.

Then, there was Charlie Moore who sharpened the technical and production skills of so many. When General Manager Ronald Goodsman returned to the UK, the first local to occupy the GM’s chair was Sonny Rawlins. Like me when I joined, Sonny Rawlins was absolutely clueless about the industry and his learning process much different to mine. However, his managerial skills garnered over years employed with the Hi/Lo Food Chain soon set him on the right path and he went on to head the organization in a truly professional manner for quite a number of years.

In those early years of the station’s growth, every member of the rather small staff in all departments displayed a keen interest in their specific duties, ensuring that everything came together before every transmission commenced. For instance, in Programming, the department to which I was assigned there was a team supervised by Ethel Bethelmy. This very dedicated group comprised staff like Ann Winston, Claudine Pantin, Eunice Lyder, Marilyn Leong Poi and Dolly Lutchman while in the Library there was Christine Pantin who was assistant to the Librarian Bob Archibald.

One cannot forget the caliber of presenters that graced the screens in those good old days. People like Clyde Alleyne, Mervyn Telfer, Hazel Ward, Errol Chevalier, Melina Scott, Desmond Bourne, Peter Minshall and Jack Spector. In later years when the station was securely on its way, we saw many new faces like Bobby Thomas, Ann Wharwood, Freddie Wharwood, Ed Fung, Dale Kolasingh, Allyson Hennessy, Wilbert Holder, Don Proudfoot and others who contributed to the continuing success of Trinidad & Tobago Television.

As in any society, the medium of television is constantly praised and criticized. In Trinidad and Tobago where we are fortunate to have a population of different ethnic, social and religious backgrounds, the praise and criticism was fast and sometimes furious. But, I distinctly recall an in-house telephone survey that was conducted in 1980 and the results were astounding.

The majority of those surveyed all preferred the foreign programmes to those that were locally produced and the results were the same with the advertisers. This of course brings me to the line up of local and foreign programmes that were transmitted between 1962 and 1988, by far the best years in the programming history of TTT.

On the local scene, there was Scouting For Talent, Mastana Bahar, Indian Variety, Teen Dance Party, Teen Talent, Twelve And Under, Time To Talk, Mainly For Women, At Home, College Quiz, Know Your Country, It’s In The News, Better Village, Steelband Concert, Community Dateline, Play Of The Month and so many others, not forgetting TTT’s excellent coverage of Carnival and sporting events.

On the foreign scene one cannot forget programmes like The Roaring Twenties, Mc Hale’s Navy, Bilko, Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Days Of Our Lives, Maude, I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Untouchables, Little House On The Prairie, Beverly Hillbillies, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Paper Chase, Taxi, Room 222, Knott’s Landing, Route 66 and many more that brought hours of good, clean family entertainment to the television screens. Those were definitely the good years, but change was soon to come and it happened when CBS, Rediffusion and the Thompson Group passed full control of the station to the Government of Trinidad & Tobago.

The downhill slide although fairly minimal at the time, began shortly after the Government took control and the autonomy once enjoyed by a staff of professionals soon became a thing of the past. The Newsroom was the first to feel the effects of the politicians, Government as well as Opposition. That effect was felt throughout the organization and lasted without change well into the 1980’s.

To this day, one very special event stands out as being the most touching moment of my career in television. It was Sunday, March 29th 1981, the day that Dr. Eric Williams died. I was at home that evening with my wife and two young daughters watching Solid Gold, a popular programme at the time when suddenly there was the noise of Motorcycles on the compound where I lived. Then, I heard someone calling out my name and when I eventually opened the door, there stood Mr Jim Rodriguez the then Commissioner of Police and Colonel Joseph Theodore of the Defence Force asking me to accompany them to President’s House.

Naturally, not knowing why and perhaps too worried to ask, I got dressed and went along, leaving a very worried family behind.

On arrival at President’s House, I was told about the Prime Minister’s death and then asked to go to Television House and make an announcement that President Ellis Clarke would be addressing the Nation at 8.00 a.m. the following morning. For security reasons, no mention was to be made in the announcement about the PM’s death, so before leaving for TTT,

I wrote a short script that was approved by the President. I remember telling Carl Narine, the Supervisor on duty that evening about the purpose of my visit without even a hint of the PM’s passing and after I was put on the air and the announcement recorded for further broadcasts before Sign Off, Carl in his normal quiet, smiling way looked me in the eye and said The PM dead nuh? He was not the only one to guess right, because the Switchboard was immediately flooded with calls asking the same question. The next morning, a more curious group had gathered outside of TTTThe President arrived at 7.50 a.m. and at 8.00 a.m. made the announcement of the PM’s passing and the appointment of Mr. George Chambers as the next in line designated to be appointed as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

Despite the fact that Dr. Williams was not a great supporter of the media, he always defended TTT from interference, especially from his Ministers and senior Government officials. But, following his death, the situation regarding political interference became even worse and continued to deteriorate, resulting in the eventual closure of the station after 42 years.Really a burning shame if ever there was one and for those of us who toiled at TTT in the early years and are still around, the pain will stay with us until we die. For the dearly departed, they most surely must have turned in their graves on January 14, 2005.

Published by

John Barsotti

John Barsotti is now retired and residing in Canada after 40 years in the media and advertising.

His career began in 1964 in the Promotions and Commercial Production Department of Trinidad & Tobago Television.

In 1970 he was promoted to the position of Commercial Production Director and in 1974 to Assistant Programme Director. In 1976 he left TTT and joined Carib Lager Brewery as Advertising Coordinator and after just two years, moved to Lonsdale Advertising as an Account Executive.

In 1978, John was invited to rejoin TTT as Programme Director and accepted the position which he held for about 41/2 years before being promoted to General Manager in 1983.

During his stint in television, he was exposed to many areas of the industry from producing to directing and from news and sport to announcing.

As Programme Director and later on as General Manager he represented TTT as Vice President of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union and served for four years on the Standing Committee of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association.

John’s unexpected departure from TTT was in 1987, but he continued in the industry by joining AVM Television as its General Manager, a position that he held for close to a year before
deciding to migrate to Canada. In 1997 he returned to Trinidad and joined the Tourism & Industrial Development Company as Manager, Corporate Communications and after five years with TIDCO, returned to television as Chief Executive Officer of the National Broadcasting Network of Trinidad & Tobago.

John enjoys and follows most sports with golf which he plays, football and cricket topping his list of all time favourites.

He is still a full-time member of the Queen’s Park Cricket Club and a past member of the St. Andrew’s Golf Club.

Leave a Reply