Reminiscences of a Sentimental Old Fool

I shed a tear last Friday night.

I shed a tear as I watched the end of an era in Trinidad and Tobago. It was on the cards for a very long time and was, I suppose, a natural consequence in a country that had long ago lost its soul, a country where institutions are no longer sacrosanct and which has succumbed to the international quest for the almighty dollar. Despite its inevitability, however, I could hardly believe that I was witnessing the dismantling of an institution that had been born on the night we won our freedom from Britain, an institution that had struggled with us through the good years and the bad years and which, whether we want to admit it or not, had played a major role in moulding the lives of each and every one of us.

On Friday night, Trinidad and Tobago Television, or ttt as we all knew it, signed off for the very last time and, like the cowboys of old who graced its screens for decades, rode off into the sunset never to return to Dodge.
For people like me who had been fortunate to have been an integral part of its history, part of our own lives ended with ttt on Friday night.
How well do I remember that July morn in 1971 when, as a young man determined to establish my future and stamp my presence on an unsuspecting Trinidad and Tobago, I walked through the doors at 11 A Maraval Road in Port of Spain for the very first time!

I was ushered up the steps to the office of the-then Programme Director. His name was Farouk Muhammad. He was an imposing figure, about six feet tall with a stern face and a voice to match. He informed me that I had been assigned to the News Department as a Trainee and that he hoped I would fulfill the promise I had shown in my interviews for the position.
My next stop was the Newsroom to meet the man who was to be my boss for the next four years and to whom I owe a tremendous debt for the role he played in helping me to develop as a professional. Yusuff Ali was the News Director and, on that day began a friendship born out of mutual respect, a friendship that has endured to this day. Yusuff was the consummate professional who insisted on standards of excellence at all times.

“There’s a time for work and a time for play,” he would say, “and when it’s time for work, I don’t want to hear about play.”
And he lived that philosophy to the hilt.
There were only four of us in the News Department in those days. Apart from Yusuff, there was Ed Fung, cool, calm and as knowledgeable a man about News as you could ever hope to meet. The other member of the team was the now-deceased Dale Kolasingh who became, in my estimation, one of the greatest television newsmen, if not the greatest, that Trinidad and Tobago has ever produced.

I was fortunate to have been part of that quartet. There was a work ethic in that News Department that the young journalists of today would do well to emulate.

I remember being almost star-struck during my early days at ttt as I met the celebrities I had watched on the small screen since the dawn of television in Trinidad and Tobago on Independence Day in 1962.

What a pleasure and a privilege it was to meet Bobby Thomas and Don Proudfoot, two of the great news readers at the time. And there was Auntie Hazel Ward whose cultural programmes set standards of excellence I attempted to follow in later years when I had left ttt and had been invited to produce Scouting for Talent, the programme that had been created by another cultural icon of ttt, Holly Betaudier.
The General Manager at the time was Fred ‘Sonny’ Rawlins. His Chief Engineer was Deighton Parris who later went on to become General Manager when Mr. Rawlins migrated to Canada.

Mr. Parris was a great supporter of the News Department and, during his stint as General Manager, provided us with all the tools we required to be the best news team in the business and shielded us when our jobs were threatened by the Chairman of the Board, the infamous James Alva Bain who branded as a Communist any one who failed to tow his line. And his line was so far to the right that no self-respecting journalist would ever think of towing it.

The entire staff at ttt was very professional in those days. Everyone, regardless of his position on the totem pole, set out to ensure that whatever was done was done to the very highest standards.
I well remember and will always respect the contributions made by people like Errol Harrylal, Shaffique Mohammed, Ozzie Maingot, Stephen Lee Pow, Timmy Mora, Andy Smart, Suresh Kawal and Victor Daniel in the Technical Department, Wendell Case in Engineering, Urias Mark in Props, Henry Carr in Carpentry, Julian Best in Film Processing and Ethel Bethelmy, Maria Attong and Barbara Mohammed in the Programming Department. There were many others also, too numerous to mention here.

During the eleven years I spent at ttt, the face of the News Department changed dramatically. Dale was the first to leave, taking up an appointment at the United Nations. Then, in 1975, Yusuff Ali left for the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and Ed Fung was appointed Programme Director at 610 Radio, another institution which, like ttt, signed off for the last time on Friday night.
In 1975, I was appointed News Director, a position I held until I left the company in 1982.
Many new faces joined the team over the years. They included Dominic Kalipersad who started his television career as a Technical Operator and moved on to become one of the station’s best newscasters. The late Salisha Ali also came on board as did Jai Parasram, Bernard Pantin, Lizz Aqui and Verne Burnett, the only one who remained on staff until Friday night’s closure.
Those were great news years at ttt.
Over the years, ttt became the breeding ground for many of this nation’s cultural icons. Programmes like Scouting for Talent, Mastana Bahar, Teen Talent, Twelve and Under, Mainly for Women and Indian Variety, continuously unearthed the great wealth of talent that resides in our twin-island Republic.
Several of the country’s top artistes got their first public recognition through the screens of ttt.

Trinidad and Tobago will forever owe a debt of gratitude to people like Hazel Ward-Redman, Holly Betaudier, Sham Mohammed, Pat Mathura, ‘Uncle Tavi’ Ramon-Fortune, ‘Uncle Ian’ Ali and ‘Auntie Germaine’ Mitchell for their tremendous contributions to the development of the nation’s culture.
And they were all part of the ttt. network.
Many a celebrity passed through the doors of the studio at Maraval Road. Andrew Young, then United States Ambassador to the United Nations, was there as was Cyrus Vance, the former American Secretary of State. Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five, the legendary Bob Marley, Redd Fox of ‘Sanford and Son’ fame and the great pianist Oscar Peterson all visited at one time or another.
ttt was the axis around which the lives of the people of Trinidad and Tobago revolved.

It was ttt’s major news programme, Panorama, which kept the nation informed.
It was Panorama to which we turned to ensure that we were always abreast of local, regional and international events.
Panorama was there in 1970 during the darkest hours of the Black Power Revolution; it was there when Guy Harewood and Beverly Jones and several other of our sons and daughters lost their lives in what were perhaps misguided attempts to change the course of the country’s history. Panorama was on hand to cover the historic visits to Trinidad and Tobago of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Elizabeth, Queen of England. Panorama informed the public of all the ramifications of Trinidad and Tobago becoming a Republic in 1976; it covered the historic ‘No Vote’ election campaign of 1971. It was Panorama to which the nation turned when Eric Williams died.
On the regional scene, it was through Panorama that the population got a first hand view of the Reverend Jim Jones and the mass suicide in Guyana, of elections in Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana, of the assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney, of the coup in Grenada and of the devastation caused by the passage of Hurricane Allen in 1980.
Yes, Panorama was a way of life for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Now, Panorama is no more.
I would be the first to admit that in the last few years, ttt. in general and Panorama in particular seemed to have lost their way. Gone were the fire and the dynamism that had established the station as an undoubted leader for several decades. As the station deteriorated from the days of its pristine glory, an air of complacency overtook most of the staff members, an attitude perhaps fuelled by what they saw as years of neglect by successive managements.
It is not for me to comment on this or for that matter on the reasons why Government saw it necessary to take this last final drastic step. I am not aware of all the facts surrounding the decision and it would, therefore, be inappropriate of me to pass judgement.
Suffice it to say that whatever the reasons, the outcome of the decision will forever scar the national landscape. One can but wonder if the station’s total demise was the only way out.
I suppose we shall never know.
As we all sit and await the coming of the new entity, all that will be left for sentimental old fools like me will be memories, memories of what were and what, hopefully, could be again.
Yes, ttt has breathed its last.
It has gone to the ‘great roundup far away’ and with it has gone a piece of all of us.
I hope I will be excused if I paraphrase a quotation from William Shakespeare’s immortal work, JULIUS CAESAR, when Marcus Brutus, addressing his friend and co-conspirator, Caius Cassius, said:
“And whether we shall meet again, I know not.
Therefore, our everlasting farewell take:-

For ever, and for ever, farewell, ttt.
If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made.”
I shall miss you, ttt and forever remember you as one of the major driving forces in this poor and humble life of mine.