Holly Betaudier ttt Pioneer Remembers

Scouting Pix 5377Unlike so many other people, I was lucky enough to be, by God’s Grace, the “alpha and omega” of ttt (Trinidad and Tobago Television), the first television station that was launched in the West Indies if not the Caribbean in 1962.

Before the station signed on, to me television was the forbidden fruit.  I say this because all my radio colleagues were going to America on vacation to observe what television was like in big countries.  I recall Don Proudfoot, returning from the USA with pastel coloured suits as he said he was told the warm-tones would be ideal for television lighting.  Others had various techniques that they learned from media classes abroad.  I was comfortable in “radioland” with a programme, “Holly’s Happy Moments”, that I started in 1946 on the US Armed Forces radio service network – WVDI in Fort Reid, Trinidad. At that time, WVDI mainly serviced the armed forces throughout the Caribbean.

I was happy and content working for Radio Trinidad, reporting to Sam Ghany, the Sales Manager and to Mr. Ron Goodsman, an English gentleman who, at the time, was head of Rediffusion.  Little did I know that Mr. Goodsman was to become the pioneer manager of the new television station.
While most of the radio personnel were taking up positions with the new television station, Mr. Goodsman said to me “If you could be as successful on television as you are on radio as a sales rep we can use you at the television station. Think about it and let me know how you feel.”  My response was, “Thank you very much Mr. Goodsman, I am as well before the microphone on radio and if I can’t get before the cameras on television I’d rather stay on radio.”  In response to me, Mr. Goodsman said, “Think about it and let me know!” He also said to me television is very much different to radio – you’re either a sales rep, where we need you, or a presenter”.   During a subsequent conversation with Sam Ghany, he counseled, “don’t shoot yourself in the foot.”  Both companies are the same and Mr. Goodsman is part of both.  Think carefully about what you are doing.  These discussions took place one year before the television station opened.

In a further conversation with Mr. Goodsman, unexpectedly he admitted to me that the response to television advertising was very poor and he wanted me to join the sales team and let’s take it from there.

I joined ttt in August of 1961 and my first success in Sales was the Kirpalani Group of Companies, Angostura Ltd., and a few stores on Frederick Street who bought airtime on ttt. I broke my on air presentation on the 31st of August 1962 – from 4:00 to 10:00 p. m. with several 5 minute promos congratulating the country on achieving its independence. Subsequently, these five-minute segments were converted into five-second “Spotlight” commercials.

Spotlight was an initiative that was introduced to bring small businesses on board to advertise their products and services on television. The aim was to reach a broader client base.  A small crew of three, Michael Clarke, Gail Agostini and I travelled as a team throughout Trinidad and Tobago from store front to store front on a given street. The original concept was to sell and produce short commercials for insertion in the programme schedule that was to air the next day.

The team of Spotlight also included Roy Castillo, a close relative of Paul Castillo, the famous “Parang man” who hails from Arouca.  Castillo knew the villages and towns inside out thereby making our assignments a lot easier.  During one of our trips, his popularity served me well.  Actually, he saved my life. I was going into a diabetic coma and he managed to rush me quickly to a local doctor.

As Carnival of 1963 approached, at one of the weekly meetings, I received the support of Programming and Sales (led by the late Neville Welch, Sales Manger) to host in-studio presentations from the various Calypso Tents with appearances from Sparrow, Melody and Kitchener. This programme was a triumphant success because it gave the viewers, many of whom never went to Calypso Tents, an opportunity to see the Calypsonians perform live.

Later, the General Manager also introduced an English-style advertising magazine called Ad Mags that featured the late Melina Scott. Subsequently Hazel Ward took over the hosting of the programme followed, much later by Allison Hennessey.  This style of programming was directly designed to reach the homemakers who were particularly interested in purchasing the latest products for their homes.

Somewhere along the way there was a loud outcry for more and more local programming.  This was widely reported in the media and the managerial staff took swift action to satisfy the television viewers.  I immediately offered my talent and skills to host a programmed called Variety.  With the support of the Programme Director, Mr. Barry Gordon, our first programme featured the Choy Aming Orchestra, Vilma Ali, the Mighty Sparrow and the Julia Edwards Dancers. Variety was a great triumph and it continued to showcase local entertainers for one year. The production costs for Variety were absorbed by the ttt, as there were very few commercials in the early stages of the programme. The success and popularity of Variety soon resulted in a sold out commercial situation.
Because of the success of Variety the Programme Director recognized that when Variety went off the air there would be a void. Immediately I suggested a talent contest.

Holly as Scout380During my early Boy Scout days, I took part in talent shows for which I won various badges.  This sparked a quick reaction from Barry who said we should call the show “Scouting For Talent”.  Again, I offered to host the show which aired live on ttt.  Prior to each performance several hours were spent auditioning the talented and aspiring singers, dancers, musicians and any other performing artists who came to present samples of their work. To make it worthwhile for everybody concerned, I suggested that we solicit prizes from the business community in exchange for airtime. This collaboration demonstrated how businesses could benefit from their participation.  It was a great success and an exciting time in television.

The first prize was either merchandize or cash to the tune of $1,000.00 with a token appearance fee. The first series ran for 8 preliminaries, 4 semi-finals and a final.  The contests took off like a “house on fire” with sponsors knocking on the door.  Mr. Goodsman then made a condition for clients advertising on Scouting.  In order to participate on Scouting for Talent clients were required to book advertising of a certain value, as that segment became “prime” viewing in a short period of time. When I said to Mr. Goodsman jokingly “ isn’t that a little harsh” he said to me “nothing in jest said so true.”  I have only 5 years to make a profit and he did.

It would be remiss of me if I did not mention the great contribution of Hazel Ward to the youth of the nation. She hosted the popular Teen Dance Party which was a youth-oriented programme.  Many talented dancers and singers who appeared on Teen Dance Party eventually performed on Scouting for Talent.

At that time Scouting for Talent was a reality competition to search for the best talented artists in the country. The top prize on Scouting for Talent eventually included cars and “solid cash” plus return trips to the USA.  In many cases, the winners achieved stardom in their respective categories in the USA, Canada and the UK.  At one point in the life of Scouting for Talent, an accountant working with ttt “leaked out” information that Scouting for Talent revenue was paying the entire company salaries. There is no denying that everyone was given a chance to participate and win some lucrative awards.

During my television period, ‘Scouting for Talent’ produced numerous entertainers including names such as Poser, Sugar Aloes, Protector, United Sisters, Chalkdust, Singing Francine, Denise Plummer, and Crusoe Kid and among the best voices, Barbara Absalom and Patsy John.  Also among the star performers was Selvon Walker, a dramatist, who appeared as a guest actor on ‘The Bill Cosby Show.” Eventually, he was able to spin his talent in movies and other television programmes.
Last, but by no means least, Aldwyn Alibino, Scouting for Talent musical director and accompanist was a musical genius beyond his years.  He wowed and inspired audiences with his extraordinary repertoire of songs and harmonies that he could play entirely by memory. Later, Aldwyn migrated to Canada where his musical talents were further developed.  He subsequently graduated from McGill University.

Scouting Pix 1373  hollyScouting for Talent was the catalyst for audience engagement.  This programme really got the audience engaged to the point that there was always a sense of discussion among the public about each night’s performance.  Scouting, therefore, set the stage for other artistic programmes which showcased the cultural diversity of Trinidad and Tobago.  Popular examples of Scouting were the Indian Variety show with Pat Mathura and Mastana Bahar with Sham Mohammad to name a few.The late Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Eric Eustace Williams, attempted to further integrate the races of the nation and together with his sister-in-law Joyce Wong Sang, Director of the Prime Minister’s Best Village Competition, organized a community programme encompassing all the villages of the nation.  The aim of the Best Village programme was to highlight the cultural traditions in the villages. The programme was also intended to highlight the ethnic diversity of our society namely the Africans, East Indians, Chinese, French Creole, Europeans and the Syrians. Best Village had many shortcomings but to some extent it evolved from handicraft to typical folk concerts with musical expressions such as the steelband and calypso.

One of the highlights of Best Village was the celebration of Siparia’s “hat trick” win of the competition.  To honour this achievement, ttt, under the aegis of the then Programme Director, Farouk Mohammed, decided to film this milestone in Siparia, which is a town in southern Trinidad, south of Penal and west of Fyzabad. The whole village lined the streets and the people applauded and cheered as the television crew drove into the town.  The crowds were bigger than any Carnival event in Siparia.  The star of the event was, none other than, Daisy Voisin – the Parang Queen of Trinidad & Tobago. To top it all off she performed to the delight of the crowd.

To generate even greater interest in Best Village, I hosted a weekly show at the Trinidad Hilton that was also televised on ttt.  To the present day, Best Village attracts our multi-ethnic society. The African and East Indian cultures are the main participants in the competition.
Another cultural expression featured on television was the Steelband Concert which I hosted on a weekly basis. In order not to upset the sensibilities of the various pan men, this programme had to be handled skillfully and this I managed with great success.
Just about every year prior to the Christmas Season, another local cultural expression “parang” which featured “merry making groups of serenaders” was introduced to the television audience.  It featured the Spanish element of our culture, which originated from neighbouring Venezuela. This Spanish “Parranda” culture blended with that of the native Caribs of Trinidad and eventually the name evolved into what we now know as “Parang”.  Every village had a group or elements of one and they appeared and performed on ttt.  The Parang season ends on the 6th of January, on the feast of the Three Kings called La Wah.

Trinidad & Tobago Television (ttt) was an institution created in our twin islands.  Over the years, nearly every living room had a television set and I was very proud and honoured to have been the host of programmes that aired on a weekly basis if not more often.  Our presenters brought joy, sadness, information, culture and education to the viewing public.  The onscreen presenters were also known to the viewers on a first name basis, just like one big family.

And then one day it seemed like the whole world crumbled.  There was sadness, tears and by God’s grace there was hope.  No, the whole world did not end, just our lifeline, ttt, which was part and parcel of the community for some 40 odd years, came to an abrupt end.  Competition set in.

We were first, we did our best and now there are many to follow.  In the closing days there were many hugs and kisses as well as sentimental recollections and then we all went our separate ways.  Some of us are gone and by God’s Grace some of us are still around.  It was an end of an era – God bless.

A Momentus Period In Television History by Angela Pidduck and Ann Winston

As one of the ttt-pioneers with the longest service at Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT), I have been asked, to write an article encapsulating my experiences from 1961 to 2001. During my career with TTT, I was privileged to experience a momentous period in television history in both Trinidad and Tobago and through out the Caribbean. One would think that with historical recall and the fact that the range and scope of my duties at TTT entailed writing, this project would be effortless. Nevertheless, I found this to be an extremely daunting undertaking, because I had not come to terms with the notion that TTT, as we knew it, and the television station where I devoted the major part of my youth, no longer exists…except in our memories.

The fact that TTT disbanded almost 40 years after its inception still leaves me a bit shell-shocked. Yes, a mere 4 years after I retired the station stopped broadcasting much to the dismay of the entire population. The majority of TTT viewers although saddened by the closing of the Station remained silent and bewildered even as the final curtain came down. Upon serious reflection, I am not sure what was more devastating to me, the takeover of TTT during the 1990 Abu Bakr led coup d’état in Trinidad, or its closure in January 2005. This being said, I would not want my TTT tenure to go unrecorded.

The following article written by Newsday journalist, Angela Pidduck who interviewed me shortly after I retired from TTT in 2001, captures in essence, my feelings of nostalgia, hopes and expectations of a bright future for TTT and all that it could have been and more:
In 1962 Ann Winston was a copywriter/scriptwriter with the Voice of Rediffusion and Radio Trinidad on Maraval Road. The programme, which stands out in her memory, as a scriptwriter was “A Date With Yesterday”, voiced by Russell Winston, with whom she kept a date to the altar in 1961.  Says Ann “I found he would be the one to do it, his tonal quality and presentation were both perfect for the programme which was like a back in times programme where you would lead-in with a song like “In the Light of the Silvery Moon’ and move into ‘A Certain Smile.”

At the end of March 1962, Ann noticed that all her peers were sending off applications to join the new television station, which was to be started in the building next door to the radio station, and decided to join them but says, “My application was very, very late. Closing time was 4 pm, I ran upstairs, dashed it off to beat the deadline and sent it in.”

Ann went on holidays and returned to find that she had been invited to an interview in her absence, apologized that she was out of the country and eventually after several interviews, was appointed Production Assistant.

When Ann retired as Programme Controller of Trinidad and Tobago Television on August 19,2001, she had given 39 years to building the television industry in this country. The mother of three adult children, who lost her husband, Russell, suddenly three years ago, never envisaged such a lengthy stint with the station as after the first two months of employment “I wondered what have I found myself in. I was ready to return to Radio Trinidad if my job was still open. I cried long tears and called Gabriel Francis (the Production Director) to find out if my job was still open but between himself and my husband they supported me through that period of uncertainty. And in the end “I have thoroughly enjoyed 39 wonderful and glorious years with TTT.

Ann remembers going into the station before her September 15th, date of appointment. Those were the mortar and concrete days as there were things being done, such as, floors being laid in certain areas on the ground floor. I was setting up programmes in the Traffic Department although I thought I would be a copy-writer but there was no specific area for copywriters and with my knowledge of radio programming I ended up doing everything, compiling logs for transmission, writing copy for commercials, and because of my love for the creative and television was new to Trinidad, production was the way to go.
I used to liaise with newspapers about what shows we were having, I was a one-lady band for years until television grew and the work became divided as it was a lot for one person to handle” Barry Gordon was then Programme Manager and wanted to expose his staff to all aspects of television and he allowed us to produce shows for television in keen competition among ourselves and I was part of the team headed by Tony Lutchman who was so creative we dubbed him the Cecil B De Mille of television.

In the ‘good old days’ Ann recalls an outside assignment as a production assistant-cum copywriter where she had to climb a very tall ladder to get up to the top of the roof of the Grand Stand at the Queen’s Park Savannah to note the camera shots of the cameraman and producer over two days of Carnival, only to return to the station at the end of each day to write copy of the day’s colourful events to be shown the same evening. The same applied to film coverage of the English cricket tour of the West Indies, at the Queen’s Park Oval this time, on top of the Pavilion. Could you imagine this young damsel passing through the hallowed quarters of the ‘strictly’ men’s pavilion to get on the roof by way of a ladder?  Each step was taken gingerly in flight up and down.

On her first oversees assignment Ann covered the Grape and Wine Festival in St. Catherine’s, Canada. And very few children viewers know that it was this very charming lady who assisted in securing the popular Sesame Street series for Trinidad and Tobago at the Caribbean Launch of Sesame Street in Jamaica.
And although Ann is sure that the station knew where it was going she believes that “technology caught up with us when we should have caught up with it. We should have been prepared for advanced technology and should have set our own standards. I do not believe in comparisons and trying to achieve what others are doing. If you need to train staff, need to go abroad, you must know when the time is right to advance. Just as nobody tells me it is time to have my yard cleaned, nobody must tell us it is time to move forward.”

How could she forget 1990 and the Muslimeen’s takeover of her beloved station? “Normally I was there late on a Friday afternoon as transmission logs had to be completed up to Monday which some times necessitated working long hours, but we were finished early that Friday and just half an hour before the take-over, I said to another girl ‘but what we sitting down here for,’ we were old-talking actually, and that is how we left.”

On entering the station after the surrender Ann was completely devastated by the scenes and asked herself, “what had happened and what could have happened to my colleagues in there? We were going back on the air and everybody had to help us rise out of the ashes, literally, everybody had to pull their weight. We lost a lot of years of work, documents and other items that were irreplaceable.” To this day, the memory of entering the place that was almost in shambles leaves Ann with ” a feeling of devastation…It was eerie because I knew that death had taken place in there. It was like a whisper, a feeling that a breath of life had been removed from TTT.”

Ann leaves Television House with the advice that TTT has to face the competition and must do so aggressively: “Our equipment must be state-of-the-art. Our staff must be knowledgeable in their respective fields, competent and sharp, prepared for action, and be motivated by that driving force which mirrors  ‘Only the Best Will Do… And In Him We Trust”.

Lloyd Rohlehr was a ttt Pioneer

Lloyd Rohler - ttt first news director.jpg

Sitting on a pile of concrete blocks typing news even before the Trinidad and Tobago Television building under construction was declared officially open by Dr. Patrick Solomon, the minister of home affairs, is one of Lloyd Rohlehr’s ttt memories.

Lloyd recalls, too, doing film stories around town with Bob Archibald taking care of the cinematography indoors and outdoors. And among the very first newsreaders were Mervyn Telfer, Clyde Alleyne and Errol Chevalier looking into a camera in a makeshift presentation studio.

Experienced programme director Barry Gordon from Canada was cool and confident. To Lloyd, physical inconveniences amidst hurry and challenge were secondary to the thrill of having television.

This was a noticing of Vidya Naipaul’s enigma of arrival or something imagined byCharles Dickens. And in a brand new building that was modest and elegant, and boasted a large mural inside.
Thanks to London’s Associated Rediffusion which had already made a success of Radio Trinidad. And Roy Thomson, a Canadian-born media world figure who wasconsidered the ideal owner of newspapers, refusing to interfere in editorial policy.

Thomson was made a baron in 1964.That same year ttt‘s Panorama was launched out of earlier newsmagazine-like beginnings.

A Walter Winchell-type of columnist/radio commentator, Paul O’Hara (Paul Persaud) back in Guyana where Lloyd came from called him a star reporter.

A passion for the news life and a farther reach professionally had something to do with it. Not forgetting a tough role model in the person of Lieutenant Colonel Freddie Seal Coon, editor of the Daily Argosy newspaper where Lloyd was a young reporter. Seal Coon was a trim former British Army officer.

Caribbean matters were an appetite for Lloyd Rohlehr. By the time the West Indian Federation was in stride he was a federal civil servant based in Port of Spain. He was picked by Prime Minister Adams to be personal aide to Sir Arthur Lewis, the famous West Indian economist in his honorary mission through the West Indies aiming at the creation of a Little Eight to rescue the federal experiment at a moment when a breakup of the Federation was imminent.

Dr.Lewis was based in Jamaica as head of the University College of the West Indies (later UWI).

On Sept. 15, 1962 Lloyd, already appointed but not yet free, reported for work at Trinidad and Tobago Television as its news producer, and he was with the station until December 31, 1968, when he took a public affairs position with the United States Embassy, two blocks away, up Marli Street.

Still later, he made his home in Los Angeles, California. Along the way, however, he had become a Fellow of Thomson Foundation Television College in Scotland and then enlarged on his expertise in his new hometown Los Angeles by attending, off-campus, the film school of the University of Southern California. Brian de Palma was a full time
student here. And so were Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Some say that these guys wanted to change the world and they did. And one of Lloyd’s lecturers was Robert Wise, whohad produced and directed the immortal Hollywood
movie, The Sound of Music.

For an international energy engineering firm Lloyd wrote and directed, on staff, many films and the company’s audience included Europe and the Far East.

He had for eight years written the current affairs for seniors script for the Trinidad and Tobago Broadcast to Schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District had him write and direct a number of their films, too, and got a listing in the Los Angeles Times

Lloyd says that all his professional life he had heard, and shared, the advice about script writing: “Keep it tight”. In the studio at Irvine, California, one Saturday morning, a film he had made was being dubbed into Korean and the voice work was being done by a man from that country. The old advice proved his ultimate test.

Routinely, one cannot at this stage change the length of a film; hardly the choice of words used, and definitely not the minutes or seconds one had at one’s disposal. But, the Korean input saved the day.