The Early Years


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.

My Adventure Launching ttt


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?
Uh, no.
Is your niece a cameraman?
Uh, no.
Is your niece a technician?
Uh, no
Is your niece a commercial writer?
Uh, no.
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!

ttt – The Eyes of the Nation

Mike&Norman-downtown-man in street location.jpg

As Trinidad and Tobago transitioned from its colonial past to independence it also embarked on a new era in broadcasting – that of television. Trinidad and Tobago Television, (ttt) as it became known signed on every evening since its inception in August 1962, with the very familiar words – “Trinidad and Tobago Television (ttt) the Eyes the Nation”

It was with deep regret and sadness when I received the news that ttt signed off the air for good on 14 January 2005. Although I had moved on some 32 years earlier ttt held a special place in my heart in all respects. It was regarded as the “old stomping ground” a “university lab” of sorts for those of us who “leaped frog” into careers in television and communication abroad. Personally, I was able to use the knowledge, training and experience in careers after leaving ttt, first in Canada and New York and eventually as an international civil servant at the United Nations.

I recall very vividly that before becoming an employee at ttt, I was given an assignment by Neville Welch, the sales manager of the Station to canvas Port of Spain and capture images of people in the down town area standing outside of the showcase windows looking at cricket live on television. The sales manager was so impressed with my still photographs that he immediately called the Chief Engineer, Jack Evelyn who overwhelmingly endorsed the quality and content of the coverage. Unknown to me at the time, this was a contributing factor to my getting a job at ttt.

Many of those who listened to coverage of cricket and other favourite sports commentary on radio for years wanted to see the action live with commentary by Raffie Knowles even though they themselves did not own a television set. As the masses slowly adjusted to the new phenomenon of television, the city officials, encouraged by businessmen, soon mounted television sets in public parks such as Woodford Square in Port of Spain and Harris Promenade in San Fernando. Actually this was a marketing ploy to entice the viewers to purchase television sets.

In my actual interview for the a job at ttt, with the General Manager, Ronald Goodsman, he explained that my post description was going to be “operations assistant” dealing with photography. With this title, I spent a training period in the film library where I joined Louis Sorzano, George Tang, Bob Archibald, Tony Malucchi and Christine Pantin. We were all responsible, in one way or the other, for assembling the daily transmission reels by timing the programmes, inserting commercial breaks, and adding cues at the appropriate segments. Daily newsreels were also compiled from locally filmed news stories as well as foreign news films provided by International Television News (ITN) London and other sources. In our daily assignments we also collaborated with colleagues in the Commercial Production Unit. Ann Winston, one of the pioneers who came from Radio Trinidad, was our main contact in that Unit. She networked with the Advertising Agencies as they supplied commercial spots and material to be aired during the breaks in programming. Many will remember that Bonanza and Gun Smoke were among the most popular shows in those early days.

As a matter of fact in those pioneering days at ttt we very truly functioned as a team in all respects. The General Manager and Programme Director, as a matter of fact, demanded professional excellence and inspired the staff to achieve perfection. Above and beyond the familiar faces of Melina Scott, Denise Gomes, Hazel Ward, Clyde Alleyne, Bobby Thomas and Mervin Telfer who either anchored or hosted a variety of programmes, there was an even bigger creative team behind the scenes. The engineering team included Jack Elvin, Graham Shaw, Deighton Paris, Jim Richards and Claude Daniel, while the technical team included Errol Harrilal, Victor Daniel, Shaffick Mohammed, Hugh Pierre, Tony Lutchman, Miley Duke with Ossie Maingot, Suraj Basdeo and Urias Mark in the props. The creative graphics to announce either stations breaks or upcoming events to promote local programming or to inform the audience of ongoing technical difficulties were designed by Compton Welch.

Over the years, my initial training in still photography, under the guidance of Noel Norton served me well in terms of transitioning to the moving picture format (television) ratio. My first real film assignment was given to me by Barry Gordon who as he nurtured me into the assignment said, “there is nothing to it, Mike. I have confidence that you can handle the job and do it well”. With that pep talk, a Bell and Howell silent news camera with a “wild sound”recorder were placed in my hand for the event. At the time it appeared to be a daunting assignment but I faced the challenge head on. I returned to the Station with a story “in the can”. Of course, those were the days of film, so the footage had to be processed by the lab technician, Julian Best and later edited so the report was not aired until the following day.

A great many, if not all, of us were new to the environment so it was a matter of learning the technology on the job. No task was too small! Even the operators who transferred from radio had to adapt their technical knowledge to the motion picture standards. Although some of the language was familiar to me, I had to make quick adaptations from still to motion picture photography every step of the way. The equipment we had at the time was really not state-of-the-art but the technology and language was so intriguing and challenging that we grew with each assignment.

The Auricon 16 mm sound-on-film (SOF) camera was the “main stay” on major location coverage. The very first time in fact, that we covered cricket on film at the Queens Park Oval, there was really no staff with the expertise at ttt to handle it. The management had the foresight however, to contract a team from ITN-News to provide the major coverage while we under-studied the crew to quickly pick up the fundamentals, which we did with precision.

There were many limitations as far as equipment was concerned. We had the one SOF camera at ttt in the early days, so in order to bridge the gap when the film ran out of the camera we learnt to “rig” a second silent camera with a 400 foot magazine to “bridge the window” as a back-up just in case a major play was made during the reloading of film on the sound camera. This was done using a black changing bag because there were no darkroom facilities on location. We made these changes quickly and efficiently to achieve a smooth transition as the “bridged camera” was silent. As time progressed we acquired the skills and with the change in technology we eventually moved from film to live coverage.

As pioneers in the early days at ttt we were given the opportunity to learn the various operations in different departments. For instance, on one occasion I signed on the station when an operator was absent. I appeared in television commercials, one with even John Agitation, a well-know comedian in the Islands.

In due course, I shifted to the News Section at ttt that produced the Panorama News, which was regarded as the flag-ship newscast programme providing outstanding local perspectives nightly at 7:00 p.m. The team in the News Room at the time included Lloyd Roehler, Yussuff Ali, Horace Harrigan, and Leslie Thornhill. Eventually Panorama expanded its coverage from local stories in Trinidad and Tobago to include other Caribbean countries. Again, it was a challenge to adapt and to improvise on each location because outside news environments are never static. This meaning that there is really no “dress rehearsal” in news coverage.

Over time we learnt the importance of attending “briefings” and “walk through scenarios” whenever possible, in order to secure the best vantage points to set up equipment because in reality the crew is competing with other crews for the best vantage locations.

While covering the Guyana independence for instance, I learnt during the briefing that the lowering and raising flag ceremony was going to take place in total darkness. A crucial piece of equipment, a “sun gun”, was going to be imperative in capturing the images of the changing of flags from colonialism to independence. Other international crews who did not attend the briefing were caught off-guard and I was the only one who had the images recorded. With that experience I was able to transfer this knowledge to the coverage of Barbados independence ceremony and to other news events such as coverage of the visit of HRM Queen Elizabeth, Emperor Haile Selassie (Ethiopia) as well as the many Caribbean Ministers summits, to name a few. ttt coverage of these major media events brought history into the living rooms of citizens and actually provided them with the reality of events live-on-film.

It is often said that each major assignment has a story within a story that does not make it on the air. While covering Guyana’s independence inauguration I was personally invited by Lord Thompson, who was one of the founders of ttt, to join a group on an informal evening with Errol Barrow, the Prime Minister of Barbados, along with Barry Gordon who was expected to hold discussions with an official from Guyana. At the time Guyana was interested in launching a television station in that country.

We journeyed on an amphibious aircraft to his home which was located in an interior part of Guyana. The trip itself was interesting and scenic as we flew over the Kaiteur Falls (Guyana) which has a drop of some 228 meters. Kaiteur Falls is the highest free-falling waterfall in the world, five times higher than the well-known Niagara Falls in Canada. That, however, was not the only fascinating experience of the day! When we entered the two-story bungalow, there were two very live tiger cubs steering directly at us from the living room. I froze in my steps and waited for the others in the group to react or even dare mention a word. The host on realizing that we appeared to be petrified, tried to break the silence by launching into a litany of excuses to justify why he housed these wild beasts as domestic animals in his home. Among the excuses was the fact that the mother of the cubs was accidentally shot shortly after birthing the cubs. Still frozen in my tracks, I took a deep breath, and after what seems like an eternity, I overheard Errol Barrow say he is going back to sit in the aircraft; without hesitation I joined him. Needless to say we missed the interesting discussions and the rum punch party but felt our lives were too important to take the risk that starred us in the face that night. A hair raising experience not to be relived or caught on camera.

ttt in fulfilling its mandate to provide viewers with local programming, produced several culturally diverse shows such as Best Village, Mastana Bahar hosted by Sham Mohammed, Teen Dance Party and Twelve and Under hosted by Hazel Ward and Scouting for Talent by Holly Betaudier. Needless to say, such programmes encouraged greater admiration for the cultural differences in our society as well as preserved and promoted respect for the traditions and fundamental values in the country as well.

Moreover, one of the most popular weekly programmes was Scouting for Talent hosted by Holly Bataudier. Searches for talented contestants to be auditioned were conducted nationwide, either on location or in the studio at 11 Maraval Road. This show with all its imperfections was a genre way ahead of its time. With the advent of globalization we can now view similar productions such as “American Idol” with the famous Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul replicated internationally with spin offs such as French Idol, Chinese Idol etc. The coveted prize on the American Idol is a one million dollar recording contract while on the Scouting Talent Show the prizes were nowhere in that ball park.

As I mentioned before, I owe my success in the international communications arena to my formative years at ttt. In the onset, we were allowed to wear different hats, and this molded us and provided a broad understanding of the medium. When I migrated, first to Canada I was able to transfer the experience and knowledge in film to such assignments as covering Ontario Parliament at Queen’s Park and later in the New York at Time and Life Films, where I re-edited the famous March of Times news reels which were shown in cinemas around the world long before television became a household word.

As faith would have it, I went on to work at the United Nations where I was responsible for the production of several award-winning films and documentary videos that promoted advocacy for the children of the world.

During my 25-year career with the United Nations, working in film and television, I traveled to over 100 countries crossing cross many times zones and the International Date Line several times, logging thousands of frequent flyer miles with such well known Goodwill Ambassadors (UNICEF) as Sir Peter Ustinov, Liv Ulmman, Audrey Hepburn as well as the famous 007 actor Roger Moore and Harry Belafonte who needs no introduction.

Despite the tight time lines and the daunting circumstances, followed by the rapid changes in technology, we the committed staff at ttt were unaware that one day we will be known as the pioneers in Caribbean Television!

Again, I must reiterate that I was both saddened and nostalgic to learn that Trinidad and Tobago Television (ttt)went off the air in January 2005. Saddened because ttt was the place where I spent my formative years and where I fostered a career and love for the medium and nostalgic because it was the place where I forged lifelong friendships.

It is very tragic therefore to learn that the Eyes of the Nation are now closed!