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.

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.

Remembering ttt – A Personal View


How do you write an epitaph for ttt? How do you find a few words to summarize an institution that is as old as our nation? Where do you begin? And where do you end? ttt has been a part of our lives for more than forty years. It has been our eyes and our ears. Over the decades it has brought us closer together, taught us about ourselves, created an understanding of our diversity, unearthed some of our greatest talent, presented some of our best stories and kept us in touch with our world.

The institution that ceased to exist on January 14, 2005 was a poor shadow of the vibrant (and profitable) ttt I knew. But it was, after all, the only national broadcaster – the people’s station, a reflection of our society, our people, the conscience of a nation.

Today the heart of ttt has stopped, but it had been on its deathbed for a long time, afflicted with a disease brought on by its own inability to accept change and move forward into the modern broadcasting era. It deteriorated soon after its unfortunate marriage with the other state broadcasting organizations and the reluctance – or impotence – of its owners and its managers and directors to provide the potent medication required to resuscitate it.
But that’s for another time.

Much has already been written about ttt’s demise. And journalists, commentators, historians and politicians will have much to say in the weeks, months and years from now.

Today I want to add my thoughts as we end an era in broadcasting in Trinidad and Tobago. Now is not a time to mourn; it is rather a time to celebrate what ttt represented to all our people. I want to celebrate what it meant to me. I want to remember the ttt that was there when the Union Jack came down, the eyes of the nation that saw a country take birth and its Parliament constituted.

The ttt I remember is the one that connected with the people, the organization that reflected – or tried its best to reflect – the nature of our society, our unique social structures, our art and culture. It was also a news organization that was at times bold and pioneering.

The generation that’s witnessing the end of this broadcast era doesn’t know the ttt I know. Today’s generation is polluted by American mass culture, by sensationalism and reality television and they demand more glitz than substance. That is their right, I guess. But I believe it is our responsibility, our duty to educate them about their loss.

Today is a day to pay tribute to the pioneers who entered uncharted waters and created ttt. From the technicians and prop men to the on-air stars, from the office floor to the boardroom and that small dedicated group of pioneering television journalists, among which I count myself.

We were witnesses to history at home, in the region and beyond.
ttt was also a dream maker. It opened doors for journalists, producers, artists and performers and allowed talent to grow and blossom. I lament the demise of an institution that gave me and so many of us an opportunity to go beyond hope and live dreams. The nation will remember only a few names and fewer faces, but it must collectively say thanks to everyone, the army of dedicated men and women who built and nurtured ttt and made it ours.

I want to begin with a step back to a time when ttt was still a novelty, when a television set was a mystery. It was a time when its on-air personalities were national icons. I want to tell you a story about a teenager from the countryside, where young men had dreams and old men waited to die, where hope for a better life faded with the end of the day and took birth again with the rising sun.

ttt gave wings to that young man’s dreams and took him beyond the village, allowing him to travel from the ghettos to the White House, to meet kings and paupers, presidents and despots, telling stories about people and their lives and the world in which we live. I was that young man who dared to dream. And ttt allowed me to live those dreams, made me a storyteller. And I shared those stories with a nation that was willing to see and hear. I was proud to be a part of a national broadcasting organization, to work alongside some of the finest media personnel I have known.

Today I write stories for Canadians, seeing the world through Canadian eyes. Over the years since I left ttt I have produced thousands of newscasts, covered scores of major national and international events, witnessed the rise and fall of dictators, the birth of nations – events that have changed our lives and charted a new course for this planet. Yet I still have dreams of returning home to tell our stories about all of us. Sadly, I won’t be able to do it on ttt.

Back in 1963 while I was in high school, my father succumbed to my nagging and bought the family’s first television set. It was an act that was to change my life forever.

That night I watched television at home for the first time. It was the moment I had only imaged. Now I could put away my Reader’s Digest and enter another world, one with sound and vision and the drama and passion of life.

We watched a documentary about penguins. And later, the news. When Peter Minshall said, “Good Evening” I saw myself. That’s what I was going to do, no matter what it involved. In the next few days we watched cricket, listened to Mervyn Telfer tell us in every commercial break about “McQueen caps, worn by cricketers everywhere”. We saw Lloyd Rohlehr interview some unimportant guest and Hazel Ward present the weather, briskly and carefully scratching graphics on a chalkboard as she went along. (Many years later Hazel told me the story of how Barry Gordon put her live on the air doing the weather report while she thought she was doing a rehearsal.)

In the days, weeks and months following that first encounter with this magic medium our TV attracted the entire neighbourhood to watch all the staples of the sixties – I Love Lucy, Maverick, Bonanza, 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, The Beverly Hillbillies, Happy Days. My father was particularly fond of Dan Matthews, the no-nonsense cop played by Broderick Crawford on Highway Patrol. Ma preferred Lucy and Granny of the Beverly Hillbillies. ttt was still a foreign medium, waiting to move from infancy and grow up alongside the nation to become a chronicler of our society.

I didn’t like the crowds and perhaps that’s why I was attracted to news and current affairs shows, which the crowds didn’t like. I was intrigued with Walter Cronkite’s You Are There, with his authoritative voice informing us that, “All things are as they were then, except You Are There”. I was always there, even today. Cronkite’s book, A Reporter’s Life, and his own narration of it are two of my prized possessions.
Each week as I watched Cronkite I imagined myself telling stories about people, their lives and their world. It was my first lesson in television journalism. And I never stopped learning.

Soon I was teaching myself, mimicking Cronkite, retelling the stories, writing scripts secretly to avoid the ridicule of others who could never understand my obsession with television. I was reciting every commercial seen on the tube even the one with a matronly white woman telling us about our own Angostura and inviting us to “try a little Angostura”. And I was singing the Texaco jingle, “You Can Trust your car to the man who wears the star, THE BIG, BRIGHT, TEXACO STAR.” It’s amazing how things that happened 40 years ago remain etched in one’s memory. In those early days television was as alien as the Christmas Cards with snow that I would send to my teachers and friends.

By the 1970s ttt had become an integral part of my life and the lives of our people. In ten years it had demonstrated its relevance and its necessity. Under the guidance and direction of Programme Director, Farouk Muhammad, it was producing its own shows, appealing to the people and creating opportunities for our nationals to enter this new world both in front of and behind the cameras. It’s programming included such shows as Issues and Ideas, Time to Talk, It’s in the News, Teen Dance Party, Youth Talks Out, Heritage, Scouting for Talent, Mastana Bahar, Indian Variety, Twelve and Under, Mainly For Women, Play of the Month, Hibiscus Club, Community Dateline, Know Your Country, and many, many more. Producers like Hazel Ward, Horace James, Oswald Maingot, Errol Harrylal, Shaffique Mohammed, Victor Daniel, Tony Lutchman and others were working with our talented pool of engineers and technicians to produce high quality national shows that reflected our country, our people and our culture. And they did it with minimal television facilities and equipment, but with commitment and a passion for excellence.

On the air we had equally talented home grown talent: Hazel Ward, Clyde Alleyne, Mervyn Telfer, Holly Betaudier, Horace James, Wilbert Holder, Melina Scott, Sham Mohammed, Pat Matura, Allyson Hennesey, Brenda Da Silva and many others. And our news and current affairs personnel included Trevor MacDonald, Don Proudfooot, Lloyd Rohler, Jimmy Wong, Peter Minshall, Bobby Thomas, Yusuff Ali, Hans Hanoomansingh, Dale Kolasingh, Neil Giuseppi, Salisha Ali. I joined that impressive list much later as did Dominic Kalipersad and those who came afterwards.

All of us shared a common goal to produce television for Trinidad and Tobago that was relevant, timely and designed to create a better society, sharing our diversity and creating understanding and appreciation in our multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. It is what made ttt a great institution that cannot be replicated.

By 1972 I was teaching English, Literature and History at a high school in Couva. But I couldn’t wean myself from the idea of telling stories on TV. Then my life changed. I responded to an ad for television technicians and was invited to Maraval Road for an interview with Farouk Muhammad.
When I walked into Farouk’s office I didn’t know what to expect; I was totally unprepared. Farouk didn’t get up or even invite me to sit; I didn’t have a chance to say “Good Morning.” I will never forget the next few moments: his first reaction and my response. “You look like a reporter,” he said. “That’s what I would like, but I don’t think you’re looking for a reporter”, was my spontaneous response.

He invited me to sit. And we talked, I about my dreams of telling stories on TV, he about plans for expanding local television production, focusing on more news and current affairs. It didn’t seem like an interview; it felt like he had just found someone he had been looking for. And I thought I had arrived in the Promised Land. It was an important beginning.

My career didn’t follow the script when I began my television career on February 16th, 1972. I became a trainee technician and learned the basics of lighting, sound and other aspects of television production from Errol Harrylal, a martinet, a dedicated professional and one of the best television instructors I have known. It was an intimidating experience, but an utterly rewarding one. Victor Daniel gave me the first opportunity to write a television script; then in 1973 the real dream started taking shape when I was transferred to the newsroom.

It was that corner on ttt’s second floor that shaped my life, my career and my future, making me one of the professionals who contributed to making ttt what it was. Yusuff Ali was the News Director and he gave me the first, perhaps most important lesson of my career. “This journalism business,” he told me, “is really simple. You tell stories that people want to hear and you have to tell them well so they’ll listen.” Then he pulled up his chair to his typewriter and started writing a story to demonstrate what he meant. It began, “Hundreds of people waved placards in front of Whitehall this morning…” About a year later he gave me a lesson in broadcasting: don’t read, talk. Farouk Muhammad explained it better, pointing out that television is an intimate medium that talks to one person at a time.

I learned a lot from all of them: Farouk, Yusuff, Ed Fung, Dale Kolasingh and Neil Giuseppi and many of the others who passed through ttt, people like Hazel Ward, Bobby Thomas, Don Proudfoot, June Gonzalves, Victor Daniel, Oswald Maingot, Horace James, Raffie Knowles. And from people who would call up to offer advice and also criticism. The small short-wave radio on Yusuff’s desk was my dearest companion. Every afternoon it allowed me to listen to the BBC and the Voice of America in Special English. It taught me how to write, how to read and how to speak.

Before long the team broke up. Yusuff, Ed and Dale left in quick succession leaving Neil and me – both in our late twenties – to run a newsroom with four trainees: Verne Burnett, Afzal Khan, Liz Aqui and Mary Mouttett. Angela Fox was there from time to time, helping as a casual writer.

Neil had a new vision for Panorama, one that was driven by hard news and current affairs. Together we began a revolution in television journalism in Trinidad and Tobago that dispensed with soft, trivial matters, opting instead for hard news and stronger television journalism. “We’re just wasting time writing wire copy,” was the way he summed it up.

They were the magic words. It was as if a spell had been broken. The next day I was on the road with the newsroom’s only sound camera, with a frustrated Gerry Vieira, my cameraman, wondering, “How yuh going to get all this on air today”. We got it to air, all of it. And we did it again the next day, and the next. We were finding stories about people and their lives, letting them tell their stories in their words; we were holding the bureaucrats and officials accountable. No one and nothing was immune or sacrosanct.

I was everywhere, from the city to the villages. And Neil was in Port of Spain, working with studio equipment, also creating stories and putting together the show.

We had taken up a challenge and together we were determined to prove that youth and professionalism were indeed compatible. And we operated on the journalistic principle that our first obligation was to the people. And the people had a right to know what was going on in their world. The country started noticing. Government ministers and bureaucrats stopped taking the people for granted because we were prepared to ask probing questions about the things people wanted to know.

Panorama was scooping the newspapers, Jai Parasram and Neil Giuseppi became household names and people were calling us from everywhere with leads, and positive comments about the value of ttt in their lives.

One afternoon we received a one-line news release from Whitehall, which stated that based on a report on Panorama the government had ordered an inquiry into the PTSC. One year later the commission found exactly what I had reported about safety concerns with the corporation’s buses. There were dozens of similar stories that brought government response and solutions. Sometimes it brought the wrath of ministers; and often, the condemnation of ttt’s ultra right wing chairman, James Alva Bain.
ttt and our small news team had started to make the government and other primary definers in the society accountable, demonstrating that ttt was indeed a fifth estate in our democratic system.

Neil focused on indepth interviews about current affairs at home and abroad. I spent my time finding stories outside. We had changed the news paradigm from an urban based, diary-driven agenda to a people-based national one. We found the news where it was happening. Early in my career a BBC producer told me that I should think of television as the ultimate coincidence, combining sound and vision to create an illusion of reality. Neil and I were going one step further: we were presenting reality, not an illusion.
Jeremy Taylor, the number one television critic of the time who rarely had pleasant things to say about ttt, found that he liked “the direction Panorama was taking under Neil Giuseppi” after it “unleashed a new secret weapon” called Jai Parasram. We were not out to get anybody; we were just telling stories that needed to be told. And people liked what they saw.

Somehow we managed to cover all the big stories. From regional summits to natural disasters, we found ourselves where it was happening. Nobody could tell stories the way we did because no one had sound and moving pictures. We were able to show the horror of Jonestown, the devastation of hurricanes, the wastelands created by an erupting volcano, the passion and the mayhem of Jamaican politics, the tragedy of Walter Rodney’s untimely death, the battle for the Malvinas and so much more. And at home the little, dispossessed people could now speak about their frustration, their problems and concerns and expect a response from the officials and bureaucrats who had always been inaccessible to them.
That is what ttt was and that is what we have lost. My several awards for Excellence in Journalism that sit in my library are a reminder of the glory days on ttt and the great loss we have suffered. But they are also a reminder too that I must continue telling stories. And that’s why I am telling this one.
Ed Fung’s masterpiece documentary series, Our First Decade, remains one of ttt’s finest current affairs works ever. It was produced at a time when we had few resources. His tour of China and the Far East with Dr Eric Williams remains one of examples of why ttt was part of the heartbeat and the soul of the nation.

Neil’s outstanding coverage of Walter Rodney’s death and the Guyanese elections, my eight-part series on Jamaica, the historic Non-Aligned summit in New Delhi and the OAS General Assembly, our annual News Reviews have all contributed to making ttt more than a commercial broadcasting organization. A private television station would not have gone so far to tell stories to make them relevant to Trinidad and Tobago audiences. They would have been content to pull down an Amero-centric report off CNN.

We did what we did because of professional pride, leadership, teamwork and a passion for excellence. We were the messengers serving the nation, with ttt as the medium.
We were also breaking new ground with special live coverage of major events including the historic nine-hour live telecast of Pope John Paul’s one-day visit to Trinidad. And my own pioneering production in which we had the first live television picture out of Tobago: election coverage co-hosted by Dominic Kalipersad in Tobago and Jones P. Madeira in Port-of-Spain.

What ttt lacked in finesse, it produced in relevant, national broadcasting. And that’s what Trinidad and Tobago has lost. The ttt that became a part of the National Broadcasting Network seemed to lack the will and the enthusiasm to do the same in spite of modern, more efficient tools and additional staff.

Commercial media see value only when the bottom line stays in black; a national broadcaster serves a nation, building bridges, maintaining its culture, and preserving its heritage. Today, the eyes of the nation are shut. And the doors at 11a Maraval Road are bolted.

The broadcasting industry is one of the most competitive in today’s world where globalism has changed all the rules. The ease at which the Internet and satellite television can transport us from deep space to the devastation of Asia by a tsunami makes it difficult to operate on a level playing field. The marketplace in Trinidad and Tobago, with a proliferation of media, makes it imperative for any government to chart a new course for public broadcasting. In a nation such as ours, there will always be the need for a national broadcasting network, no matter what you call it.

Perhaps one of the greatest models is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a respected public broadcaster that has been established by an act of parliament and is funded mainly by the treasury, with a board of directors keeping more than an arm’s length from the government. CBC recognizes its social responsibility to the nation based on the premise that freedom of the press is central to the democracy and the defence of civil liberties. It’s programming is predominantly and distinctively Canadian, reflecting Canada and its regions to national audiences, actively contributing to flow and exchange of cultural expression, contributing to Canada’s shared national consciousness and identity, reflecting its multicultural and multiracial nature while being responsive to the evolving demands of the public. Its journalism is consistent with freedom of expression, independence and the highest professional standards.

In a way it sounds like what the ttt I knew tried to do and did reasonably well, despite its myriad problems. The later version of this institution that became tied to other media seemed lethargic, almost suicidal. Perhaps its demise was inevitable.
We trust that out of the ashes a true, independent national broadcaster will emerge, one that celebrates our nation and its people, an institution in which journalists will operate with the highest professional standards of fairness and accuracy.

Democracy can only flourish when there is a free and independent media. Every government – especially in small, emerging nations – owes a responsibility to the people to ensure that they have access to media through public broadcasting. After all, the people own the state enterprises, not the government. Whoever takes up the job of leading the new public broadcaster must accept the responsibility to do it on behalf of the people, to represent the nation, to celebrate its diversity and highlight that which brings us together rather than sets us apart.

When the new public broadcaster is born it must be all that and also ensure that it’s free and independent voice is heard loud and clear as a fifth estate, ensuring that nothing is ever done to silence dissent and fair comment. Media, especially the people’s media, must never prevent today’s minority from becoming tomorrow’s majority.
Dr Lenny Saith promises a better product saying that, “…the wait would have been worth it”. We want to take him at his word and wish him and the government of Trinidad and Tobago God speed in this project.

Jai Parasram – Toronto: January 2005