November 29, 2020

BBC Caribbean: How it started and finished

Pin It

20110325150117gallery_sir-trev-1970It started during World War Two with Calling the West Indies for servicemen calling home.

By the 1950s, the programme Caribbean Voices allowed producers the room to work for the BBC and write their early novels.

In the 1960s and 70s, the programmes attracted young broadcasters from the Caribbean.

After closure in 1975, BBC’s Caribbean Service was re-launched in 1988 as a news and current affairs unit.

Caribbean leaders included Bush House on their London itineraries where they discussed pan-regional issues.

Britain’s first black MPs also visited Bush House.

Caribbean Magazine presenter Annemarie Grey and editor Jerry Timmins tackled Caribbean cultural issues.

The team acquired news faces in 1991.

The Caribbean Service made regional headlines through to the final week on air.

The team always included a range of Caribbean and English voices.

In 2010, it won an Association of International Broadcasting (AIB) award for the BBC Caribbean/ News Creole lifeline programme for post-quake Haiti.

The final BBC World Service transmission to the Caribbean

BBC Caribbean – Final Show

Following budget cut announcements, the last BBC World Service programme to the Caribbean was broadcast on Friday 25th March 2011. This marks the final closure of the five language services suspended as a result of the corporation’s cuts. A potted history of the Caribbean Service is available on their website.


[From London, This is BBC Caribbean Report]

In Jamaica, Bruce Golding continues to defend himself in the Dudus Cooke affair. We look ahead to elections in St Lucia and Guyana, and we raid the archives on this – the final edition – of BBC Caribbean Report.

“Stop the violence. Do not be afraid. We say no to vengeance.”

I’m Bertram Niles, thanks for joining us.

In Jamaica, tempers have flared as the Prime Minister Bruce Golding faced up to another round of questioning at a commission examining his government’s handling of the extradition request for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. Jamaica resisted the application from the United States for nine months – in the process, straining relations with Washington. Mr Coke, an alleged drug lord, is now awaiting trial in the US. Mr Golding has been quizzed about the controversial use of American lobbyists in the case, but that was not the cause of sparks flying between attorney KD Knight, who is representing the opposition People’s National Party, and the Prime Minister’s lawyer Hugh Small. Karen Madden-James reports from Kingston.

Mr Golding was giving testimony that it would not have been possible to distance himself from matters concerning the Coke extradition request. In his response to Mr Knight, Mr Golding agreed that Attorney-General and the Justice Minister Dorothy Lightbourne had far more experience than him in dealing with extradition matters. But Mr Golding insisted that he intervened because he had the ear of diplomats.

“I had other means available to me within the diplomatic community in Jamaica that enabled me to form a judgment, to come to a conclusion, as to what the posture of the United States government was in relation to this particular matter. I formed the conclusion that the normal interaction through the normal diplomatic channels would not be able to secure an early resolution of the matter.”

But his line of questioning did not go down well with Mr Small, leading Mr Knight to make these comments.

“Mr Chairman. Mr Chairman. Mr Knight’s remark, which was just broadcast, is not the first of this kind. He said I must watch the proceedings or go back to [sleep]. Mr. Chairman, we have had a lot of this kind of sotto voce insults in this matter and I’m asking you, Mr Chairman, please, to insist that we conduct these proceedings with some decorum.”

The Commissioners then called an adjournment in a bid to calm ruffling of feathers. The cross-examination of Mr Golding is continuing. Karen Madden-James in Kingston, for BBC Caribbean Report.

Ceremonies have taken place at the United Nations to mark the international day of remembrance for the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Speaking at a special UN session, Jamaican ambassador Raymond Wolfe said there were some who still questioned the necessity of marking the day.

“We have to look at the consequences and the legacy of the slave trade and slavery because there are still incidents, occurrences, of racism, bigotry, prejudice which still stands among us. Lest we forget. The idea for the permanent memorial came out of our vision in Jamaica, embraced by CARICOM [CARIbean COMmunity] and is now globally endorsed.”

The chairman of CARICOM, Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas has been talking up the region’s ability to deliver a quality pan-Caribbean news service. He was reacting to the closure of BBC Caribbean, the last of five language services being shut down by the BBC because of British government cuts. From St Georges, here’s Nicole Best.

“Outstanding. Reliable. Objective. Informative. Educational – were some of the adjectives used by CARICOM chair and Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas in describing what the BBC Caribbean Service mean to him as a person. Mr Thomas, speaking on the eve of the closure of the service, says he will – as sitting CARICOM chair – lobby for the establishment of a regional body that would fill the void being created by the closure.

“We could coordinate as a region and provide information to the people of the region. I think we have confidence in the capability of the journalists in the region to deal with matters of information and the media. We need to set up the necessary structure that we can seek something we really need as a region.”

He dismissed concerns that there isn’t enough political maturity in the region for governments to allow such an entity to function independently. The CARICOM chairman says all that is needed is for the appropriate structures to be put in place to ensure its editorial freedom. BBC Caribbean started broadcasting to the region since 1939 with their programme, Calling the West Indies. There was a lull for a number of years before broadcasts resumed in 1988. And as the service transmits its last newscast, many are agitating for an independent regional news agency that would provide content and context for the people in the Caribbean and in the Diaspora. In St George’s, Grenada, Nicole Best, BBC Caribbean Report.

And the BBC Caribbean’s final broadcast gives us the opportunity to look ahead to two general elections expected in the region this year – in St Lucia and Guyana. First to St Lucia; I asked newspaper publisher Rick Wayne about Prime Minister Stephen St King, who had an early rough ride after taking over from the late John Compton.

“It’s been a very rough period. Recession, and – in the case of Stephen St King – he’s had to cope with a lot of problems, not of his own making, and that has taken a lot of time. In fact somebody asked me what would I say Stephen St King’s major achievements in his term, and my answer was that he survived. [So he hasn’t yet been able to move on to the shadow, you might say, of the late Sit John Compton then?] No – he’s never had a problem with the shadow of Sir John Compton, not at all, that’s total avocation. What he was lumbered with was a lot of what Sir John did, unless that’s what you’re referring to as his shadow, he was not in any way encumbered by Sir John’s shadow, he was probably encumbered by a lot of Sir John’s decisions made before he fell sick. He didn’t have much room to manoeuvre, and so on. But the point is that he survived that. I don’t think any other Prime Minister in the Caribbean has had to face the problems that Stephen St King faced, and he survived! [So did his opponents underestimate him – because it was thought that he probably would not last very long?] That’s right. They fully expected him not to last more than three months after Compton’s passing. So either they underestimated Stephen St King, or they overestimated themselves. [So has he cemented himself then as leader of the United Worker’s Party, no challengers?] Oh yeah, no doubt about that at all. He’s certainly unchallenged in his position, and the very people who at one time were speaking negatively about his position are the first in line now to praise him. He has in fact survived, and he has held the country together through the worst of times, and so on. [So he’s more than a match then for Kenny Anthony, the opposition leader?] Well yeah, he’s obviously an underestimated factor – that has been proven – and it remains to be seen whether he’s further underestimated at election time. He certainly is no walk-over.”

St Lucian analyst Rick Wayne.

And now to Guyana where the two main political parties will have new presidential candidates. The current president Bharrat Jagdeo is barred from running again, and the opposition leader Robert Corbin is not standing. I asked BBC Caribbean’s Colin Smith whether this was likely to make any difference.

“The voting at general elections in Guyana has traditionally been along racial lines. And there is nothing happening so far to suggest that this time round things are going to be different. So even though the candidates might be different, so far we expect the voting patterns to be exactly the same. [So there’s no evidence that any of the parties have made any in-roads into the other racial areas?] So far there’s been no evidence in this regard; we don’t see anybody planning to do anything different. [PNC – the opposition People’s National Congress – the main opposition party, will they have missed a trick in terms of their election of candidate, Brigadier Grainger?] Well, it was a very open process; many candidates were involved, including somebody who was not of African descent, the main opposition party draws its main support from the Afro-Guyanese – and the people chose Brigadier Grainger. [The governing People’s Progressive Party haven’t chosen their candidate as yet – any reason for this late decision?] I don’t know. There seems to be some internal problems with regards to their method that they will use to choose their candidate. I think they were put on the back foot a little by the very open, very democratic process that their main opposition party used, and their candidate is going to be selected by a small core of 35 people. And the method that this inner group is going to use to choose the candidate seems to be – and this is where they’re squabbling at the moment – whether it will be by a show of hands, a secret ballot, whether the potential candidate’s going to campaign and that sort of thing. [The fact that you anticipate that race-based voting will not change means that the Alliance for Change – which has as its main goal to end that type of voting – and is the third party, they presumably haven’t made any real in-roads into the body politic?] No, but the last time they did surprisingly well, and the signs are that they won’t do so well this time but they might surprise us. None of the small parties have the potential to win on their own because if voting is going to be along regional patterns then the main party, the ruling party, will win again.”

Colin Smith in Georgetown.

And now a dip into the BBC Caribbean archives to hear from key political and sporting figures and events, starting with the granting of independence to Barbados, and the voice of the Duke of Kent.

“I have it in command from the Queen to read the following message from Her Majesty. ‘I have asked my cousin, the Duke of Kent, to represent me at the independent celebrations of Barbados. And it is with real pleasure that I tender this message at such an important and happy moment in your history.’”

“[Hurricane] Ivan’s very difficult. All I can tell you is that the country’s about 90% devastated – so you’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. I do have to contact some of my cabinet colleagues and it will be extremely difficult given the serious problems that we face.”

“The government of Barbados considers that this is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the West Indies. We would have to go back to slavery and the 18th century to meet a similar situation. Our Prime Minister, our Foreign Minister, most of the cabinet, have been murdered.”

“And now Brian Lara, absolutely still at the crease, under his maroon West Indian cap, looking up towards the 355-not out, it’s bowled, he hooked it, and he has broken the world individual batting record…”

“They get away first time. Williams gets a very good start – but look at Bolt alongside him! Bolt already up and into a good lead. Usain Bolt streaking away from the field! The Olympic champion, the world record holder, is trailing his way! That is super-fast – that is incredibly fast! Unbelievable!”

“The large companies have a large percentage of the Grenada market. They don’t require any more market than they have now. And I think if they understood what harm they were doing to these small countries economically, they would not be so insistent on this talk of free trade, which is not really free when so many people around the world are starving as a result of it being called free.”

“It means that I have resigned as Prime Minister and that I will go to see the President as soon as I’ve been released, and as soon as it’s possible to do so, and have discussions with the President. I have tended my resignation to him already. The most important thing is that the embarkation should take place, the captain should be released…”

“Stop the violence. Do not be afraid. We say no to vengeance, we say no to retaliation, again and again, day after day. We will continue saying no to vengeance, no to retaliation.”

“I think towards the end, you saw the true Michael Mann, the one who was far more rational, far more reasonable – and recognising that after Grenada, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that really the word ‘socialism’ wasn’t going to carry much weight.”

[Song: Jammin’ by Bob Marley]

…and the music of Bob Marley, ending that montage featuring the voices, in no particular order, of former Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchells speaking after Hurricane Ivan, ANR Robison on the Trinidad coup, late Barbados Prime Minister Tom Adams on the assassination of Morris Bishop, Charles of Dominique on banana [imports], Brian Lara and Usain Bolt, John Bertrand on his steed when he won his first free elections, and one of the stalwarts of the BBC Caribbean service.

And that’s BBC Caribbean Report – the final edition. The jammin’ ends! Our website will be up-and-running this weekend and will be replaced soon by our legacy website, reflecting the history and highlights of the service. I’m Bertram Niles, goodbye from all of us here, and thanks for joining us over the years.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind