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Feature Article of Friday, 4 January 2013

Columnist: Duodu, Cameron

In The Long Run – In Memoriam: Kate And John

*by CAMERON DUODU*

*It was Kate, a brilliant Oxford graduate, who first led me to this quote:
“In the long run, we’re all dead.” (John Maynard Keynes).*

*And in the long run, I learnt that she was dead. *

*Four years after the event.*

*I now know why I hate Christmas parties, for it was just a casual remark
by a guy at a Christmas party that apprised me of the terrible news of her
death.*

*We were talking about his brother, Mark, whom I’d known when he was a BBC
producer. I met Kate Mortimer almost at the same time as I met this
brother, and we were exchanging news about what was happening in Ghana at
the time. And he just let it slip that Kate*, *who had been in Ghana at
ther same time,* “*smoked too much and wouldn’t stop. So she got lung
cancer. Died four years ago”.*

*It wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened to me, either. I first
heard of John Hammond’s death in much the same way – though in John’s case,
I had specifically asked about him. I’d known he wasn’t well, and when I
ran into some former GBC colleagues at the GBC Club House in Accra, I
asked, innocently: “Oh, how is John?” *

*And I was told, “Oh, John died two years ago! He died on 17 November 2010”.
*

“*What?” I said. I felt stupid.*

*For I spend an inordinate amount of time following news from Ghana, and
yet when this most celebrated of voices on Ghana radio had died, I hadn’t
heard of it? What sort of coverage did his death receive in the Ghana
media? *

*John and I had often reminisced about our days together at Radio Ghana.
“Koo – do you remember the day Dr Kamuzu Banda was released from prison in
Malawi?” he would throw into the conversation.*

*And I’d say, “Yes, Koo, I do! What about it?”*

*He’d chuckle and say:* “*Ah, you see, you’ve forgotten! I was reading the
One O’clock news live as usual in Studio Two when you carefully opened the
studio door without making a sound, and entered. I knew at once that if you
were taking the risk of entering a studiop in which a live broadcast was
actually taking place, then something big had happened. But what? My heart
began to pound, but I tried to maintain my cool. Then you handed me the
slip of paper, on which you’d written in long hand, “It has just been
announced that the leader of the Nyasaland African Congress, Dr Hastings
Banda, has been released from prison.“*

“*Your wording is perfect!” I complimented John. “Yet that was in 1960 – a
good half a century ago!”*

*We both laughed, recalling the names that were most difficult to pronounce
in those days, as we remembered how our lives had been intertwined – me as
a radio news editor, and John as the best news reader of the time. We each
wanted to be good at nhis job, and we often were. At least, we reinforced
each other's lofty ambitions; recognbised each as equally ambitiuous -- in
the best possible sense.
*

*Indeed, John was extra good – not only did he have that golden voice, but
he took care to project it, which is not easy with the radio. And also, he
tried to ensure that every word that came out of his mouth was delivered
in a manner that showed he was a ‘cultivated’ man. His English intonation
was perfect. But despite his legendary command of the English language, he
always came to the newsroom carrying a copy of the news reader’s bible, “An
English Pronouncing Dictionary by Daniel Jones.” *

*For John would never be caught pronouncing English words the
'usual'Ghanaian way – say, ‘EXpress’ (with the accent on the first
syllable) for exPRESS, (accent on the second syllable); or dediCATE (accent
on the last syllable) for DEDIcate’ (accents on the first and second
syllables). *

*John was just a proper, self-taught professional who realised that if he
was to read the radio news to the whole of Ghana – and beyond – he needed
to speak English as the English people spoke it. Or, at any rate, he needed
to acquire what the English people quaintly call “Received Pronunciation”
(RP) which is supposed to be the pronunciation “received” at the British
“court”; in other words, the pronunciation used by the educated classes who
ruled Britain and her colonies, and who thereby made contact with royalty. *

*I once mischievously wondered aloud what John would make of an
‘unreconstructed’ Scotsman speaking his version of English. Or of the
English of a Cockney? Or a Midlander ? Or Northerner in England? *

*John retorted, “Well, isn’t that why Daniel Jones wrote his book? So as
to give those of us who are not too lazy, a chance to learn a standard way
of speaking English?” *

*To which I wickedly retorted, “But I am sure the Cockney would say ‘you
was speaking funny’ if you spoke ‘Daniel Jones English’ to him! And seeing
that you’re a Blackman who could not possibly be a member of the English
ruling classes, he would probably think ’you was putting it on!’” *

*In fact, one couldn’t really tease John about the way he spoke English
because he took a genuine pride in the way he had worked hard to conquer
the language. Because of his name, John Hammond, many people who heard him
on the radio but could not see him, assumed that he was British. But he was
a proper Fanti, born in Cape Coast in 1933. He just had a good ear for
languages. In later years, he used to read the news on TV and there vwas a
disconnerct between him and viewers: some people found it difficult to
match the handsome, Kente-clad gentleman on the screen, to the voice and
tones that emanated from the television’s loudspeaker! **"Ei, Ghananii na
oka Brofo saa yi?" **they would mutter** ["Ei, is it really a Ghanaian
speaking English like this"?]**
*

*As I was saying, John was gifted with a good ear: when he sewpoke to
me, his Akyem accent was spot on. In fact, on the first occasion that I
heard him on the bradio reading the news, for instance, he impressed me by
pronouncing the name, “Houphouet-Boigny” [then President of the Ivory
Coast] correctly. Whereas many others called Houphouet “Hufwert”, John
correctly said, ‘Ufway” and was also able to reproduce the “ny” sound
in“Bwanyee”correctly. He could also get his tongue round difficult
French names like
‘Pierre Pflimlin’. I said to myself, "This guy will get far, for not only
has he got the voice but also, he is a stickler for correct pronunciation!"
*

*John enjoyed the esteem his fellow countrymen lavished on him, and he
only left Ghana in 1982 – at a time when a vastly depreciated Cedi meant
that few really good Ghanaian professionals found it possible to earn a
salary decent enough to be commensurate with their talents and/or standard
of living. He went to work for Radio Netherlands, where he was not merely
asked to read what others had written, but given a chance to produce his
own programmes. So, from Hilversum, near Amsterdam, came the golden voice,
introducing programmes like Newsline.*

*John, ever the quick learner, immediately transformed himself from a
news reader into a proper producer; such was his innate curiosity that he
managed to track me down at South Magazine, in London, where I was then
Africa Editor. Before long, wee had entered into a regular partnership,
whereby he would commission me to write news commentaries for his
programme, which I'd read over the telephone line, to be broadcast
worldwide by Radio Netherlands.*

*Eventually, John managed to get Radio Netherlands to invite me over to
Hilversum to see their set-up for myself. It was a very efficiently-run
outfit, which had also obtained the services of another ex-Radio Ghana man,
Pete Myers, who had attained immense fame with the BBC asa prfesenter of Good
Morning Africa and later, Network Africa (alas, both programmes were
eventually killed by the BBC!) but had eventually become fed up with the
Beeb. *

*I shall never forget how hospitable John Hammond was to me in Holland –
he was an excellent chef and managed to serve me a proper Ghanaian dish
that was beyond all my expectations.Apparently, he received regular
supplies of Ghana "CHOPS" from home.*

*I took care to reciprocate his welcome with a home-made mini-banquet of
my own (thanks to “Kumase” in Brixton Market and African Foods on Choumert
Road, Peckham) whenever he came to London, where he usually stayed with a
brother-in-law. At African Foods, I introduced him to Ghanaian shoppers as
“John Hammond, the GBC news reader,” but some wouldn’t believe it until I
asked him to say a few words to them. As soon as he opened his mouth and
they heard the familiar, golden tones, their excitement knew no bounds, for
they, like so many other Ghanaians who recognised the voice they had often
heard on the radio, expected him to be an Englishman. Or a big, fat man –
because they associated his deep voice with a huge man, not the tall,
fairly slim chap that he was.*

*I am very glad that when I discovered in Ghana in early 2010 that John
was seriously ill, lying on his back with a terrible spinal ailment, I did
not allow friendship to hold me back but wrote to alert the nation about
the treasure it was about to lose. My unashamed clarion call for assistance
to John Hammond was published in The Ghanaian Times on 30th March, 2010.
Unfortunately, he passed away only eight months later – on 17 November
2010. He was 77 years old. *

*My hope is that he was well enough in March 2010 to have read the
article, and to be informed of the true extent of the affection in which I
held him. Here is the article [reoproduced inh full because several people
have complained that they cannot open it]:*


HOW IT WAS IN THE JOURNALISM OF MY DAY (2)
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A friend who read my article last week emailed me to say:"Your article on
Tuesday shows how far you have come. I will be waiting for the concluding
part. GBC is 75 and they should have invited you to be part of the
activities."

I laughed when I read the part about the GBC 'inviting' me to be part of
their activities.Who knows me at GBC or cares?

My friend obviously has no grounding in the Bible. Otherwise he would have
remembered what Jesus said, namely, that "A prophet is not without honour,
except in his own country!"

But that's not the whole truth: the Ghana News Agency, where I have never
worked (except aerving a brief stint as a Director) was kind and
knowledgeable enough to invite me to be its guest speaker at its 50th
anniversary celebrations. Even when, because of a funeral I couldn't avoid,
I couldn't be present physically, the Managing Director, Nana Appau Duah,
insisted that we should find someone to read my speech for me. Ironically,
the man we chose was none other than someone I had worked with at the GBC,
the incomparable John Hammond.

Indeed, I hope John Hammond, the man whose golden voice graced the GBC's
airwaves daily for more than two decades, is on its high profile list. John
was very sick when I visited him in Accra last year. He appeared pretty
lonely to me.I do not normally engage in special pleading, but I shall
abandon my practice and urge all Ghanaians who have been delighted by John
Hammond's golden tones to flood the GBC with letters and telephone calls
until the GBC makes it its official duty, as an institution, to take care
of him, both physically and psychologically during his indisposition.

As for me, let's hope I shal still be around when the GBC's centenary
celebrations take place. For I am sure that by the time the institution
reaches its 100th year, it will have come to appreciate that some of us,
unsung though we are, contributed to make it what it is today.

At its best, (undoubtedly in the latre 1980s and early 1960s) tthe GBC was
an institution of which its mother organisation, the BBC which seconded the
top personnel who set the GBC up would have been proud.

When I joined the GBC in early 1957, at a time that everything in our
country was being turned upside down, every top official in the
organisation was a white man. But this soon changed. And yet it continued
to retain the affections of the public.

The Director-General of my time was the soft-spoken J B Millar. As I said
in my last article, my story Tough Guy In Town, had made quite an impact.
And on the back of it, I wrote to the Head of Programmes, Henry Swanzy, to
tell him I wanted to join the GBC.

I was interviewed by a panel headed by Mr Millar himself and which included
a Ghanaian called Mr Gadzekpo.

First, they asked me to write an article about the most important thing
that had happened recently.

I chose the Middle East, which then as now, was boiling. The article
impressed them and they gave me a news bulletin to read! Now, I had never
been inside a broadcasting studio before, but they put me in one, with a
microphone standing on a table covered with green gauze, and asked me to
read the bulletin.

Now, as every clever schoolboy did, I had fantasised often about being a
radio nerws reader and had read along with the news reader, whenever he
started -- with the opening lines:'This is the Gold Coast Broadcasting
Service. The time is one o'clock. Here is the news read by Cameron Duodu'

And now, I was doing it for real! Amazing turn of events, I thought. But I
had no time to gloat, for the top brass of Radio Ghana were behind a glass
panel watching every move I made -- or sound, for that matter! Thrilled to
bits but trying btoi behave as if I was as cool as a cucumber, I delivered
those lines. "On the green!" (that is. when a green light placed on the
table lit up!

My performance came across well, for, as I have noted, I knew they would
hear any noise I made, as it would be caught by the microphone, and
instinctively realising that any show of nervousness or other unease would
also count against me, I was very careful in handling the papers.

The news bulletin itself was made up of world news items and they wanted to
know whether I could read it fluently -- unrehearsed -- and meaningfully
too. It contained two 'trap' (difficult) foreign names in particular that I
remember: 'Eisenhower' and 'Adlai Stevenson.'

I sailed through these without pausing, because I listened to the BBC every
day. I also pretended that I was reading a real news bulletin, and paused
in the middle of the bulletin to announce, rather ponderously, 'This news
broadcast comes to you from the GBS, Accra.' Man, I was going to give them
the works!

As intended, my performance impressed them greatly and I overheard Mr
Gadzekpo, who had a strong voice, say from behind the glass door, 'He must
listen a lot!'

So I wasn't surprised when Mr Millar congratulated me warmly when I came
out from behind the glass panel to join them. He kept nodding his head when
he spoke, but that and his soft voice were only a front. He was extremely
good at psycholkogy, having served -- unknown to us -- in British Military
Intelligence during the Second World War, and was clearly, the sort of
boss who could get you to eat out of his hand. He realised that my hopes
would bhe up, having been asked to read the news, and that like everyone
else who joined the GBC, I'd want to read the news so that my voice could
be heard all over the country. So, if I wasn't appointed a news reader, I
would be disappointed.

Therefore, what he said to me straight away -- with no 'go and we shall
write to you' nonsense thrown in -- was: "Cameron, we would like you to go
to the newsroom, which is the one place that needs most strengthening"

Wow! The DG thought I wasd needed to 'strengthen' the newsroom? Cool, man.

When I took up my job in the newsroom, we were still at the Old
Broadcasting House, near Flagstaff House. We were in wooden sheds built on
stilts.

It was thrilling to meet in the flesh, as they trooped into the newsroom to
come for their scripts and rehease them there, the owners of the voices
one had heard on the radio so many times: Kwame Amamoo, Appeah Kubi, Robert
Owusu, Ashie Kotey and others, and those who read the news in Twi and
Fanti, whom I had been listening to Adanse Pippim, Kweku Budu, Ewusi
Dadzie, and others. It was also interesting to meet the Ghana languages
wizards whom one didn't understand but whose powerful voices one heard:
Sidi Mohammed Ali, Mohammed Abu, Alhassan Desan, and others.

In the newsroom itself, among the old hands I met were a cool, elegant man
called Robert Tabi, who was from Kwabeng, near my home town. He had been
brought over from the Vernacular Languages Bureau.He was one of the nicest
bosses I have ever worked under. But he liked schnapps and milk and died
unexpectedly, at his desk, about a year after I'd joined. Also on the news
desk were the humorous Kwadwo Awere, the soft-spoken, always-smoking Dankwa
Smith, the outspoken Osei Acheampong and my lifelong friend Charles
Segbefia. We cracked jokes as we worked. Except when one of three men was
present.

For our roost was ruled by a triumvirate headed by the Head of News, a
Scot from the BBC called Ian Wilson, the Chief Editor, Eric Adjorlolo and
an Editor, Shang Simpson. I think at the time I joined, Shang Simpson was
only a Sub-Editor, but even then, his authority was unquestioned. He ruled
the newsroom by the sheer force of his personality. He called us, the
underlings, not by our first names, but by our surnames. And when he called
you, he made sure you knew he had called you: "DUODU!" "SEGBEFIA!" And you
practically ran to him. He was so didactic and such a terror generally
that eventually, we all called him 'God'! But he was extremely efficient,
and did most of the work that both Wilson and Adjorlolo should have been
doing.

Wilson went to so many cocktail parties that we called his secretary, Mr K
K Ketsubor, 'KK Accept' (which were the only words Wilson scribbled on
every single invitation he received to a cocktail party.) We laughed at him
a lot behind his back, saying that so long as he had Shang to run the
newsroom for him, he would attend every cocktail party in the world.

Adjorlolo too liked parties, and he had the irritating habit of sometimes,
ringing up, when we were about to finish a bulletin, and dictating details
about a party he was attending and asking us to include it in the bulletin.
We knew he would ask the host and those whose names he mentioned to go and
listen to the bulletin, and hear their names read out on the air. By
virtue of nhis being there with them. This show of vanity diminished our
respect for him.

But personally, he was a very friendly and generous man. When I was looking
for a doctor to do my medical examination for me before I was accepted into
the newsroom, it was Adjorlkolo who called a friend of his, Dr Seth
Cudjoer, tp do it for me. So I had the unique experience of doing my
medical at the Accra Mental Asylum, where Dr Seth Cudjoe was head
psycho-analyst! He passed me -- and thus was I unleashed on to the worlkd
of Ghanaian journalism.

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