Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The BBC and Me ...

For a friend who would not stop asking:
The BBC and me, a beautiful love affair
I must have been four or six years when I first listened to to the BBC World Service’s Sports Round-up. My next-door neighbour, Mr Pinto (Peter, Francis, Jenny and seven or eight other children’s dad), also a tailor, used switch his radio on to listen to the British racing results and from Day One I used to be sitting on the floor with my ears pricked. After a week or so I tried very quickly noting down some notes and over the next few weeks and months got a handle on the British sports and their seasons. I would then tell my friends after school all about it.
I did not take down the racing results – Lestor Piggot, Scobbie Breasley, Frankie Durr and a whole bunch of other jockeys appeared interesting  -- but I did not pay much attention and I paid a somewhat cursory attention to complete results of the football matches on Saturday nights delivered in a sort of funeral tone, with an equally funeral rhythm … but I did get to know the names of all the teams, first in Division I, then in II, III and eventually III.
I also got to some of players, especially those who made the headlines regularly, the big goal scorers of the day: Stanley Matthews, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Len Shackelton, Russian Lev Yashin (in the internationals and after whom I would wear a full black outfit the little time I played football) Billy Wright and many others.
Football, of course, always dominated the news in the English winter and Rugby Union appeared to come a sort of by-the-nose second. Further in the year, Ascot and the Aintree Grand National and that is very I began getting a little interested. Especially in the Epsom Derby.
Summer brought what was going to be the great joys of my life: Cricket. It was not long before I abandoned the radio and turned to a second-hand crystal set and made into my own personal radio thanks to the electrical skills of some Seyschellois friends. It was really great. Tuck it under the blanket, fix the ear-phones to the ears, listen to the dulcet tones John Arlott, who became my all-time favourite commentator and when I went to England about six or seven times I tried to meet him but missed him by a few minutes or an hour or two. There were others: the authoritative voice of E.W. Swanton, Rex Alston, Alan Gibson and a rosary-full of others.
In a way, the BBC actually created a reporter out of me from that early age. I listened and regurgitated parrot-fashion.
One of the big handicaps, of course, was trying to figure just exactly where the “covers”, “long on” “long off”, “mid-on” “mid-off” somewhere halfway down the ground, “square leg” etc … I did not really find until I bought an MMC booklet for cricket trainers from the Smith’s Bookstore in Government Road Nairobi. Even at that stage, I really was in the dark, as I mentioned in Yesterday in Paradise.
What really impressed me most, as the years wore, was the complete faith I had in the BBC … if they said it was so. It was unbiased, utterly truthful and set the standards for the rest of the world to emulate in honest journalism. It also helped that London Times and the Telegraph were also the guardians of the truth as was The Evening Standard and one or two whose names I forget. The Sun I got to know for its Page 3 girlies nudies, the Mirror for its left-wing stance and the News of World no mother or father would allow their child to read or be seen anywhere around the house. Then, of course, there was what became the outstanding tabloid of our time: The London Daily Mail: bold headlines, stories crisply told, probably gave birth to the bible-like 25-word opening paragraph: the intro: if the Bible can be rewritten on the back of matchbox, then you can surely write your first paragraph, dramatic, brilliant, punch, the essence of the whole story in that one paragraph from which the sub-editor was handed the headline on a plate, any day. Hell, you can tell the whole story in that one paragraph.
The other thing about the Times and the Daily Mail was that both had brilliant crosswords, both became equally famous and the set the pace for the other newspapers to follow.
Then, of course, there the independent TV stations and independent radio stations which I really got to know except for the four short years we lived first in London and then in Leicester.
I sometimes feel that I love the BBC World Service more than anything else that I know since I have entered the twilight zone for the aged for whom companionship is the single most important element in the continued struggle for survival … that in the absence of a partner. Hence in a strange sort of way, the BBCWS is my partner. Monday to Friday I listen to it 11 to midnight and if there is anything hot on between 11 to 1 am. Other times I will check in on special features, debates and House of Commons. I must say I have tried to follow the debates on Brexit and my mind feels as if it has been through a mincing machine and I have surrendered myself to the result on December 12, being something of royalist/monarchist I would like the British people to regain control of their country and their services which I am told are going to pot being inundated by legal and illegal migrants, asylum seekers and the like. I had heard it said many times the NHSS is quickly heading for self-destruction yet a friend in the know denies it vehemently.
But my memories keep my heart warm: I was there when Churchill made speeches that were some of the greatest spin invented, the rallying calls were the truth and inspired every many woman and child to take up and fight the enemy on our shores, in the air and on the sea. We shall never surrender. Thank God they never did. As the re-runs were played on-air and in the
I have been preaching change to anyone who would care to listen in my profession and elsewhere. However, I am somewhat in caught in a web of sillydom, wondering what the hell is going by the oversaturation of Indian and other subcontinental accents, some good some better of with a sponge in their mouths. I want to know more about what is going in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the rest of Europe and the USA, the big stories in South America, the Caribbean, Canada (occasionally) and like Canada, India occasionally, just the big headline stories. These days I am often forced to switch off the BBC because whatever is on I find pretty boring including some of Brexit and lots of
Trump. Yet I was completely enthralled by a BBC TV story called the Guardians of the Synagogues of Kolkota. The original Jews came from Baghdad, Iran, and a hundred other places and when Palestine was born, they left. Today there are less than 30 for prayers in two or three world-class living museums, cared for by second and third-generation Muslims who swear they will stay their mission forever.
I wonder if the change will drive me to switch forever. Never mind, can always watch the cricket and soccer live on Foxtel which also a pretty pathetical looking compared to its early years. Wish the old Nine would come back from the dead!
Once, when I flicked the switch on for the BBC World Service, I transported into a land of real by magic and I was there in person, real person a witness to real news many thousands of miles away.
Much later in life, I had a regular sport on the British Forces Radio Service in Nairobi with a guy called Keith Skewes who went to become a big bwana on the BBC. When the Voice of Kenya started its entertain program, I was one of the first presenters with entertainer Julie Laval, Henry Braganza with various bands, Leo Rodrigues, Augie Alvarez and a host of other names I forget. I only quit because I had to travel.
One other claim to fame: I was the first journalist in the world to trackside interviews at the Munich Olympics. Spoke ever winner of every medal and some losers. Got because I walked in on cructches provided by the Games doctors as well as unnecessary painkiller in my button and a note saying that I was serverly incapiciated bordering being an invalide. I had noticed the day before the Games started that they only people allowed in the inner ring of the track were people who were in wheel chairs or otherwise declared handicapped. The rest as they say is history. Gerald Sinstadt of the BBC interviewed me for radio. Could not do the TV interview because I passing through.
Throughout my life I have been blessed in meeting and working with some of the greatest journalistic minds both from the UK and the USA, in sport and in general news.

So you were asking ….

No photographs but Norman Da Costa and lots of others are my witnesses.

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