To an absent friend
by Carl Moore
Harold Hoyte and I came out of the rough and tumble of the journalism of The Barbados Advocate at #34 Broad Street, Bridgetown, in the early years of the decade of the Sixties after leaving Harrison College in our late teens. That’s exactly 60 years ago this year. How time flies!
He identified the beginning of his journalism career as coinciding with the time Sir Grantley Adams took leave of politics in Barbados to lead the West Indies Federation.
We sat around a horse-shoe shaped sub-editors desk run by Robert Best in the day, as Chief Sub-editor and Ulric Rice as Night Editor. We learned the craft of editing, writing headlines and designing pages in the days of typewriters and linotype machines, long before the age of the computer.
We were both thrown in at the deep end soon after our probation ended. We soon grew accustomed to receiving a call around 9 p.m. from Ulric Rice during his dinner break requesting an up-date on progress of the next day’s newspaper.
After reporting that things were under control, we would hear: “Okay lad, take ‘er to bed. See you tomorrow evening.” It was an awesome responsibility, giving the okay to technicians on the ground floor to run the Crabtree rotary press at an institution founded in 1895.
The newspaper soon changed hands and was taken over by The Mirror of London and a gung-ho New Zealand newspaperman named Dugal Smith succeeded Paul Foster as Assistant Editor to Ian Gale.
Smith transformed the dowdy look of The Advocate and brought local news onto the front page.
Harold and I took like ducks to water to the flashy page design and innovation encouraged by Dugal Smith. Though not a reporter, Harold applied a curiosity that always resulted in bringing to the fore the most important aspect of a news item.
A reporter’s bland account would take on a fresh appearance in the next day’s Advocate. We used to tease him for “making” the news — not like today’s “fake news”— but via his special ability to bring a dull story to life.
I remember the Saturday night the floor of a social centre collapsed at Bathsheba, injuring a number of revellers. All the reporters had already knocked off and gone home and Harold jumped in his Morris Minor and drove to St. Joseph. Somehow he got a message back to us at the sub-editors desk requesting that we leave space for his story. Two hours later he was back in the Editorial Department and the story appeared on the front page the following morning.
He used to arrange to have his off-day on Tuesday when the House of Assembly met in order to hear what he called “the full story” from the horses’ mouths. He did the same in the law courts.
After Ulric Rice, Harold went off to Britain for training at the Thompson Foundation.
The Editorial Department meanwhile became a division of the Barbados Workers’ Union and its confrontational tone was exactly what Harold relished.
I remember the wildcat strike he led one evening just as work was in high gear on the following day’s edition. General Manager Neville Grosvenor frantically summoned Union boss Frank Walcott, who met us at the back of the building.
Mr. Walcott said: “Comrades, I admire your solidarity but you should go back to work and let me sort out this matter with the management.”
In the years that followed, clashes between Harold and Frank Walcott were legendary.
After that incident, Harold became persona non grata in Mr. Grosvenor’s book and was soon fired. I resigned in support and we both joined the struggling Daily News headed by E.L. “Jimmy” Cozier, as assistant managing editors.
But our sojourn at The News was short-lived—it lasted for Harold just over a year and about ten months for me. The Advocate, now owned by the Thomson Newspapers of London, bought The Daily News … and shut it down!
The Daily News had resisted that take-over for several months, thanks to the militancy of Elombe, the Circulation Manager, but eventually buckled.
Jimmy Cozier, his son Tony and all the employees were scattered in all directions: people like Eric Nurse, Sam Wilkinson, Harry Mayers, Ridley Greene, Elombe, Ruth Collins, the Roach brothers, Geoffrey and Bernard, Doreen Hurley, Marilyn Forde, Diana Ellis, Agnella Armstrong, Orville Brathwaite, Darnley Bushell, and scores of technicians all found work elsewhere, the older ones like Budd Smith going into retirement.
Harold and his young family soon left for Canada and Alfred Pragnell invited me to join Barbados Rediffusion Service Ltd. as a trainee announcer. He remembered the weekly programme I presented called Time-out for Teenagers, when I was in fifth form.
In one of his many letters from Canada, Harold urged “Why don’t you go ahead and marry Viterose? She’s a nice girl. Get on with it, man. Marry the lady!” She had recently returned from studying in Toronto. I got on with it the following December, 1971.
After what I’ve been told was a trying period in Canada, Harold returned to assist his father in his small travel agency and to edit a church-run newspaper called Caribbean Contact.
Then, one day, Harold ran into a colleague and friend from our Advocate days, Fred (later Sir) Gollop. Fred had sat around that horse-shoe-shaped desk with us over a decade earlier. He had meanwhile gone to Britain and qualified as an attorney and was now attached to the firm Yearwood and Boyce.
Fred had a bright idea to start a newspaper. Harold was also thinking about a newspaper, but something more radical that Fred’s idea, but he gave way to Fred who advised that Barbados was not ready for such militancy.
Harold told a journalist: “I had just come back from living in Canada. I had the concept of giving Barbados a ‘black’ newspaper because my experience in Canada made me racially conscious. And I started to look at the situation in Barbados and there were certain things that needed to be redressed so I came back with that notion, began to talk to people of like mind. And as we discussed it, I recognised that my concept of a black newspaper was not going to resonate in this country; but what could resonate would be a black-owned newspaper.”
He inspired our group to crusade for an independent, locally-owned press to replace the remoteness and stuffiness of overseas newspaper ownership and to locate control in the hands of people who inherited this special space, walked these back streets, lived on these shores all year, shopped in these stores, worshipped with each other, paid our taxes and elected our own government
The word soon got around that five years after the death of The Daily News a group of neophytes in their thirties were planning to open a newspaper to challenge The Advocate, now known as The Advocate-News, the only daily newspaper around.
One morning in September 1973 the telephone in the Rediffusion newsroom rang. The caller was the former Editor of The Daily News, E.L. “Jimmy” Cozier. He asked me to stop by his River Road office, a stone’s throw from Rediffusion. He had opened a public relations business soon after the folding of his Daily News five years earlier.
I walked over and before I could sit, Jimmy said: “Carl, have you boys gone mad? I understand that you and Harold are planning to open a newspaper! Don’t you remember that The Daily News folded only five years ago? Have you and Harold taken leave of your senses?”
I said: “Mr. Cozier, we are confident that The Nation can take on The Advocate.”
He replied, resignedly: “Well, I wish you all the best, but remember this; you fellows are not businessmen, you are journalists … good journalists, but not businessmen.”
Many had predicted that The Nation couldn’t last six months, but a few had confidence in us; at the top of that short list were Austin Sealy of Barclays Bank—now Sir Austin—and Mike Williams of Castagne Williams Marketing.
Eight months later when George Lamming landed at the top of the rickety stairs at The Nation’s first home at St. Mary’s Row for an interview with Charles Harding, as Bentley Callender, the organist at the church opposite, practised Frideric Handel’s Dixit Dominus, Mr. Lamming exclaimed: “So this is the empire!”
Although sardonic in tone, there seemed to be something prescient in the great man’s observation. Little did he know how close The Nation was to closing just months after we opened. Funds were running out and the Editor went without his salary for three months!
The paper survived
All the while, Fred and Harold were working to restore viability and it was The Trinidad Express, led by Ken Gordon, that saved the day. In those first few months we had run up debt at Syncreators, a small commercial printery, like our Cole’s Printery, a few miles outside Port-of-Spain. And we could not continue there.
For a while it looked like they were right who had predicted that we would last no more than six months.
The Express had walked a similar road and printed the newspaper for the next three years after entering a lifelong partnership with The Nation. It is not easy to quantify Ken’s contribution.
But, mainly due to Harold’s guidance, energy and vision, The Nation survived and prospered.
While it’s debatable if the enterprise has become “an empire”, there is no doubt that it has written itself indelibly into the annals of this country’s history as the stellar exemplar of the success of black Barbadian business.
There has been some slippage in the standards of its reporting as it draws its staff from the material that’s available.
Just a few weeks ago I had reason to write a two-line letter to the editor, one I would’ve copied to Harold, if he’d been in better health. It said:
It was about some atrocious grammar that appeared in the Saturday Sun of April 20.
No doubt as embarrassed as I was, the editor slid my letter into File 13; but not before I was able to copy it to 61 others. One consoled me … “Stay calm, my friend; it’s no longer worth it.” Another, more cynically, wrote: “Boy, we days really done!”
To quote Dr. Allyson Leacock: “Our best tribute to this eminent journalist is to raise the bar in the quality of our local journalism. His death is a timely reminder of what world class journalism looks like.”
When I hear people talk about working hard I recall the first 72 hours leading up to the arrival of the first issue of The Nation newspaper.
Pressman Neville Parkinson and I took the earliest LIAT flight for Trinidad that Monday morning of November 19, 1973.
We had no other choice; the tiny second-hand press we had bought in Trinidad had fallen off the forklift on the Port-of-Spain docks on its way to Barbados. Some folks speculated that it wasn’t an accident!
We first went to a lady who did type-setting, but the sheer amount of material I carried overwhelmed her and she declined the job and directed us to Syncreators.
We worked through the night of Monday into the follow day and through Tuesday night until we were sure that the first issue was on its way by Wednesday night, taking only short breaks to eat and sleep on the floor.
Thankfully, Harold Hoyte and Harold Banfield arrived to lend a hand. Meanwhile, back at St. Mary’s Row, news editor Charles Harding kept sending more material for the first issue—not by email; there was no such invention yet. It came by anyone travelling to Port-of-Spain. We had so much “copy” that it overwhelmed the type-setters. Charles Harding could wear out a typewriter in short order. Late on the second day, the type-setters announced that they had “lost” much of it. Remember, Syncreators was not a newspaper—it was a commercial printery.
Harold blew his top! I said “Gentlemen, we cannot return to Barbados without this newspaper.” To fill the space, we gave some advertisers two ads each and wrote headlines with our pens. Miraculously, on Thursday when the press was about to run, the “lost” material, including Al Gilkes’s Grapevine column, turned up!
I had booked into a Port-of-Spain hotel the Monday morning and never got back there until late the Wednesday night to claim my luggage, pay my bill and check out.
That night Harold and I slept in Nello Mitchell’s bed in Diego Martin.
On Thursday morning we made sure that the paper was finished and the press was ready to run. I headed back to Barbados while Hoyte and Banfield stayed on to supervise the shipment which arrived on the Saturday morning.
All Nation staff and some supporters with cars drove out to Seawell Airport to take delivery and to distribute the newspaper to various parts of Barbados. Circulation manager Stephen Brathwaite can write the book on that arrangement.
The Nation sold at 15 cents per copy.
This weekly ritual went on—with yeoman assistance from The Trinidad Express— for the next 197 consecutive weeks until The Nation acquired its own press and began printing in Barbados in 1977.
Chairman Sir Fred Gollop was a tower of strength, steering the ship through much turbulence. He was a decent, humane, principled gentleman, extracted from the finest tradition of Barbadian civility.
Harry Mayers, one of the midwives of The Nation, wrote the book Against the Odds … about this exciting epoch in Barbadian journalism. It’s time for another one!
Some will be forgotten
Inevitably, distortions of the record will occur … and not always maliciously. Someone once observed: “Nothing in life changes more constantly than the past, for the past that influences our lives does not consist of what actually happened, but of what men believe happened.”
As is the case in all enterprises that survive to become success stories, some contributors fall between the cracks. The names of the following must not be forgotten:
Gordon Brooks, Sam Wilkinson, Harold Banfield, Tony Best, Tyrone Evelyn, Eddie Hall, Trevor “Job” Clarke, Harry Mayers, Ricardo Blackman, Jeannette Layne-Clark, Dame Olga Lopes-Seale, C.A. Norman Archer, Neville Parkinson, Faye Hintzen, Lorraine Samuel, Esterlin Clarke, Joe Brome, Mark Williams, Byron Payne, Robin Jarvis, Winston Jordan, Orlando Mason, Rickey Singh, Nigel Pierre, Alric Gaskin, Agnella Armstrong, Diana Ellis, Gloria Oxley, Clive Daniel, Carol Taylor, Mike Goddard, Asaph Moore, Kenneth Mason, Mary Pinto and Trevor Greaves.
And we can’t forget that energetic diminutive lady from Emmerton, Iris Putian Kirton. She covered Bridgetown, on foot every Friday afternoon, distributing the paper as soon as it arrived from Trinidad.
Many have since passed on.
No journalist since Clennell Wilsden Wickham has left a deeper footprint on the Barbadian social landscape than Harold Fitzherbert Hoyte. Like Wickham, he absorbed political barbs with stoic equanimity: one prime minister dubbed him a “negrocrat”; another placed him squarely in the Paleolithic Age as a “quinquennial troglodyte”. He accepted those epithets the way Mohammed Ali took whatever punches Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and George Foreman threw at him.
He has left us five books, three of which I’ve had the honour to edit and proof-read. I commend Eyewitness to Order and Disorder; Political Warriors and The Unforgettables to the denizens of talk radio—those folks who take great pride in broadcasting “… that was before my time”, when they’re referring only to a few decades ago, no doubt causing a former dean of talk radio, Vernie Hinds, to roll in his grave in St. James.
Exhaustively researched, Harold’s retelling of our recent political history takes in a sweep of scores of political actors and their actions since the early 20th century.
He was not an historian—just a witness to our times with the facility to keep the passing parade alive in the memories of all those who can find the time or the inclination to read.
He died as Editor Emeritus, an honour richly merited, as well as the recipient of the Gold Crown of Merit and several other prestigious awards, including an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies. He also played a useful role as a member of Sir Roy Marshall’s National Commission on Law and Order.
Then came the final honour, on May 2, the day before World Press Freedom Day: the re-naming of Nation House at Fontabelle, Harold Hoyte & Fred Gollop Media Complex.
We collided, philosophically, a few times, two of which ended in my separation from the newspaper, first in 1975 and finally, five years later. Somehow those collisions never went to the roots of our relationship. Those roots—unknown to both of us—ran very, very deep.
Harold was a man of great faith. How else could he be, coming from a home led by Horace and Ruby Hoyte? So I’m sure he wouldn’t mind—and might accept the challenge in unweaving this poignant aphorism by an atheist named Richard Dawkins.
In Unweaving the Rainbow, Dawkins wrote: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they’re never going to be born.”
I offer condolences, on behalf of my wife and my son, to Noreen. The matrimonial vow “In sickness and in health …” took on real meaning these past 16 months as she dedicated all her energies, attention and love to Harold.
After my first visit soon after they returned from Florida last October, she caused me to re-read a book by Dr. Doree Lynn and Florence Isaacs, titled When The Man You Love Is Ill.
To Bobby and Tracey and other loving family members, I say: “Be of good cheer.”
I loved him, too.
Rest in peace, my friend.