Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Miss Lou (left) chats with Juanita Poiter (right), wife of actor Sidney Poitier, and Burley Dixon, wife of Ivan Dixon, star of the former TV series Hogans Heroes' on an episode of 'Ring Ding' in 1973. - File
persons who came of age or grew up in pre-Independence Jamaica became familiar
with Louise 'Miss Lou' Bennett-Coverley's work through
her stage work or radio folk programmes.
But the buxom folklorist, who died July 26, 2006, at the age of 86 in Toronto, Canada, found a new audience in the late 1960s when she began hosting Ring Ding, a television variety show.
It aired on the Jamaica Broad-casting Corporation (JBC), and for 12 years Miss Lou's robust 'Ring Ding! Concert time!' introduced the half-hour programme on Saturdays.
"The idea of the programme was to introduce people to Jamaican culture and it grew to expose the children that brought in their material," Marjorie Whylie, musical director for Ring Ding, said in a 2003 interview.
From 1968 until 1980 when it was surprisingly cut from the JBC's roster, Miss Lou called the creative shots on Ring Ding. In addition to her role as host, she sang and taught her mainly young audience about folk and social songs and ring games.
Interestingly, Miss Lou was not the first choice to host Ring Ding. Bari Johnson, the show's first producer, said actress Leonie Forbes was approached, but declined. He said she pointed to Miss Lou as the perfect person for the job.
"I remember the first time I spoke to her (Miss Lou) about it. She said, "Oh, yuh mean like a 'Ring Ding', and that's how the show got its name," Johnson said in a 2003 interview.
Initially, Ring Ding was an intro for the American children's show, Sesame Street, but its popularity grew and administrators at the JBC agreed to extend its airtime.
"It caught on like fire," said Johnson. He added that Miss Lou, a veteran of several pantomimes including The 12 Million Dollar Man and Queenie's Daughter, revelled in her new role as television host.
"She took to it like a duck to water," he said.
Although Miss Lou championed the use of Jamaican dialect, producers at the JBC agreed that she would use Standard English on Ring Ding which was taped live at the station's Odeon Avenue, St. Andrew, headquarters.
Ms. Whylie had known Miss Lou since childhood and worked with her in Queenie's Daughter and at the Commonwealth Festival in England in 1965.
She said Miss Lou's buoyant personality was what made Ring Ding special.
'Riddle mi dis, riddle mi dat'
"Sometimes when she came out and said, 'Riddle mi dis, riddle mi dat, guess mi dis riddle and perhaps not', some of the answers were not suitable for broadcast," she recalled. "I remember one time running out of the studio because I couldn't control my laughter."
Ring Ding's days were numbered in late 1980, shortly after general elections. The JBC, which had reportedly been a supporter of the People's National Party (PNP) during the 1970s, came in for major scrutiny from the new Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration which fired the entire newsroom.
"We arrived on a Saturday and we were told that no programme was on and there was no other information afterwards," said Whylie. "There was no thank you for having done the programme for 12 years. No explanation that it had simply come to an end."
Miss Lou and her husband, actor Eric Coverley, emigrated to Canada during the 1980s. He died there in 2002.
Even though Miss Lou rarely visited Jamaica (her last trip was in August, 2003), she was never forgotten by the thousands of children who tuned in Saturdays to the JBC, to watch her on Ring Ding.
"Any city that I go to, there are people of a certain age who come up to me and the first question they ask is, 'How is Miss Lou?'," she said.
Ring Ding trivia
Romper Room, another local children's show, preceded Ring Ding at JBC.
Violinist Steven Woodham and singer Nadine Sutherland were among the aspirants who performed on the show.
Shortly after Ring Ding was cancelled, Miss Lou's Views on JBC Radio was also pulled.