This is the first of a two-part article on the late Archie Lindo. Part two will be published next Friday.
Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
As a practitioner of several art forms and a newspaper critic of even more, Archie Lindo (1908-1990) was involved with more areas of Jamaican culture than perhaps anyone of his generation.
This being Heritage Week, I take a look at his contribution to the arts in the first half of the last century, the period in which our major art forms became characteristically Jamaican. Most of the information comes from an audio recording of an interview I had with Archie (everybody called him 'Archie') 27 years ago, just days before he celebrated his 45th year as a radio broadcaster.
When he lived with his grandparents in Linstead, St Catherine, between the ages of five and 20 years old, he was introduced to a number of art forms in which he was to retain a lifelong interest. His grandmother would put him and his sister to bed with Anancy stories (and he later wrote and published several short stories); his grandparents would regularly pay a concertina player to play for the family ("That was my introduction to music," said Archie); and later they got him to start taking music lessons. Soon he started singing at concerts.
As a teenager, while working at a store in Linstead, he purchased one of the recently produced Brownie box cameras and started what would be a lifelong practice of photography.
Archie was soon able to put the camera to very practical use. There was a huge fire in the town and he took photographs of the block of buildings that were razed, sent them to The Gleaner, and had the pleasure of seeing all 12 pictures published in a full-page spread.
"That was the beginning of my career in journalism," Archie said. "I was then between 14 and 16 years old. That's easily 60 years ago."
At about that time, he began to report on events in the Roman Catholic Church in Linstead for The Catholic Opinion and sent general news to another newspaper.
love for entertainment
Archie's love for entertainment surfaced early and, as a member of the Roman Catholic Church, he used to organise concerts in the church, at which he would sing and recite. He would also attend shows put on in the town by early black Jamaican entertainers Tony Ableton and Ernest Cupidon.
Jamaican culture was available to the young only from outside the schoolroom, Archie stressed. "In our education in those days, we never learnt about Jamaica. In the Royal Reader, for instance, we got English history. We were then a colony. The books were not about Jamaican culture of any kind," he said.
While at St George's College on a scholarship (he left St George's at 14, having spent only three years there), he took part in elocution contests, winning a silver medal (the first prize for the juniors). Archie also saw his first Shakespearean play, The Merchant of Venice. "At the time," he said, "St George's College was the only school that was putting on plays."
But he did see theatrical productions at the Ward Theatre. Archie would save his lunch money and, for six pence, go into the gallery to watch Gilbert and Sullivan musicals produced by a Roman Catholic priest, Fr Pfister.
The casts of those musicals, he told me, were "white or near-white" Jamaicans. However, the casts of the Cupidon-produced plays were black, and black people also appeared in plays produced by another pioneer playwright, Una Marson. Archie (who said he was a mix of Black, Indian, Jew and Scots) acted in Marson's London Calling (1937) and Pocomania (1938) at the Ward Theatre.
Marson was the first person to publish Archie's creative writing. A short story appeared in Marson's magazine, Cosmopolitan. She ran a readers' and writers' club and, when she was returning to England, Marson told the members that they needed to begin writing their own Jamaican plays.
Archie took up the challenge and wrote and produced at the Ward Theatre Forbidden Fruit (1942), which featured well-known actors Eric Coverley and Inez Hibbert, and Under the Skin (1943).
"In Forbidden Fruit," said Archie, "Louise Bennett made her first appearance on a stage in Jamaica. She was then writing her verse for The Gleaner, though the Poetry League would not consider it poetry."
Another major Jamaican theatre personality, Ranny Williams, acted in Archie's 1945 dramatisation of H.G. DeLisser's novel White Witch of Rosehall. It grossed £10,000 ("A lot of money in those days," Archie said) when it was produced at the Ward Theatre.
The BBC provided another outlet for Archie's creative writing. "My short stories and poems were sent to the BBC and they were used," he said. "I got good money for the stories."
Next week: Archie Lindo goes islandwide and into broadcasting.