Sun | Aug 14, 2022

Orville Taylor | Glued-on to her memory: But Barbara lives on

Published:Sunday | May 15, 2022 | 12:09 AM

“So are you a tailor in name only or you have little use and can make suits?” Wow, she is cracking a joke as the rookie enters her space in Studio 94. Tanya Powell-Edwards, my producer, who, along with Executive Producer Henry Stennett, recruited...

“So are you a tailor in name only or you have little use and can make suits?” Wow, she is cracking a joke as the rookie enters her space in Studio 94. Tanya Powell-Edwards, my producer, who, along with Executive Producer Henry Stennett, recruited me, was watching like a coach. This wasn’t just nervousness, it was awe. Supremely confident, I thought I was, but Barbara Gloudon was an icon, a giant, a legend, one of the most influential and accomplished Jamaican women ever.

Shooting from the hip, using the same witticism honed from St George’s College, the high school her younger brother Bunny Goodison also attended, I quickly responded, “My mother actually is a dressmaker; but keep Glued-on to the mic!” She laughed and snapped, “Bwoy, how you corny so?”

The ice was broken, and we steadily chipped away the rest of the iceberg over the next 17 years. What a journey. It was not her task to mentor me. The RJR Group’s three radio stations were facing rivalries from newer start-ups, and Hotline was juxtaposed against other popular hosts. My job was to learn; she owed me nothing. I was the one invading her space, the niche she had carved out to make the programme the most credible talk show on radio.

Neville Willoughby, another huge figure in media, on the other side of the glass, was so warm, friendly and down to earth, that the initiation was not as difficult. Neville took me under his wings and shared pointers from time to time. His best advice was to take my time and learn her and do not push. In fact, uncle Neville, who had an uncanny resemblance to my own Uncle Larry, told me that he met her in high school, and she was exactly the strong kind of person that she was even then.

MAKE SENSE

Clearly then, it would make sense that she went to work with THE STAR newspaper as a teenager, she was already cut to fit. As a tween and teenager, I used to read her column, Stella Seh. After her distinguished stint as editor there, she began one of the longest reigns as a talk show host. Believe it! I have long been a fan of talk shows. Phillip Jackson’s What’s Your Grouse stuck in my mind and by the time I reached university, Dwight Whylie, Dick Pixley and Mutty Perkins had left serious marks.

But Gloudon was something else. My mathematical inabilities prevent me from counting the total number of National Pantomimes she has written, produced and directed. True, her poetess sister Lorna Goodison has won countless international laurels for her penmanship. Bunny, as the Mighty Burner, only comparable to the Blakes of Merritone fame, brought music of all genres to the common people via sound systems. But Barbara covered all walks of life.

She was smart, sharp and deeply analytical. Even now, when I speak on air, I imagine her behind me conking me on the head, after my speaking to Mr Coombs or one of the regular callers.

Almost 50 years of theatre is no chicken, since she was induced by Greta and Henry Fowler in 1969. One might argue that Little Theatre Movement productions are more bourgeois and ‘stush’ and thus, less available to the ‘small man’. However, her long-running radio serial Wrong Move was the right mix of nuts and flakes in the 1980s. Jamaica grew up on radio and in the tradition of Miss Lou’s Views, Life in Hopeful Village and Dulcimina, the drama was absolutely the right move. All the characters were us, the ordinary Jamaican people.

But there is life and art, and often we cannot tell which imitates which. Talk radio is ‘live-namic’ and the stories unfold in living colour, with the technical person on the other side of the glass in the studio struggling to dump a call over an inappropriate comment. But Miss G was fearless. There was never any misconception about who was the boss of Hotline. If Miss G said there was going to be an outside broadcast of the programme on a public holiday, such as Labour Day, I would have to suit up for double duty, and if I had issues, I had better find me asking the producer.

LEARNED A LOT

Two vans roaming the streets with Neville or Daniel Thompson anchoring. I learned a lot from her and am still trying to emulate her; the desire to tackle all problems big and small, the ability to talk to kings and paupers, and the capacity to tolerate differences. Indeed, the exemplar of her being a linchpin of the Anglican Church while her husband Ancile was a senior member of the Seventh-day Adventists denomination is a template for how we should live as a nation.

In 2016 she ordered me to come see the pantomime The Upsies and Downsies, a treatise with deep socio-anthropological insight. It was brilliant. She insisted that I sit beside her and in-between the dialogue and set changes, she would guide me like my English literature teachers in high school. As it was in the beginning, Taylor quipped, “This play is really a ‘panto-mine’,” due to its social analysis.

“Taylor bwoy, you still corny!” and my body jolted from the elbow. Sadly, she died on the 17th anniversary of my being chosen to co-host Hotline.

Barbara Gloudon told me that each of us comes to lay bricks in building the mansion; but we do not own it. What a privilege it was to know her, to rub shoulders with her, to learn from her and to be mentioned in the same conversations as her.

On her shoulders I stand; yet when I look up, I still see her above me. Walk good, Miss G, but don’t rest yet. I still need you to watch over me.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.