IN MEMORIAM — KATE MORTIMER; JOHN HAMMOND

 

 

 

In The Long Run (In Memoriam: Kate Mortimer And John Hammond)

 

By CAMERON DUODU

 

It was Kate Mortimer, a brilliant Oxford graduate, who first led me to this quote:

In the long run, we’re all dead.” (John Maynard Keynes).

 

Kate was one of the few World Bank economists I’d met who had a true sympathy for developing countries. She listened patiently to my complaints about World Bank/IMF policies and I think she even got some modifications made to World Bank programmes in Ghana as a result of our conversations.

 

As a result, I was so sympathique with her that I once even allowed myself to be grilled about the performance of the British High Commission in Ghana, by her and her colleagues from the No 10 Downing Street Policy Review Committee (known as the No.10 Think Tank) who were going round trying to find ways of cutting down on the expenditures of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

 

And, in the long run, I learnt that she was dead.

 

Four good years after the event.

 

I now know why I hate Christmas parties. For the terrible news came in just a casual remark by a guy at a Christmas party. We were talking about his brother, Mark, whom I’d known when he was a BBC

producer and who came with a famous BBC producer, the late John Percival, to shoot some films for John’s extremely erudite programme, “Rich Man, Poor Man”. I met Kate Mortimer almost at the same time as I met Mark, who knew Kate from Oxford and revealed to me that she was the daughter of the Bishop of Exeter.

 

Well, Mark’s brother and I were exchanging news about what was happening in Ghana when he let slip that Kate had “smoked too much and wouldn’t stop. So she’d got lung cancer. Died four years ago”.

 

I just stood rooted to the spot. Kate was one of the most generous English women I’d ever met. She had no race-consciousness at all, whatsoever. And her kindness was proverbial: when she heard that Kwame Pianim, a former World Bank economist she’d known in Washington had been arbitrarily imprisoned in Ghana in the early 1980s on an allegation of attempting to overthrow the Rawlings Government, she sent him food parcels from London. Anyone who knew Ghana at the time would have been deterred from doing so, on the realistic ground that the parcels would never get to him but be stolen by the prison or post office staff, given the horrible situation the Ghana economy was in at the time, what with shortages of everything imaginable – toothpaste, sugar and milk, soap, biscuits. Kate knew Ghana all right, but she sent the stuff all the same – just in case it got through to Kwame!

 

What shook me most about her death was that it wasn’t the first time I’d heard such a thing unexpectedly. I heard of John Hammond’s death in much the same way – though in John’s case, I had specifically asked about him. I’d known he wasn’t well, and when Iran into some former GBC colleagues at the GBC Club House in Accra, I asked, innocently: “Oh, how is John these days?”

 

john hammond photo

 

 

And I was told, “Oh, John died two years ago! “ I was told.

 

George Peters, whom I shall unkindly call the eye and ears of the GBC Club House, specified: “He died on 17 November 2010”.

 

It was ironical that I should hear the sad news about John through George Peters. For once, he had offered me great relief by insisting that Sam Bannerman, the best producer of plays at Radio Ghana and with whom I’d collaborated many times was still alive and not dead, as I’d been informed.

 

Do you know John Hammond’s house at Kanda Estate?” George asked. I said “Yes” and he said, “Sam Bannerman lives close to John and if you go to John, he will take you to Sam.”

 

I went to John’s house, and he took me to see Sam Bannerman. It was one of the most joyful reunions I’ve ever had with someone with whom I’d worked before. When John was driving away after taking me to Sam’s house, I noticed a sight limp in one of his legs. I realised, then, that he might have suffered a mild stroke – which was very bad news.

 

I was very glad that I made the effort to go and visit |Sam Bannerman, despite not knowing where he lived. For about a year after I’d been to see him, he did die. Fortunately, I heard of his death “normally”, and I was able to write a tribute which was published at the same time as his funeral was taking place.

 

And now – ironically – the same George Peters who had enabled me to go and greet a living Sam Bannerman, and rejoice over him, was confirming to me that John, in his turn, had died.“What?” I said in utter shock.

 

I felt stupid, for I spend an inordinate amount of time following news from Ghana, and yet when this most celebrated of voices on Ghana radio, who was also a dear friend, had died, I hadn’t heard of it? What sort of coverage did his death receive in the Ghana

media, I wondered.

 

 

The state of the Ghana media often filled John with utter disgust. “Koo, they don’t observe any standards any more!” he would exclaim to me over the phone from Accra. “ Your column is the only thing I can read and enjoy. The type of things they write; the sort of items they regard as ‘news’! Koo – it makes one want to cry! Is this Ghana? Koo, they actually manufacture falsehood and present it to the public as ‘news’!” John sighed.

 

John and I had a bond of friendship and camaraderie that we’d created between ourselves from our days together at Radio Ghana. We thought along similar lines – we both hated totalitarian rule, and we tried to maintain the standards of decency we had absorbed during our days in the fast-moving world of radio journalism. I am not ashamed to admit that ewe formed a mutual admiration society for ourselves!

 

 

Koo – do you remember the day Dr Kamuzu Banda was released from prison in Malawi?” John would throw into the conversation.*

 

*And I’d say, “Yes, Koo, I do! What about it?”*

 

*He’d chuckle and say:* “Ah, you see, you’ve forgotten! I was reading the One O’clock news live as usual in Studio Two when you carefully opened thestudio door without making the slightest sound,– like a thief entering the bedroom of someone who was asleep. You entered. And I knew at once that if youwere taking the risk of entering a studio in which a live broadcast was actually taking place, then something big had happened. But what? My heart began to pound, but I tried to maintain my cool. Then, although you’d been running from the newsroom to the studio, you held in your breath so as not to alert listeners to the presence of someone else close to the microphone, you managed – smoothly – to hand me the slip of paper, on which you’d written in long hand, “It has just been announced that the leader of the Nyasaland African Congress, Dr Hastings Banda, has been released from prison.“*

 

*Your wording is perfect!” I complimented John. “Yet that was in 1960 – a good half a century ago!”

 

How could I forget it? It was so dramatic. You even managed to rewrite the headlines and put that item first for the repetition at the end of the news bulletin. If only the radio broadcast could have been seen, like we see TV today!”

 

My heart melted towards John. We news writers were completely unknown, whereas news readers always read out their own names at the beginning of the bulletins. Only the news readers could recognise efforts like mine on that day – and here was John, the best of the lot, acknowledging that he remembered an instance when there had been a supreme effort on my part.

 

We also used to laugh at the names that were most difficult to pronounce in those days.

 

Mrs Bandaranaike, pronounced Banadaranaika!” I said.

Prince Souvana Phouma, “ John added.

Prince Souvanaphong!” I threw in.

Pnom Penn”! John laughed.

 

This game served to make us remember vividly, how our lives had been intertwined on a daily basis – me asa radio news editor, and John as the best news reader we had. We each wanted to be good at his job, and we often were. At least, we reinforced each other’s lofty ambitions; recognised each as equally ambitious — inthe best possible sense. I was 21 and John was about 25. We had the energy and the imagination and both combined to fire us up with the full wattage of the electricity that had been transmitted into our country with the transformation of the “Gold Coast” into Ghana. If the “Gold Coast” could become Ghana, why couldn’t Radio Ghana become the BBC of Africa? Nothing seemed impossible to us.

 

I cannot over-emphasise that John was extra good – not only did he have that golden voice that had been placed in his throat by nature, but he also took care to project it. Now, that is not which is not easy with the radio; if you don’t take care, you can sound artificial. John just relaxed and spoke as naturally as possible. And the radio’s amplifiers did the rest. If you stood by him as he was reading the news, you wouldn’t notice any extra effort. He just opened his mouth and let the words out. He didn’t fluff his lines; he never muffled a single word, however awkward it was to pronounce. It was magical to see him perform.

 

He consciously tried to ensure that every word that came out of his mouth was delivered in a manner that showed he was a ‘cultivated’ man. His English intonation was unmatched. But he wasn’t satisfied; despite his command of the English language, which was praised by almost every listener who heard him on Radio Ghana, he

always came to the newsroom carrying a copy of the news reader’s bible, “An English Pronouncing Dictionary by Daniel Jones.” This book used actual phonetic symbols, which John had somehow mastered, although he had never studied phonetics at any University. He also mastered the technique by which certain syllables were ‘accented’ while others remained ‘unaccented’.

 

For instance, John would never be caught pronouncing certain specific English words the ‘usual’ Ghanaian way – say, ‘EXpress’ (with the accent on the firstsyllable) for exPRESS, (accent on the second syllable); or dediCATE (accent on the last syllable) for DEDIcate’ (accents on the first and second syllables); or refrigeRATE for reFRIGIrate. He didn’t care if others used a “Ghanaian accent”.

 

You see. John was a proper, self-taught professional who realised that if he was to read the radio news to the whole of Ghana – and beyond – IT WAS HIS RESPONSIBILITY to speak English as the English people themselves spoke it. But there was the rub! Which English people? John realised that what he needed to acquire was what the English people quaintly called “Received Pronunciation” (or RP) which is supposed to be the pronunciation “received” at the British royal “court”; in other words, the pronunciation used by the educated classes who ruled Britain and her colonies, and who were thereby expected to make contact with royalty on occasion, and needed to be understood by royalty if and when when they were allowed to address royalty!

I once mischievously wondered aloud what John would make of an ‘unreconstructed’ Scotsman speaking his version of English. Or of the English of a Cockney? Or a Midlander ? Or a Northerner in England?

 

John cleverly didn’t take the bait. He rather retorted, “Well, isn’t that why Daniel Jones wrote his book? So asto give those of us who are not too lazy, a chance to learn a standard way of speaking English?” *

 

To which I rather wickedly replied, “But I am sure the Cockney would wonder why ‘you was speaking funny’ if you spoke ‘Daniel Jones English’ to him! And seeing

that you’re a Blackman who could not possibly be a member of the English ruling classes, he would probably think ’you was putting it on!’

 

John did laugh at that, but I tell you: one couldn’t really tease him about the way he spoke English because he showed no sign of pretentiousness whatsoever! You could see that he took a genuine pride in the why he had worked hard to conquer the language. Indeed, it was a bit of a burden to him, because his name, John Hammond, convinced many listeners who heard him on the radio but could not see him, that he was British. Which, for a proper Fanti, proudly born in Cape Coast (or Jwer, as the Cape Coasters call it).

 

John’s luck was that he just had a very  good ear for languages. In later years, when he used to read the news on TV as well as the radio, there was a clear disconnect between him and viewers: some people found it difficult to match the handsome, Kente-clad Ghanaian gentleman on the screen, to the voice andtones that emanated from the television’s loudspeaker! “Ei, Ghananii paa na oka Brofo sei?” they would mutter [“Ei, so it is really a Ghanaian speaking English like this”?]

 

But as I was saying, John was gifted with a good ear: when he spoke to me, his Akyem accent was spot on, with no trace of his native  Fanti. On the very first occasion that I heard him on the radio reading the news, for instance, he impressed me by pronouncing the name, “Houphouet-Boigny” [then President of the IvoryCoast] correctly. I assure you I was obnoxiously pernickety about these things, always trying to catch people out! However, whereas many others would have pronounced Houphouet  as “Hufwert”, Johnaccurately said, ‘Ufway” and was also able to reproduce the “ny” sound in“Bwanyee” with exactitude. He could also get his tongue round difficult French names likePierre Pflimlin’. I said to myself, “This guy will go far, for not only has he got the voice but also, he is untiring in his attempt to be a stickler for correct pronunciation!”

John enjoyed the esteem his fellow countrymen lavished on him, and he didn’t leave Ghana until 1982 – when a vastly depreciated Cedi meant that few really good Ghanaian professionals could afford to earn an honest living – few people’s salaries were decent enough to be commensurate with their talents and/or standard of living.

 

John went to work for Radio Netherlands, where his professionalism was recognised and utilised in full: he was not asked merely to read what others had written, (as a6t Radio Ghana) but given a chance to produce his own programmes. So, from Hilversum, near Amsterdam, came the golden voice, introducing programmes like Newsline and Afroscene, with reports by John on current affairs, as well as interviews.

 

John, ever the quick learner, grasped the opportunities at Radio Netherlands with both hands and quickly transformed himself from a news reader into a proper versatile producer of feature programmes. Such was his innate curiosity and quest for excellence that he managed to track me down at South Magazine, in London, where I was then Africa Editor. Before long, he had persuaded me to enter into a regular partnership with him, whereby he would commission me to write commentaries on African affairs for his programmes, which I’d read over the telephone line, to be broadcast worldwide by Radio Netherlands. Despite the fact that telephone lines in those days were awful, he would often ask me to reread a text, until he felt I’d got it right.

 

These sessions with him over the telephone amused me greatly, for they reminded me of how laboriously John used to rehearse the news I had written before going to read it in the studios in Accra. Now, he was in a position to impose the same discipline on me myself! I was grateful to him, though, for he taught me to speak from deep within my diaphragm, so as to add some depth to my voice, which he professionally classified as rather “breathy”!

 

Eventually, John managed to get Radio Netherlands to invite me over to Hilversum to see their set-up for myself. It was a very efficiently-run outfit, which had also obtained the services of another ex-Radio Ghana man, Pete Myers, who had attained immense fame with the BBC as a presenter – both of GoodMorning Africa and its successor, Network Africa. (Alas, both programmes were eventually killed by the BBC!) Pete Myers left because he had eventually become fed up with the Beeb. But one of his bosses told me he thought Pete had become ashamed of himself after “badmouthing” the BBC, the organisation that had brought him fame, in some African countries. “He’s basically gone to Radio Netherlands to hide,” the guy said. I thought that was bitchy, but then, that is a commodity of which there is rather a lot in the broadcasting world, as I’ve learnt.

 

I shall never forget how hospitable John Hammond was to me in Holland – he was an excellent chef and managed to serve me a proper Ghanaian dish that was beyond all my expectations. Apparently, he received regular supplies of Ghana “chops” from home.

 

I took care to reciprocate his welcome with a home-made mini-banquet of my own (thanks to “Kumase” in Brixton Market and African Foods on ChoumertRoad, Peckham) whenever he came to London, where he usually stayed with a brother-in-law of his. At African Foods, I introduced him to Ghanaian shoppers as “John Hammond, the famous GBC news reader,” but some wouldn’t believe it until I asked him to say a few words to them. As soon as he opened his mouth and they heard the familiar, golden tones, their excitement knew no bounds, for they, like so many other Ghanaians who recognised the voice they had often heard on the radio, expected him to be an Englishman. Or at least, a big, fat man – because they associated his deep voice with a huge man, not the fairly tall, almost slim chap that he actually was.

 

I am very glad that when I discovered in Ghana in early 2009 that John was seriously ill, lying on his back with a terrible spinal ailment, I did not allow friendship to stand in the way but wrote to alert the nation aboutthe treasure it was about to lose. My unashamed clarion call for assistance to John Hammond – atypical because I try not to indulge in special pleading – was published in The Ghanaian Times on 30th March, 2010. Unfortunately, he passed away only eight months later – on 17 November 2010. He was 77 years old.

 

My hope is that he was well enough in March 2010 to have read the article, and to be informed of the true extent of the affection in which I held him. Here is the article [reproduced in full because several people

have complained that they cannot open the URL]:

 

HOW IT WAS IN THE JOURNALISM OF MY DAY (2) By Cameron Duodu

 

A friend who read my article last week emailed me to say:”Your article on Tuesday shows how far you have come. I will be waiting for the concluding

part. GBC is 75 and they should have invited you to be part of the activities.”

 

I laughed when I read the part about the GBC ‘inviting’ me to be part of their activities. Who knows me at GBC or cares? My friend obviously has no grounding in the Bible. Otherwise he would have remembered what Jesus said, namely, that “A prophet is not without honour,

except in his own country!”

 

But that’s not the whole truth: the Ghana News Agency, where I have never worked (except serving a brief stint as a Director) was kind and knowledgeable enough to invite me to be its guest speaker at its 50th anniversary celebrations. Even when, because of a funeral I couldn’t avoid, I couldn’t be present physically, the Managing Director, Nana Appau Duah, insisted that we should find someone to read my speech for me. Ironically,

the man we chose was none other than someone I had worked with at the GBC – the incomparable John Hammond.

 

Indeed, I hope John Hammond, the man whose golden voice graced the GBC’s airwaves daily for more than two decades, is on its high profile list. John was very sick when I visited him in Accra in 2009. He appeared pretty

lonely to me. I do not normally engage in special pleading, but I shall abandon my practice and urge all Ghanaians who have been delighted by John

Hammond’s golden tones to flood the GBC with letters and telephone calls until the GBC makes it its official duty, as an institution, to take care of him, both physically and psychologically, during his indisposition.

 

As for me, let’s hope I shall still be around when the GBC’s centenary celebrations take place. For I am sure that by the time the institution reaches its 100th anniversary, it will have come to appreciate that some of us, unsung though we are, contributed to make it what it is today.

 

At its best, (undoubtedly in the late 1980s and early 1960s) the GBC was an institution of which its mother organisation, the BBC– which seconded the

top personnel who set the GBC up — would have been proud.

 

When I joined the GBC in early 1957, at a time that everything in our country was being turned upside down, every top official in the organisation was a white man. But this soon changed. And yet it continued to retain the affections of the public.

 

The Director-General of my time was the tall, soft-spoken J B Millar. As I said in my last article, my story Tough Guy In Town, had made quite an impact. It was reviewed in the Sunday Mirror by the paper’s respected “Radio Critic”, and on the back of it, I wrote to the Head of Programmes, Henry Swanzy, to tell him I wanted to join the GBC.

 

I was interviewed by a panel headed by Mr Millar himself and which included a Ghanaian called Mr Gadzekpo, and the head of presentation, Jack Lawton – a man whose supercilious nature was signalled by the fact he always wore white shorts and a white shirt.

 

First, the panel asked me to write an article about the “most important thing” that had happened in the world recently.

 

I chose the Middle East, which then as now, was boiling. The article impressed them and they next took me to a studio, sat me behind a table with a microphone, and gave me a news bulletin to read! “Start on the green light”, Jack Lawton shouted to me on the intercom.

 

Of course, I had never seen the inside a broadcasting studio before, but there I was, with a microphone standing on a table covered with an intimidating green gauze. They asked me to read the bulletin.

 

Now, as every clever schoolboy did, I had fantasised often about being a radio news reader and had read along with the news reader, whenever he started — with the opening lines:’This is the Gold Coast Broadcasting

Service. The time is one o’clock. Here is the news read by Cameron Duodu’ I’d hoped – without any basis for that hope – that one day the dream would be realised.

 

And now, I was doing it for real! Amazing turn of events, I thought. But I had no time to gloat, for the top brass of Radio Ghana were behind a glass panel watching every move I made — or sound, for that matter! I was thrilled to

bits but trying to behave as nonchalantly as possible – as if I was as cool as a cucumber, I delivered those lines. “On the green!” (How I loved that: it was the technical term for describing the moment the green light was switched on to ‘cue’ in the person who was to speak on the radio.

 

My performance came across well, for, as I have noted, I took the precaution not to make any noise or betray any nervousness, aware as I was that they would be watching to see whether I was intelligent enough to realise that any noise I made would be caught by the microphone and transmitted to them behind the glass panel.

I was particularly careful in handling the papers in my hand, for I knew they could rustle and create a noise that the professionals called “interference”.

 

The news bulletin itself was made up of world news items and they wanted to know whether I could read it fluently — unrehearsed — and meaningfully too. It contained two ‘trap’ (difficult) foreign names in particular that I still

remember: ‘Eisenhower’ and ‘Adlai Stevenson.’

 

I sailed through these without pausing, because I listened to the BBC every day. I also pretended that I was reading a real news bulletin, and paused, in the middle of the bulletin, to announce, rather ponderously, ‘This news

broadcast comes to you from the GBS, Accra.’ Man, I had been given the opportunity, and was I going to give them the works!

 

As intended, my performance impressed them greatly and I overheard Mr Gadzekpo, who had a rather strong voice, say from behind the glass panel, ‘He must

listen a lot!’

 

So I wasn’t surprised when Mr Millar congratulated me warmly when I came out from the studio to join them. He kept nodding his head when he spoke, but that and his soft voice were a false front. He was extremely

good at psychology, having served — unknown to any of us, his underlings — in British Military Intelligence during the Second World War. He was, clearly, the sort of

boss who possessed skills that could get you to eat out of his hand. He realised only too well that my hopes would be up — having been asked to read the news– that like everyone else who joined the GBC, I’d want to read the news so that my vanity could be satisfied by having my voice broadcast to every corner of Ghana. So, if I wasn’t given the glamorous job of a news reader, I

would be disappointed.

 

Therefore, what Mr Millar said to me straight away — with no ‘go and we shall write to you’ nonsense thrown in — was: “Cameron, we would like you to go to the newsroom, which is the one place that needs most strengthening”

 

Wow! The ‘DG’ thought I was needed to ‘strengthen’ the newsroom? Cool, man.

 

When I took up my job in the newsroom, we were still at the Old Broadcasting House, near Flagstaff House. We worked in wooden sheds, built on stilts, which were inherited from the army.

 

It was thrilling to meet in the flesh, as they trooped into the newsroom to come for their scripts and rehearse them there, the owners of the voices one had heard on the radio so many times: Kwame Amamoo, Appeah Kubi, Robert

Owusu, Ashie Kotey and others, and those who read the news in Twi and Fanti, whom I had been listening to Adanse Pippim, Kweku Budu, Ewusi

Dadzie, and others. It was also interesting to meet the Ghana languages wizards whom one didn’t understand but whose powerful voices one had been hearing on the wireless:Alhaji Dantani, Sidi Mohammed Ali, Mohammed Abu, Alhassan Desan, and others.

 

In the newsroom itself, among the old hands I met were a cool, elegant man called Robert Tabi, who was from Kwabeng, near my own home town. He had been

brought over from the Vernacular Languages Bureau. He was an excellent editor and personally, one of the nicest

bosses I have ever worked under. But he liked schnapps and milk a lot and died unexpectedly, at his desk, about a year after I’d joined. Also on the news desk were the humorous and kindly Kwadwo Awere, the soft-spoken, always-smoking Dankwa Smith, the outspoken Osei Acheampong and my lifelong friend Charles

Segbefia. We cracked jokes as we worked.

 

Except when one of three men was

present. For our roost was ruled by a triumvirate headed by the Head of News, a Scot from the BBC called Ian Wilson, the Chief Editor, Eric Adjorlolo and

an Editor, Shang Simpson. I think at the time I joined, Shang Simpson was only a Sub-Editor, but even then, his authority was unquestioned. He ruled

the newsroom by the sheer force of his personality. He called us, the underlings, not by our first names, but by our surnames. And when he called you, he made sure you knew he had called you: “DUODU!” “SEGBEFIA!” And you practically dropped everything you were doing and ran to him. He was so dictatorial and such a terror generally that eventually, we all called him ‘God’! But he was extremely efficient, and did most of the work that both Wilson and Adjorlolo should have been

doing.

 

Wilson went to so many cocktail parties that we called his secretary, Mr KK Ketsubor, ‘KK Accept’ (which were the only words Wilson ever scribbled on every single invitation he received to a cocktail party.) We laughed at him a lot behind his back, saying that so long as he had Shang to run the newsroom for him, he would attend every cocktail party in the world.

 

Adjorlolo too liked parties, and he had the irritating habit of sometimes, ringing up, when we were about to finish a bulletin, and dictating details about a party he was attending and asking us to include it in the bulletin.

We knew he would ask the host and those whose names he mentioned in his report on the cocktail party to go and listen to the bulletin, and hear their names read out on the air. By virtue of his being there with them. This show of vanity diminished our respect for him.

 

But personally, he was a very friendly and generous man. When I was looking for a doctor to do my medical examination for me before I was formally accepted into

the news establishment , it was Adjorlolo who called a friend of his, Dr Seth Cudjoe, to do it for me. So I had the unique experience of doing my medical at the Accra Mental Hospital (or ‘Asylum’ as it was generally known), where Dr Seth Cudjoe was head psychiatrist! He passed me — and thus was I unleashed on to the world

of Ghanaian journalism.

 

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