The revised AUTUMN / EARLY WINTER schedule
CARIBCOMMX commences with this interview
HELEN SURTEES ……….
in conversation with CLAYTON
Helen Surtees has always been a battler, as this interview will soon make clear, and today she was battling against her time-table. Time is a precious commodity when you are producing, directing, staring in and promoting your first film, as well as working full time as an agency nurse and maintaining a family of a husband and two teenage sons. This morning Helen had had to put back our interview until the late afternoon as an urgent appointment had called her away to Maidstone. Now, however, we were here in the conservatory of her home in Thamesmead, south-east London.
The purpose of our get-together was to talk about her film Victims – Love Game which was being premiered at the Hilton Hotel in Dartford on Saturday 22nd September 2018. Why Dartford?, I asked in all innocence. Because it is in my neighbourhood and is a good venue, she replied. Before getting down to discussing the film I wanted to find out more about Helen and her reasons for launching into a new, and what must be difficult, career in her mature years.
“When do we start the interview?” Ms Surtees asked– then adding, as the realisation dawned on her – “Or is this it?” After it had been established that it was she needed no further prompting while she trotted out facts and descriptions as if she had been used to the razzamatazz of the film industry all her life.
Here I must confess to having known Helen for some time. We had met first in 2004 about a year after she had moved into the area. She was raised in K-town (Kumba) in the English-speaking part of Cameroon, graduated in nursing at Brighton University, and lived in Kennington, south-east London before becoming an adopted Maid of (Metropolitan) Kent. I was surprised, and pleased, to know that my wife and myself had been present at the occasion which had determined her on this new course of life.
It was her 50th birthday party, a couple of years ago. The excitement of the celebration, in which Helen was very much the centre of attraction, convinced her that she could recreate a similar sense of glamour on the screen. This conviction was confirmed by taking time out to see a couple of films of the genre she had in mind. Well, don’t people say that life “begins at 50”? If they don’t now they will as soon as they have met Ms Surtees. And there was no doubt of the tale that she had to tell. The obvious plot was right there in the story of her own life.
The narrative follows the romantic twists and turns as Helen moved through Cameroon, France and London – the film scenes in those countries have been shot at the exact locations at which the real-life incidents had happened. I was equally intrigued by the story of production, itself, how the film had come about, which had its own sequence of twists and turns before it reached its climax in in the red carpet and cocktail-reception premiere.
Although the heroine, her alter ego Agnes, is played by an actress who resembles her younger self, Helen also appears on the screen and when the director engaged to film the scenes in France was unable to get there she asked how to use the camera and took over the job herself with friend Mercy Kuhn. After facing so many challenges she could not just give up. Her co-directors are Prince Okoye, Mercy Huhn and, in Cameroon, Nkwai Nkwin. The opening night has attracted the support of friends and relatives from abroad as well as here. Even if the Hilton Hotel should be full, they run no risk of finding themselves without accommodation …… there is always the conservatory in which we were then sitting, Helen suggested, and maybe a marquee in the garden. I should have known – she is indeed a very resourceful lady.
If after this Helen should find herself with any time on her hands, there is still her day-time job as an NHS agency nurse and running the family household … and the follow-up production to Victims -Love Game. I didn’t ask what theme she had in mind, but am sure it is already developed and well on the way to realisation.
Sadly, Ms Surtees had to draw our interview to its close, and ask her husband Maringlen if he would kindly drive me to the train station. Yes, I should have been aware, obviously I was intruding on her tight promotion schedule and she had other reporters, participants and helpers to meet. Actually, the reason was nothing like that. It was time for church. In addition to all her other commitments Helen is also a devout Roman Catholic. If the devil finds work for idle hands, he would decide to give Helen Surtees a miss. Idle? She doesn’t know the meaning of the word.
As I got up to leave Helen had this message for our readers: “The main achievement for me is to show how much talent we have but it is hidden until challenges bring it out”.
The title that is more than a contest
MISS CARIBBEAN & COMMONWEALTH
How the title developed – Those who contributed to its development
Maureen Johnson, a sales assistant from Gloucester, won the 1st Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was held at the New Ambassador Hotel in London in December 1981 – during the worst snowstorm for thirty years. In those days the contest was called the Weekly Gleaner Page 5 Girl competition. Contestants were drawn from all parts of the country with runners-up coming from Birmingham, Derby, London and Gloucester. Maureen took her trip with deputy Norma Carter to Ibiza sponsored by Buddies Holidays. Tickets were presented to them at the House of Commons. (See page marked Maureen)
Collette Gordon, a civil servant from Croydon sponsored by photographer Owen Shaw, won the 2nd Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was presented by TWJ at Spots Club at the Podium, Vauxhall in October 1982. There were 37 contestants and an attendance well beyond the venue’s capacity. Collette was a last-minute replacement. She visited Jamaica sponsored by Air Jamaica and set the precedent of paying a courtesy visit to her Mayor. After this contest the Weekly Gleaner newspaper withdrew from sponsoring the competition. Collette’s runners-up included one future winner. (See page marked Collette)
Lucia Charlery a St Lucian from Newham won the 3rd Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was promoted by TWJ at Spots Club at the Podium, Vauxhall in late 1983. Lucia’s reign established the individual character of the title. She made a promotional tour to St Lucia sponsored by the country’s tourist board, accompanied former runner-up Carron Duncan to St Quentin in France, and established the pattern on visiting her Mayor, Member of Parliament and High Commissioner. She participated in the Notting Hill Carnival. Lucia introduced the tradition of former title-holders maintaining a life-long interest in the contest. (See page marked Lucia)
Hadda Haye, newly arrived from Jamaica where she had won Miss St Elizabeth, won the 4th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was promoted by TWJ at Sports Club at the Podium. Hadda made a vivid impression in her preliminary heat at the Shady Grove club, Tottenham. She was received by her High Commissioner and Mayor. Hadda, who lived at Luton, raised the title to a new international dimension by visiting Berlin sponsored by Karl-Heinz Milferstaedt, Jamaica and Barbados (part sponsored by BWIA), and accompanying runner-up Georgia Robinson on a visit to Holland. Her sister Marleen had been runner-up the year before. (See page marked Hadda).
Carron Duncan, a medical chartist of Jamaican heritage from Dagenham and Barking, won the 5th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest – she had been runner-up three years earlier. It was the first to be held on the St Nicholas cruise ship on its route between Harwich and the Hook of Holland. Her purposeful approach to the contest set a new standard. Carron was received by her High Commissioner and Mayor. She visited Jamaica and, with her deputies, made the first official trip to the Netherlands as a guest at the Caribbean Carnival in Utrecht. The “contest on the sea” became the identifying mark of the title. (See page marked Carron).
Margarette Kyei, an air-hostess from Greenwich recommended by producer Errol Jones of Leopard Music, won the 6th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest – as a Ghanaian she was the first African to win the title. It was held on the St Nicholas during a particularly severe storm at sea during which Margarette impressed by her calmness as well as beauty. She was received by her Deputy High Commissioner. She visited St Lucia sponsored by the country’s tourist board and accompanied her deputies to the Caribbean Carnival in Utrecht. Margarette followed her predecessor’s example in visiting hospitals for the disabled. (See page marked Margarette).
Marjorie Lewis, a previous runner-up of Jamaican heritage from Tottenham, recommended by the Shady Grove club, won the 7th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was held on the St Nicholas immediately after the worst hurricane for three hundred years had devastated the countryside. Marjorie was received by her High Commissioner and Deputy Mayor. She visited Antigua sponsored by the country’s tourist board and accompanied her deputy Jeni Reid on a visit to the Netherlands sponsored by Julian Patterson and Rudi Wilson. Marjorie took part in a charity drive for Tottenham Hotspurs football club. (See page marked Marjorie).
Sharmaine Hughes, an Anguillan receptionist from Slough, won the 8th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth. It was the last of the four contests to be held on the St Nicholas and enjoyed the widest geographical representation of contestants. Dressmaker, promoter and singer Sandra Andrew (picture) enjoyed exceptional success in recommending, through her title Miss Class, the winner and two of the three runners-up, and singing and providing part of the fashion show for the show. Sharmaine was received by her Deputy Mayor and invited to lunch at the House of Commons by John Watts MP, and visited Anguilla part-sponsored by the island’s tourist board. (See page marked Sharmaine).
Theresa Lang, a Grenadian from Abbey Wood, south-east London won the 9th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was held at Dougie’s club, Clapton Pond in east London. She was recommended to the contest by Mrs Etty Kerr, promoter of Miss Elegance. Theresa was invited to lunch at the House of Commons by John Cartwright MP and was received at the Grenada High Commission. The most striking feature of her reign was the revitalisation and strengthening of our links with Holland. Prior to winning our title Theresa had won several other contests including Miss Black Britain, and was runner-up in Miss Elegance and Miss Grenada UK. (See page marked Theresa).
< Photograph in production >
Michelle Ward from Newham, east London won the 10th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was held at Dougie’s club, Clapton Pond. She was the first (Anglo-)Indian winner and to date the only one from that sub-continent. For the first time neither the winner nor any of the deputies were of Jamaican heritage. Michelle was recommended to the contest by Mrs Etty Kerr, promoter of Miss Elegance, and she took her prize trip in Barbados as a guest of the Barbados Tourist Board. She made two trips to the Rotterdam Summer Carnival. Prior to winning our title Michelle had won Miss Caribbean-Continental interim title and Miss Elegance. (See page marked Michelle).
Augustina Lyons, a Ghanaian from Harrow, won the 11th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was held at the Tropicana leisure centre in Rotterdam, the only contest to date to be staged in mainland Europe. The contestants paraded through the city streets on a float in the Summer Carnival. Augustina was received by her High Commissioner and was invited by Hugh Dykes MP to tea at the House of Commons. She took her prize trip to Barbados as a guest of the Barbados Tourist Board, accompanied by former title-holder Lucia Charlery, and returned to Rotterdam. Augustina achieved fame in two continents as the model for Dark & Lovely beauty products. (See page marked Augustina).
Anita St Rose, a night-club dancer of Trinidadian heritage, originally from Telford, won the 12th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was held at the King Charles Hotel in Gillingham, Kent after the proposed scheduling at the Thermae Palace Hotel in Oostende, Belgium had to be postponed due to illness. Karen Charlery became to the only contestant to be runner-up twice. Anita was received by the Mayor of Barnet and was invited to the House of Commons by John Marshall MP. She did not complete the latter part of her reign as she won Miss Black Hair & Beauty and represented Great Britain in the Miss Universe pageant. In her absence Joanne Asker(pictured), also of Trinidadian heritage, deputised admirably. (See page marked Anita).
Fiona Rickard of Jamaican heritage from Kennington, south-east London won the 13th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was held at the King Charles Hotel in Gillingham. Sabina Botey of Guinea was the youngest ever contestant in the “top three”. Local model/actress Angela Thomas is welcomed as member of the judging panel. Fiona was received by H.E. Derrick Heaven, Jamaican High Commissioner, and by the Mayor of Lambeth, and Kate Hoey MP invited her to tea at the House of Commons where she watched Prime Minister’s Question Time. Fiona, who insisted on being called Red, also went to Jamaica but what happened there remains a mystery. (See page marked Fiona)
Paulette Wilks, an air stewardess of Jamaican heritage from Deptford, south-east London, won the 14th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was held at Goldsmiths College at New Cross in south-east London. Paulette, who was recommended to the contest by Kashmera Models, was received by the High Commissioner of Jamaica and was invited by Nick Raynsford MP to tea on the terrace of the House of Commons. She took her prize trip to Barbados as a guest of the Barbados Tourist Board, and she determination kept the title “on the road” towards the end of a decade of promotional disappointments. (see page marked Paulette)
Camille McLeggon, a Jamaican student from Rotherhithe, south-east London won the 15th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was held at the Wandsworth Civic Centre, south-east London on an evening of torrential rain. Paulette was received by her High Commissioner but relinquished her title which was later restored. Deputy Natasha Sirju, a Trinidadian from North London recommended to the title by independent promoter Suresh Rambaran, stood in for her on the prize trip to Tobago. (See page marked Camille).
Natalie Galloway, a student of Jamaican heritage from Nunhead in south-east London, won the 16th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was the first to be promoted at the Polish Centre in Hammersmith, west London. Natalie entered independently and she was received by the Jamaican High Commissioner. She visited Ghana, as guest of the Ghana Tourist Board, and Holland together with her successor Shaherah Williams. Natalie made promotional appearances of behalf of the King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, south-east London. (See page marked Natalie)
Shaherah Williams, born in England to Trinidadian parents and raised in Los Angeles, from Greenwich in south-east London, won the 17th Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth contest. It was held at the Wandsworth Civil Centre. Shaherah and runner-up Alafair Celestine were recommended by Angela Cox, promoter of Miss Trinidad & Tobago UK. She was received at the House of Commons by John Austin MP. Shaherah toured Ghana, as guest of the country’s tourist office, and Holland with her predecessor Natalie Galloway. She gave the title a strong presence at West Indian and African events in the United Kingdom. (See page marked Shaherah)
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