AUBREY BAYNES – FATHER OF THE WEST INDIAN PRESS
from February 1964
Aubrey Baynes if the forgotten man of West Indian journalism. He has every right to be called the father of the genre. Nevertheless he was too independent, and, although he had deeply held views, was too much of the true journalist to subject the profession to his own opinions. He did not become the icon of any special-interest group such as feminism, Marxism of black militancy which gave Claudia Jones, who died at Christmas 1964, even greater significance in death than she had in life.
Nobody that I now can be sure where Aubrey came into the world, except that it was somewhere in the Eastern Caribbean – I believe that it was St Vincent – or when or where he went out of it. His colleague, Robert Govender, has described him as being essentially an outsider.
Baynes was a striking, suave and convivial character. He was well-educated, humorous and came from a comparatively well-off, middle-class background. His company was never boring. By the time that we met first as guests at a beauty contest at Camberwell Baths, Aubrey’s name was already vaguely familiar to me for his intermittently-published magazine Daylight International which contained reports of sport and entertainment as well as current affairs. It was in February 1964, the week in which Muhammad Ali (later Cassius Clay) took the world heavyweight boxing championship from Sonny Liston.
He, in turn, had heard of me and invited me to contribute to his publication. While he was committed to seeing justice and recognition for black people, Baynes did not make people feel individually uncomfortable. He was confrontational of injustice but not towards people, creating the feeling that we were in the struggle together. Furthermore, unlike a good number of editors and publishers, he did not insist that reports of sport and entertainment had to be fitted to a political agenda.
It was while I was writing for Baynes that my name settled on being “Clayton Goodwin”. Until then most of my work had been published under my first name “Ian”. Aubrey didn’t like the name’s current connotations. He reasoned that Ian was the name of too many criminals (no doubt a joke), such as Ian Brady, the Moors murderer, and of an up-and-coming politician given black people a hard time in the then Rhodesia, namely Ian Smith.
“For somebody called Ian to work for a black people’s newspaper would be like somebody called Adolf applying for a job on the Jewish Chronicle” he quipped. “Do you happen to have a second name?”
“Yes – it is John” I answered.
“That won’t help either” he mused. “So many people I know are called John that I might get confused. I don’t suppose that you have a third name”.
I confessed that several boys in our family, including myself, carried as a forename the maiden name of my great-grandmother – Clayton.
“That’s perfect” Aubrey exclaimed. It’s unusual enough for me not to know too many Claytons, without being too unusual as to be downright weird. Besides” – he grinned – “it sounds West Indian”.
Yes, it is a good story. And that is just what it is. Unfortunately it isn’t true. The most basic research will show that the Ians (Brady and Smith) did not come to general public notice until at least a year later. The issue of the West Indian Gazette, with my original interview with Millie Small, which was exhibited at the Rio cinema almost fifty years later showed that I had started to use the name “Clayton” before or around about the time we met. Aubrey must have picked up on the experimental name-use change and encouraged me in that direction. That would have been in keeping who had changed his own forename from Colville.
Grafton Street, London
Daylight International spluttered along for a while, as did my contact with Baynes whom I hardly saw except to hand over copy. In the winter 1964/65 I worked a couple of times with photographer Syd Burke whom I had first met through Flamingo magazine. (Much later Syd became a broadcaster with LBC known primarily for his programme Rice ‘n’ Peas). He told me about the newly-established Magnet News, which was said to be the first regular weekly black newspaper in the United Kingdom.
Syd invited me to go with him to the office on Grafton Street, close to Warren Street tube station. I wasn’t too keen on the idea. Magnet News was edited by Jan Carew, an accomplished writer whom I had met briefly while being interviewed at the Caribbean Service of the BBC World Service. He struck me as being a serious-minded left-wing polemist who would have had little time for my non-political sport, entertainment and human-interest stories.
“Go on – come along with me” Syd urged. And, having little else to do that day, I did.
We found Baynes, not Carew, in the editor’s chair. Jan had lasted for only one issue. Aubrey was the better journalist, if not necessarily the better writer. He had his finger on the pulse of the readership. Aubrey was an easy editor to work with. That didn’t mean that he couldn’t be critical of my contributions, because he often was. With him, however, there was never any sense that adverse comments he made were personal. When I was night-shift at the AA, I used to call in at the Magnet News office before going home to sleep. That was to keep myself in the loop, as they say, and to see if there might be an assignment for me.
Aubrey was usually there, giving the impression that he had stayed at the desk overnight, as he probably had. We had an hour or so together before the other staff came in. Through a haze of cigarette smoke, and the taste of endless cups of coffee, Baynes treated me to his opinions on the news-stories of the time, gossip on his colleagues, and his observations on life in general. It was a more effective education than I had obtained from university.
On the narrow stairway to the first-floor office, I often ran into a distinguished writer or artist and did appreciate their standing until some years later. That included Ernest Eytle, the author of a superb book on Frank Worrell, who died shortly afterwards. On one of my early visits I found Aubrey waiting for a phone-call from Malcolm X. He hoped that the celebrated American activist would drop in for an interview before he returned to the USA. Malcolm due phoned in from the West Midlands to say that he was running too far behind schedule to make the appointment. Baynes managed to get a few quotes from him down the line. Sitting up close to him on the other hand of the small desk I can claim, that although the individual words could not be distinguished, I have heard Malcolm’s voice direct – from the far end of a telephone. Back in the States he was assassinated before another fortnight was out.
Although Aubrey ran a happy team, the atmosphere in the office could be tense. There were the usual internal money problems that beset a minority-community newspaper, and outside creditors demanding payment, as well as a decided edge in the personal relationship between Baynes and one of the directors. For my part, though, I was satisfied that Magnet News was the first UK West Indian newspaper that paid me for my contributions.
Norfolk Place, Praed Street
To no real surprise Magnet News failed to survive through the summer. A few weeks later Aubrey Baynes was back behind the editor’s desk when its successor, Cinnamon, a glossy magazine in contrast to predecessor’s newspaper format, and now under new ownership, was launched from an office on Norfolk Place, just off Praed Street, close by Paddington mainline station. With the directors less visible than before Baynes was very much the man in charge.
He brought with him most of the staff and contributors from Magnet News. Eric McAlpine, previously from Flamingo magazine, was taken on in an editorial role which freed Aubrey to front the operation. Rudolph Dunbar, the celebrated classical composer, clarinettist and conductor, was regularly present, though I was no sure what he did there. To me then Dunbar was just a man looking slightly older than his age who hung around without really saying or doing much. Later I learned about his real status, that he had played with famous chanteuse/danseuse Josephine Baker, and that he had conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert immediately after the Second World War had ended. Dunbar was also a distinguished journalist and war correspondent. He crossed the English Channel under fire on D-Day and reported from the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes.
The office had a general feeling of bonhomie rather than of urgency and intensity. Visitors dropped in regularly, usually staying for an hour or so. Entertainer Count Prince Miller, who was then living at Clanricarde Gardens in Notting Hill, came in shortly after making his debut in this country with Jimmy James & the Vagabonds. Aubrey brought to the office also Sheila Brown, an up-and-coming journalist who became a stalwart of UK West Indian (and African) fashion reporting over the next two decades. I learned so much about the history of West Indian activities in this country and in their home islands just by listening in as Aubrey and his associates swapped reminiscences.
Baynes, with his cut-glass Oxford accent, which from time to time he switched to an American drawl, was such a dandy that it came as a harsh surprise to realise the standard of living to which the investment of so much of his time and money had brought him. One afternoon he asked me to accompany him on a trip to a friend who was staying on nearby Sussex Gardens. This thoroughfare leading westwards out of Town held a number of cheap hotels and lodging-houses, suitable for itinerants and immigrants. It was notorious for the number of street-walkers at night-time. This was the lower end of the “car trade”. In view of the current Jack the Stripper murders in the near vicinity these girls were considered to be the most desperate and the most foolhardy. By daytime, though, it was reasonably respectable.
Baynes pulled up in his car in the driveway to one such lodging-house, bidding me to stay in the vehicle until he returned. From the boot he too out a smart suit, clean white shirt, and a wash-bag. Within have an hour he re-appeared well-suited and dressed, shaved and smelling of deodorant. The magazine executive was now ready for his meeting with some big-wig in Fleet Street. It was apparent that Aubrey was living out of his car, and stopping by friends for his washing, bathing, ironing and the other services of life. This arrangement must have been temporary because later he rented a place on Elgin Avenue in Maida Vale which was owned by the Church Commissioners.
I passed much of that summer gossiping with Celia, the secretary who had come with him from Magnet News. Except at production time, she had little else to do. The previous intensity of phone-calls and deadlines was missing, and not only because Cinnamon, unlike the weekly Magnet News, came out just once a month. The steam had gone out of the operation.
From time to time Aubrey snapped in mock anger: “Clayton, don’t keep my secretary from her work”.
Then he kept all of us from work by telling more of his stories. It seemed that Cinnamon, and ourselves, were waiting for something to happen, even if we didn’t know what it was. In fact, we were waiting for the West Indian community to become more relevant to the national media picture. Here in 1965 we were in the lull between the heightened activity following the Notting Hill race riots and the social upheaval of the late 1950s and early 1960s on the one hand and, on the other, the furore after Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech in 1968 which took race relations right to the centre of the national debate. For the moment, there wasn’t a big enough domestic story to get our teeth into.
By autumn Cinnamon had followed Magnet News into oblivion. It did not do so with a bang, and hardly a whisper. For three years Aubrey Baynes lay dormant to my consciousness. Not so Celia with whom I shared an interest in the music and entertainment of south-east London. The next year the young Antiguan followed her sister to work on an American base and in time married a GI serviceman. Their wedding took place the week before my own.
As she came down the aisle with her husband on her arm, Celia caught sight of me and called out: “Hello Goodwin!”
How could I explain to my embarrassed fiancée what I had done to justify being singled out for special mention. Shortly afterwards Celia left England for a life on the other side of Atlantic and I did not hear from her until ……..
24 Holmsdale Grove,
In August 2009, I was preparing for my mother’s funeral the next day. It was a difficult time emotionally. The telephone rang, but I ignored it. I did not want to be side-tracked. The telephone rang once more, and then it rang again.
“I might as well as well answer it or I won’t get any peace” I thought.
“Clayton, this is Celia Jones. You would remember as Celia Phillip before I married” the caller said in a distinct American accent.
She was calling from her home in Kansas City. After trying unsuccessfully to contact me over several years, Celia had traced me eventually through an obituary I had written for my friend Rema Nelson who had died in the USA. Thank goodness I had decided to answer the phone at last.
West Indian World
By 1970, after a wait of several years, Aubrey achieved his ambition of bringing out the long-desired regular black weekly newspaper. The West Indian World, which he produced from Kilburn in north-west London, was published consistently every week for 15 years. It long survived his own time at the helm. When that, too, went the way of its predecessors, it had established the pattern for the even longer-running The Voice which was founded in 1982. Aubrey has never been given the credit which his perseverance deserved.
On his staff Baynes blended his former contributors with a new team from the first generation of “black British” born in this country. Now, however, I could not call in on him for the chats of old. I was married with a young family, and, as we shall see, working full-time at the Department of the Environment. Our contact was restricted to phone-calls, the postal service, and meetings at social occasions during the weekends. He did not forget. I was not “out of sight, out of mind” because he chivvied me constantly for ever more contributions.
Yet even the West Indian World was not the successful consummation of his hopes that he had hoped it would be. It, too, was hit by the inevitable financial problems. There were not enough small West Indian businesses in this country to provide the advertising revenue to keep it afloat (and no large businesses at all). Baynes had cut his teeth in the time of struggle: he may have lacked the awareness and flair to spot new opportunities. By 1973 he had made the newspaper over to Arif Ali, publisher of the smaller Westindian Digest, who was more single-minded in his pursuit of economic buoyancy. He raised the West Indian World to an international dimension.
Aubrey Baynes packed up and departed. Where to? We didn’t know.
Under his successor the West Indian World achieved a much higher profile. Too high, in fact, because before the end of the 1970s Arif Ali was superseded in an apparent office putsch by the younger men Baynes had recruited. Russell Pierre, who fronted the team for a while, was himself replaced by staff photographer Caudley George as managing director and by reporter Tony Douglas as editor. While it was always interesting the West Indian World was flawed financially and latterly lacked a sense of strong editorial direction. That opened up a gap in the market of which The Voice, a product more of the modern age and attitudes, took full advantage.
That was when, in 1986, Caudley asked me to meet him at a house in North London. The stated purpose was to discuss the state of the UK West Indian press. I knocked on the door at the appointed time. It was opened by …… Aubrey Baynes. He was more dishevelled than I had remembered him, possibly because our meeting was informal.
“It’s all gone” he complained. “The newspaper I founded as a pension for my old age. It’s all gone”.
Either age or the collapse of the newspaper had knocked the spark out of him. He didn’t sound as bitter as he could have done. It was a matter of fact. Aubrey had made a career out of seeing his dreams shattered. We chatted for a while, said good-bye, and I departed – leaving him for the last time.
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