THE UK WEST INDIAN PRESS IN THE 1960s

A personal story

By Clayton Goodwin 

In October 1960 I came up as a student to live in London from my home in Stony Corner, a Kentish hamlet as remote and socially/culturally backward as its name implies. We knew hardly anything about our neighbours in the next village, let alone from another country or continent. My first information about West Indians and Africans came from the pages of Flamingo magazine, which, though panned by recent critics for its attention to pretty girls and frippery, also contained some powerful articles. It was edited by Edward Scobie who had been associated with other ephemeral publications including Tropic, of which there were one or two still lying around.

After buying a copy of Flamingo from the newspaper-seller next to the Dominion theatre on the Tottenham Court Road, I could hardly wait to turn through the pages of the features on successful Africans in history, exclaiming as I did so “Well, I never knew that” – but I do now. This magazine, which had money behind it, was a cut or two above the competition in presentation and, I was given to understand, was able to pay its contributors (even if not very much). By the time it concluded publication in 1964 its initial impact had been diluted, but it had brought the historical exploits of Black people to national attention.

Perhaps the later reputation for girlie glamour was due to Beverley Douce, the leading West Indian beauty queen of the day, being their receptionist, and to confusion with its own alliterative subsidiary Feline. The latter introduced Joan Hooley as the first widely recognised black pin-up. It was not necessarily Ms Hooley sharing the same forename as my mother that made me take notice. She has travelled a long way since then as a soap-opera star (engaging in the first televised inter-racial kiss), serious actress, soap-star again, and thespian matriarch.

I am not sure exactly when I became first aware of the West Indian Gazette newspaper. However, I do recall having copies delivered to my pigeon-hole at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) for distribution to my fellow-students. At first, I was put off by the strident Marxist editorial stance, having a peasant-boy’s suspicion of all “-isms” and I still do). Then I saw beyond the international headlines to the news and views of West Indians in this country which opened a mew vista of knowledge and appreciation.

Claudia Jones edited the newspaper from an office on Brixton Road. At the time of her premature death at Christmas 1964 she was hardly recognised beyond her personal and professional acquaintances. Now in retrospect she is acknowledged as a Black, Marxist and feminist icon. Claudia agreed to consider my submissions for publication, and she did print quite a few, on the basis that there would be no payment but that I would be learning journalism “on the job”. Hayter’s, the sports reporting agency for which I worked at weekends and vacations, had got some of my work published: that, however, carried the agency’s name, whereas the West Indian Gazette was the first to give my own by-line.

I have another, and personal, reason for remembering this newspaper. In order to extend my then scant knowledge of the West Indian community I sent in a letter asking for female penfriends to show me around. Five splendid young ladies replied to whom, and a couple of their friends, I shall be always indebted for my subsequent career – and marriage. Rhona Pennant invited me to her 16th birthday party – yes, we were really that young – and fixed me up on a blind date with her schoolfriend Hopelyn Mills with whom I have spent a life-time of over fifty years in marriage.

My first report of a cricket Test match was the legendary encounter between England and West Indies at Lord’s in 1963 which I attended as a messenger for Hayter’s. Shortly afterwards a representative of New Contact magazine asked me to provide an eye-witness report. I had to go to an address above a premises on Gerard Street in Soho, which was not then the Chinatown it has since become, and ask there for Carmen (Mollison). This charming young woman took my script, paid me £3 in an envelope, and arranged for a contributor’s copy to be sent to me (which it was). That was the last I, and apparently anyone, heard of New Contact.

WINA (the magazine of the West Indian National Association) had such professional presentation that it surprising it has been omitted from most (if not all) histories of the industry. The publisher/editor was Hector Karam who came in from his home in Buckinghamshire to collect correspondence and for the occasional interview at an office at Arundel Gardens, Notting Hill. He was involved in other activities, including membership travel clubs to the Caribbean, which may have led to his sudden disappearance from publishing.

Aubrey Baynes emerged as the successor to Claudia Jones and truly deserves to be called the “father” of the UK West Indian press. He had already introduced several titles and was publisher/editor of Daylight International when I met him first at a beauty contest in Camberwell in February 1964. A Vincentian, he was suave, urbane, thoughtful and engaging company. The magazine had an impressive format but, hamstrung by cash flow problems, could not come out regularly. I believe that Aubrey was the first person who encouraged me to use “Clayton”, my third forename, as my by-line.

Baynes came to prominence when, after one issue, in early 1965 he succeeded Jan Carew as editor of Magnet News which in its short life did come out on a regular weekly basis (and paid its contributors). He held court at the office which was located close to Warren Street underground station and to which many of the leading Caribbean personalities were attracted. There I met Rudolph Dunbar and Ernest Eytle, whose names did not register with me then, and was sitting at a desk in conversation with Aubrey when he took a telephone call from Malcolm X. The directors and editorial department did not really work in tandem and there was little surprise when the enterprise foundered.

Baynes tried to keep the concept going by bringing out Cinnamon magazine from an office just off Praed Street, Paddington later that summer. The project never really got going. Cash flow and lack of advertising were again the stumbling-block. Although he grasped well the strategic points of journalism publishing, Aubrey may have faltered on the nuts and bolts and, to be honest, being a good conversationalist with a genuine interest in people, he was better at the personal relations side of the business. There was a string of visitors, none of whom were turned away without at least a word or two of greeting, from whom I shared a life-long friendship with entertainer Count Prince Miller and journalist Sheila Brown, as well as Baynes’ personal secretary Celia Jones (nee Philip).

JOFFA (magazine of the Jamaica Overseas Families and Friends Association) was published by travel agent L.E. Campbell and edited by – no relation – Theo Campbell, who had supported and co-operated with Claudia Jones, from Vining Street in Brixton. It was well-produced with more photographs than was usual and promised much while concentrating on matters of London interest did not made a national impact. The magazine was part of JOFFA’s range of activities of which the best remembered is probably their prestigious beauty contest.

The Weekly Gleaner newspaper, though founded in 1951, is often excluded from the list of UK West Indian publications because it was essentially the London branch of the Gleaner newspaper group in Jamaica. This is especially true in the 1960s as, in spite on its increasing number of UK reports among its Jamaican “home” pages, it did not have its own office here until 1977. Reports had to be sent to group headquarters in Kingston where the respected and formidable Theodore Sealy provided the insight, professionalism and drive, to make sure that, wherever it may have been published, the Gleaner was the “place to go” for news of West Indians and all aspects of West Indian activity in the United Kingdom.

After my grounding and apprenticeship with Aubrey Baynes, Claudia Jones and Hector Karam, I was well-placed to cope with the Gleaner’s apparently insatiable request for news of the Caribbean communities here following the popularity of events such as the successful mid-decade West Indies cricket tours and, above all, the sensational success of singer Millie Small with My Boy Lollipop. It was during the latter that Mr Sealy gave me the blue-card of an official Gleaner representative which I treasured for many years. Mr Tom Sherman, the group’s business manager, told me in June 1967 that he had heard from a reputable source – international journalist and television presenter Barbara Blake – that I knew more about Jamaicans in England than any Jamaica ….less than seven years after, knowing nothing at all about West Indians and Africans, I had bought my first copy of Flamingo.

As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s two giants of UK West Indian publishing come forward who would change the face of the industry. One of them had been around for several years. At last Aubrey Baynes was to achieve his ambition of a producing a long-lasting regular Black weekly newspaper when the West Indian World hit the market. And Arif Ali crept into the scene almost unnoticed with his pocketbook-sized West Indian Digest.

 

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There were a good few other publications which opened, lasted one or perhaps two issues and then folded that I do not have the scope to name then. Nevertheless, they deserve credit for their contribution and to developing the journalists, photographers and technical staff of the next decade.

   
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