Oh No, Not Again!
The AuthorThe rate at which the Ghanaian generation that saw in our country’s independence is perishing is worrisome.
If we had any really adventurous publishers, they should be commissioning biographies of those who are left — as well as some of those who have died — so that succeeding generations can learn something from their lives.
I started doing some of this in the Ghana edition of Drum magazine in the nineteen-sixties. I published interviews with C A Akrofi, author of the authoritative grammar of the Twi language, Twi Kasa Mmra and the novel in Twi, Mmodenbo Bu Mmusu Abasa So. Both books were textbooks in Presbyterian Schools, which shows that the Presbyterian system had the great foresight of patronising Ghanaian authors.
I remember reading from their publishing house, Konkonsa ( a very imaginative story built around the two words, ‘Konkon’ and ‘Nsa’); and, I think, Thomas Yaw Kani’s folk tales. And, of course, they produced the invaluable Kan Me Hwe series and numerous supplementary textbooks, all of which gave us a great deal of pleasure. The Methodist Church also published a great deal — it was from one of their books that I read (in Fanti) about Asebu Amenfi.
I am glad my friend, The Reverend Peter Barker, is rescuing the history of the Presbyterian Church from obscurity with a laboriously researched book. Barker is a guy with great integrity and his efforts ought to be supported. Writing is a tough enterprise even in countries with a tradition of rewarding writers. In Ghana today, if a gifted writer devotes most of his time to writing, instead of practising another trade that brings him a steady income — such as teaching or journalism— he will eat air.
In Drum, I also featured R P Baffour, first Ghanaian Director of Transport (it was he who introduced the idea that the ‘bodies’ of mammy-lorries should be constructed out of plywood, because the ordinary woods then in use tended to splinter in accidents and kill people unnecessarily); R K A Gardiner (first Ghanaian Director of the Department of Social Welfare); Nana Kobina Nketsia (Director of Culture and Pro-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Legon) and two powerful women politicians — Mrs Susan Alhassan (first woman Minister of Education) and Miss Mary Osei (first woman District Commissioner of Kumase).
Others were Dr Oku Ampofo (founder of a plant medicine research centre at his home town, Mampong-Akwapim. Dr Oku Ampofo was not only a physician, but a famed sculptor. His works, executed in multi-coloured hard woods or cement and terrazo, often portray cultural and socio-religious aspects of the Ghanaian way of life.
See: http://www.ampofofoundation.org/the_gallery_1.htm). He also gave Ghana an ex-headmistress of Achimota School who, in her heydays, was called 'Fabulous Charlotte Ampofo.' Another sculptor, Vincent Akwetey Kofi, got from me the accolade 'Akwete The Magnificent' — an allusion to Michaeangelo’s sobriquet, 'Il Magnifico'. E T Mensah, Kwabena Onyina and E K Nyame were among musicians I was privileged to write about. I wouldn’t mind revisiting some of these biographical subjects, adding those whom I missed out on, such as Kofi Antubam, Dr Bucknor, J H Nketia, A A Opoku, Mawere Opoku and Dr Ephraim Amu..
Had I not lived outside Ghana for long periods of time, I am sure I would also have got, under my belt, interesting politicians like Dr J B Danquah, K A Gbedema, Kojo Botsio, N A Welbeck, Joe Appiah, Victor Owusu Paa Willie (William Ofori Atta) Ako Adjei, Tawia Adamafio and Baffour Akoto. All gone without passing their invaluable perspectives to me through penetrating questioning.
In my own profession, I would have wanted to write about Moses Danquah, Martin Therson-Cofie, Bankole Timothy, Francis Awuku and E W Adjaye ('Old Boy') about the early days of the Daily Graphic. Gladly, some of the old Graphic stalwarts are still alive, and God willing, I shall bring you their stories before long. I also have ideas about my old sports heroes — Edward Acquah, Osei Kofi, Wilberforce Mfum and others.
some of the old Graphic stalwarts are still alive, and God willing, I shall bring you their stories before long. I also have ideas about my old sports heroes — Edward Acquah, Osei Kofi, Wilberforce Mfum and others. I am thinking seriously about these projects because I received an email a few days ago telling me that another artist with a good story to tell, Sam Bannerman, had passed on. Here is the email:
'Koo, maakye. I’ve just read your tribute to Kwesi Brew. ... In the past few weeks, I’ve been attending funerals and listening to a lot of drivel that goes for ‘tributes‘. Goodbye Kwesi Brew, poet, has helped to clear my head. Only yesterday I had to stitch together a short news item re- Sam Bannerman. He died last Friday at the age of 83.'
Listen hard now, dear reader: if you ever get a warm feelingf towards someone you know do put it into practice. For I was in the Ghana Broadcasting Club, near Flagstaff House, in 2005 when I asked about Sam Bannerman. I was hoping to squash rumours — never absent from conversation in Ghana! — that he’d already John Hammond — another ex-colleague (him with the golden voice) assured me that Sam was alive and living at Kanda Estate. I insisted that John take me to se him there and then and we went and found Sam. We had a grand reunion.
Now, Sam Bannerman and I didn’t get on at all well when we first met. I had joined the GBC as a newsman, whereas my true interest lay in fiction. So, in my spare time, I used to write short stories for a fantastic fiction and poetry programme called The Singing Net. It had a wonderful signature tune entitled 'Yaanom Muntie!', composed by J H Kwabena Nketia. It was the only programme produced by the Head of Programmes, Henry Swanzy (ex-BBC) himself and the standard was extremely high.
The prize for creative writers, however, was a programme called Ghana Theatre, which featured 30-minute plays regularly. I think it paid thirty guineas (thirty-three pounds) which in those days, was sheer wealth.
At one time, I tried a risky shot for Ghana Theatre — a two-part play that would fetch about fifty pounds altogether. My play, called The Powers That Be, (later produced by the BBC as Mammy Water’s Lover) was accepted by the producer — Sam Bannerman!
Sam Bannerman had a knack for producing good stuff — he got Mrs Evans-Anfom, a tall, beautiful, Caribbean lady whose husband was later to become Vice-Chancellor of ‘Kumase Legon,’ to play the lead as ‘Maame Wata’. Her foreign accent gave the part a touch of mystery that made my Maame Wata come alive as an exotic, alluring creature — even on the radio. He also got a good male lead; there was some poetry in the play which this guy consciously declaimed as if it was ‘Shakespeare’. Sam also got John Elliott, who knew a lot about boxing, to bring his own improvised radio commentary and it all worked a trick.
And then I submitted the script for Part 2..
Sam Bannerman didn’t like the ending at all and asked me to change it.
I said ‘No’ and that as an artist, I had the right to choose whatever ending pleased me, so long as it didn’t infringe broadcasting regulations. Sam said that as the producer, he had the right to change the ending if he chose to.
Clock ticking towards performance day.
It became a programme scheduling ‘crisis.’
So it went before the Head of Programmes, Henry Swanzy.
He supported Sam Bannerman.
I still wouldn’t budge.
So the matter was referred, as a last resort, to the ultimate boss, the Director of Broadcasting, James Millar.
Now, Millar was a different kettle of fish. He was a very nice but extremely tough man. We didn’t know it at the time, but he had worked in British intelligence during the Second World War, and was a psychologist of the first order.
He initially took my side: of course, as the writer (he said) I had the absolute last word on what the play should say.
But Millar then counselled that since the first part of the play had not included any music at all but talk, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to introduce some music into the second part.
'Radio hates monotony, you see, Cameron!' he cooed, sweet as a bird. He then took his pen and made quite a few hefty cuts in the script.
I didn’t like it but before I could protest , he disarmed me by saying, 'You choose the music, Cameron'!
Everybody had ‘won’.
End of conflict.
After this stand-off, however, Sam Bannerman and I did not become enemies, as should have been the case between Ghanaians who had ’fought’ with each other.
On the contrary, we became firm friends. He respected my craftmanship and for standing up for my convictions, and I respected his unsurpassed radio production technique and for insisting on his right to produce the play in the best manner he thought possible.
In fact in later years, when he moved to TV, he made me the star of his documentary shows and we collaborated together a lot —always arguing, but getting the best product shown. as a result.. Great guy — gone for ever, alas.