By Clayton Goodwin
Carl Bennett had an integral role in UK-based Caribbean entertainment in the 1980s and early-1990s. He made his name as photographer at, and printer for, many of the club shows of the Golden Age, especially the beauty contests promoted by Spencer Williams and Trevor Russell on a Friday night at Sports club in the Podium, Vauxhall, south-west London. That was the place to be, to be seen, and to become involved. Spencer and Trevor made sure that all of the community’s leading promoters, top models and beauty queens, entertainers, and even diplomats were there, and so was Carl to record their presence on camera. His unobtrusive manner enabled him to be trusted to film even the more informal moments.
When the steam went out of such promotions by the end of the decade – caused initially by Spencer and Trevor moving to the smaller premises of Nightmoves not far from Liverpool Street station (the small stage did not have room to continue the extravaganzas), Carl moved into promotion, initially as back-up to established promoters and later to present his own shows. He will be associated particularly with the annual trips to the Rotterdam Summer Caribbean Carnival and with the many excursions that were presented at the time on the ferries traversing the North Sea between this country and the Netherlands. His natural bonhomie made him an obvious “mine host” to keep up spirits whenever anything did not go quite according to plan. The construction of the Channel star and changes in ownership of the ferry companies caused this form of entertainment and travel to fade away by the mid-1990s.
Mina Bennett (Carl’s wife) has kindly forwarded some examples of her husband’s work. They reached me on my birthday – a welcome present for the occasion. As this photograph shows Carl’s work was not limited entirely to Caribbean-related events. Here he was involved with the some-times joint activities of the Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth and Maid in Kent beauty contests.
This photograph taken in early 1990 shows Theresa Lang (right) and Michelle Ward (left), consecutive holders of the title Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth, flanking Elaine White, the then Maid in Kent. Clayton Goodwin, promoter of both titles, is in the foreground. Advocates of ethnic diversity may notice that Indian, English, Grenadian and – counting photographer Carl – Jamaican heritage is represented in this group. Miss Caribbean & Commonwealth avoided the collapse of the land-based beauty contest scene at this time by moving the titles to the ferry routes operating out of Harwich to the Hook of Holland (Sealink/Stena) and from Sheerness to Vlissingen (Olau). In this great assistance was received from individuals, particularly Julian Patterson and Rudi Wilson in Utrecht, and the committees of the Utrecht and Rotterdam Caribbean carnivals.