By Clayton Goodwin
Clayton Goodwin (right), photographed with his landlord,
Mr Ernest Barton, in 1961, the year in which he first encountered
the West Indian community and press
And… Was initiated into the art of debating
at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London –
here in the Junior Common Room
It must have been on Saturday 9th December 1961 that I put my mind seriously to writing for the West Indian press. A few of my articles had been published previously, but this was different. Although I didn’t now it then, I was stepping into what would become a new identity and a whole new way of life. As a Kentish boy from Stony Corner, which was as remote and rural as its name implies, I had had no opportunity of meeting any black people until, a week short of my 18th birthday, I came to London in the autumn of 1960 to commence a course in Hindi at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Even then my contacts had been limited to the Oriental, not African, department.
My interest – you could say, obsession – with the Caribbean, and most things West Indian, was sparked by meeting Sir Frank Worrell, the celebrated cricketer, in the course of weekend/vacation work as a messenger and very junior reporter with Reg Hayter’s sports reporting agency. I was struck immediately by Worrell’s personality and that somebody so famous could treat me, a mere nobody, in such a human and courteous manner. After play had ended, I searched through the telephone directories for any address containing the word “West Indian”, and then wrote asking if they could give me any information about this great man and the islands from which he and his team came. The only positive response came from Claudia Jones, founder and editor, of the West Indian Gazette newspaper.
After an exchange of correspondence I found myself agreeing to distribute the Gazette among my fellow-students and Claudia promised that she would look favourably at any article I cared to submit. It was nothing that important. I had written to her because I knew nothing of West Indians or the West Indies – now, how could I contribute anything new to inform or interest a readership who knew far more about the subject than myself. Nevertheless, a couple of pieces were published and, through attending a few minor events, I had got to know some young West Indian ladies, to whom I shall always be grateful for what has happened to me in the years ahead.
One of them, Rosetta Edwards, from Montserrat, invited me to the annual dance/social of the Standing Conference of the West Indians at the Royal National Hotel, Woburn Place, Bloomsbury. Here I was among the creme de la crème of the UK West Indian community. And what a crème there was? It was impossible not to share the experience by writing about it. Almost everyone was willing to talk, and provide stories of their lives, with this very naïve and uninformed teenager. I was just as eager to listen to what they had to say. Was I the only white person there that night? Possibly, but I was too agog with the anticipation to notice. Ah yes, I believe that Laurie Pavitt, the MP for Willesden, may have been a guest of honour.
Much of the evening was spent talking to Jeff Crawford, a comparatively young Barbadian at the start of his distinguished career. We established immediate rapport through our love of cricket. When he learned that I was secretary of our college team Jeff suggested we should arrange a fixture against his club, Brockley International Fellowship Association (effectively Brockley West Indians), and pressed the point further by inviting me to play for Brockley when SOAS didn’t have a game. Thus, I was plunged into Caribbean cricket at its grass-roots, and could write on it subjectively as well as report objectively. Jeff went on to have a very successful career in trade union, social, civic and community affairs, and, although, fortunately, such things were hidden from us at the time, I went on to write his obituary in The Independent national newspaper after he passed away on Christmas Day 2003.
The highlight of the evening was a beauty contest – the first of the several hundred, no – thousands, that I have seen, or promoted, over the six decades since then. The winner was Beverley Douce, with Yvonne Rosario runner-up, both, I believe, coming from New Cross. As added interest to myself, the contestants included Roselyn Cameron, the first West Indian girl, who with her friend, Yvonne, I had ever taken on a “date” to the cinema. They must have made a very good impression. The contest was vibrant and varied, so unlike the anodyne bathing-beauty pageants to which white people were accustomed. Ms Douce, as it happened, was also receptionist/secretary to Flamingo, a highly polished magazine from which I was already learning much about Africans and the Diaspora.
Cricket, beauty, good conversation and a vision into the future. Yes, I just had to find a pen to write it all down …… and now, sixty years later … what now? …. A new pen for another sixty years, perhaps?