A very Trini gathering - the UK launch of Hero
By Debbie Ransome, writing from London
It seemed to start as a news conference. But given the nature of the subject – a national hero – and the make-up of the audience – actors, interested Trinis and some journalists – it was bound to be different from the average presser, as we call them in the business.
The venue was the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission.
The aim was the launch of the UK production arm of the film Hero, which portrays the life of World War II fighter pilot, judge and diplomat Ulric Cross.
Such an eventful saga was bound to attract a wide range of people from many different walks of life.
On a personal level, I should flag up my own meetings with Ulric Cross, in the interest of journalistic objectivity and laying one’s cards on the table.
I first came across him as Justice Cross, known for his work both in Trinidad’s High Court and Appeal Court, as well as with the Commonwealth, while I was a reporter in Trinidad.
I later met him as a new producer at the BBC’s Caribbean Service in the 1990s, when he was Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commissioner to London.
His door was always open to me and he did mention, modestly, his own days at an earlier BBC in the 1950s.
The last time was when he visited Bush House in 2010 for an interview I did with him.
I had booked one of the older studios and pushed for the BBC’s publicity department to take photos, in order to record this former producer from the immediate post-war years returning to old haunts.
We also had the joy of showing him the YouTube video of his early 1944 appearance in uniform with then BBC West Indian stalwart Una Marsden and cricketer Learie Constantine.
Memories for all
So it was hardly surprising that others, with even closer memories of Ulric Cross’s packed life, should be keen to support the magic of a film about him.
They were standing in the aisles, which doesn’t happen at your usual embassy news conference.
Maybe half a dozen of us asked journalists’ questions: about the cost, the schedule, all the basic “who, what and where” issues.
Then the session took on a life of its own.
Veteran Trinidadian actor Rudolph Walker, best known for his roles in 1970s sitcom Love Thy Neighbour and current BBC soap Neighbours, is the UK patron for the film Hero.
He started as the host of the news conference, but rapidly became master of ceremonies and all-round arbiter.
The film Hero is being directed and produced by Trinidadian Frances-Anne Solomon.
She explained to her audience that this was an “important story for our children to know”, as it spanned not only 1930s and 1940s Trinidad, but also the West Indian experience in World War II, Caribbean contributions to newly post-independence Africa and the development of modern Caribbean diplomacy.
Ms Solomon outlined Ulric Cross’s life from his early days at St Mary’s College in Trinidad. Brought up by his father after his mother’s early death, he started his career doing legal work in Trinidad, before serving in the RAF during the war.
He studied law further and was called to the bar after the war, moving to work with the BBC in the early 1950s.
Ulric Cross arrived in Ghana one month after its independence and went on to work as senior counsel and as a lecturer there, an attorney-general of West Cameroon and later started the law school and the industrial court in Tanzania.
After this, he returned to a distinguished legal career in Trinidad, both as High Court judge and Appeal Court judge, before becoming Trinidadian High Commissioner to London in the 1990s.
Now retired, he lives in Port of Spain.
“It’s a joy for me to tell this story,” Ms Solomon told her audience.
His nephew, Felix Cross, who is today an artistic director, outlined family life as an “oasis of Trinidad “ in 1950s Sutton when “Uncle Ulric” and other Trinidadian relatives would visit.
He reminisced about his uncle’s “innate sense of fairness”.
“His life mirrored the post-war life of Trinidad,” Mr Cross told his audience.
“A country that was growing up under the shadow of the United States of America and colonial Britain – those are two mighty clouds to emerge from,” he said.
Republic Bank is one of the main sponsors of the film Hero.
General Manager Karen Yip-Chuck said the film would show “where we came from so we will know where we’re going”.
Opening the discussion to the floor led to a wide range of Trinidadian and British debate – from film people offering to promote and showcase the final film to potential sponsors asking about investment opportunities.
The longest-running debate came when one Trinidadian asked whether, for people like herself who had lived abroad for some time, the director would consider subtitles to make sure everyone could enjoy the film.
This opened up a whole can of worms, as the discussion moved from topics such as the speed at which Trinis talk to the skill of Trinidadian actors.
As an actor himself, it was a show of consummate control for Rudolph Walker to rein the debate back to the film.
He pointed out that, if a film like this could be shown to young people, they “would walk ten foot tall”.
Two-thirds of the film’s funding is already in the can.
The producers are seeking help to film the final parts in Britain and, if funding allows, in Africa.
Many offered help, networking and support, while all were asked to “spread the word” and do what they could.
There was applause after many of the contributions.
Afterwards, one of the members of the Trinidadian acting fraternity who had been invited said to me: “Was that a news conference? I hardly remember any journalists’ questions.”
It didn’t seem to matter that much, as everyone left smiling.