Mark looking back on life
IF YOU’VE ever listened to radio in Barbados then you know there is one programme that has led the way in bridging the generation gap.
For the past quarter of a century Mark Williams has been doing this by reminding Bajans of the old-time days by way of his nostalgic programme called Looking Back.
There probably isn’t a Barbadian home that hasn’t been touched in some form by the “liveliest, spiciest Friday programme”.
And, undoubtedly, at some point listeners would have felt a sense of wistfulness while sitting with family or friends for just two hours, listening to epic pieces of storytelling.
Surrounded by a number of awards and artefacts at his Wanstead, St James home, Williams told the SUNDAY SUN this was one of his main objectives when in 1988 he presented the programme to the administration at the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
The idea of Looking Back came about after a discussion Williams had with broadcaster Vic Fernandes about radio and the direction it was going, that is, away from the people.
“The purpose of the programme was to give Barbadians an opportunity to know what Barbados was, not to want to go back to the style of life that . . . but in order to give Barbadians the true folk culture of lifestyles.
“For example, to let Barbadians know what an old funeral was like, a wedding ceremony, the midwife, remedies and what people considered were the warnings given by parents. The whole thing was a Barbadian approach to living,” he said.
Arguably, there was no better person than Williams to moderate such a programme.
According to him, he has been around town long, and this helped to give him an insight into authentic Bajan life.
It was back in the 1950s when Williams was a salesman at a City retailer known as C.S. Harrison that he gained much knowledge of the ins and outs of Barbados.
Many days his job was to travel all across the island selling stout. He was very successful at this, but with a lifelong desire to become a seaman, Williams quickly became restless and moved on.
He got married in 1961, and the following year he applied to go to the London Transport as a bus conductor. On May 28, that same year, he headed to England to start the job. However, while in the UK his wish to become a seaman finally came true and he sailed out of that country headed back to Barbados. Upon his return, Williams went back to C.S. Harrison, then sold insurance and laughing, he quipped, he did much of everything to survive in those days.
He eventually got another job at sea and spent three years sailing before came back home, went into the insurance business again until the sea came calling one more time.
Prior to that though, around 1958, Williams had begun to make a name for himself as a top promoter, thanks to his close friend, acclaimed spouge creator Jackie Opel. It was as a result of this path that the St Leonard’s Boys’ School graduate was able to make many links, which eventually led him into print media, advertising and even political office.
Displaying his wide-ranging catalogue of newspaper clippings, the now septuagenarian talked about his political aspirations.
Then an active member of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) since 1961, Williams claimed that he caused former union boss Frank Walcott to win the St Michael West (now North West) seat in the 1971 general elections. But after a falling out he withdrew his membership of the party before joining journalist Al Gilkes and the late promoter Eric Sealy to found the People’s Pressure Group (PPG).
“I was the person who invited the late Frank Walcott to run in the constituency, when he had lost his seat in St Peter and he was finished with politics. Having been close to [The Right Excellent] Errol Barrow, I recommended Frank who was reluctant. I convinced him that he won’t have to do anything and I would win the seat for him. that is history. I got the seat for Frank Walcott in 1971 against the BLP [Barbados Labour Party] candidate Elton [Elombe] Mottley,” Williams recounted.
“Having helped Frank in 1971 . . . I felt like I had imposed the wrong person on the constituency and as a result of an insulting statement made to me at King George V Memorial Park on the May Day celebrations of 1972, I drew swords with Frank Walcott . . . I decided having taken him to St Michael West I would take him out. I withdrew from the party and campaigned against him as a candidate [with the People’s Pressure Group] in the 1976 general election.”
Williams was also one of the leading salespersons at the Nation Publishing Company Limited in its early years prior to him establishing his own advertising company and later moving over to the CBC in 1986.
After 25 years, Williams said his focus with Looking Back was to take the programme to another height with particular emphasis on primary schools.
“I want to see at the primary school level that a lot of the cultural and folk history of Barbados be taught. I don’t believe that a child who came through the system and sat the Common Entrance exam shouldn’t know who Attorney General or the former Prime Minister is,” he stressed.
“Yes, Barbados has progressed a lot but there is an element to our progression that we need to understand and that is the re-education of our children to what it was so that they will have respect.” (SDB Media)