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British Pathe offers historic Carnival, pan and calypso
In the last several days, British Pathe has released a huge part of its historic newsreel archives on Youtube. Over 80,000 clips have been uploaded. Most of these are very short, and often the scene of interest is fleeting but anyone interested in Trinidad Carnival history can’t help but be excited to get to see some intriguing bits and pieces in the collection.
The best must be the Carnival Story newsreel from 1957 that is a full five and a half minutes and is in glorious colour. It offers shots of different steelbands and of a number of the leading mas bands of the year including Bobby Ammons’s La Fiesta Brava, his tribute to bullfighting, Harold Saldenah’s Glory of Greece, and George Bailey’s legendary Back to Africa as well as an amazing fancy sailor costumes and Indian bands. There is also silent version of what appear to be more outtake footage under the title Trinidad Carnival—Colour.
The Royal Family and its trips to the Caribbean have often been the topic of British newsreels and some of those are of particular interest. Princess Margaret coming in 1955 led to a competition of calypsoes in her honour that resulted in a number being composed by the likes of Melody and Panther but the newsreel only has a brief bit of one on the soundtrack. In Trinidad the 1958 return of the Princess coincided with a Queen’s Hall performances by an unidentified dance group and steelband on stage. The newsreel of a 1960 visit by the Princess features a limbo group.
The Queen herself came in 1966 and there was a preview of Carnival for her visit that occurred on 7-9 February. The newsreel captures shots of Guinness Cavaliers, what appears to be King Hal from George Bailey’s Kings Go Forth, and the one mas band that Wilfred Strasser put together before his untimely death a few months later, Sometime, Somewhere. You can spot him riding on the neck of a dragon. There was another newsreel when the Queen moved on to British Guiana where a steelband is heard more than seen.
In general, calypsoes did not get as much coverage. However, it was British Pathe that was there to meet the Windrush in 1948 and catch Kitch singing his classic London is the Place for Me before he ever set foot in the country. There is a nice performance by Bermuda’s best known calypso group the Talbot Brothers filmed during a rare tour to England in 1959 singing Roaring Lion’s classic, Mary Ann.
John Cowley identified a very early piece with Fitzroy Coleman the great Trinidadian guitarist both singing calypso and playing as part of a newsreel on London nightlife in 1947. The clip is right before one of the Earl Barrow West Indian jazz band that offers a bit of bop with evocative dancing. Barrow was going to school at the time and would later go on to be PM of Barbados.
One can only wonder what Trinis might be in the band. Lastly, a brief glimpse of a Grenadian calypso singer Peter Ricardo on a Channel Passage boat with a dancer in 1955 but sadly you can’t hear him sing.
Steelband get a much greater exposure in Pathe newsreels. One of the earliest clips on pan is a travelogue piece titled Trinidad from 1954 shows an early steelband and dance troupe. Perhaps this is Beryl McBurnie’s dance troupe. There is also silent clip from 1958 with two segments of her Little Carib dancers. A film identified as only from the Sixties has very strong bit of dancing and pan that is not identified.
There are several intriguing bits on pan history in Britain on display. While it is the other newsreel company (British Movietone) that captured TASPO in 1951, Pathe caught several early pan performances. The earliest is a 1953 Royal River Barge there is a very brief clip of a barge, which shows dancers, perhaps Boscoe Holder and his troupe and what looks like just a brief glimpse of Russ Henderson’s trio, about the only pan group active at the time. But that is just a guess and the clip is very fleeting. They are around in the Lord Mayor’s parade the next year.
They are also in a 1961 clip where Henderson’s trio with Sterling Betancourt is easy to identify. It is about the Oxford Undergraduate Ball where they would lead revellers around the campus, a role that Henderson’s group often took on and can also be seen at a Cambridge ball in the feature film, Bachelor of Hearts (1958). It is likely that they are also the steelband that is heard but not seen in the 1963 Cambridge May Ball shown in another newsreel. Both Russ Henderson and Sterling Bettancourt were honoured at the Panorama finals this year and Bettancourt is about to publish his autobiography.
There is an unidentified steelband from 1963 appearing at the 1963 British Musical Instrument Trade Fair, which is performing outside and features a short performance. A full steelband on a West Indies float in the Lord Mayor’s Parade of 1965 is seen for a very short segment but the close-ups are clear that hopefully someone can identify the band! Another 1965 clip is from the Two Tempo restaurant and it shows a glorious minute or more of La Flambeau, the band made up of the members of Dixieland Steelband who stayed in England with a bit of limbo featuring Stretch Cox. The final steelband in Britain clip from 1965 is a too brief scene of the Trinidad National Steelband performing, who had come to England to perform as part of the Commonwealth Arts Festival.
There are certainly other clips of interest to anyone who is a history buff in general but these brief glimpses of mas, pan and calypso offer a unique chance to look back decades into an earlier era when mas was mas and pan was just beginning!
Ray Funk is a retired Alaska judge who researches Carnival arts and has been doing presentations for the T&T film festival on the film heritage of Carnival.
If anyone can provide the missing identifications, contact him at [email protected]
Index to Youtube Clips
Carnival Story Aka Trinidad Carnival (1957)
Trinidad Carnival – Colour (1957)
Caribbean–Calypsos Enchant The Princess (1955)
The New Confederation Celebrates (1958)
Path Of The Princess (1960)
Queen In West Indies - Technicolor (1966)
The Royal Tour - Technicolor (1966)
Queen Meets Her Peoples - Technicolor (1966)
Pathe Reporter Meets (1948)
Talbot Bros. Mary Anne (1959)
London’s Nightworld Reel 2 (1947)
No Passport Trip (1955)
Royal Tour Of West Indies Aka Princess Margaret In West Indies (1958)
BOAC And BWIA Present A Flying Visit To The Caribbean (1960-1969)
Royal River Pageant (1953)
London Hails New Lord Mayor (1954)
Oxford Undergrad's Ball (1961)
The Questioning City (1963)
It Comes Out Here (1963)
Lord Mayor’s Show (1965)
Two Tempo Restaurant (1965)
Commonwealth Goes Gay (1965)