It’s Yours. That was the tagline attached to Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) for more than 40 years. And from its first broadcast of the flag-raising ceremony and Parliament on August 31, 1962, TTT was a fundamental part of the identity of T&T. For years it was the only television station in the country, the only source of television news, entertainment and the only place the T&T public could go for local coverage of local events. It was TTT’s camera’s that would cover the steelband competitions and the annual Parade of the Bands and it was TTT’s news reporters who delivered news stories and weather reports nightly to the public, through its news programme, Panorama. The station, which was staffed mostly by local media practitioners, with no previous experience in television, produced some of the most fondly remembered local programming of the past 50 years.
In 1962, something wonderful happened. T&T gained its independence and was delivered from the British monarchy to its people as a free nation. In that same year something else happened: while people were just getting used to the idea of black-and-white television, T&T began its first television station, Trinidad and Tobago Television, also known as TTT. On August 31 that year, the station made its first broadcast, with three announcers—Mervyn Telfer, Holly Betaudier and Hazel Ward—a group of local technical staff with no television experience, and the drive to be successful. “The first shareholders of TTT were Rediffusion, CBS, the Thompson organisation of Canada and the T&T Government,” recalled Telfer. “There was an ad in the Guardian inviting applications in early 1962 and I responded to the position of programme assistant. That post carried a wide range of responsibilities, from announcing to programme production and writing scripts. I worked at TTT from 1962 to 1968.” Telfer said his fondest memories of TTT were the result of the dedication of the staff. “The number of hours we worked were remarkable. We would go to work in the morning and not return till midnight and nobody would complain. Television was new to us and it was an exciting thing.” Telfer fondly remembers programmes such as The Lime, a show which he says was the catalyst for the expansion of parang music.
“Before that programme, parang would only be performed in certain areas, like Santa Cruz. The Lime would feature all types of music and ole talking. Musicians like Curtis Pierre, John Henderson, Willy West, who played a wicked saxophone, would come on and showcase their talents.” Telfer has fond memories of his colleagues. Hazel Ward, who he said was a great worker and always well prepared, was the first name he mentioned. He recalled Raffie Knowles as a sports reporter who never read from a script. “Raffie would do the sports report on Panorama in those days. He would rehearse word for word and we knew we couldn’t make last-minute additions, because that would throw the whole thing off. He had an excellent memory.” Though TTT was partly owned by a Canadian company, a significant amount of the programming was locally produced. T&T’s first news programme, Panorama, Scouting for Talent, Mastana Bahar, Twelve and Under and a host of other local content were the real victories of TTT. Fifty years after the television station’s first broadcast, local programming has been replaced by foreign sitcoms and television shows. Ethel Bethelmy worked at TTT for 25 years, starting in 1962, and left the station as the programme director. “In those days people in Trinidad would argue and complain and demand more local programming, and even though we only ran for hours per day, we felt we had a lot of local content. They disagreed. “We had Twelve and Under, Mastana Bahar, Teen Dance Party, Scouting for Talent, Riki Tiki, Time to Talk, Meet the Press, Mainly for Women and a lot of in-studio local stuff. But people always complained that there weren’t enough local programmes,” said Bethelmy. "Now it seems they don’t care.”
She said part of the challenge of getting even more local programming was that advertisers were unwilling to advertise.
Bethelmy described her job at TTT as the most interesting job she has ever had. “It was new and challenging. I started as the secretary to Barry Gordon, who was the programme director, and learned a lot from him. I was there from August 1 and during the Independence programming, but after that we didn’t go on air formally until November 1962. “During the time in between we would do a lot of trial runs. “Television then was something to look at. There was more substance in the content. I myself don’t watch the local channels now, because they only show foreign programmes, and I find them shallow.” Holly Betaudier was another of the early presenters on TTT. My telephone call found him sitting in front of the television watching Winston “Gypsy” Peters perform a calypso. “I wouldn’t say that TTT was shut down. TTT is alive, as CTV is a product of TTT and Rediffusion and Radio Trinidad. It is called CTV, but it is TTT. It is unfortunate, though, that all the TV stations in the country, including the one owned by the State, have no room for local programming,” said Betaudier.
“At the time when TTT was the only television station, the Government made it necessary that a certain percentage of programming had to be local. I don’t know if that is so now.” Betaudier said he understood that local content was expensive to produce and foreign content came ready-made, but was still disappointed at the lack of local content. “When we started Scouting for Talent and Twelve and Under, every television in the neighbourhood would be tuned in. People wanted to watch shows about Trinidad. “TTT catered for every aspect of talent found in T&T, from calypso, steelpan, vocals, classical, drama dance and folk dance, and it had room for every bit of talent from every community.” Betaudier said even though advertisers were hesitant at first about his TV talent show, Scouting for Talent, companies like Angostura, the Elite Shirt Factory, and Crown Bakery, as well as several businesses on Frederick Street, committed to the show. “I started television reluctantly. I was scared and I didn’t want to leave radio for TV. But I did—and we did a good job.”