Thursday, 18 February 2010

Britain says "Goodbye" to Cy Grant

Cy Grant, singer, actor and writer died on the 13th February at the age of 90.

What you didn't know was that he was :

* Born in a village in British Guiana and grew up surrounded by music, playing guitar and singing folk songs.

* Excelled at school and was keen to study law, but his parents lacked the funds.

* Worked as a civil servant and left for Britain and joined the RAF in 1941.
* Trained as a navigator and in 1943 was shot down in the Battle of the Ruhr, landing in Holland.

* Was identified by the Gestapo as : 'a member of the Royal Air Force of indeterminate race' and held as a prisoner of war for two years.

* In 1957, began to make daily appearances on the BBC's 'Tonight' programme, bringing by giving a 'calypso' rendition of the News.

He's about half way through this :
And right up front in this :

* Was the first black face on TV on a regular basis.

* Gave up 'Newsnight' in 1960, fearing that he would be considered capable of nothing else.

* Voiced a character for Gerry Anderson's 'Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons' and appeared in an episode of The Persuaders, opposite Roger Moore.

* Anderson,had lost his own brother over the Netherlands in the War and drew on Cy's personal qualities to develop one of the first positive black fictional characters in children's television. These were the qualities deemed necessary by Anderson to defeat the Mysterons in 2068.

* His 'melliflous tones' gave Lieutenant Green, the black defender of Planet Earth alongside Captain Scarlet, a serene and heroic quality.

* He looked back on that series, an allegory of the battle between good and evil, with great fondness.

* Successfully auditioned for Laurence Olivier, had stage appearances for Olivier's company in London and New York.

* In 1965 was acclaimed as 'Othello' at the 'Phoenix Theatre', Leicester.

* In 1966 starred in 'Cindy Ella' with Cleo Laine at the Garrick Theatre.

* Appeared in the films, 'Shaft in Africa' (1973) and 'At the Earth's Core' (1976).

And the deeper side of Cy Grant :

* In order to launch black artistic talent, in 1973 founded 'Drum Arts Centre', in London, with Zimbabwean actor, John Mapondera. Staged a number of productions, including 'Bread' by Matura and 'The Gods Are Not to Blame', by Rotimi.

* The two major influences in his life, were the poet, politician, and philosopher , Aime Cesaire and the Chinese text called 'Tao Te Ching'.

* Produced and performed Cesaire's epic poem 'Notebook of a Return to the Native Land' as a one-man show,and toured Britain for more than two years. He was later to say of Cesaire:
"His revolt against Europe is what worked on me in a subliminal yet positive way. It wasn't just a revolt against racism, colonialism and the excesses of European culture, but a call for a return to our native human values, to recognise that nature is alive and bounteous and that we should not abuse her."

* In his book, 'Blackness and the Dreaming Soul', (2007), argued that white society must first discover new ways of seeing itself, in order that it might comprehend and value the "otherness" of its indigenous black citizens.

* In his essay, 'The Way of the West' (2008), argued that the black man, having reclaimed his authentic history and recovered his lost soul, must not fall into the trap of aspiring to assimilate into the so-called 'civilised values' of his former oppressors.

* Kurt Barling wrote ' In 2008, I persuaded Cy Grant to return to the village in the Netherlands where he had landed during the War to make a documentary. He recalled the desperate efforts to evacuate his plane when it crashed on Dutch soil, and the absurdity of thinking he could escape to Spain. "A black man in occupied Europe had no means of disguise".

P.S. Birthdays :

Len Deighton, novelist, is 81 today.

Graeme Garden, comic actor and script writer, 67 today.

Michael Buerk, broadcaster, 64 today.

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