Guyana at 50: Things you didn't know about the Diaspora
As the Guyanese Diaspora around the world celebrates Guyana’s 50th year of independence. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about the Guyanese Diaspora in the UK.
By Colin Babb
1. Two of Britain’s most influential Caribbean-owned publishing companies, producing books from a range of Caribbean, African and Indian perspectives, were set up by Guyanese. Jessica Huntley co-founded Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications with her husband, Eric Huntley in 1969. Hansib Publications was launched by Arif Ali in 1970. Bogle-L’Ouverture and Hansib Publications have published books by a wide range of authors including Walter Rodney, Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal, and Dame Jennifer M. Smith.
2. A rare documentary, which looked at the experience of second-generation Indo-Guyanese identity in Britain, was recently broadcast by the BBC. Lainy Malkani, a journalist and broadcaster who was born in Britain to parents from Guyana, presented the two-part radio series. Programme one was called ‘Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas.’ Programme two, ‘Indo-Guyanese and Proud.’ After her mother passed away, Lainy was motivated to find out more about her Indo-Guyanese ancestry and family history of ‘double migration’ from India to Guyana, and from Guyana to Britain.
3. The renowned Centre for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick was renamed in 2010 as the Yesu Persuad Centre for Caribbean Studies. Yesu Persuad is a Guyanese businessman and philanthropist who has been a long-time supporter of the Centre’s work. Professor David Dabydeen, the Guyanese writer and academic, was one of the Centre’s leading directors. Professor Dabydeen was Guyana's ambassador to China from 2010 to 2015.
4. Sid Sloane was one of the most popular presenters on CBeebies, the BBC’s UK pre-school television channel. Sid was born in London to Guyanese parents and recently travelled back to Guyana for a family reunion. In recent years, Sid has concentrated on performing his one man stage show, Sid’s Show, across the UK and appearing in Christmas pantomimes. However, Sid occasionally returns to work for CBeebies and co-presents the Let’s Play dressing-up programme with Rebecca Keatley.
5. Cy Grant, born in Guyana in 1919, has often been referred to as the first black personality to regularly appear on British television. Cy Grant arrived in Britain from Guyana during the Second World War to join the RAF. In the following years, Cy experienced a degree of success, fame and celebrity as an actor, broadcaster and entertainer on stage, film and television. Cy Grant died in London in 2010.
6. Peter Davison is the only actor of Caribbean descent to have played the iconic role of the Time Lord Doctor in Dr Who, the long-running and popular BBC cult science-fiction television series. Peter, born in London to a Guyanese father and an English mother, became the fifth Doctor Who in 1982.
7. All Right Now by Free, the much-loved and played pop-rock hit with its instantly recognisable guitar riff introduction, was co-written by Andy Fraser. Andy was Free’s bass player and had ancestral roots in Guyana. Andy was born in London to a Guyanese-raised father and an English mother. His parents married in Guyana before migrating to England. Andy was inspired to write All Right Now to lift his band’s mood after they had played a disappointing concert. Andy claimed that playing in West Indian social clubs in London as a young schoolboy helped to develop his skills as a musician. Andy died in California in 2015 at the age of 62.
8. Gem Hoahing is the only tennis player of Caribbean descent to have achieved a British number one ranking. Gem was born in Hong Kong in 1920 to parents from Guyana and arrived in Britain as a young child. Gem learned her skills as a player at suburban tennis clubs in and around Twickenham near London. Gem played at the Wimbledon Championships and achieved her British number one ranking during the 1948-49 tennis season.
9. Mark Ramprakash played more test matches for England than any other cricketer of Caribbean descent. Mark, who played 52 test matches for England, was born in Hertfordshire to a Guyanese father and an English mother. In 1998, Mark made his highest test match score of 154 runs for England against the West Indies in Bridgetown, Barbados. Mark enhanced his celebrity status by delighting television audiences with his dance routines to win the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing competition in 2006. Mark is currently working as a batting coach for the England cricket team.
10. Courtney Tulloch, British-born with Guyanese parents, is one of Britain’s most promising young gymnasts. In 2012, after winning gold medals for Britain at the European Junior Championships, Courtney won the SportsAid ‘One-to-Watch’ award. In 2014, Courtney represented Great Britain at the 2014 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in China. If Tulloch continues to make progress, he may become the trigger to attract more young people of Caribbean heritage to gymnastics.
[photos by Colin Babb and Debbie Ransome]