A grand cultural celebration of thanksgiving for the life achievements of renowned TT actor Rudolph Walker had been planned for March 15 at the All Saints Anglican Church in Port of Spain.
However, the organising committee decided to cancel the function to ensure the attendees’ safety in light of the current covid19 crisis.
The function would have featured many of the nation’s top artistes with whom Walker had been associated over the years.
These included the Lydian Singers, calypsonians Chalkdust, Tobago Crusoe and De Alberto, violinist Anselm Walters, pannist Emmanuel Joseph, singer Garvin Sampson and monologist Michael Joseph. The master of ceremonies was Errol Fabien.
There would have also been an address by the Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, whose ministry had supported the venture throughout.
Walker’s childhood friend, Archibald Thompson, was carded to speak about the actor’s early days in Trinidad before he set sail for England to pursue his acting career.
As a friend of Walker’s for over 45 years, I was honoured to have been invited to address the function on his life achievements.
This is the address that I had planned to deliver:
Rudolph Malcolm Walker a tribute
The early 1970s were interesting times in TT.
The country was settling down after the experiences of what became known as the Black Power Revolution which raised our levels of consciousness forever.
The electronic media scene comprised two radio stations, Radio Trinidad and 610 Radio and one television station, TTT.
On a nightly basis we watched TTT’s major news programme, Panorama, and were kept informed of local and international events by media legends like Yusuff Ali, Ed Fung, Dale Kolasingh and Bobby Thomas.
Our television heroes were Ben Cartright and his sons, Adam, H
Hoss and Little Joe on Bonanza and the Maverick brothers, Bret and Bart.
It was around that time that our country was introduced to a British sitcom which confronted the racial situation in Britain in a humorous manner. The programme was called Love Thy Neighbour and told of the trials of two couples, one black and the other white, who lived as neighbours in a London suburb.
The lead stars were both from TT. They were Rudolph Walker and Nina Baden-Semper.
This was the series that would propel Rudolph Walker to international fame and recognition. His character, Bill Reynolds, was revered throughout the United Kingdom and Rudolph Walker became a household name.
British audiences showed their appreciation by voting Rudolph as the TV Personality of the Year.
The show’s five-year run was an enormous success, proving equally successful around the world in places like Australia, Africa and the Caribbean.
Rudolph was always a talented actor and it was his desire to turn his acting into a career that saw him making his way to England in 1960.
Achieving any type of success for a black actor in the London of those days was extremely difficult but Rudolph persevered and appeared in a number of theatre productions.
His breakthrough performance came when he played Shakespeare’s Othello at the Malvern Festival Theatre in 1966. He would also appear some years later in key roles in other Shakespeare plays including as Caliban in The Tempest, as Flavius in Timon of Athens as Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet and as Gower in Pericles.
His theatre performances also included key roles in Derek Walcott’s Odyssey, in Naomi Wallace’s Slaughter City for the Royal Shakespeare Company, as the King in The King of England for which he won the award for best actor, in the comedy Victor and the Ladies, and in The Iceman Cometh in which he appeared alongside Kevin Spacey.
On the stage, he also appeared in the first production of Mustapha Matura’s Play Mas at the Royal Court Theatre in 1974.
On television, some of his most notable roles include playing General Ali in The Death of a Black President and on the BBC screen dramas Bitter Harvest and Escape from Kampala.
Although the majority of his work has been on television, he has also appeared in several movies including 10 Rillington Place, King Ralph and Let Him Have It.
Verna Wilkins, in a profile produced on the occasion of Rudolph’s receipt of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) from Her Majesty the Queen in 2006, points out that Rudolph’s career in television began in 1969 with a series called On The Buses.
Love Thy Neighbour followed and Rudolph Walker had begun to succeed in opening the doors for many black actors from the Caribbean and beyond.
He was now doing, through drama, what many other well-known Trinidadians and Tobagonians had been doing before him in other spheres of endeavour, people like Samuel Selvon, CLR James, Pearl Connor, Horace Ove, John La Rose, Horace James and many others who came later
like Trevor Mc Donald.
Rudolph would go on to star in the 1984 BBC production Black Silk in which he played a barrister, Larry Scott. It was another ground-breaking role in that it was yet another time that a black actor was central to the story.
He has also appeared in The Wednesday Play, in The Thin Blue Lime, in Ali G Indahouse, in Doctor Who, in several episodes of Empire Road, as Grandpa Langley in The Crouches and he has played a key character, Patrick Trueman, for the last 19 years in the popular British soap opera, The Eastenders which is viewed by millions four nights a week in the United Kingdom.
In November of 1999, on the occasion of his 60th birthday, the BBC recognised his considerable volume of work with a production of one of their popular The is Your Life series.
Both in 2018 and 2019, he was chosen to be a presenter at the Duke of Edinburgh Awards function.
In the year 2000, his name took pride of place on the prestigious list of The greatest and most influential black people in British history.
However, it must be noted that Rudolph Walker’s contribution to life in the United Kingdom and around the world goes way beyond his appearances on television and in the theatre.
Several years ago, he launched the Rudolph Walker Foundation, a charitable organisation which works with young people of any creed, colour, ability or background and provides teaching, training and mentoring from experts in the arts.
It helps young people, especially those from deprived and challenging backgrounds, to develop their self-esteem, build confidence and encourage positive beliefs and behaviour through drama.
The foundation also administers the Rudolph Walker Inter-school Drama Award which is competed for annually by schools across London and the Rudolph Walker Role Model Award which is presented to outstanding students who have demonstrated positive leadership and who have shown themselves to be good influences among their peers.
In the Queen’s 2020 Honours List, Rudolph Walker was made a Commander of the British Empire Award (CBE) by Her Majesty, the Queen, for his services to drama and charity. The award will be presented by Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace next month.
What is particularly significant is that he has never relinquished his TT roots and returns to the country at least once every year to “keep himself grounded” as he himself puts it.
Over the years, he has served successive administrations in TT as a brand ambassador at many international trade and tourism fora.
In August 1992, the TT High Commission in London presented Rudolph with the Scarlet Ibis Award for his outstanding and meritorious service to TT.
Today, we in the Caribbean recognise this outstanding citizen of our twin-island republic and honour him for his tremendous life achievements, including his award of the CBE and his recent celebration of his 80th birthday.
Rudolph Malcolm Walker, thank you for your service over the years.
God bless you, my friend and may the good Lord continue to afford you and your family long, healthy and productive lives!
On March 14, former TT attaché to London Ashton Ford and his wife, Dawn, invited Walker and his wife, Evangeline, as well as my wife Carol and I over to his home in Arima for an informal get-together.
During his years as attaché, Ford worked closely with Walker on a number of projects for TT.