Tribute to Alfred Pragnell
Barbados' well known broadcaster, story-teller and actor was a friend of Guyana
by Norman Faria
June 27, 2004
ALFRED Pragnell, perhaps Barbados' most versatile and creative broadcaster, storyteller and actor, has died at age 71. Family members said he had been suffering from cancer.
He had started his broadcasting career with Barbados Redifussion, a British firm which also had a station in British Guiana, in 1956.
Among those he worked with at the station were Guyanese-Barbadians Frank Pardo and Olga Lopes-Seale. His suave, soothing voice, coupled with impeccable pronunciation, was greatly admired by mainstream Barbadian society. As in Guyana, before the advent of television (the island's sole TV station came on line in 1962) and other radio stations, Redifussion was the only station, except for those with short wave sets.
Among the programmes he hosted was the popular `Sunday Magazine' where he played oldies, classics and engaged in serious and intelligent monologues. It was a welcome and relaxing alternative to the mostly raucous, frenetic, banal and unimaginative `jump and wave' and other noise heard on many of the Barbados' stations. With the replacement of old copper cable technology of Rediffusion with wireless, his programmes would also be heard in neighbouring Eastern Caribbean islands (even in Guyana, this writer is told!). There was also a name change - the station became `Voice of Barbados'. He later served as Programme Manager for many years until his early retirement in 1988, remaining with the firm as a consultant to train new announcers.
Observed Barbadian writer Jeannette Layne-Clarke in her tribute at his funeral service: "AP - as he was affectionately known - had a distinct distaste for sloppiness, and he was perpetually disturbed by the cocky, cavalier attitudes flaunted by so many pretenders in today's laid-back work environment"
Pragnell read many of Layne-Clarke's whimsical and humourous poems about Bajan hypocrisy and gossipy practices (a reoccurring whipping topic was the dressing up and attending funerals of deceased you didn't even know to see what everybody else was wearing).
Aside from his broadcasting work, he was a stalwart member of the Greenroom Players, an amateur theatre group that for the first time brought together white and black Barbadians (some expatriates also joined). This writer remembers first seeing Alfred live when he acted in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which my secondary school class went to see.
A member of the island's white community, he had grown up in Chelsea Road, a middle class district near the island's Garrison Savannah horse racing track. A few houses away was the residence of another outstanding Barbadian man of letters, Frank Collymore. Alfred was always in Frank's house and was undoubtedly influenced by him and his wife Ellice. Frank was a teacher at the island's Combermere secondary School, which Alfred attended.
I last spoke with Alfred on the phone early this year when he kindly assisted in getting a banner advertising the Guyana trade exhibition strung between two palm trees on the property of his church. The church building was at the top of the Hilton Drive gap, passed by many motorists, leading to the hotel venue of the exhibition.
"No problem Norman, we are all part of the same region." he said.
While visiting Anna Regina on Guyana's Essequibo coast a couple years ago, I went into the market and visited Akbar's Bookstore and Lending Library. As I entered and spoke with the proprietor, Asif Akbar, he said: "God is merciful, it is Alfred Pragnell!". Akbar recognised my `Bajan' accent as similar to Pragnell's whom he, incredulously, listened to faithfully on his President transistor radio. Akbar (formerly Everton Gittens) had a Barbadian mother and he often listened to VOB broadcasts. I couldn't believe how his old 1960s vintage (it was taped up with masking tape) transistor could receive the signals so far away. I could never get any on my own, more "sophisticated", radio I brought down on my visits. But, with typical Guyanese resourcefulness, he still hears Barbados, even though every now and again he has to put the radio close to his ear.
When I returned to Barbados, I mentioned to Alfred what a fan he had in Guyana. "You give me his address and I will send him one of my CDs free," said Alfred. Later, Asif told me he did receive it along with a most kind and appreciative letter.
Alfred wasn't one to make any big noise in his social criticism. He knew there were problems in Barbadian society, as with others, but preferred to do it in a subdued way. As Layne -Clarke noted in her remarks: "Because of his conservative nature, he was never one to rattle bureaucratic cages nor to ruffle political feathers. And it was that characteristic that often deterred him from expressing publicly any views likely to upset the Establishment."
Among those attending the Service of Thanksgiving for Pragnell at the Coral Ridge Memorial Gardens among the sugar canes fields in the Christ Church countryside he loved, was Barbados' Minister of Culture Hon. Mia Mottley. She had earlier praised him on behalf of the Barbadian government for his immense contribution to cultural life in the island and as an unofficial ambassador overseas.
Norman Faria is Guyana's Honorary Consul in Barbados