Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 18th 2015 Contents BRUCE PADDINGTON
remembers the art of Raoul Pantin
Raoul Pantin was a talented
man who excelled as an author,
a reporter, a columnist, an editor,
a radio journalist, a poet, a play-
wright and screenwriter.
As a playwright he wrote a
number of plays including Hatuey,
Sanctuary and Radio Republic 555.
Radio Republic was especially pre-
scient as it described a situation
in which the whole country was
shut down because of traffic con-
gestion. His plays were far better
than the majority of contemporary
local theatre and deserved to be
Pantin also wrote screenplays
for the films Bim and The Haunt-
ing of Avril (later named Obeah).
Director Hugh Robertson and
Sharc Productions had planned to
adapt the book The Murders of
Boysie Singh by Derek Bickerton,
but contractual arrangements broke
down. Pantin offered to write a
script for Robertson focusing on
the pre-Independence period and
the political tensions between the
African and East Indian popula-
tions. This was to become the
Caribbean classic Bim staring
Ralph Maraj and Wilbert Holder.
Pantin credits his upbringing in
the multi-racial St James for his
ability to authentically depict
Indo- and Afro-Trinidadian char-
acters. He recalled that he had
direct experience of the racial dis-
crimination faced by rural Indo-
Trinidadians as portrayed in the
the scene when young Bhim is
persecuted by his urban black class
mates and teacher.
The film still has lessons for us
40 years later and is popular when-
ever it is shown. A DVD of the
film that includes a CD with the
superb soundtrack by Andre
Tanker has recently been released.
Pantin went on the write The
Haunting of Avril for Hugh
Robertson, based on an original
screenplay by Hans Boos and star-
ring Tony Hall and Eunice Alleyne.
Unfortunately the film is still not
yet fully complete (although a ver-
sion was shown in California) and
it has never been screened in
It would be a great tribute to
Raoul Pantin if it could be shown
at this year s T&T Festival, even
though he will not be there to enjoy
Farewell to a
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt January 18, 2015
There are many people bigger than me in the journalism dance in Trinidad
who wouldn t be where they are today without the now-late Raoul Pantin
but I reckon I owe him more than everyone else: as features editor of the
Express, Raoul published the first thing I wrote for the newspapers, a comic
rant about traffic under the pen-name of Gabrito del Barrio when I was
26 years old and still at law school; and it was Raoul who, 27 years ago,
come next Ash Friday (the Friday after Carnival), allowed me to vent/abuse
my creative urges on the op-ed pages of the Express with a little thing
called Thank God It s Friday.
So there s something else his detractors can add to the heap of kindling
at his feet: it was Raoul Pantin who set me upon the nation.
To look at Raoul, as he has been remembered thus far, and is likely to be
in the next few days and weeks, is to see only the tip of the iceberg: yes,
he wrote three books, six plays and, in Bim, Trinidad s first real screenplay;
yes, he moved through the entire electronic mediascape comfortably, starting
in radio, helping to shape the local movie industry, having an oddly commanding
presence when he appeared on television and contributing millions of words,
all of them good, to newspaper pages; yes, he was taken hostage for six days
by the good Abu Bakr during the bloody 1990 coup attempt and lined up
for a bullet-to-the-head execution three times and, yes, he never fully
recovered from that dread experience---who could?---but that wasn t the real
The real Raoul, regretfully, can never be fully shared openly: it s too good.
If there is a life after death, and a newspaper covering it, I can already imagine
the delight of Keith Smith and Anthony Milne to have Raoul stroll in and
ask what the lead is; so I ll content myself with three stories that typified
As a cub reporter at NBS Radio 610, Raoul Pantin was the first person in
Trinidad to find out President John F Kennedy had been shot dead in Dallas:
he was standing right next to it when the story started coming over the ticker
tape. Then news editor, Patrick Chokolingo (the man who, for better or worse,
created the weekly press in Trinidad), seeing the shock on Raoul s face, plucked
the tape from his stunned fingers. It was, for Raoul, the murder of idealism.
As Choko shuffled off in his flip-flops, Raoul came out of his stupor and
asked, "Pat! What do you think?" "I think," replied the old Choko, "it s a
Another day, we were keeping one another s company while smoking on
the pavement of Independence Square and Raoul, then news editor of the
paper, said, "BC, do me a favour and just lie on the ground behind that taxi
and put your head under the back tyre before it reverses."
"Thanks a lot," I replied.
"No," he said, "you don t understand: it s 4.30 in the afternoon and I don t
have a lead."
And, finally, as I walked into the newsroom on November 7, 1995, the day
after the UNC had won its first general election and the country was preparing
for the swearing-in of its first Hindu prime minister, Basdeo Panday, Raoul
looked up from his keyboard and said, "BC, there are apparently no ducks
to be found anywhere in Central."
It took a couple of beats to catch his joke: they had all been curried in cel-
ebration and I chuckled and repeated, appreciatively, "No ducks, huh, Raoul?"
"Only," he said, "feathers!"
Raoul s response to the ordeal he faced in 1990---to never properly catch
himself---was the correct one: it was what a well-adjusted human being would
do, given the particular stimulus. It was how we all should have reacted, had
we been well-adjusted humans.
(Raoul would be the first to say it was how we all have, in fact, but he
just happened to show it more than the rest of us: it s not so much a case
of us not being all we re cracked up to me but of us being a lot more cracked
up than we appear to be.)
Raoul Pantin was as Trinidadian as sticky mango juice and stingy brim
straw hats. He was a very, very good writer, one of the few in Trinidad who
understood that fewer, smaller words were better than lots of polysyllabic
ones. He was also a fine editor: he would take a 1,300-word column submitted
by a Sunday Express contributor and cut it to 900 -- and improve it. I ve
envied many of his sentences over the years, particularly one in which he
described an encounter with a person who harassed him severely. "Your
mother," he wrote. "How is she?" And how I wish I d written that line.
We will all miss him, the ready wit, the sharp eye, the reading between
the lines he made seem so straightforward. If he wanted to, Raoul Pantin
could have made it somewhere else in the world, where writers are treated
with less contempt and paid a great deal more. He gave his life to this little
country; and about the best thing it did for him was to allow him to die
peacefully in his sleep instead of with a big splash on the front page in July
He deserved more. And better.
Remembering Raoul Pantin
As a playwright he wrote a number of plays including Hatuey, Sanctuary and Radio Republic 555. Radio
Republic was especially prescient as it described a situation in which the whole country was shut down
because of traffic congestion. His plays were far better than the majority of contemporary local theatre
and deserved to be produced again.
Bruce Paddington is the founder and chair of the T&T Film Festival.
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