“One of the trophies I have which I really, really value very much is the parent of the year – The Bishops’ High School, 1987. I value that even more than my national award.”
By Dale Andrews
Most people know him as the globe-trotting reporter who brings you the unusual stories.
But there is indeed a lot more to the life of Francis Quamina Farrier.
Apart from being a journalist, he is a playwright, actor, radio personality and yes, a husband and father. And at an age when most would have hung up their gloves, Uncle Francis, as he is sometimes referred to, continues to blaze a trail that is the envy of many.
Born in Broad Street, Charlestown, to a Grenadian father and a Guyanese mother, Francis Quamina Farrier is the second of four children.
He grew up in Agricola, a small community a few miles outside of the city, but considers himself 100 percent urban, since in those days of the 1940s, he only had to walk about 30 minutes to reach the heart of Georgetown.
With relatives throughout the Caribbean, he could also be called a true CARICOM man.
“I was urban, I was rural, I was a Caribbean man but I was also a hinterland man,” he said.
Francis recalled a specific image of the hinterland which although he was about two years old, will live in his memory until he dies.
It was a visit to a location up the Demerara River.
“I have a clear, clear image of Guyana’s hinterland from age two, clear as crystal as if it were yesterday,” he recalled.
This was strengthened by the fact that his father was a ‘bush man’.
His mother was the unlikely type, who was afraid to let her children venture into the hinterland.
But Francis was not the kind of person to remain in one place, so with his brothers he had many sojourns into the interior where his longing to visit as many places as possible was fueled.
As a matter of fact, he was not quite 21 years old when he ventured beyond the mountains of Guyana’s interior and into the Rupununi.
From a young age he was all over- the Corentyne, Essequibo Coast (where he spent most of his vacations), the Northwest District, Pomeroon, Bartica and up in the Kaieteur Falls area.
He recalled his first visit to Kaieteur Falls in the mid-1960s was an overland trip and for him it was the best trip to the world renowned landmark.
It was an organized tour that took him to Bartica, Mahdia, Tukeit to Kaieteur Falls and back.
It lasted for seven days and cost at that time a whopping $65 per person.
“Sixty-five dollars can’t take you from Georgetown to Vreed-en-Hoop now,” he joked
“All this thing about tourism now, we knew about tourism long, long before now. We’ve been trying it for a very long time and very successfully too. I’ve got photographs to prove it,” Francis stated.
His formal education began at the St. Ann’s Anglican school in Agricola, a village he still holds dear to his heart, so much so that he is very angry when he hears people demonizing the community as well as so many others.
“How dare they demonise Agricola?”
According to Farrier, Agricola produced a number of outstanding personalities, such as the famous writer Jan Carew, former television anchorman Tommy Rhodes and others.
He said it is wrong for the police especially to demonise communities like Agricola.
“The other day the Commissioner was angry because people demonised the entire police force because of the torture incident. Now he must remember that the police are demonizing whole communities. He said that people shouldn’t paint the entire force with one brush, but they have been doing that to communities. A policeman told me to my face that he could go to any house in Agricola, anytime… day or night and arrest anybody and lock them up,” a concerned Farrier explained.
Continuing about his schooling, Francis related that he then attended Carmel Government School in Charlestown and completed some of his tertiary education at the University of London, England as well as the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta, Canada.
He also did some courses at the St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies.
As he got older, Francis began venturing out to see much of the world. First he went to neighbouring Brazil and then he began to explore the Caribbean.
He has visited every single CARICOM country. His early travels also took him to many South American countries as well – French Guiana, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina were all graced by his footsteps.
Having ‘conquered’ that, he set his sights on greater distances and traveled to Britain, Ireland and Scotland; North America and even as far as Australia.
In Australia he felt like a second level celebrity when the officials there discovered that he was from Guyana, the birthplace of the legendary West Indies cricket captain Clive Lloyd.
“When I got there and I presented my passport, the immigration officer got all excited and he called his other fellas, ‘look, look, look!’ he waved the passport and said, ‘Clive Lloyd’s country’. He didn’t say the Caribbean. When I met Clive Lloyd later I said, ‘boy you made my entry into Australia so easy’, a smiling Farrier remembered.
Like a true family man, Uncle Francis always traveled with his entire family-his wife and two daughters – except when the situation did not facilitate such luxuries.
Of course, the different languages were certainly a challenge for the globe-trotting Guyanese but according to him, ‘I tried a little Portuguese and I’m not good at French’.
He made the point that everywhere he went, there was always at least one Guyanese there and he was always bombarded with requests for news from his homeland.
It was the same when he returned home. He is never selfish as he always shared the experiences of his travels in his many television stories.
It was Canada that he studied both journalism and theatre.
But there s one country that has really left an indelible impression in the mind of Farrier and that is Belize.
“Belize is so similar to Guyana in terms of its topography. The real difference is that sugar cane is being transported by lorries and not by punts. And then they have this hill. If you park your vehicle on this hill, you can release the handbrakes; the vehicle does not roll down the hill, it rolls up the hill. I’ve seen that, I’ve got it on tape. They’re still trying to find out why this is so,” Quamina explained with a chuckle.
The Cayman Islands and Anguilla also struck Quamina with their awe-inspiring beauty.
“These are small countries and they tell us we have to get a visa to go there, so we’re not as respected as we think we are. We’ve got to watch ourselves. Too many of us are doing nonsense, which overshadows the many great Guyanese who are working outside of the borders of this country.”
He lashed out at some of his countrymen who he believe that in order to warm themselves to somebody’s heart they need to tell them how bad things are in Guyana.
Prior to his extensive travelling, Farrier had fallen in love with theatre writing and acting which was inspired by the movie Hamlet, starring the great Laurence Olivier.
Internationally acclaimed Caribbean poet, playwright Derek Walcott was also integral to his love of the theatre.
It was after Independence in 1966 that Francis’s writing for theatre took off when he won the first and third prizes in the national playwriting competition.
He struggled to remember his winning entry but it eventually entered his mind that the play was ‘Timber Line’.
It depicted the cooperative spirit of the Guyanese people and Farrier believes that it may have been the catalyst for Guyana becoming a Cooperative Republic, a few years later.
“The timber concession was being closed down by this foreign company and the local people got together, formed a coop and they were going to run it. This was four years before Guyana became a Cooperative Republic. So your boy was looking ahead, seeing ahead. Maybe the people who ran the place decided that we should do this coop thing,” he stated with pride written all over his face.
He continued to write and won many prizes along the way.
Farrier also won over the hearts of theatre lovers in the 1950s and 1960s and secured best actor awards at the National Drama Festival.
His acting culminated in him receiving the national Medal of Service, being among the youngest to be so honoured.
“One of the trophies I have which I really, really value very much is the parent of the year – The Bishops’ High School, 1987. I value that even more than my national award,” he said.
But Farrier became a household name for the epic ‘Tides of Susanburg’, the first local soap opera on radio, which came at a time when the airwaves were saturated with foreign plays, such as ‘Aunt Mary’, ‘Second Spring’ and Dr. Paul.
He said the circumstances that led to him penning the Tides of Susanburg are sadly lacking in Guyana today.
He explained that Rafiq Khan, the then General Manager of Radio Demerara, saw his potential and invited him to write a soap opera that would rival the foreign ones.
To say that Farrier was overwhelmed with apprehension is putting it mildly, after all he was just a budding writer.
“I responded by telling him that I didn’t think I could. And his words to me were, ‘Francis, I know you can do it’. Too many people today are saying you can’t you can’t and here was a man saying to me, this little fellow from Agricola, he can do it,” Farrier stated.
“If we can’t go into an area and give a helping hand of encouragement, who are we then?” he asked.
The sitcom was inspired by part of his early travels to the Essequibo Coast, Queenstown to be precise.
The ‘Tides of Susanburg’ was about the characters of a mythical village which was placed between Anna Regina and Henrietta on the Essequibo Coast.
“So real it appeared, that people used to go to Essequibo and come back and tell me I had them like a fool looking for Susanburg.”
When Farrier wrote the play and its sequel ‘the girl from Susanburg’ he was in his late 20s and even unto today, now that he is in his seventies, people still ask him about it.
In the play he used characters he was familiar with from the Essequibo Coast, Agricola and McDoom.
“Yaya was a real person from McDoom,” he pointed.
A lot of the work that he has done are from personal experiences and what he would like to see happen.
He is pained by the fact that most of the plays of today are about the ills of society and would like to see them climaxing in a more positive way.
“Even if it’s only one character in your plot. Let’s say you set your play in Albouystown, which I have done in a ‘plight of the right’ and a character who said that he would not be recognized by the high class people in society but he’s going to do what is right. He lifted himself. I always try to advise people who are writing plays, don’t just wallow your characters in the mud in the gutter.”
“Unfortunately what I find happening now, in the beginning of the play people wallowing in the gutter, in the middle of the play they are wallowing in the gutter and at the end of the play they are still wallowing in the gutter. I am saying how about taking some poetic licence and lift one’s character,” is Farrier’s advice to young playwrights.
“I’ve never seen in recent times on a stage a role of a good father. Good fathers do exist and I can’t understand why these people are forever pushing the bad fathers,” Farrier said.
The Tides of Susanburg was also done on stage.
Just after finishing the Tides of Susanburg, Farrier also did the script for a Surinamese produced movie, ‘Operation Makanaima’.
It was 30 years ago and the film which was based on espionage, featured some elements of drug trafficking.
It featured Guyanese Mark Matthews, Dick La Borde and Malcolm Panday.
Farrier is convinced that despite some of the stereotypical work being seen in Guyana, there are still competent local writers who can produce world-class work.
However his main problem is the fact that most of the writers of today stick with the same topic.
“We need to widen because it’s usually teenage pregnancy, HIV and AIDS, incest, ‘uncle deh wid daughter and niece’ and that kind of thing over and over again.”
He believes that Guyanese are lovers of soap operas as is evident with their obsession for the Young and the Restless among other American television works.
The journalist in him was sparked at an early age. It was the first road safety week essay competition in the 1950 when Farrier won the first prize in the primary category.
“I was a hero in the McDoom/Agricola area. I had to come down to the Town Hall …and the Governor’s wife presented me with my prize,” he reminisced with a smile.
Farrier believes that Guyanese need to be more creative and more daring when it comes to production of the arts, especially when it comes to television.
He explained that for the most part, many of the television programmes are one-dimensional with an interviewer sitting with a panel, discussing topics that do not capture the imagination of the audience.
“We are not all Oprah or Larry King but we need to have more creative programming. Let me say this, I think I have done more for the people who are writing at NCN and GINA. For example, when the president celebrated his 43rd birthday, who went up to Mahaica and talked to the boy he went to school with, talked to the old man who knew him as a little boy… who did that?”
These pages do not have the space to do justice to the life and work of Francis Quamina Farrier but no matter what his name will remain a household name in Guyana for many years to come, since despite his age he does not plan to slow down.
In fact he informs that once he gets his regular medical check-ups, which is done mostly at the insistence of his family, he will continue to do what he loves best.
This is despite persons telling him to step aside and ‘give the young people a chance’.
While his love for writing plays has not rubbed off enough on his two daughters, his forays around the world have certainly left an indelible mark on their lives.
“When my two young daughters were like five and six and the rest of the Guyanese couldn’t say Kibilibiri, they could have said it off the tips of their tongues because their dad took them there when they were young.”
From a pen to a typewriter to the computer, Francis Quamina Farrier has left a lasting impression on many lives in Guyana.
A part of his outlook on life is, no matter how older you’re getting you can still be learning.
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