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Henry Valentine Swanzy (Read 3851 times)
Alan_Ashton
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Henry Valentine Swanzy
Apr 1st, 2004, 9:36pm
 
Henry Valentine Swanzy, a former producer at Bush House, has died at his home in Bishop's Stortford, aged 88.
Born near Cork in Ireland, where his father was a rector. Henry graduated at New College, Oxford, where he gained a first class honours degree in modern history.
He joined the BBC during the war after four years at the Colonial Office.
As a producer in the general overseas service, he conducted interviews with a variety of people from Sacheverell Sitwell to a female Russian sniper, but became better known for editing a magazine programme called Caribbean Voices from 1946 to 1954.
The programme gave an opening to many young writers before they became famous, including Nobel prize winners V.S. Naipaul and Derek Walcott. It would not be unfair to say that the programme launched a generation of West Indian writers, many of whom still remember Henry with gratitude.
From 1954 to 1958, he was seconded as head of programmes to the Ghana Broadcasting System - a part of West Africa where his family had strong trading links.
He returned to the BBC's external services where he stayed until his retirement in 1976.
Our sympathies go to his widow, Henriette, their two sons and one daughter.



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Re: Henry Valentine Swanzy
Reply #1 - Apr 6th, 2004, 7:18am
 
This obituary appeared in Times on April 6, 2004:

Henry Swanzy
Broadcaster who brought Caribbean writing to world attention and acted as a patron to promising talent

HENRY SWANZY could hardly have taken the helm of the BBC’s Caribbean Voices at a more exciting time. The war was just ended, and in fighting it Britain had become acquainted with Caribbean servicemen and culture. To keep up their morale and ease the grumblings of dissent in the colonial Caribbean, the Government had belatedly upgraded long-neglected radio services between its far-flung archipelagos and the mother country.
In many ways, Swanzy fitted the sense of displacement and contradiction that was part of Caribbean Voices. Broadcasting from London, Swanzy relied on a Jamaican compiler in Kingston to trawl from the Bahamas to Guiana in search of poetry and prose: the two bases were often at odds about what was aesthetically right and, as independence dawned, politically pertinent. Moreover, the programme gathered together — all too late in the empire’s day — the disparate subjects of the region under a cloak of imperial patriarchy just as they were beginning to itch for self-rule and express their difference from one another.

Swanzy often thanked his Irish heritage for helping him to deal with all this. Although he had left Ireland at the age of 5, never to return, he always felt that his “Britishness” was ostensible — much like the empire was now — and that this lent itself to the canon of Caribbean writing he chose to dedicate himself to. Though discussed in cross-reference or in sociological terms, the Caribbean oeuvre had no readers and so hardly yet existed. This Swanzy modestly attempted to change, stating simply: “Because of my Irishness . . . one had the sort of left-wing view of encouraging people who had had a raw deal.”

Henry Valentine Leonard Swanzy was born near Cork. He moved to England with his mother in 1920 when his father, the local clergyman, died. He eventually established a career as a literary editor, and then became a producer with the BBC, filing reports for the General Overseas Service and then the Ghana Broadcasting System. He took over at Caribbean Voices after its first producer, Una Marsden, returned to Jamaica. She had overseen a difficult nascence, in which war had made resources scarce and people difficult to interview. Moreover, critics claimed that the programme favoured Jamaica, the only part of the Caribbean with which Marsden was acquainted. Swanzy, of course, had even less local knowledge, but his achievements were due in large part to his ability to embrace the entire region with enthusiasm and equanimity.

In 1956 he celebrated this diversity, writing that his listeners “had sat with the fishermen hefting sea eggs, gone with the pork-knockers into Guiana’s jungles, followed the saga-boys and the whe-whe players, heard the riddles, the digging songs, the proverbs, the ghost stories, duppies, la Diablesse, soukivans, zombies, maljo, obeah, voodoo, shango”.

Swanzy established a fruitful relationship with Frank Collymore, the editor of the West Indian literary magazine Bim. From 1948 to 1956 the two helped such writers as George Lamming, Edgar Mittelhozer, Shake Keane, Sam Selvon, Kamau Brathwaite and Austin Clarke to make their first broadcasts. In 1949 the two brought the 19-year-old St Lucian and future Nobel prizewinner Derek Walcott to the world’s attention. Another Nobel winner, V. S. Naipaul, debuted on the programme.

Wherever the author was not available, Swanzy would select readers whose voices he believed gave a poem the “local colour”. Some were not impressed with the sound of Jamaicans reading odes set in Trinidad, or Barbadians reading the parts of Guianese farmers. His submissions agent in Jamaica, Gladys Lindo, expressed the widely held belief that, where a strong West Indian voice was not available, a clipped English one would be preferable. Swanzy was undeterred by this and by claims that his choices reflected a quest for the exotic over a need for the real. Underlining the achievement of getting Caribbean artists on the air at all, he replied: “It would be a shame to go back to the BBC repertory company now”. When listeners were guarding their young literary traditions, Swanzy knew that his work had meaning.

As West Indians began to pour into Britain, Swanzy found that he had more talent to choose from as his contribution to the Caribbean canon became hands-on. Unlike Lindo, he believed that his remit was to nurture talent, not just to identify it, and that helping a writer to find sanctuary — a good room, food and comfort — was paramount if his talent was to bear fruit. Thus he would often apportion work to those who seemed most in need of a cheque. George Lamming wrote in Pleasures of Exile (1960): “Our sole fortune was that it was Henry Swanzy who produced Caribbean Voices.

“At one time or another, in one way or another, all West Indian novelists benefited from his work and his generosity of feeling. Swanzy was very down to earth. If you looked a little thin in the face, he would assume that there might have been a minor famine on, and without offending your pride, he would make some arrangement for you to earn.”

Swanzy retired from Caribbean Voices in 1976. He wrote several critiques of West Indian literature and edited the journal of the Royal African Society for a decade.

He is survived by his second wife, Henriette Van Eeghan, two sons and a daughter.

Henry Swanzy, broadcaster, was born on June 14, 1915. He died on March 19, 2004, aged 88.
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Re: Henry Valentine Swanzy
Reply #2 - May 5th, 2004, 11:12pm
 
A contributor identified only as "Jessica" writes:

"By the time I met Henry Swanzy in 1971 he was the senior scriptwriter for Central Talks and Features in Bush House and I was the newest and lowliest secretary.  You would go into his office to be confronted by a stack of reference books, built up like a wall on his desk, which Henry was reducing to 30 minutes of lucid prose.  Each week a different wall of research books was transformed into another clear, in-depth feature.  His fountain-pen scrawl was sometimes hard for the poor typist to read, but I think that he actually preferred to dictate directly for us to type, while he strode up and down and his rich voice filled the confined space.  He was endlessly kind and encouraging and I owe him a great debt of gratitude for teaching me more about the writer’s trade than anyone else I can think of.  , Henry’s contribution to my 18th birthday card read “Look, Jessica, the stars!”   He showed them to me."
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