Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wycliffe Bennett takes final bow

By ALICIA DUNKLEY Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

EIGHTY-seven-year-old theatre and broadcast icon and stalwart Wycliffe Bennett yesterday took his final bow from the stage of life.

Bennett, who was ailing for some time, succumbed to his illness at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew.

During his lifetime, the retired educator served as a former general manager of the now defunct Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC), pioneering organiser of the National Festival of Arts, head of the Creative Production and Training Centre (CPTC), chairman of the Jamaica Drama League, and as a theatre director and producer.

Bennett, who mentored generations of media practitioners, was yesterday hailed for his contributions to theatre and the wider arts community.

He received many honours for his work in the arts, including the 2009 Actor Boy Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Order of Distinction (Commander Class), the Silver Musgrave Medal and the Centenary Medal from the Institute of Jamaica.

The CPTC's main television studio, which was destroyed by fire in 2005, was in 2007 renamed the Wycliffe Bennett Television Studio in recognition of Bennett's contribution to the organisation.

Yesterday, former JBC employee and chairman of the Broadcasting Commission, Dr Hopeton Dunn, said while saddened by the passing of Bennett - whom he succeeded as chairman of CPTC - he was celebrating a life well spent.

"Mr Bennett's passing removes from us an outstanding and deeply patriotic Jamaican who has made an indelible mark on the cultural and communication landscape of the country... he was a great leader in broadcasting and the theatre arts and a very notable trainer in a whole range of areas including elocution and public speaking," Dr Dunn told the Observer.

"I had the benefit of working quite closely with him in his more recent years but his great impact on me was while I served as a young broadcaster in Jamaica while he headed the JBC and also while I headed the CPTC. He was a mentor to a whole generation of persons involved in this field, always insisting on excellence and discouraging mediocrity," said Dunn, who was also responsible for a biographical production on Bennett's life.

Reflecting with the Observer, broadcaster and actress Fae Ellington said Bennett's contribution to theatre and the arts could not be questioned.

"Over the years he has done some magnificent productions influencing the lives of several Jamaicans young and old alike. He has been involved in training a host of persons and he also trained me as a broadcaster," she told the Observer.

"Wycliffe was for me a very giving person and as students I remember he and his wife Aunt Hazel going beyond the call of duty to facilitate us," she recalled.

"For me he was like a father figure and he still referred to me as 'little one' even on his death bed," Ellington said, noting that he will be remembered for his "very, very high standards".

Prime Minister Bruce Golding yesterday joined lovers of the arts and culture industry in mourning Bennett's passing.

Golding said Bennett, described by many as Jamaica's 'Man of the Arts', would always be remembered for his dedication to the training of young people in the areas of voice and speech, noting that he had dedicated almost 60 years of his life as an outstanding producer, director and trainer in the theatre, radio, and film industries.

The Press Association of Jamaica also mourned the icon and expressed condolences to Bennett's family.

Bennett is survived by his wife Dr Hazel Bennett, the noted author and pioneer in the Jamaica Library Service; his daughter Dr Carlene Bennett and his son Wycliffe Lincoln Bennett.

Unfortunately, Bennett passed before releasing the book - The Jamaican Theatre in the 20th Century: Highlights of The Performing Arts (UWI Mona Press) - which he co-authored with his wife and had planned to release this year.

The book is a collector's volume which carries photos of theatrical performances in Jamaica, set designs, art and architecture, some dating as far back as the 1600s.

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