HOW I BECAME THE FIRST VILLAGE HEADMASTER — TED MUKORO
Ted Mukoro made a great name as one of the earliest advertising practitioners in Nigeria. He also made a name as the first headmaster in the famed TV programme Village Headmaster which is now rested.
The grand old man who seems to be retired but not tired because he works as a consultant on best
Ted Mukoro speech practices for Channels Television fielded questions from Home Video People on several issues including the early times of Village headmaster, how he got the role of the headmaster and more. Please enjoy.
Sir, it's good to see that you look very much healthy, how old are you?
I will be 80 on October 4th and I give glory to God for His mercies.
What was growing up like?
My education was purely in the Catholic Seminary. I wanted to be a Catholic Priest. So I attended St Theresa's Minor Seminary in Oke Arin, Ibadan, where I got equivalent training that a secondary school student would get. A minor seminary is where you do equivalent of secondary school.
That is the formal education I had. I continued to take a course in Woseyhall correspondence school, Oxford, England. They had Rapid Result College in England at that time. A lot of people got educated by correspondence..
I studied Homilectics Classicsm in Major Seminary. Homilectics means training to preach homilis. They were Irish people. They taught us to pronounce English in Irish accent.
We called it homilectus in major seminary but it turned out to be elocution.
How did you emerge the first headmaster of the Village Headmaster?
What preceded the Village Headmaster was that Segun Olusola, Segun Sofowote, Rosemary Anieze now Rosemary Anieze Adams, Elsie Nkunne later Olusola and I started radio drama on Western Nigerian Broadcasting Service (WNBS and WNTV) entitled Broke Time Bar written by Wole Soyinka.
I didn't like it initially, because the producer Olusola did not seek my consent; though we did few episodes. I discovered that there was money in the roles that I played so it gingered me up. I took a liking into acting so my resentment disappeared.
While you were at WNTV and WNBS were you acting only radio plays?
lt was the Soyinka radio play that we acted often. But when WNTV and WNBS was moved from lbadan to Lagos, I went to Lintas. Mr. Segun Olusola went to Nigerian Television Service (NTS) now NTA
When we found ourselves in Lagos, we wondered if we could contiue what we did at WNBS, on Television. So we came together and began to think of something different to do. Village Headmaster was like paying homage to the school master who taught all the new civil servants that took over from the colonial rulers.
ls that the role of the Headmaster?
Yes, we did the portrait of the headmaster. The headmaster was to be an enlightened man, chief adviser to the local king / Oba in the early Nigerian village. He was not only a headmaster during the week but a preacher on sunday, the interpreter of the law.
There was conspiracy about the sanitary inspector that came around with Italian vaccination which were used in those days to prevent small pox, the moment the villagers sighted him they started running away.
It was the headmaster who persuaded the people to take advantage of the vaccination which was not meant for the sanitary inspector. There were so many myths about the colonial rule. There were so many things which the headmaster was an interpreter for in modern life.
And when you all exhausted the brainstorming on the ideas, did the recording commence on NTS immediately?
When we finished these ideas, we were told that there was no money. So the idea was kept in a cooler. Few years later a young man arrived from the United Kingdom. He is now Oba, the Olowu of Owu in Abeokuta, Sanya Dosunmu, came across the ideas in the archives of the NTS.
He was excited when he was told that there was no money to do it, so he decided that he was going to try it. So he called us and we had a meeting with him.
He decided to get me in as one of the writers and I said I have never written any line of play. The amateur writers then also included Alex Akinyele. At the end of it all we called for a casting session.
They wondered between being the headmaster or playiong the role of Bassey Okon which Jab Adu eventually played and later decided on the role of the headmaster for me.
After we had done the casting, it was now time to shoot. Dosumu and I were not living far from each other at the Palmgrove area. Dosumu said you are going to write the opening and the second episodes and I said “me, you are joking”.
And he stood with me at the dinning table. With him standing behind I came up with a script that night. The next day, two scripts were ready. So it was a kind of having to set the tone for the entire series. The original cast were Bassey Okon played by Jab Adu- the retired soldier in the army who was a dispenser in Bahamas during the war.
I was the headmaster (Gabriel Fagade) and I had a wife who was an Itsekiri played by Sisi Clara Fagade though she was not the mother of my daughter Omolara Marquis in the programme. There was Chief Odunuga who had a son, lawyer Odunuga which was played by Albert Egbe.
There was Fatia the daughter of Bassey Okon, there was Oba Ajelende, Lakunle Ojo, Mr. Garuba (the late Joseph Layode), Amebo (Ibidun Allison). These were the original cast of the village headmaster.
The concept of Village Headmaster was is it set to project the culture of the land?
Oja village was an ideal village set not to be far away from Lagos. It was a mixture of people. The cast was not for you to know the particular tribe they came from, Gabriel Fagade you will not know whether he is a Yoruba man or not and so it was with the other members of the cast. So this was an ideal village. The whole thing was dedicated to the village school teachers who taught all the new civil servants in education.
When the Village Headmaster resurrected as the New Village Headmaster in the 80s, did it derail from its original concept?
No. No. I don't know whether it was a tribute to the old school master who gave us education , who taught all the teachers that became the interpreters, dispensers. The whole idea was an attempt at continuity.
At your time, was getting a role dependant on having formal training in Theatre Arts?
Why do you have to study Theatre Arts to act? But when we began to act, people like Yemi Lijadu, Wole Soyinka , J.P. Clarke, Ulli Beier were involved in drama. Between Ibadan and Lagos everything was happening.
As a pioneer you could do well to retell the story of television in Nigeria?
Televison did not come to Nigeria until 1960. The WNTV was the first in Nigeria. It was the first television in the whole of Africa including Northern and southern Africa.
WNTV was set up before Australia, New Zealand and India. What Chief Obafemi Awolowo and former Minister of Information in the West, Anthony Enahoro, did was a great miracle. But look at where we are today.
You mentioned going to Lintas when WNTV and WNBS were moved from Ibadan to Lagos. Lintas is an advertising outfit and you, the headmaster of Oja. How were you able to manage both?
Our spare time in the evening was in the theatre. It was intellectual tonic for us.
At your time, acting in Nigeria was pleasure driven and not for money making venture as it is today, how much were you paid?
I can't even remember how much it was, but the money was so small. It is better we forget it.
After many months and you are going to pay school fees at Adrao International, you went to NTS and you have about six to eight months to claim and the money became money. At that time it became useful
I can't remember. But it was ridiculous.
Was the recording of the programmes cumbersome as compared with the recent sophisticated technologies?
The video system at NTS, WNTV at ENTV Enugu, RKTV in Kaduna all four stations had different video systems so we could not exchange programmes.
They were black and white, and the video was about four or five inches wide. For example we could not edit, so when we start recording for 50 minutes or one hour and any thing happens in the 46th minute, we start again.
I remember the last scene was going to be at the beer parlour and Chief Odunuga and I were supposed to drink some beer on set. Sanya Dosumu, the producer went to California Bar Beach to borrow some bottles of Star beer.
He promised to return them since he has no money to pay. While the tape was rolling, we opened the Star bottles, we could hear Sanya Dosumu screaming from the control room' yee won ti pa mi o.
He had to explain to the Carlifornia Bar Beech that he did not have money to pay that day until Monday. There were different videos and it was in black and white.
When you left the set who succeeded you?
It was Femi Robinson.
What differences do you see in today's television drama as compared with your time?
There has been lowering of professional standards that those of us who were brought up on film, the five Cs of cinematography including continuity was important, cutting, composition, use of close ups and camera angles were all important but some of these C's are not there now.
Did you stop acting after Village Headmaster?
I did not stop acting. I was involved in one home video film titled Mortal Inheritance which also featured, Omotola Ekeinde's. I think it was her first outing in Nollywood. I did another movie which was directed by Andy Amanechi where I played the role of an orthopaedic doctor.
How often do you see the original cast of the Village Headmaster?
It has been a long time since I have seen Oba Funsho Adeolu, and Oba Wole Amele who just died. Oba Sanya Dosumu and Jab Adu live in Abeokuta. It has been a very long time really.
We heard that you have something to do with Channels Television. What are these?
I am an ombudsman. In other words, I watch mainly all the presentations on Channels TV. My role is that I monitor, criticize, make corrections in presentation where the accent should be. I watch out for idioms, good grammatic sentences and so on.