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Opinions of Monday, 27 July 2020

Columnist: Kordson Kwasi Ayrakwa

Television, show case and Films: A Ghanaian perspective

"Laughter is the key to the soul, mind and the human spirit"

Growing up in Ghana as a child was exciting. It was the late 70s into the 80s. Watching television was great fun, full of wonderful shows and programs.

My earliest memories go to "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo", "The Saint"- Simon Templar was the main character and written by Leslie Charteris - published in 1928 and 1963. Three men over the years have acted as "The Saint". The great Roger Moore, Ian Ogilvy and Simon Dutton. "The Spy who loves me" by Ian Fleming, starring Roger Moore as the lead man, "The Cosby Show", "Different Strokes "featuring Gary Coleman, and films like "Grease" "Sound of Music", " Bruce Lee- The Way of the Dragon", Indian Movies and on the local scene- "Osofo Dadzie", "Obra", "Show Case in Ga, led by Oketeku Dade Mensah or Ataa Mensah- Ebenezer Lartey, "Show Case in Ewe" led by the man who calls himself "Rainbow Speaking", Kwaw Ansah's Movies, "Love Brewed in an African Pot" " Heritage Africa", etc.

These shows were a subject of discussion among my friends at break time at Forces Primary School, Burma Camp Accra. Some of my friends were Felix Dentu, Emmanuel Tettey (Dr.), Lynn Sharpe, Andrews Addy, Mabel Daley, Bridget Opata, Bright Obimpey, Oswald Mensah, Stanley Sam, Peter Ansah, George Sarpong, Mandy Oteng, Margaret Ansah, Cephas Tekpor, Asilfi Quaye, Emmanuel Torsu and my cousin Stephen Ayrakwa (Dr.).

Skippy the Bush Kangaroo excited me so much because it was about a Bush Kangaroo which was a pet of a young boy. They did " cool things" together and when the boy was in trouble he was saved by the Kangaroo. For me, as a young boy who did not know much about Australia and Kangaroos, and seeing on TV that, it was possible for a young boy to have a pet like a Kangaroo was fascinating and exciting. It really blew my mind away to the great world of imagination about the forest around me and perhaps with a Kangaroo by my side there is no way any one (boy or girl) could raise their hands at me.

Indeed, I was also in love with "The Spy who loves me". Ian Fleming had a wonderful way of presenting characters that, made James Bond invisible and indestructible and Roger Moore- my favourite James Bond had a canning way of digging into the character - he made things seem effortless and real. He was always a master piece, courageous and fascinating actor to behold.

The Cosby Show was a classic, in spite of what Bill Cosby's life has turned out to be. May his sins be forgiven. Nevertheless, the show was a brave portrayal of what an " African American family" could be - well behaved, accountable, intellectually and professionally accomplished and responsible. Perhaps, the show might have paved the way and appealed to many Americans that, a Black person could be the leader of the free world - hence the culminating election of Barack Obama as president in 2008.

Different Strokes was an American sitcom television series that aired on NBC from November 1978 to May 1985 and on ABC from September 1985 to March 1986 and shown on Ghanaian TV. The series starred Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges as Arnold Jackson and Willis Jackson. These two young African-American brothers were from
Harlem taken in by a rich white Park Avenue business tycoon - Philip Drummond (Conrad Bain)
who was a widower and his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato), for whom the boys deceased mother had been an employee.

The series made stars out of Coleman, Bridges and Plato and became known for the "very special episodes" in which serious issues such as racism, illegal drug use, alcoholism, hitchhiking, kidnapping and child sexual abuse were dramatically explored. The lives of these stars were later plagued by legal troubles, convictions, drug addiction and financial ruin with Plato and Coleman suffering early deaths in 1999 and 2010, respectively. Tood Bridges appears to be the only cast member of the four main characters living today.

Another great movie seen on Ghanaian TV was Grease. It was a wonderful American musical comedy released in 1978, featuring Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Olivia Newton John as Sandy Olsson, an exchange student from Australia studying in America. Danny and Sandy fall in love but face challenges to defend their relationship. But they fight hard to cement their love despite the odds against them. The film also featured Stockard Channing as Betty Rizzo, the leader of the Pink ladies. The dressing, hair cuts and the folding of sleeves of shirts was one of the many things young boys of my age in our days wanted to emulate. For me, I always liked the songs. "Summer Nights".

"Summer loving had me a blast
Summer loving happened so fast
I met a girl crazy for me
Met a boy cute as can be
Summer days drifting away to oh oh the summer nights

Tell me more, tell me more
Did you get very far
Tell me more, tell me more
Like does he have a car

She swam by me she got a cramp
He ran by me got my suit damp
I saved her life she nearly drowned
He showed off splashing around
Summer sun somethings begun but oh oh the summer nights

Tell me more, tell me more
Was it love at first sight?
Tell me more, tell me more
Did she put up a fight?".

Sound of Music was another classic movie that captivated our attention on Ghanaian TV. It was a story of an Austrian Army Officer who was being called to duty but had recently lost his wife. The family was in mourning and Captain Von Trapp ( the Canadian Legend - Christopher Plummer) did not want to leave his children. The family of 7 young children needed a guardian. The church, sent a young beautiful nun - Maria (Julie Andrews) to help the Army Officer take care of the family. In the process, the Captain Von Trapp falls in love with Maria and marries her. What was fascinating about the story is the many wonderful songs that are sung throughout the movie - making it very captivating and pleasant to watch. The most popular song in the " Sound of Music" was -
" Do Re Mi"

"Let's start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with ABC
When you sing you begin with Do, Re, Mi, Do, Re, Mi
The first three notes just happen to be
Do, Re, Mi, Do, Re, Mi
Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Te
Oh let's see if I can make it easier
Do- A deer, a female deer
Re- A drop of golden sun
Mi- A name I call myself
Fa- A long, long way to run
So- A needle pulling thread
La- A note to follow so
Te- A drink with jam and bread
That will bring us back to Do, oh, oh, oh
Do- A deer, a female deer
Re- A drop of golden sun
Mi- A name I call myself
Fa- A long, long way to run
So- A needle pulling thread
La- A note to follow so
Te- A drink with jam and bread...."

Chinese movies were fascinating too. Particularly, Bruce Lee's movies " Enter the Dragon" or " The Way of Dragon " introduced us to the oriental culture and the power of " Kungfu ". It was incredible to watch him display his martial arts skills and how he got out of trouble anytime he was cornered by his enemies. He was invisible.

Indian movies were equally exciting and popular in Ghana in the 1980s as well. The stories mostly spoke about love, kindness, family and the general lndian culture. Indian songs and dance moves were scintillating and endearing. You could not finish an Indian movie without being moved or glued to the TV. It did reach deep into your soul.

On the local scene, the Osofo Dadzie show was the pace setter on Ghanaian television. The group was led by Frimpong Manso. Other cast members were S.K. Oppong, Kwadjo Kwakye, Fred Addai, Akua Boahema, Kingsley Kofi Kyeremanting - aka Ajos, Bee Kisi, Akora Badu and
Asonaba Kwaku Darko - aka Super OD. Each of these cast members were characters of their own. The show tackled many challenging issues of the time. The show was sometimes a metaphor or satire for some bad/deviant behaviour shown by a politician or a chief or a teacher or a pastor or every day Joe in the family, community or society in general. The show held the moral high ground to castigate or praise some good deed witnessed in the society. And indeed, it was the final arbiter for judgment or the teller of the truth. In this regard, the Osofo Dadzie show held a real sway on public opinion and denouncement of bad behaviour. It's signature tune by the Osibisa Band says it all.

"We are going, Heaven knows where we going

We know we're there.

We are going, Heaven knows where we are going, we know we're
We will get there, Heaven knows how we will get there, We know we will"

The Obra show - starring Grace Omaboe, David Dontor, etc. and other TV shows did follow in the same direction- capturing critical topics of the day. And sometimes, gave Osofo Dadzie a run for their money and encouraged quality programming and content.

Interestingly, The Ewe show by Rainbow and his group added a little bite and flavour of the Ewe culture which portrayed Rainbow as an " all knowing man" and a dominant character who had to have the last say in any delibrations at home or the work place or the community. He was quite forceful and authoritative, but a good leader full of many ideas which should be given critical consideration.

The Showcase in Ga was led by the indomitable Ataa Mensah - Ebenezer Lartey who was the leader of the Adabraka Drama Troupe. They entertained Ghanaians in the Ga language. Ataa Mensah was the fulcrum of the group and his performances were interlaced with singing and remarkable acting which was breathtaking and exciting to watch. It was also full of humor, laughter and life lessons.

Kwaw Ansah's movies were equally fascinating and educative on Ghanaian TV. Although these movies were initially shown in public and private theaters like, Art Council, Ghana Film Theater, Rex Cinema, Roxy Cinema, Regal Cinema, Global Cinema, Orion Cinema, Lascala Cinema- Teshie-Nungua, North Star Cinema, Oxford Cinema, etc, all because of commercial reasons and private investment purposes, they were later accessible to the general population.

Love Brewed in an African Pot in 1980, as told by Kwaw Ansah tells "the story of love that, collides with social class and colonialism when, Aba Appiah, born to privilege, falls in love with Joe Quansah, son of a fisherman. Her father, retired civil servant Kofi Appiah, has other plans for her, and seeks to block their marriage.

The resulting conflict had complex and unexpected consequences". And " Heritage Africa" in 1989 is the story of " Quincy Bosomfield who is the product of colonial education and has risen to become the district commissioner. In the process, he abandons his African heritage and all that has real meaning to him".

There were other shows which have also contributed in educating Ghanaians for ages. Among them include, Che-Che-Kule, Inspector Badiako, Ultimate Paradise, Taxi Driver, Oshin, Key Soap Concept Party, By the Fire Side, Adventures of Sinbad, Captain Planet, Things We Do for Love, etc.

All these Ghanaian shows respectfully, highlighted the various cultural realities of the distinct cultures that make up the Ghanaian society and how in their own ways complement one another. Perhaps a cultural mirror of the whole country with its unique characteristics and complexities that defines who we are as Ghanaians. One nation, one people with a common destiny and the determination to make our nation bold, strong and free.