Desmond MacDonald Bourne: 1932 to 2011 {UPDATE – Sympathy Book at Fontabelle}

{IMAGE COURTESY - DAILY NATION} "...He was our Orson Welles, and we’re poorer for his loss;" Greg Hoyos on Desmond Bourne

It was not that my father never stood on convention, he acknowledged where he felt it was expected – such as Diplomats & Royalty – but for the most part he ignored it… About 1984, he was seconded to Grenada for their elections, so he went to speak with J.M.G.M “Tom” Adams at Bay Street and the guard was horrified at Pop’s appearance, he called the late PM on the phone and told him a man with ‘unkempt‘ hair and large beard in a Captain Marvel tee-shirt wanted to see him?

I watched how the guard was stunned when the second Prime Minister of Barbados drawled over the intercom; “Ah, yes – that would be Desmond – send him up right away!” My dad and Tom had a long history, he created the Ad Campaign “The Great Combination” for the BLP in 1976 when Tom swept seats that year from the Right Excellent Errol Barrow. At the time he was Creative Director at ad agency Smith & Oxley (which later became SOJE-Lonsdale), when he was unceremoniously taken from the post he did not take it sitting down…

Elliott Mottley, QC one of this country’s top legal eagles (later AG for Bermuda then Solicitor General for Belize) won my dad a wrongful dismissal suit. My father used the settlement as seed money for his independent agency which handled clients like the Nation newspaper, Chefette Restaurants and Home Farm fruit juices. The thing was he cut costs by voicing many of their commercials himself, even though he made sure to bill for same!

My father’s voice was one of the most distinguishing aspects of his personality… Jim Huber – while in CNN Sports – stated on air he got a call from Barbados from “…a guy who sounded like a cross between James Earl Jones and God…” correcting Huber on how to pronounce the locale where the 1988 Olympiad was held (Seoul most folk still tend to saysoul and my dad sayssay-ool as many Europeans do), once this occurred? Many Bajans who invested in CBC’s cable TV service of STV as it was then (Subscription Television) knew it was Desmond Bourne who called the Atlanta station! Fantasy author Neil Gaiman once said in one of his novels how parents embarrass us, intentionally or not – when this CNN pronunciation lesson happened I did not know whether to blush or grin!

Greg Hoyos, CEO of Greg Hoyos Associates in Belleville recalled this for my dad – “So sorry to hear about your dad’s death. He was our Orson Welles, and we’re poorer for his loss.” Advertising and media was a major part of his life, while in the USA, he was a key role in securing Orson Welles to voice an Ad for Eastern Airlines (the Wings of Man) for the popular agency Young & Rubicam.

Of course, making sure how and what was said was correct was second nature to my father from his time spent as Radio Guardian 610 AM’s first voice during the early to mid-50’s, he was the first person to go from Silver to Golden network in 2 weeks. My father’s quest for radio excellence was ingrained by Sam Ghani, this desire for perfection eventually led over to Antenna – a feared column for the Nation papers, where announcers’ promotions were made or broken on his commentary.

Desmond Bourne never lost his love for radio all his life, he had an award winning programme called “Jive Talking” which even drew fifth and sixth form pupils at secondary schools to listen to what new hits from the UK or Duke Ellington or ancient calypso on 78’s – my dad would draw wide demographics not only from tunes, but which Bajan personality would he interview over what controversy or a hot topic at that moment (imagine calling the Anglican Archbishop Drexel Gomez asSexy Drexy“? Only my dad would, and get away with it!) every Wednesday night in the late 70’s.

This radio programme was what he enjoyed the most, researching, calling WIRL (West Indies Records Limited) to see where the new music was coming from and why – if they did not have the answers? He’d call Claudia Joseph at the No. 1 Record Shop, which had just splintered off at that time from the K.R. Hunte Music Store on High Street. He would actually invite people over to his house and interview them in the living room or in his gallery depending on where they felt most comfortable.

One of the groups he interviewed for Jive Talking was a local band called The Brothers, one of the members not a brother was bad-ass keyboardist John Roett, he also recalled Desmond Bourne; “The most amazing voice in the Caribbean...”

When CBC and himself eventually parted company, he kept the name and used it as the fulcrum to develop an annual awards feature for the Nation newspaper – “Jivin’ Around With {Year}” and the main section folk would look out for is ‘10 Wind-Up Dolls of {Year}’ where his choices were daring and his comments were caustic, lawyers and my dad having ferocious battles over what can stay or go were common between November or early January over the phone!

Nation Publishing has undertaken to put forward a Sympathy Book in their lobby at Fontabelle, it was very kind & unexpected

Yet my father also had a softer side, he created the clever and moving “Santa’s Progress” a radio serial sponsored by United Insurance, where he tracked the mythical character many say my dad (and now me) tend to look like – from the North Pole ’til he was just in sight of Barbados… Perhaps this is why my father chose to leave just before Christmas? Maybe he had to make an early advisement for the elves! {My dad left us between the night of 18 December and the wee hours of Monday morning just gone by} Desmond Bourne would have been 80 on June 11 next year, he called Kingsland Terrace his home since 1994…

He and I were very alike and two strong personalities created more differences than alliances, yet I still both love and respect my dad… He never gave in to the lure of the Internet, to the end he used only a typewriter and fax machine to do his Birthday research for the Nation, which was eventually retired earlier this year, he worked right up to that point – I do not think because he had to, rather he wanted to… He believed in wearing out rather than rusting out. Like Frank Sinatra (among the many favourites of my dad for his breath control and phrasing), my father definitely lived his way!

15 Responses

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  1. This is a powerful and refreshingly unsentimental tribute to the talented and complicated Desmond. Thank you also, Ian for a beautifully written glimpse into the lively history of broadcast and print media of the era whose gifts you have clearly inherited. N.

  2. He was definitely one of a kind. Brash, bold, a bit crazy, but interesting, creative and unique.
    He will be missed. My condolences to you and your family. RIP.

  3. Lovely tribute. The radio stations should create a Desmond Bourne Award for the best new voice every year. He would love that, though he’d never agree with any of the selections!

  4. Goodbye Desmond give my best to our friend Bill Miller when you see him at the Pearly Gates..Oh yes and Joan Banjamin. Ian my condolences and All the best to you

  5. Ian, this is a wonderful tribute to your dad.

    Wishing you and your family all and only the best at this difficult time.

    Stay well

    1 Love

  6. I remember driving with my 2 Sons about a year ago and a commercial came on with Desmond’s voice and the boys went WOW-What a voice !! it’s a pity that his talent wasn’t archived as much. R.I.P Desmond. Your voice wil never be forgotten!!

  7. A great voice and intellect, Desmond was unique and will be missed. Deepest sympathies to you Ian, and your family.

  8. Ian, I was very moved by this tribute to your dad. You and your family have my sympathies.

  9. One of the greats in caribbean broadcasting. A sharp wit and tongue. Sarcasm with humorous overtones. Will miss his offerings. Condolences Ian.

  10. Rolling home, Sateen Session, the musical radio way to spend the afternoon, and the Saturday morning, and the VOICE .It was the 60’s and Barbados had no radio stations, I a teenager hurried home to the Blaupunkt Radiogram in the corner to catch Radio Guardian , the music and the voice… was there Ian and it was the dashing, debonaire Desmond (yes we had a picture sent to us,autographed as well) that was the genesis of my love for radio …….sure we clashed, sure he knocked me down, but he also lifted me up, and I learned a lot. Your tribute is profound, the kind that every offspring ought to be able to pay to a father. Condolences Ian

  11. Indeed Desmond was unconventional in his approach but someone I appreciated for his creativity, knowledge and astuteness. Telephone conversations with Desmond were mostly one-sided but as a young reporter at the then Barbados Rediffusion and later at the Nation I learnt much from him. I respected his knowledge and intellect. Not only was he quick to point out errors but he also had brilliant solutions and ideas and one would be a fool not to follow through. He had a fantastic and creative brain, and an incredibly lightning-fast thought process. His performance as a broadcaster, writer, producer was unquestionably at the top of the game. The absence of his trademark broadcast voice and Jivin’ Around will definitely be noticed. My condolences to Ian.

  12. The end of an era. On hearing of his passing I remembered how he could build you up one moment and then with a wicked *teehee* bring you down again. I truly remember this fondly. He was so kind when I lost my dad in 1996. We were so much better at our craft because we knew he was listening. It kept us on our toes 🙂 My deepest condolences Ian, to you and your family.



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