Remi Kapo

Remi Kapo photographed by Armet Francis

Sailing on the m/v Apapa with his father to England in 1953, he was enrolled in Ledsham Court School, a private boarding school in St Leonards-on-Sea. He was seven. Five years later he had to leave due to unpaid fees. Initially dumped on the town’s Social Services, he was handed to several authorities until he arrived at County Hall, headquarters of the LCC. Following a six month assessment in Earlsfield House Reception Centre, he spent the next five years in Beechholme Children’s Home. On passing the entrance exams for King Edward VII Nautical College, aged 17, he completed the one year pre-sea course for cadet officers.

Disaster struck when he was evicted from his lodgings. Finding a room for a black man in the prevailing hostile atmosphere was not going to be easy. His search was dogged by signs in the windows of most flats ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’. For about nine months, without a job and with little money, he slept wrapped in cardboard and brown paper. He existed mainly on the bench in Embankment Gardens and occasionally on the warm kitchen grates down the side of the Cumberland Hotel. Early one morning, he was spotted on the bench by a steeplejack, an ex- Beechholmer, who was passing through the Gardens on his way to work, and who let him share his council flat in Rock Road, Hackney.

Resuming his apprenticeship, he spent three and a half years at sea, which qualified him to take exams for his ‘ticket’ Navigator’s Certificate. Returning to sea he was promoted to Third Officer, and in due course attained the rank of Second. Aware the glass ceiling for black advancement in the UK was extremely low, in other words, there was no prospect of becoming First Officer or Master. He knew he could not bank on a full career at sea.

Consequently, he left the sea for new pastures ashore. Starting life as a freelance journalist, among other journals he wrote articles for the New Statesman and New Society. After a stint at Yorkshire Television Documentaries, as a Researcher, he joined Thames Television’s TV Eye programme and then ATV’s documentary unit, Format V programme.

On leaving television in 1979, he penned A Savage Culture, published by Quartet 1981.

In 1982 he was asked by the GLC to put together the documentation and procedures to convert the Roundhouse into an art centre for the other ethnic cultures of the UK. As director, he was appointed to the Touring Board of the Arts Council, Executive Member of Greater London Arts and Chair of the Implementation Committee, GLA. He recommended that the architect Richard Rogers be contracted to design the new Roundhouse. An arts programme was conducted while the conversion went ahead.

Simultaneously, with his own theatre company in 1988, he produced Errol Johns’ Moon on a Rainbow Shawl directed by Maya Angelou at the Almeida Theatre, Islington. After six years, he resigned from The Roundhouse to write the Reap the Forgotten Harvest trilogy. In 2017 he was one of the founder members of Acacia Tree Books, which was formed to give voice to literary talent without connections.

Not a Native Son

In the summer of 1953, aged seven, I arrived with my father at the port of Southampton from the colony of Nigeria, making for Ledsham Court School, a boarding school in St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex. It was a stately building sitting in many green acres. After about an hour with the…

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