In 1953, Remi Kapo sailed for England from Nigeria with his father aboard the mv/Apapa. He was seven. Initially he was enrolled in a private boarding school in St Leonards-on-Sea, the only black pupil and speaking no English. Five years later, financial misfortune beset his father, and Remi was taken into care. He ended up at Beechholme Children’s Home in Banstead, Surrey, where he was to spend the next five years.
Determined to go to sea, he was admitted to King Edward VII Nautical College in the Commercial Road in London’s East End. However, after just a year, further misfortune interrupted his training, and he found himself living on the streets of London, existing mainly on a 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 his bench by a steeplejack on his way to work, an ex-Beechholmer, who welcomed him into his council flat in Rock Road, Hackney.
With fortunes reversed, he was able to resume his merchant naval apprenticeship. Fascinated by celestial navigation, a life-long interest in astronomy and the sea developed. Rapidly advancing through his professional exams, he gained his navigation certificate, became Third Officer and eventually the rank of Second. Aware the glass ceiling for black advancement in the UK was extremely low, he realised there was no prospect of becoming First Officer or Master.
Starting afresh as a freelance journalist, he wrote feature articles for the New Statesman and New Society, among other journals. 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 in 1981.
Following a series of race riots across Britain, in 1982 he was appointed by the Greater London Council to convert the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm into an arts centre for the other ethnic cultures of the UK. As its director, he was also appointed to the Touring Board of the Arts Council, Executive Member of Greater London Arts, and Chair of the Implementation Committee, Greater London Arts. He recommended that the architect Richard Rogers be contracted to design the new Roundhouse. An arts programme was carried out while the conversion went ahead.
Simultaneously, in 1988, with his own theatre company, 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.
For more information about Remi visit his website: remikapo.org
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