BHBS – the British Honduras Broadcasting Service - 03/07/12 07:00 AM
In the deep colonial days before Radio Belize, there was BHBS – the British Honduras Broadcasting Service. I guess the best thing on BHBS was the comedy team of George McKesey and Gwen Murillo, but the quiz contests among the city primary schools organized by the Education Department were also exciting radio back then in the 1950’s.
I remember that as a young Holy Redeemer Boys School (HRBS) student, I was impressed by the quiz performances of one of our students named Leonardo Mencias. He was good. (I wonder where Leonardo is right now.) The competition among the primary school students was intense, one reason being that education was considered very, very important back then. There seemed no other way out of the rut, unless you had a relative in America who could send for you.
The contests were a bit bogus, in that the Education Department would prepare a list of questions and send them to the different schools for their teams to study and memorize. So when the quiz moderator asked an esoteric question like, what was the name of Alexander The Great’s horse, a student who answered “Bucephalus” would not have been an expert in ancient Greek history, just a youth who had memorized that particular question-and-answer.
At the beginning of the 1958/59 school year, if I remember correctly, Carlson Gough (‘nuff respect, Carlson) and I were “skipped” from Standard IV to Standard VI, and there we became a part of the HRBS quiz team, chosen by Sister Mary Francine, the Standard VI teacher, a team which included the late Dr. Neil Garbutt and Errol Cattouse.
We used to get extra training on Saturday mornings at the St. Catherine’s convent, where Francine would give us goodies to eat from the convent pantry. Those were good days, innocent days.
Anyway, we reached the finals where, wouldn’t you know it, our opponents would be the Holy Redeemer Girls School (HRGS) team. On the HRGS squad, I specifically remember Barbara Alamilla (later married to the late Winston Miller) and Janet Hewlett (later married to the late Edgar Richardson, before his “X.”) I can’t bring the faces or names of the other two girls.
At Holy Redeemer, the girls were separated from the boys by the canal which used to run northeast from the Haulover Creek (next to where Bottom Dollar is presently) all the way to the sea by the old Belize City Hospital and Public Works Department. There was one small bridge across the canal within the Holy Redeemer compound.
Barbara Alamilla lived at the corner of East Canal Street and Water Lane, which was across the canal a few houses down from where I lived at #3 West Canal. (Barbara had an older sister named Amelia who became a nun.) The Alamilla parents ran a small cook shop which specialized in tamales. I think Janet lived at the corner of Bagdad and Alexandria Streets.
For sure we boys wanted to beat the girls, and I think we expected to do so. For the finals, there was one change. No lists of questions were sent for us to study. We would have to answer off the top, so to speak.
The old BHBS broadcast studio was located in the Paslow Building back then. There was a live audience for the finals, and it turned out that this live audience affected the result. The audience couldn’t have been more than 25 or 30 people, but there were definitely a few HRBS students in the group.
It was four points for each correct answer. At one critical point in the contest, one of the girls was clearly stumped by a question. Suddenly, one of the excited HRBS boys in the audience who knew the answer, whispered it to the student next to him. I realize now that he didn’t realize how much a broadcast studio would amplify sound. You could see where the girl heard what he said, and when she repeated it, she got the four points. The girls ended up beating us, 64-62, and so one can say that words spoken out of turn by a boy gave the victory to the girls. (The two-point margin was because on one question, the judges had awarded us half the points, instead of the full four.)
I remember saying to myself afterwards, we boys are always grumbling about how girls talk too much, and now it’s a boy’s running mouth that sinks us. When you are 11 years old, you don’t want a girl to beat you in anything: trust me. But there it was, and there was nothing any of us could do about it: Holy Redeemer Girls, 64; Holy Redeemer Boys, 62. Bitter.
Life goes on. The boy who had whispered too loudly went on to have quite a successful career here in banking. I know that he never intended to damage our team’s chances, and no doubt he was more hurt by what happened than any of us competitors could have been. This is how life is sometimes, you know. Do you remember the Chicago Cub fan a few years ago who probably cost the Cubs a trip to the World Series by reaching out and interfering with a ball the Cub leftfielder was almost certain to catch? Chicago still gives him a hard time. One innocent mistake, and you may have to live with yourself for a long time afterwards.
Yours truly is nearing retirement, so you will probably be seeing more and more material which may be considered nostalgic. I would be interested to hear what the other people remember who were in the BHBS studio that night. Perhaps there are people from BHBS and the Education Department still alive who can tell us about the history of the contest. It seems of little substance in today’s modern Belize, but back then in the 1950’s, those quiz contests were major happenings. We were innocent.