By Dan Esiekpe
Growing up in Warri in the then Western Region of Nigeria in those days, everybody seemed to know and admire his great, supple and very urbane voice on radio.
There were very few radio sets in those days. But the Western Region government had an innovative way of piping news to fixed boxes called Rediffusion. So, every evening at news time, neighbourhoods gathered to listen to this Warri boy who had made it big in broadcasting at the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS), Ibadan.
For a long time, we savoured the fame of this great “uncle in the Rediffusion box” who never came home and who was fondly referred to as Brother Theodore by family members.
Then, television came, and because there was no television service in Warri in those days, we heard great tales of that supple voice and the handsome face of Brother Theodore appearing in a great magic box at Ibadan! My uncle, Theodore Austin Mukoro was a pioneer television anchor, not just in Nigeria but all over Africa!
When he relocated from Ibadan to Lagos, he also became a pioneer of television drama, the soap opera genre in Nigeria in one of the most popular and the longest running television drama series in Nigeria — The Village Headmaster. Uncle Ted was the first ever headmaster of the Oja Community School; and he, along with the Kabiyesi of the fictional Oja community and the village chemist, “Dr. Bassey Okon” formed the fulcrum of this unmissable drama series of the early decades of Nigeria.
Theodore Austin Mukoro was everyone’s uncle, and was simply Uncle Ted to all. He was a perfect gentleman, an extremely honourable man, very noble in carriage. He maintained very good social graces, very courteous and humble almost to a fault. He mixed freely across different age groups, generations, race and creed.
Humble and accommodating personality
But unknown to many, his humble and very accommodating personality was derived from his deep Christian upbringing and faith which imbued in him an acute sense of propriety, goodwill and self-control. These were borne out of his extensive clerical education, having trained for a long time in the seminary. Yes, my Uncle Ted was so, so close; and was just one foot away from taking his final vows to be a Reverend Father !
Uncle Ted had an unmistakable aristocratic bearing. He was extremely urbane and cosmopolitan, with an unmatched polish in his manners and his taste for good wine, good beer (can we ever forget his daily “Liquid Lunch”?), coffee, the sartorial elegance of his clothes and corporate fashion sense (those years of trendy suspenders and his beloved Carnaby Street suits!). Not for him, the scruffiness that some creative people carry as a badge of honour, he was always well-dressed; with an amiable aristocratic carriage and very epicurean in his love and taste for the good life.
Theodore Austin Mukoro, my Uncle Ted, was a wordsmith beyond compare. He wrote copy and created storylines and creative concepts effortlessly. A fluent and prolific writer, he had an expertise with words. Very few people can combine literary writing skills and fluent, articulate and persuasive delivery of the spoken word. But Uncle Ted was imbued with the talent to combine both qualities in superlative proportions.
The Advertising industry and a gem
When he moved with his immense talent into the advertising industry, marketing communications in Nigeria landed a gem; and his pen and voice nurtured some of the leading product and service brands in Nigeria today into national and global prominence.
There he lies now beyond our praise, but the brands that his talent nurtured to greatness, the companies and corporate balance sheets that profited from his rich intellect live on as testimonies to his indelible contributions to the economy of Nigeria.
Even now as I write this piece, my mind is tuned to listen to soul-searching connection of Uncle Ted’s emotional creative rendition of the drink I need for the enjoyment of a brighter life…and I am even right now motivated to pour myself a glass of frothing, thousand bubbles of Star Lager beer…(“shine-shine bobo”)!
I listened to Uncle Ted’s lyrical melodies and contextual interpretation of “Black is beautiful”…and images of sensuality and suggestivity of virility and male competence flood me…(“black thing good o!”)
I hear the springs and foam in mattresses and the often undocumented encounters of man and mattress and the contours of pleasure in nightly cuddles…and Uncle Ted’s sonorous graphic description of pleasure in motion on a Vono mattress come to mind…(“weke…weke…weke…na Vono! “)
That was the man, Uncle Ted. There was melody, harmony, rhythm, market context, consumer affinity and ultimately market impact in his creative style. His creative genius created propositions and platforms that brought wealth to so many companies in Nigeria. Instructively, until the last few weeks of his time on earth, he continued to receive creative briefs; and continued to produce compelling copy even at the ripe old age of 89 !
My Uncle Ted was a polyglot who had a mastery of multiple languages. His ability to waltz effortlessly from the aristocratic Queen’s English, through the American Texan drawl to idiomatic Warri pidgin English often baffled me. In a plural Nigeria that is home to multiple ethnic groups and languages,Uncle Ted used his polyglotism to build bridges, make friends and cause joy and laughter across many social occasions.. With a sound idiomatic knowledge of his native Urhobo language, he also spoke Itsekiri and Ukwuani fluently. Of other Nigerian languages, he knew and spoke enough to make banters in Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Ijaw, Fulfulde, Esan, Afenmai, Etsako, Tiv, Nupe languages; and communicated fully to cause affectionate laughter in every social occasion!
But he had a particularly romantic attachment to Greco-Roman languages. His study of Philosophy, Latin and Classics at the seminary gave him a thorough understanding of the combined cultures of ancient Greece and ancient Rome and their languages — Latin and Greek. Uncle Ted loved his Latin, and the complete, unadulterated Catholic Latin Mass was the ultimate communion with the Lord for him. He used to fondly tell me that Latin and Greek were the languages of the gods; languages of intellectual culture, public policy and management; the very foundation of civilization itself.
And you know what? He was right. When touched by social events and when he was in his elements; and he was inspired to turn on his deep, supple and seductive voice to sing his favourite Latin hymns, the aura and the sheer mystique of his rendition used to carry me so far away into the sub-conscious; it would seem I was on my way to heaven itself! Yes, Uncle Ted was right. Surely, that language he sang in that made me drift into the stars must be the language of the gods!!
True, life is but a stopping place, a pause in what is to be, a resting place along the road to sweet eternity. But this was not a transient place as death looked very, very far away for Uncle Ted. Until his very last days on earth, he still maintained his static cycling routine, still went to work regularly, still had his clothes dry-cleaned, still churned out brilliant copy and remained mentally sharp to the extent that he still made incisive and coherent social commentaries on national issues.
A life so full, so colourful, so exciting
So Uncle Ted made his life so full, so colourful, so exciting and so packed with fond memories that the documentation and celebration of his landmark contributions and his great intellectual treasures here on earth would occupy another ifetime!
So occupied with living, he had a particular disdain for any reminder on the frailties of old age and would retort with that sharp intellect of his: “ Dan o, Dan! I am not about to die anytime soon, you know”! That’s why even on that sick bed on the 6th of March, he had that firm grip that suggested he was not about to go anywhere soon. But not this time. Uncle Ted did not live to write a good script and make a loud joke out of this one trip to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
By the morning of the 7th of March, the great Uncle Ted had passed on to the great beyond.
Even now, after that firm grip to say good bye; I can just now even as I write,recall Uncle Ted’s usual banter and avuncular admonition to us all:
“..Oh, please …come off it.
Don’t feel abandoned…it was just my time to go
I see you are still feeling sad,
And the tears won’t cease to flow,
I haven’t really left you, even though it may seem so;
I have just gone to my heavenly home,
And I am closer to you than you know,
In my prayers, in my works, in my integrity,
In my ever-present warmth and loud smiles,
I leave with you a legacy to share for forever ! “
May his soul find eternal rest in the bosom of the Lord.