BitDepth 782 - May 17

Remembering Allyson Hennessy, broadcaster and citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.
Thank you, Allyson
Allyson Hennessy, photographed for The Box. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

In one of those curious twists and turns of life, all my encounters with Allyson Hennessy over the last three decades were professional and brief. I spent far more time working with her sisters Sheelagh Besson and Rosemary Hezekiah in their respective businesses, but Allyson was the coin that always turned up right when she was needed.

Seeing the four sisters together, Allyson, Sheelagh, Rosemary and Judy, you have to wonder, and I certainly did, what kinds of bacchanal those four attractive women must have been stirring up in Port of Spain when they were young and what kind of leash their mother, Toddy, must have used to keep them on the straight and narrow.

The very first time I appeared on Community Dateline, no doubt on some photography related mission, I took the surreal journey from the sixties styled waiting area, though dimly lit corridors, through heavy doors and into the huge TTT studio, where the debris of unused sets provided a chaotic boundary to the brilliant campfire light of the neat Dateline set, aglow with carefully directed lighting.

I sat on the plush couch during the advertising break while Hennessy consulted with the director, thumbed through notes and cast an eye across at me as I fiddled with the lapel mike and its uncomfortable threading of wire through my shirt.

“So Mark, eh,” she said with an appraising cock of an eyebrow before she smiled, “nice pictures.”
I was surprised. At the time, most of the work I was doing was either for advertising agencies or for the theatre and that work was mainly viewed as lobby portraits for the productions I was working on.

The idea that anyone was paying any attention to that work was flattering, but this was Allyson Hennessy; someone I’d grown up watching on television.
In today’s ecosystem of media migration and corporate communications ascendancy, careers in this business are measured in years, so someone staying in the business for more than four decades is almost impossible to comprehend.

It’s also worth noting that unlike almost all of her broadcast peers at TTT, Allyson Hennessy was still a working media professional when she passed away, the senior presenter on GayelleTV’s morning show for women, a career that had been spent mostly at Trinidad and Tobago Television, then at NCC4 and finally, at GayelleTV.

For that show, surprisingly, Hennessy took off her self-imposed gloves of neutrality and began offering opinions on a television talk show. This was a woman who was always seemed game for a new challenge and approached it with feisty enthusiasm.
Hennessy cared about the country she lived in and more specifically, the people who populated it. When the long disbanded Photographic Industries Association (which I served as an executive member) declared a National Photo Month in the 1980’s, she made time available weekly during the month on Dateline for photographers to natter on about their business and craft.

Along with large swaths of Trinidad and Tobago, I owed Hennessy for being so generous with precious television airtime, particularly in an era in which TTT was the only television station in town.
It was a responsibility she took seriously. At the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association awards dinner in 2009, she cheerfully chastised the media managers present for not training their staff and insisting on higher standards, a tongue-lashing with a smile that her audience acknowledged with good humour.

It wouldn’t be until November last year that I finally had an opportunity to photograph the reluctant model and Hennessy spent the entire time fussing over her friend Sharda Ramlakhan, who uses a wheelchair, ensuring that her access to my studio was as comfortable as possible.
Weeks after that, I saw her across the room at a particularly loud event at Veni Mange. She swept her palm up from her breastbone to her chin and gave me a nod and an approving smile, alluding to some retouching I had done on her photos. I smiled back and gave her a little curtsey. It seemed the right thing to do for broadcast royalty.

Read more about early TTT here:
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