Wartime flying ace, BBC producer, international adviser and distinguished diplomat – Ulric Cross certainly covered a lot of ground in his career.
If his name isn’t better known then that’s because, sportsmen and musicians apart, we haven’t been very good at honouring our recent heroes.
Frances-Anne Solomon hopes to change all that. She’s the director and producer of a film about Cross that’s currently in production. Its title says it all: Hero.
It is, admits Solomon, of necessity a low-budget production, but that hasn’t limited her ambition, for the filming is likely to take place on three continents. Scenes have already been shot in Trinidad; the production is about to move to the UK, and it’s hoped that some shooting can take place in Ghana.
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Ulric Cross’s life parallels the modern history of Trinidad and Tobago. He was born in 1917, at the height of British colonial rule, and was 22 years old when the Second World War broke out. He joined the Royal Air Force and by the time the war ended in 1945 he had become the most decorated serviceman in the Caribbean.
He swapped his flying gear for a completely different kind of challenge: talks producer at the BBC. At this time, output was still live, so the strong nerves he’d developed in the air doubtless came in handy while on air. It was a good position from which to observe the drama unfolding in Africa as the urge for independence became irresistible and the pan-African movement took off.
In 1957, the Gold Coast became the first of Britain’s African colonies to gain independence and Cross went out as legal adviser to Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah. He played a similar role in Cameroon and Tanzania, helping to set up the countries’ courts and justice systems. He eventually went back to Trinidad, but in the 1990s returned to London as T&T high commissioner to the UK.
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With such a long and varied career, his life intersected with those of many other Caribbean and African ‘heroes’, such as C L R James, Learie Constantine, George Padmore, and Presidents Nkrumah and Nyerere.
After shooting interviews, archive footage and re-enactments in Trinidad, the Hero team have moved to the UK phase, which was officially launched at the Trinidad & Tobago High Commission on 12th June. Filming will start in October.
At the launch, Eastenders actor Rudolph Walker stressed the importance of the film: “We need a deep sense of patriotism to be returned – in our schools, in our institutions, to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.” He continued: “Our students don’t really know their stories. It’s very important to recognise this hero in the person of Ulric Cross.”
Ulric’s nephew, Sir Felix Cross, gave a warm, personal account of his uncle, emphasising “his innate sense of fairness, his tolerance”. He pointed out that his life mirrored the progress of Trinidad itself.
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This positivity was a theme taken up by Solomon, who was cheered when she said: “I’m sick to death at seeing the images put out about us – portraying us as thugs, prostitutes, drug addicts…” Unfortunately, such negative stereotypes are free, whereas positive images come at a cost, so Solomon appealed for more partners to come on board the project, joining title sponsor Republic Bank. It’s not just about money, though: “We’re looking for actors, crew, marketing, equipment.” There’s also a shortage of archive material that covers the lives of middle class Trinidadians in the colonial era.
However, Solomon noted, in the absence of a Hollywood-size budget, the biggest challenge is to get an audience. It can only be done at grassroots levels, through schools, social media, word of mouth, mutual support and networking. And that, surely, is the essence of T&T’s motto: “Together we aspire, together we achieve”.