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Nigeria

In 1983 I was asked by the Nigerian Television Authority if I would go to Lagos to set up a Writers’ Television Workshop, which was to be funded by the World Bank in Washington D.C. This particular offer gave me a lot of concerns for at that time the political regime in the country was a military dictatorship, headed by a despot by the name of General Abacha.

However, despite the fact that his government had an iron grip on the national television network there, the goal of the project was a very worthwhile one, namely to bring together new writers from among the many ethnic tribes that make up that vast, tragically undisciplined country. After a great number of discussions with family, friends, and working colleagues in the UK, I accepted the offer, and flew to Lagos for what turned out to be the most harrowing and exhausting ordeal of my career. Little did I know that I was stepping into a minefield of street crime and chaos, right from the time when I was accosted by Customs officials on arrival at the airport who greeted me with threatening demands of ‘Anything for me?’ Once outside the airport entrance, the anxiety turned into fear, as I found no one from the television authority to meet me, only a gang of thugs who tried to mug me right there and then in the dark of the airport waiting area. And that was just the start.

The stories I have to tell about my time in Nigeria would fill a book in itself, and so I will leave that to any of you who are interested enough to want to know, please contact me some time. All I will say at this stage is that although working in such a country at that time was little short of a nightmare, the people I worked with were kind, considerate, protective, and dedicated to help build their television network output into something worthwhile. After my first few months there, I was once again relieved to be joined by David Spenser, who had joined me to direct the pilot episode of a drama series created by myself, but written in the writers’ workshop by my students.

The series, called 'TALES BY MOONLIGHT', was based on old Nigerian folk tales, the origins of which were taken from different ethnic groups around the country, and set in a jungle village, where an elder known as ‘Auntie’ told the tales each night in the dark to a group of village children around a crackling bonfire. It was an enchanting setting for the stories, which were then dramatised in the studios of NTA in Lagos in a delightful directing style conceived by David Spenser. When broadcast, the show became an instant nationwide success, and is in fact still being aired today after over a thousand programmes.

During the course of the next few years, David and I returned to Nigeria, setting up workshops for both producers and directors, and helping them to conceive new drama series. We also toured the country with our Nigerian producers and directors, searching for suitable locations for future shows, all the time carefully watched by the military authorities, who were suspicious of our every move. To my great relief, our involvement on the World Bank project came to an end in 1989. Some of the photographs I am including on this page will give you at least some of the flavour of what was quite a dramatic time in my life.