Throughout my entire childhood, there are several people whose careers and persona had a great deal of impact in my life. Among all these, four individuals stand out as the constant reminders that I will forever miss the days when I was younger.
First was the pope because he came to Ugandan in the 90s and my parents seemed to worship the very ground he walked on. I adored everything they adored – the pope was one of them. We were dragged to church every single Sunday because Catholic parents were not about to let their children grow into religious weeds when there was a wall hanging of Pope John Paul II in the house.
The second person who made my childhood one heck of a wonderful experience was John James Rambo. The Lone Wolf was a great part of my childhood because he inspired some of the recklessness and adventure that my childhood was littered with. He single handedly made me want to grow big muscles, join the army and battle with insurgents while smeared in mud and sweat. I have not grown big muscles and I am not (yet) enrolled in the army but a good chunk of my childhood was focused on doing exactly that.
The third person whose life somewhat defined mine was French actor and former Manchester United captain Eric Cantona. The Frenchman was part of the reason I started supporting Manchester United in the early 90s. With his upturned collar, interesting goal celebrations and eccentricity on and off the pitch, this guy was my role model. In 1993 he helped Manchester United win the inaugural Premier League title by a sweet 10 points, making it the first time since 1967 that United was winning the English top division title.
The fourth person who made my childhood sparkle was renowned Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) newscaster Bbale Francis who unfortunately passed away on the morning of Thursday 2nd April at Mulago Cancer Institute after battling with cancer for quite a while. The veteran journalist can best be described as one of the most outstanding voices and faces of the Ugandan news scene for the past three decades or so. With perfect English, a unique accent, wonderful intonation and unmatched composure in front of the screen and microphone, Bbale Francis curved out a personality as the custodian of news in Uganda.
He may have passed away, just as so many wonderful things from the 80s and 90s are no more but Bbale Francis represents a part of my life that I will always hold dear. He alone made sure that certain things remain etched in my mind. Whenever I remember him, I remember them; and whenever I remember them, I remember him.
The Black and White TV
While owning a TV in the early 90s was a reserve of not-so-many households, owning a colour TV set was the real mark of a successful family. In the mid 80s my dad purchased a large wooden-framed Black and White Phillips TV with the a rather hard knob for a tuner. For nearly a decade, this was the altar at which we worshiped the TV stars of the late 80s and early 90s. This was the prized possession on which we watched Pingu, Mr. Bean, Rambo on UTV and of course the Ten o’clock news with Bbale Francis. This was the magic box that introduced us to MCM Africa, Sanyu TV, CTV and Lighthouse TV. When we later acquired a colour TV set, there was a bit of daily excitement in the house as we would often place bets on which shirt, tie or coat colour Bbale Francis would wear for the news broadcast that night. The colour TV made us realise that Rambo actually wore green army pants and not grey – as suggested by the good old Phillips. The colour TV also brought with it several interesting things like the VHS player and the Terminator Video game which were game changers not just at home but also at school where we exchanged stores about what we owned in our homes.The glorious vintage 20 inch Black and White Philips TV
The ‘No-Tv’ rule
Every family has had to have the no-TV rule at certain times for the good of the young folk and students of the family. In my family, there was a rule – all children went to bed immediately after the 10 O’clock news, save for Sunday when we stayed up until after the news to watch the beloved ‘That’s Life Mwattu’. On Sunday, the TV was locked up until 2.30pm when it was time for Zoom Club on Sanyu TV. Basically, there was an unwritten timetable for TV viewing. On some unfortunate Sundays, our dad would have the TV taken to his bedroom from whence he would exclusively enjoy watching the TV with his wife while their children gathered in a collection of green eyed little jealous fellas a few bedrooms away. Such sadness! On such Sundays, we would gather in the children’s bedroom and direct our anger at the next school day; we’d complain about school, come up with nicknames for teachers and basically plan to ruin everyone else’s Monday. We would then quietly and sadly slide into our beds, fully aware that we would only have to learn of what happened between Nakawunde, Dick and Dr. Bbosa from narration at school. A narration by a useless and boastful child from a TV-owning family can be a pain. Instead of telling you what Mr. Lindo did, he would venture into explaining how a TV remote works and how it was the coolest thing after the then popular game boys. We really suffered!
Oh the harsh house rules!
The News! Eh!
From when I was little, my parents used to ‘force’ us to watch the news. We would then unwillingly drink in all the news and unconsciously stay in the know of things that were happening around the world, without even wanting to. We obviously preferred more interesting things like re-watching Jungle Book, Lion King and Commando as well as watch the final program on TV before UTV shut down. Yes; once upon a time UTV aired between 5pm and midnight. After that, the National Anthem played and there was nothing! News was a boring prospect but somehow we had to deal with it if we wanted to be in good books with the old man. Along the way, we began to unconsciously get used to it and so whenever Bbale Francis’ voice bounced off the TV and echoed around the living room, we were ready to see what new things the president had gotten up to and which district was launching a new Farmers’ program or which Ministry had held a press conference to announce a new Government project. It was fun, it its own way. The change over form Black and white viewing to full colour viewing did little to change the nonchalance at bulletin time but it gave a little more colour to the whole thing.
For a person with a TV and Radio news career that stretched well over two decades, there is nothing that can be done to replace him. The one thing however that puts a smile on one’s face is that while Bbale Francis as a person may not be with us, his legacy still lives on. It lives on through the numerous young people he trained, taught, mentored and inspired to get infront of the camera and the microphone to read us the news.
Bbale Francis was for many years tasked with reading out names of people who the country looked at as heroes on National TV but I would like to confidently say that Bbale Francis is another of them; the heroes. He may not have wielded a gun, owned several millions in cash or commanded a celebrity like following but Bbale Francis was and is a hero to the bone!
Until we meet again Bbale Francis. Fare thee well comrade.
We relish news of our heroes, forgetting that we are extraordinary to somebody too. – Helen Hayes
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