Heard the one about the kid with a bad stammer who went on to become a celebrated radio broadcaster? Sounds like the set up for a bad joke but it actually happened.
The man in question is Joseph ‘Reds’ Perreira, the veteran sports broadcaster who has informed and entertained around the Caribbean for nearly half a century.
We’re in Angitua sitting in the upstairs lounge of the Sticky Wicket at the Stanford Cricket Ground the day before Cayman play St Lucia and Reds is reflecting on a glorious career that has seen him travel all over.
‘I’ve had the great honour and pleasure thanks to a lot of people to cover 145 Test matches,’ he beams. ‘I’m still doing some first-class cricket. The Caribbean Media Corporation maybe thinks I’m past it. It’s their decision, not mine.’
Reds is 68 and still razor sharp. His photographic memory is uncanny to the point of remembering London telephone numbers and addresses when he lived there for a while in the Sixties. But the lure of Caribbean cricket drew him back.
‘I really enjoyed it during the time when West Indies were winning. Some very great players and they were nice too. Players who you could socialize with. For someone who has come from a very humble background in Guyana… I came from a river area called Essequibo where you paddled and as a young boy I stammered very badly. Stammering affected my education. The only two pieces of paper I have to my name is baptism and birth. I have a degree in streetology. So I’ve had to self educate myself. I’ve had to read and watch, listen and travel as much as possible.’
Perreira is grateful to his mother for encouraging his broadcasting skills as a teenager. He used to lie in bed and reel off imaginary cricket commentaries to her delight. He would listen on the radio to great cricket analysts of the day like John Arlott and Brian Johnstone and copy them. Mega boxing fights from Madison Square Garden on a cackling radio were also a source of inspiration. He especially remembers the Randolph Turpin rematch with Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951. ‘Turpin (an Englishman) had a Guyanese background so I remember that. I also used to do imaginary football matches between Brazil and England. This was all therapy. I suppose I started my journalism in bed.’
Around 1960, Trinidad went to Guyana to play and Barbados were playing Jamaica at Borda. They had to send a second commentary team for the Trinidad-Guyana game. It was the first match of Deryck Murray and Charlie Davis. Reds got his big break despite still stammering and managed to make a success of it. ‘My stammering was so bad that I could not go to a dance at 16, 17 years of age and ask a young lady to dance because by the time I’d said: ‘Mmmmmay I have this dddddance?’ Nat King Cole would have finished singing!’
He taught himself to overcome the stammer and by 1962 went to England, working for the BBC World Service for five years. Keen on football, he did a spell of pre-season training with Chelsea and Arsenal learning to be a goalkeeping coach and got to know the likes of Dave Sexton, Peter Bonetti, Bob Wilson and Bertie Mee.
During his spell in England, Reds was also sports convenor at the West Indies Students Centre in Earls Court, London which gave him practice in planning and administration. He ran a football and cricket team. They played table tennis and had bridge evenings. David Simmons, Chief Justice of Barbados, was the cricket captain. Lester Bird, Antigua’s former prime minister, was also a buddy.
In 1967 Reds returned to Guyana but could not get broadcasting work so sold Coca Cola instead. A year later he got into the Guyana Broadcasting Service under Hugh Chummondeley. Tired of the office politics there he decided to move on after four years.
‘It was time to go. I’d made my mark. I love sport; I played football, cricket, volleyball and was a walker. I actually walked 69 miles from Georgetown to another town in 24 hours. Not for charity, just to prove a point to myself.’
Perreira’s next big assignment was working for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation to cover the George Foreman-‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier heavyweight title clash in Kingston. It was billed as ‘Sunshine Showdown’. Foreman was fearsome that night, smashing Frazier about for two rounds. With lots of air time left, Perreira seized on the opportunity and interviewed all the celebs ringside including Harry Carpenter, Bob Foster, Angelo Dundee, Jimmy Ellis and Thad Spencer. Reds and a colleague were able to put on a 45 minute programme that night using soundbites from all the ringsiders.
His next significant job was sports adviser to Minister of Sport Shirley Field-Ridley, the former wife of ex-Jamaica PM PJ Patterson. That lasted to 1978 before getting contracted to work for Kerry Packer in World Series Cricket in Australia. He still managed to do the sports advising on a voluntary basis.
‘I covered the West Indies tour of Australia, the first time we won in 1979-80 and then I did that very bad tour of New Zealand where the umpiring was terrible. It forced people like Michael Holding and Colin Croft to react in a very negative way.’
An enjoyable stint covering netball in Trinidad was fitted in. ‘I learnt a great deal from that and added another discipline to my repertoire of broadcasting.’
He went to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984 and got asked to head the sports desk at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States for the Leeward and Windward Islands. ‘My responsibility was the BVI right down to Grenada. I caught LIAT like how you would catch a bus.’ UNESCO paid for the desk but they didn’t give him any money for sponsorship so he had to generate it himself by raising funds in the private sector which he managed to keep going for 12 years. He stepped down in 1996 but the program continues.
Perreira had a life-changing experience on New Year’s Day 1996. He had gone to bed the previous night in perfect health but woke up the next day suffering from a stroke. ‘West Indies were playing Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground and instead of going to the match I woke up going to hospital. I think I must have pushed the envelope a little too hard. I was never a smoker and only drank socially so wasn’t a candidate for a stroke. They know that it was a blockage in the back of the head but couldn’t tie it down to any special thing. But these things happen and you just have to fight back.’
Hospitalised for seven weeks, learning to walk again, by the time he returned home to St Lucia he needed a wheelchair. From that experience he started a sports foundation in Guyana, putting in $10,000. Four months after the stroke he was broadcasting again for the OECS, being ferried around because driving was impossible. ‘All my neighbours formed a car pool and I just went to work for four hours. Slowly but surely, I recouped. My foundation uses cricketers for clinics and talks. I’ve had Gordon Greenidge coaching, Sir Everton Weekes and the late Clyde Walcott talking about their careers, Wesley Hall and Lance Gibbs.’ He’s also had the pleasure of seeing Guyana win the Stanford 20/20 in the first tournament and the likes of Shivnarine Chanderpaul evolve from promising junior in Guyana to accomplished Test batsman.
Work now is for the St Lucia Tourist Board in the sports tourism department. Last year sports tourism in St Lucia generated over $1m and this year they’ve already got 11 school cricket teams from overseas planned. At the end of February St Lucia is hosting the Golden Oldies, over 50 cricket amateurs from all over the world. Perreira gives his time to unemployed and poor people now ‘so that not only do they become champions but so that they become better people’.
He has seen some remarkable achievements over the years, one being how Roy Fredericks built a successful career as a Guyanese and West Indies all rounder.
‘Roy only got in the Guyana team because he was at the ground when the original person selected fell sick and the stand-by opener was absent. Roy had played in the trial matches and still had his gear with him and hadn’t gone back to Berbice. He played for Guyana and never looked back. Had that opportunity missed him he may never have gone on to have a successful career.’
Perreira has a connection with Cayman. He has only been here a couple of times. The last time was to cover a netball tournament. Compass columnist and arts maestro Dave Martins is a cousin. ‘I was only able to see him briefly as he was going away but he left me his whole house. He has a great passion not only for music but also cricket.’
Perreira is married for the second time. They have one daughter, Kimberly, 13. He is very proud that she can name all the areas on a cricket field and identify bowlers and batsmen. ‘She knows what’s a wide and a no ball. She’s done extremely well. I’m delighted when I hear her talking about the game and tells me the score.
‘I’ve been very lucky. From not having any qualifications I’ve been extremely lucky. Whenever you feel you’re successful, just think of who has helped you. Nobody gets anywhere in life by themselves. It’s people who give you an opportunity. You have to take advantage of that, live a disciplined life, get on and respect people. But you have to have a real interest, passion for what you do.’