Behind the Scenes: Radio-Plays in Sri Lanka in the 1970s and 1980s

David Graham

I’m still getting used to thinking of Chris Greet as an Anglo-Indian.** I’d always assumed he’d been born in Ceylon and was a Burgher. Christopher Arthur Greet was my boss at Intasel Advertising from April 10, 1978 to September 30, 1978. He was the account director at Intasel, the startup founded by Mil Sansoni and Gareth Jayawardena after they left Grant Advertising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As an account executive, I reported to Chris. I remember him celebrating his 46th birthday at Intasel (he was born June 12, 1932). The agency was on the ground floor of the Girl’s Friendly Society building at 60 Green Path, a few doors down from my dad’s old office at 72 Green Path, Colombo 7.

Having left Intasel at the end of September 1978, I started work as an account representative at Thompson Associates (Ceylon) Ltd on Monday, October 2. One of my first projects at my new agency was the publicity campaign for Rampage (1978), a film about a homicidal elephant. It starred Gamini Fonseka, James Drake, Nathan Katz, Mary Tamm and Christopher Greet. Also in the movie was a dude named Jean-Pierre Hautin, who worked at the French Embassy and who I recalled from my days at Masters Advertising. I still remember the movie’s tagline: “Can an elephant plan and execute a murder?”

The director, that stubby impresario Manik Sandrasagara, had wanted Bob Harvie to voice a radio spot advertising the movie. And the commercial needed to begin and end with the sound effects of the elephant trumpeting. I had to go to the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) on Buller’s Road with the 35mm movie reels, run them on a tape deck, and use bits of paper to mark the spots where the elephant trumpets.

The producer, an SLBC veteran named Deen, left me alone in a soundproofed booth. He’d handed me a hefty professional-grade tape deck with minimal instructions on how to operate it. Two frantic hours later, having finally completed my task, I gave the reels to Mr. Deen. I stepped out of that sound studio feeling like a free man. And there in the SLBC lobby was none other than Chris Greet, serenely puffing away on a cigarette.

Chris greeted me cordially and said he was there to voice a commercial for one of Intasel’s clients. He asked what I was doing there and I told him about trying to mark the spots in the movie reels where the renegade elephant trumpets angrily. That’s when Chris Greet told me that the pachyderm had been less than cooperative during the filming of Rampage. The beast had failed to trumpet on cue. And so, said Chris, “I made those sounds with my mouth and Manik recorded them. We did that in postproduction.”

Came the day we had to record the radio spot. Bob Harvie, brusque, bumptious and in a hurry (“I have a meeting with the Olympic committee”) read the spot. Mr. Deen the SLBC producer said it ran a bit too long. So Harvie read it again. This time it came in under 60 seconds. I was a green kid. This was my first radio spot. I had no idea what Mr. Deen meant when he asked, “Shall we dub?” I said sure with all the insouciance of youth, not realizing the implications of what I’d just officially approved as the client’s representative.

A few days later Christopher (Toffer) Rodriguez, Manik’s executive producer, called and said that Bob Harvie had omitted the crucial words “Now at the Savoy” when he recorded the 60-second radio spot for Rampage. I had intimations of an imminent catastrophe. And then Toffer chuckled and reassured me, saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll shape it.” He was using the verb shape in that peculiarly Sri Lankan sense, meaning to make a problem go away.

It turned out that Toffer’s family knew my family from way back when. His mom’s sister–Barbara Edrisinghe, a gemmologist of stellar repute–was married to someone my dad and his siblings had grown up with in Kalutara. Toffer had met my dad’s sister Alice in Kandy and spoke of her familiarly as Auntie Alice. Anyway, that welcome bit of nepotistic good fortune saved my hide. I have no idea what effect my lapse had on Manik Sandrasagra’s box office receipts.

 

David Graham

Manik Sandrasagara

 Manik…. typically Manik

I saw Chris Greet’s sister Averill just once. She was at Greg Roszkowski’s funeral (this must have been either in the late 1970s or early 1980s). She had salt-and-pepper hair and must have been in her late fifties. Damned handsome woman, I must say. I just looked her up and learned that she’d died in England in September 2013, aged 90.

Incidentally, Christopher Greet was in Funny Bones (1995) a movie that starred Jerry Lewis, Oliver Platt, Leslie Caron and Oliver Reed. Chris Greet shows up quite prominently in the Funny Bones trailer: …………………………….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EE1wCo3N6As

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** David Graham is referring here to recent items in Thuppahi which marked the entry into the social scene in British Ceylon of some Anglo-Indian lineages, namely, the Paynters and Greets. SEE

“Anglo-Ceylonese”: A Missing Dimension in British Ceylon

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One response to “Behind the Scenes: Radio-Plays in Sri Lanka in the 1970s and 1980s

  1. K. K. De Silva

    Manik Sandrasagara studied at St. Aloysius College , Galle for a few years. He was a person with a colourful personality & came into prominence as a film producer / director. Later in life, he was alleged to have been involved in an unfortunate incident in the UK, which marred his illustrious past & gave rise to a lot of speculation.

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