The Anglo-Ethiopian Society
Lecture - Tuesday 7th November 2006
Addis in the 60’s (and a bit of the 50’s)
Given by - Graham Tayar
Reviewed by - Julian Kay
In early November 2006 Graham Tayar accounted to the Society some of his personal reminiscences of Ethiopia (particularly Addis Ababa) in the 1950s and 60s. He had gone there in 1959 to be a teacher in a government secondary school. A bearded horn-rimmed spectacled young man of 26, he was met at the old airport in Addis by his new headmaster, Mr Geoffrey Last (also bearded with horn-rimmed spectacles). By driving him around the city and its beautiful rural surroundings, the headmaster had provided his new member of staff with a sudden surprising taste of paradise.
It is easy to forget that Graham Tayar is one of the Society’s heroes to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. During the troubles which affected the Society in the mid 1970s, arising from the violent change of regime in Ethiopia, there were many members – good, decent sincere people – who wanted the Society to fold up since the continuation of it would imply some approval of the new regime. The members who stood in opposition to this course of action were led by Graham Tayar (and our former President, Jim Randell) and others.
The speaker’s account of British community life in Addis in the 1950s and 60s was such a happy ramble, indeed a merry romp punctuated by indistinct and barely intelligible snatches of song by Pat Hutton and Jim Marshall (the Flanders and Swann of the British community) – morning coffee, beer at the Ras Itegue and Ghion, tennis at the Embassy (where Tayar partnered Sir Dennis Wright), golf and the golf-club. That was the daytime. In the evening there were so many parties and night clubs to attend. What a change from Birmingham!
Though he was answered in no uncertain terms by John Hester who chaired the meeting, Befekadu Tsehai could well be forgiven for asking the speaker, “Did you do any work”?
In 1963 Addis Ababa had become the headquarters of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and Graham Tayar was becoming a journalist. In Addis he was the local representative of the Observer, Mail, and Telegraph no less. He was to have ample opportunities for meeting statesmen and personalities of all kinds.
At the meeting to establish the OAU Haile Selassie asked Graham (whom he met on several occasions) how he had acquired his ability in Amharic. He also met President Kennedy’s brother-in-law Sargent Shriver emerging from the shower dressed only in his underpants. Then there is Golda Meir, Joshua Nkoma of Zimbabwe, Richard Beeston, Leonard Mosley and Colin Legum (one of our former members).
Later Graham became a radio presenter with Radio Voice of the Gospel (a Lutheran station) and ran a programme Talk of the Town. He recounted the story of the redoubtable Clarissa Burgoyne whom he met when she was in her late sixties blowing a hunting horn at Lake Haik where she had found the grave of her husband who had fallen in battle against the Italians.
He talked about the force 7 earthquake which followed the failure of the coup by the Imperial Bodyguard against the Emperor in 1960. Half the population believed it was to punish the rebels, whilst the other half felt it was God’s disproval of the Ethiopian people for not allowing the revolt to succeed.
Graham also brought along a selection of souvenirs and books he had acquired during his stay in Ethiopia. A lively question and answer session concluded a highly enjoyable evening.