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Saturday, 22 June, 2002, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
A life less ordinary
Hugh Crosskill
A broadcaster with style and spirit

Hugh Crosskill was, without either doubt or even the hint of exaggeration, as complete a broadcaster as I've known.

He had a voice and an accent as sweet and as smooth as the famous Tia Maria liqueur of his beloved Jamaica, a command of the English language as flawless as an Oxford don's, and a knowledge and understanding of everything West Indian as deep as any encyclopaedia.


He was as comfortable describing a Test match at Sabina Park as he was interviewing heads of state

Athletically tall, with handsome good looks, he also possessed a commanding presence, enhanced by the charm of his modesty.

It is an analogy he would surely take as sacrilege, for he revered nothing more than West Indies cricket on which he commentated with style and spirit. But I will make it all the same and in complete sincerity. He was an all-round journalist in the Gary Sobers class.

In one of the numerous tributes that have poured in since his tragic, premature and violent death in Kingston, aged 47, the Society of Journalists and Media Persons in Barbados called him "one of journalism's rare gems".

He was as comfortable describing a Test match at Sabina Park or a Jamaican medal at the Olympics as he was interviewing heads of state or hosting radio call-in programmes in the politically passionate environment of Jamaica.

Hugh Crosskill was the West Indian equivalent of those giants of British broadcasting - Robin Day, David Dimbleby and David Frost - except Day, Dimbleby and Frost were never part of the Test Match Special team.

Yet it was all too good to be true.

For reasons not even the most highly qualified psychiatrists can properly explain, Hugh was a victim of the drug addiction that has destroyed so many of our finest Caribbean people.

Career's zenith

The demons first took over when he was at the zenith of his career - head of the BBC Caribbean Service, having graduated through the sports department of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) and the Caribbean News Agency radio service in Barbados, of which he was the first head.

He fought his evil habit long and hard and with the support of friends and family.

He spent several months at the same rehabilitation centre in Cuba where another supremely gifted individual, the footballer Diego Maradona, was being treated for his similar cocaine dependency.

Hugh won several minor battles but could not fully conquer the enemy.

He returned to Jamaica to various posts at several radio stations, and was able to speak openly on air about his problem and issue fervent warnings against yielding to the same temptations that had dragged him down.

But just when he had bounced off the ropes and seemed strong again, he would be knocked to the floor one more time - or, to be more brutally and literally frank, to the gutter.

I have had colleagues weep as they described his condition in his bad times to me on my regular visits to Jamaica for cricket.

Cricketer's son

The last time I saw Hugh was two years ago, at Sabina Park, enchanting his listeners with descriptions of a regional match between Jamaica and Barbados. He was the old Hugh then, as he was last year when I only spoke to him on the phone.

But, for the last few months of his turbulent life, he was someone else.

Born in England, Hugh Crosskill was the eldest of four sons of an English woman and one of the West Indian cricketers who played in the professional English leagues after the war.

Hugh went straight into radio at the JBC on leaving Jamaica College and, aged 22, was covering the 1976 Montreal Olympics and rejoicing in Jamaican Don Quarrie's gold medal in the 200 metres.

I first met him soon after that when he joined the JBC radio commentary panel for regional and international cricket at Sabina, sharing the microphone with his father, Hugh Senior, who provided the expert comment.

Inevitably, Hugh was soon travelling the Caribbean as part of the regional radio team, a couple of times staying Chez Cozier to save frugal West Indian stations a little money. It was a most agreeable arrangement for Hugh delighted myself and my wife with his company.

Rare ability

But cricket, as vital as it was to West Indians, was too confining for one whose abilities were soon apparent to everyone in the business.

When the Caribbean News Agency decided to add a radio arm to its operations in Barbados in 1984, he was given the task of heading it. Right away, it established itself as an efficient, credible and stimulating addition.

Recognising such rare ability, the BBC recruited him in 1988 to develop its daily Caribbean Report out of Bush House in London.

It quickly became compulsory listening throughout the region as a source of insightful information and entertainment. Within a few years, Hugh was head of the Caribbean Service.

Seemingly settled with his wife, Jillian, and family, a career of limitless possibilities lay before him. But it was then that his destructive, and inexplicable, habit took hold.

In the end, it would lead to his death by a single shot from a security guard's gun in a Kingston clinic.

Fortunately, his younger brother, Simon, now sports editor at Radio Jamaica, remains to preserve his memory with his own crisp and informed descriptions of cricket and football on Caribbean airwaves.

It is, at least, welcome consolation.

See also:

09 Jun 02 | Americas
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