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One cultural icon whom we might emulate

The man often described as the most prolific documentalist –– photographically –– of Barbadian personages and proceedings, and being among the strictest of guardians of the Barbadian calypso, we must most regrettably now say a final goodbye to.

The celebrated cinematographer, videographer and still photographer Peter Roy Marsden Byer, just three short years ago –– on December 24, his birthday –– formally retired at 65 from the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) after nigh four decades of being the declared standard bearer for many a young professional at the Bay Street media house and beyond its gates.

Within the time frame of 40 years, Peter Roy would have photographed thousands of people –– from Royalty to presidents, to prime ministers, to Joe Bloggs. Through his well maintained and guarded lenses, he would have captured for posterity memorable moments and occasions of the social, political and cultural landscape of Barbados, time and time again.

The name Peter Roy Byer would become synonymous with Barbados Government Information Service documentaries aired on CBCTV 8 over the years, his cinematic precision and pictorial self-editing laid bare for all to see. Mr Byer’s photographic skills and talent would be noted over the years in such BGIS productions as Journal 5, Agroscope, On Camera
and the award-winning documentary Freedom Is that chronicled the history of the first “free village” in Barbados –– at Rock Hall in St Thomas.

Peter Roy was the perfectionist; but he never assumed his earned expertise was solely of his making. He had often publicly credited his knowledge and proficiency in his cinematic profession to acclaimed fellow photographers the late Richard Barnett, Willie Alleyne, the late Paul Mandeville, Gordon Brooks and the late Cyprian LaTouche Junior.

Born on Christmas Eve, 1945, Peter Roy’s passion for photography started at an early age –– rivalled only by his love of calypso music. Mr Byer once boasted that his two greatest extra-curricular interests while at school –– and his classmates knew it –– were his picture taking and the calypso beat.

In later years, Mr Byer would assist in calypso tents and, as was his wont, would offer calypsonians advice on their songwriting and performance. But it was in 1987 that he took the formal plunge, establishing the Gladiators Calypso Tent –– subsequently renamed Kingdom Of Super Gladiators –– which he would finance and manage for over 25 years. This after helping to form the once popular Battlefield Calypso Tent.

What happens now to the Kingdom Of Super Gladiators at De Village Gate at Waterford, St Michael, on the passing of its creator is left to be seen –– but there is every good wish for its continuance.

Holding calypso to be “the best music genre in the world”, Peter Roy sought to instil the best principles of its writing and performance by having many workshops over the years at his Waterford base, enlisting the services of some of the very best practitioners of the art form; and panel discussions on calypso itself –– for a greater understanding and appreciation of the genre –– were a feature annually. Mr Byer’s invaluable contribution to the development and sustenance of the art form could hardly have gone unnoticed.

Peter Roy, who believed strongly that calypso was storytelling put to music, and that there were quite a number of good storytellers, sought wherever he could to facilitate such performance and presentation. But he pulled no punches when the occasion arose to state his perspective and position to his calypso protégés and wards or musically inclined peers.

The Barbadian cultural notable was candid and straightforward –– at times brusque –– but always honest. And he never apologized for his outspokenness. His personification of the expressed truth is what we learnt over time to endure, and ultimately to love –– whether it had to do with cinematography, calypso tent management, or technique at a game of dominoes, several series of which he himself hosted at De Village Gate.

Besides his strong personality and one-of-a-kind sense and expression of humour, missed as much will be that cultural reservoir of knowledge that we can no longer draw on. Gone too will be that observable intolerance for anything less than perfectionism after which he strove, and which practice he expected of those who marched with him.

Always broaching with his close allies initiatives for developing calypso and calypsonians, he never floundered before the challenges his Kingdom Of The Super Gladiators Tent would sometimes present –– testimony

to a resilience some of us might seek to emulate.

Indeed, Peter Roy Byer himself has been a tribute to Barbadian life and living. He will stand an unforgettable icon on the cultural landscape of Barbados.

The Barbados TODAY family offers its deepest condolences to his dearest Valmay, children and other close relatives.

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