Sunday 26 December 2021

The Story of Yemi Ajibade

When the BBC producer John Stockbridge was approached by the World Service in the 60s to create a drama for African listeners, he chose Yemi Ajibade, a promising young actor from west Africa with an established theatre career, for the lead role. The series was never made, but from then onwards Yemi regularly featured on radio. His talent was spotted, too, by television producers and he appeared in series including Danger Man (1965), Dixon of Dock Green (1968), The Black Safari (1972) and The Fosters (1976).

Yemi's play Parcel Post (1976) explored the clash of traditional African virtues with the values of modern Britain. It was directed by Donald Howarth at the Royal Court in London and, during the theatre's 50th birthday celebrations in 2006, Howarth recalled that the play had a "reconditioning" effect on audiences. Among Yemi's other stage plays were Fingers Only (1982), Waiting for Hannibal (1986), Para Ginto (1995) – Peer Gynt transposed to African soil – and A Long Way From Home (1991).

Yemi was born in Otta, Nigeria, from a line of Yoruba kings. The foundations of his love for theatre and the arts were laid at Abeokuta grammar school. In the mid-1950s Yemi travelled to the UK intending to become a journalist, but read a book on Stanislavsky and thought: "This is it." Yemi joined the Actors' Workshop in 1960 and the London School of Film Technique (now the London Film School) in 1966. Later, he took a master's degree at Royal Holloway, University of London.

In 1995 Jude Kelly, as artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, invited Yemi to join the cast of Wole Soyinka's Beatification of Area Boy as part of the Africa 95 celebration. His final stage appearance was on the Olivier stage at the National theatre in Thea Sharrock's 2007 production of Emperor Jones.

Yemi inspired a younger generation of Nigerian writers and artists in the UK.


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