Susan Clifton-Tucker is, without a shadow of doubt, one of the Rock’s most popular television and radio personalities of the past 50 years. She has graced our screens and airwaves on GBC Television and Radio Gibraltar and in December called it a day, stepping down as one of the newsreaders on GBC’s main news programme – Newswatch. Her friend and colleague, broadcaster and journalist Alice Mascarenhas looks back on her long, varied, and notable broadcasting and journalistic career.
Just when you think you know someone, suddenly out of the blue there comes a surprise.
“You learnt to fly?” I question, almost open mouthed.
“I can’t imagine you doing that!”
“Whilst in Guernsey I took some flying lessons. I produced and presented a ‘how-to’ programme for CTV (Channel Television). It was so much fun,” Susan smiles cheekily.
Now, there’s something I was not expecting. But Susan Clifton-Tucker is a no-nonsense lady. What you see is what you get. Honest, to the point, and quite simply fun to be with.
Her final Newswatch was just in December, but her news reading duties on GBC first began in 1985. Can you believe that on and off she has been on our screens for 47 years?
I have known Susan for most of my life and we share a lot in common, for like me she too grew up in the familiar surroundings of the old GBC television studios at Wellington Front. Her father Ray Clifton was an engineer, and my father Manolo Mascarenhas was a journalist and broadcaster in those early pioneering days.
Who would have imagined all those years ago, when as children we met in the corridors at Wellington Front, that we too would become a part of its history? Susan Clifton was 16, I was 11, and as she taught me my first chords on my guitar, who could have imagined we would find ourselves here today, both having chosen a career path as broadcasters and journalists?
It was the very early 70s, and one could say GBC Television was still in its infancy.
When Susan joined GBC in 1972 it proved the right move for her for a variety of reasons. She was used to the lights, the microphones, the cameras and the stage. At the age of 12 she had already formed a singing duo with her school friend Phyllis Miles ‘Sue and Phyllis’ in which they both played guitar.
But she recognises she also had a great affinity for the place. It was her father who at the time mentioned there was a vacancy for a continuity announcer on television, and she knew this was what she wanted. So, at 16, whilst still a pupil at the Green Convent in the Commercial Section (where No.6 is today), she joined the GBC family.
The shifts were long from 7pm to midnight and as continuity announcer you waited for the moments in between programmes and the scheduling to do your work.
“We sat on an ex-army, old and grey sofa, with stuffing coming out of it. There was a phone on a side table. In front was a small TV monitor, two projectors, projector room, engineering workshop and equipment further along, the continuity room and Master Control.”
Training then was limited, she recalls.
“There was no training really, but I do remember Christine Dobinson (then Anthony) sitting in on my first announcement. I was given the running sheet which showed what was on television that night and I ringed round all the times I saw ‘anno’ and ‘commercials’ which I had to then read live over a slide of the product when it appeared on screen.”
It was, she says, very different to today.
“There were no commercials as we see them today. You really had to do it all.”
The continuity announcer also read the news headlines and the weather. Every Saturday they also had to read out the football results.
“I remember we had to switch all the lights on in the studio and set the camera up. In fact, you sat down, set yourself up, looked at the camera and you got on with it. It was black and white and we had big bulb televisions – and tiny black and white film on reel to reel which were weaved into the projectors.
“If a piece of dust or hair found its way onto the film on the projector you had to remove it… with some saliva, which did not always work… and then you would see it on the screen. We would laugh so much.”
Those days were so happy, she adds.
“GBC was like one big family. Personally for me it was also the start of a long and happy career. Everything was live and you made mistakes on air because you were learning on the job. But it was a different era.
“I remember reading the headlines one day when I heard this noise which turned out to be the roller blind which had moved up to reveal “The Sunday Message” background. I could see the monitor from the corner of my eye but you just carried on. We had a mice infestation too, and you would often have to lift your feet up as you made your announcements. But it was normal, and they are all happy memories.”
“More than anything I remember the laughter,” she smiles, lost in the memories. “No one really taught you what to do when you presented the Maggi or Knorr Swiss draws or Miss or Mars. You just got on with it. I just remember it being joyful, and when you were asked to work extra hours you did without question.”
By 1973 having completed her O Levels she knew she had found her dream job and decided to take a full-time role at Radio Gibraltar, also based at Wellington Front. She worked a daily shift with presenters Maribel Cumming and Ken Anthony and head of radio at the time Gerry Martinez. The Baron presented the afternoon show.
Radio then opened at 7.55am and the announcer on the Breakfast Show had to switch on the transmitters in the rooms separating studios A and B. They were on their own until everyone walked into work at 10am.
In those days the ‘strip shows’ which now last a few hours did not exist, and the announcers (today presenters) would present all programmes – Woman’s Hour, The Top 20, Children of all Ages and all the specialist programmes. On television too, the list of programmes she presented is long: Miss or Mars, Rendezvous and 17.
A short break would see her back in the late 70s early 80s. Do you remember Screen Time and Snippets? Then with the opening of the frontier also came new opportunities.
Midweek with Susan was to prove very popular – a live programme broadcast from the studios at South Barracks. Here she mixed with celebrities who visited and lived on the Costa del Sol and somehow convinced them to join her on her weekly show – Kevin Keegan, Deborah Kerr, Max Bygraves, Tommy Steel, Lionel Blair and the unforgettable Bruce Forsyth. Another programme Profile would take us into the homes of celebrities on the Costa.
Her news reading days began in 1985. She formed part of the newsroom team for a number of years. With Strait Vision much later she would present Medical Matters and her own One to One interviews with local personalities.
Then in the early 90s she would leave Gibraltar to work for CTV – Channel Television in Guernsey – where she worked as a reporter and news anchor. Twice a week she would fly between islands to Jersey and it was then she took up flying. As correspondent for Sark one of her first assignments was to cover the opening of Chief Pleas (Sark’s Parliament).
“I recall feeling nervous. I turned up in my sharp suit, smart hat and heels only to find that the islanders were dressed down wearing bobble hats and wellies!”
She admits these were interesting times, experiencing a very different set-up to what she had been used to on GBC.
One of the highlights was covering the visit of Prince Charles on the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of the islands, during which she managed to record a short piece with him island hopping from Guernsey to Sark.
Back at GBC she was one of the original producers and presenters of the television programme Viewpoint. In New York she would cover UN sessions and the Pique/Straw meeting at Carlton Gardens in London.
“I doorstepped Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, and refused to move, and he agreed to a full interview,” she says.
The fact is that her broadcasting accomplishments are long, as are her list of programmes – both long and varied. Over the years this presented her with the opportunity of presenting song festivals, charity shows and Miss Gibraltar pageants.
In 1974 she was runner up to Miss Gibraltar. That same year she also won Miss Tourism.
Her broadcasting life can be described as one big roller-coaster ride where she rightly found her place in the heart of this community, which has formed the subject of so many of her news and feature stories. She has filled our television screens. She has entertained and informed us, and she will be missed. But as she turns to writing and completing her bucket list I am certain there is always something else around the corner.
As our chat reaches its final stages she admits that television will always come before radio (for me it’s the other way around) and yet, like me, she admits that if she had to choose between Wellington Front and South Barrack, her first place of work would always win.
“We were embryonic then; we were starting out and a lot of things were new and innovative, and on a personal level, the fact that we were just like one big family made it very special.”
So if she were to do it all again would she choose the same path?
No time for reflection or pauses here as she emphasises: “I would do it all again in a heartbeat!”
BY ALICE MASCARENHAS