By Femi ODUGBEMI
Theodore Austin Mukoro, aka Uncle Ted, passed on quietly in the morning of 7th March at age 89. His death is a great loss for our country and our creative industry. Uncle Ted was a veteran star actor and film producer. He was a writer and a Voice-over artiste. He was also a composer of music. He was a radio OAP back when you had to be seriously schooled in the spoken word to be on air. He went on to play the original “Village Headmaster” in the NTA drama series I grew up watching every Thursday night at 8pm in the late 70s.
Luckily for me, I would personally encounter him years later when I worked in the Creative department of Lintas Advertising in Ikoyi. Uncle Ted was the Creative Director. More than that, he was the heart and soul of the agency. Oh, LINTAS was packed full of larger-than-life characters who have gone on to be leaders in various spheres of life in Nigeria. From Chris Doghudje, to Eskor Mfon, Dele Adetiba, Ron Mgbatogu, Yori Folarin, Stevie Laoye, Tony Ogunlana, Sir Steve Omojafor, Lolu Akinwunmi and many others.
But Ted Mukoro was the ‘mood’ of everyday agency life. His creativity was spontaneous, sustained, spirited and fun. He connected the brand message to the consumer by mining deep the cultural reserves of the Nigerian mind. The classic commercials he wrote are unforgettable and effective – “Weke weke weke VONO,” “BLack thing good Oooo” for Guinness, “Shine shine Bobo” for star beer and many others. He was a quintessential advertising man and loved building brands.
But Uncle Ted was also a wonderful caring father. When I joined Lintas in 1987, Uncle Ted’s office was right next to Chairman Sylvester Moemeke’s up on the top floor of 202 Awolowo Road Ikoyi complex. We, the small boys who just began our careers, were kept somewhere on the lower floors and very much down the food chain. But I can’t recall a single week in which Uncle Ted did not wander into our office to tell his Warri anecdotes, make us all laugh deliriously and teach us something useful about the creativity process. Uncle Ted never just entered a room, he blew into it. And whenever he left, there was always more laughter than before he came. That alone captures my memory of him.
Of course, as with most creative people, uncle Ted was a bagful of contradictions. He chain-smoked and drank hard liquor to some inhuman degree. His coffee was drank cold. He loved a lewd joke and his laughter would ring through the building out into the quiet streets of Falomo. But he also never missed morning mass at his church in Maryland, Ikeja. He was up to speed in every tenet of the Catholic faith and was almost ordained a Priest!! I almost got whiplash the day he let us young ones into his past calling in the seminary.
In the succeeding couple of decades since I left Lintas, Uncle Ted has remained a presence. Sometimes he would call out of the blues just to chat. Sometimes I would meet him at an event and his memory of times and events and names just never waned. He would ask about so many of my previous colleagues such that I am forced to follow-up to check on their welfare. Ted Mukoro was a force for good with my generation of creatives who passed through his tutelage. He showed us by example that it was possible to be creative, intelligent, widely-read and widely-connected, and still be human, humble and heart-warming.
May his beautiful soul Rest In Peace!
- ODUGBEMI is a former President of the Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria(ITPAN) and Cofounder/Executive Director of the IREP Documentary Film Festival, Lagos