Oliver Samuels

KING of Jamaican comedy Oliver Samuel is uncharacteristically at a loss for words at Monday's announcement that he will be conferred with an honorary Doctor of Letters by The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, in St Andrew, come November.

In an telephone interview yesterday with Jamaica Observer, Samuels, 72, noted that there were no words in the English language to express how he truly feels.

“Look here, I need fi create a expression fi tell people all the pride and joy wah inna my heart,” he said in his inimitable comedic style.

“But since I can't make up a word or such expression, I will just use proud and joyous to have been selected for this honour. I am thankful to The University of the West Indies that it has seen it fit to recognise the work I have put in over the past 50 years,” he continued.

Samuels joins poet/author Linton Kwesi Johnson, Olympian Alia Atkinson, and philanthropist Gary “Butch” Hendrickson as this year's recipients of honorary degrees for their outstanding contributions to regional and international development.

Johnson will also receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree, while Atkinson and Hendrickson will receive honorary Doctor of Laws degrees.

They will join a list of more than 450 honorary degree recipients conferred by the regional university since 1965.

For Samuels, the honour is even greater for him considering the nature of his work in Jamaican theatre as well as on television and film, and to have it recognised by one of the highest seats of academic excellence in the country.

“This comedy comes from the people. I am just an instrument. The common folk in Jamaica have come under stress for years, and they have used comedy as relief. I inherited all of that and was just the facilitator to promote this form of comedic expression from the people for the people,” he said.

Born in St Mary, Samuels rose from humble beginning to become one of the most recognisable faces and brands in indigenous Jamaican theatre. He has worked with almost every notable producer on the commercial theatre scene and was a staple in the national pantomime for many years.

He paved the way and encouraged the ambitions of young actors with the television series Oliver at Large in the 1990s. He appeared in several theatre productions, including Ras Noah and the Hawk, Cinderellisha and DJ Prince, River Bottom, Assistant Thief, and Puppy Love.

Samuels was conferred with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer in 1978. However, last year he invested as a Commander of the order.

With this latest accolade, Samuels took the opportunity to encourage young people.

“Everything is possible. There is no limit to what you can achieve and where you can go once you come with the passion and put in the hard work and dedication. I wish my mother were here to see this. On her deathbed she did tell me: 'You are going to be a great man,' so I would have wanted her to witness this,” said Samuels.

This year some of the ceremonies at The UWI are expected to be held virtually due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

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