New Telegraph

80 garlands for quintessential thespian, stage, screen legend, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett

Veteran Nigerian actress, journalist, television presenter, social activist and culture advocate, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, OON, last Wednesday, joined the prestigious octogenarian club as she clocked 80.


And naturally, the art community was in palpable jubilation, celebrating the quintessential thespian, stage and screen legend. Her colleagues, young and old, took to the social media to pay glowing tributes to her. But it was not just a social media affair; her residence in Lagos became a theatre stage of sort as dozens of enthusiastic artistes thronged the place to thrill with dance performances and drums ensemble.


Significantly, leading the celebration is the prime culture advocacy group, Committee for Relevant Art, CORA, which is dedicating its 2021 season to her.
CORA Program Officer, Samuel Osaze, in a statement on behalf of the Programme Directorate of the prime culture advocacy group, noted that Anty TAL (as she is fondly called) means more than just a board member to the CORA, adding that she is a vital force behind the dreams and passion that drive CORA and its various activities.


“Like all the other eminent members of the Board, she is ever ready to listen and help to think through programme ideas, offering much-needed advices and critiques as desired.


“We indeed cannot quantify her contribution and support to the progress of the organisation this past three decades.


“It is thus with pleasure that the CORA Working Committee (CWC) has dedicated the entire 2021 programme season to celebrating the illustrious life and career of the enigmatic matriarch of the Nigeria stage and screen. All through the year, several programmes would be held to celebrate various strands of her blessed life.


Some events will also be staged in partnership with other organisations to which she subscribed,” stated the programme directorate of the organization.


According to the programme directorate of the organization, the climax of the CORA 2021 season would be the seven-day Lagos Book & Art & Festival, LABAF, which is entirely dedicated to Mrs. Taiwo Ajai-Lycett. With the working theme, A FORK IN THE ROAD… LABAF 2021, will be a week-long comprehensive open-air carnivalesque ‘feast of Life and Ideas’ featuring a mix-grill of artistic and cultural events including: exhibitions of books and arts, live reading sessions;


conversations around books; seminars on visual, performing and allied arts; displays of paintings, sculptures, mixed media, installations and crafts; children and youths art workshops; live music, poetry, drama and dance presentations among others.

“All the programme items will have event or section celebrating Anty Ajai-Lycett.
“But for the restrictions dictated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and especially the strict guidelines by the Lagos state government, the year-long programme would have commenced today, February 3, with a mentorship event that had been exclusively designed to spotlight the very essence of Anty TAL: Mentoring the Future. The event has now been rescheduled to when the raging pandemic has simmered and the City has reopened.”


It added that the CWC has recently concluded an interview documentary on the matriarch – TAIWO AJAI-YCETT… Matriarch of the ACT — which would be unveiled in the next few weeks. Screening of an excerpt from the documentary commenced on all CORA communication platforms from Wednesday February 3, and it will continue throughout the rest of the month.


Born February 3, 1941, as the first of a set of twin girls in Lagos, her father was of Awori heritage. She was educated at Mt Carmel Convent School, Lagos, before proceeding to Methodist Girls’ High School, Lagos.


To further her studies, she traveled to London to study business and administration. In London, she took courses at Christine Shaw School of Beauty Science in London, where she received a certificate in cosmetology. She also attended Hendon College of Technology, where she obtained a Higher National Diploma in Business Studies in 1969. While studying, she worked as a waitress at Lyons Tea Shop, then moved to the Post Office and later advertising. In the Post Office, she started as a personal secretary in 1962 and later worked as a senior secretary in the office of Lord Hall.


She moved to advertising and was in the personnel department of advertising firm, Young and Rubicam. She then worked as a personal assistant to the managing partner of Gresham Broad and Co, an accounting firm.


Her acting debut was in December 1966 in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel, a two-act comedy directed by William Gaskill at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Her acting debut was not planned, she was in the rehearsal hall of the play when she was asked by Gaskill to be a participant. After the encouragement she received following her performance and the invitations from producers that followed, she decided to take a career in acting seriously. She enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

In 1972, she left her corporate career and joined the Traverse Theatre Group for the Edinburgh Festival. She was later in a string of television and stage shows. In 1973, she was in Amadu Maddy’s play Life Everlasting at the Africa Centre,

London, and later in the year, she was in Peter Nichols’ The National Health during the Festival of British Theatre. In 1976, she played the lead role in Yemi Ajibade’s Parcel Post at the Royal Court Theatre. Together with the actor Louis Mahoney and the writer Mike Phillips, she was a director with the Black Theatre Workshop in London.


She returned to Nigeria in 1971. A quintessential thespian, she has featured in several notable Nigerian films, including Tinsel, the award-winning Nigerian soap opera. Ajai-Lycett also featured in other notable works like the Nigerian movie Oloibiri. Oloibiri is a 2016 Nigerian action thriller film directed by Curtis Graham, produced by Rogers Ofime and starred Ajai-Lycett, Olu Jacobs, and Richard Mofe Damijo. The film tells the story on how government agencies, along with oil companies, exploited the newly discovered oil in the historic town of Oloibiri.


In 1975, Ajai-Lycett was invited to join the staff of Africa Magazine published by Raph Uwechue. Later, she became the pioneer editor of Africa Woman magazine, a women’s magazine for Africans in the diaspora. As editor, she was a participant at the United Nations International Women’s Year.

On October 1, 2006, Ajai-Lycett received a national award of Officer of the Order of the Niger, decorated by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In February 2008, at an All-Star Gala held at Theatre Royal Stratford East on the 10th anniversary of Tiata Fahodzi, she was honoured as a leader of British-African theatre, alongside Dotun Adebayo and Yemi Ajibade.
Ajai-Lycett is a Fellow of the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists (SONTA).

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