Yemi Ajibade: Biography, Age, Movies, Family & Career
Yemi Ajibade (28 July 1929– 24 January 2013), usually credited as Yemi Ajibade, Yemi Goodman Ajibade or Ade-Yemi Ajibade, was a Nigerian playwright, actor and director who, after settling in England in the 1950s, made significant contributions to the British theatre and the canon of Black drama. In a career that spanned half a century, he directed and wrote several successful plays, as well as acting in a wide range of drama for television, stage, radio and film.
Adeyemi Olanrewaju Goodman Ajibade was born a royal prince of the house of Ọ̀ràngún from Ìlá Òràngún, Osun State, in the south-west of Nigeria. He attended Abeokuta Grammar School, and later pursued studies in London, at Kennington College of Law and Commerce (1955), at The Actors’ Workshop (1960), and from 1966 to 1968 at the London School of Film Technique (now the London Film School), where he was a contemporary of filmmaker Horace Ové (who has recalled that they were the only two black students in the school at the time).
From early in his stay in the UK, Ajibade acted in radio drama for the BBC African Service. As producer Fiona Ledger recalled in 2007: “It was back in 1960 that the late BBC producer John Stockbridge was asked by the Head of the African Service to devise some kind of drama for African listeners. He came up with a series, a soap opera set in London. No copy survives, but” Yemi Ajibade “took the role of a social worker, moving around England and settling quarrels.”
Continuing to develop his acting career, he was hailed in 1963 as “one of the most promising actors from West Africa”. Alongside performers who included Yulisa Amadu Maddy, Leslie Palmer, Eddie Tagoe, Karene Wallace, Basil Wanzira, and Elvania Zirimu, among others, Ajibade featured in a production of Lindsay Barrett’s Blackblast! filmed in 1973 for a special edition of the BBC Two arts and entertainment programme Full House devoted to the work of West Indian writers, artists, musicians and film-makers.
Ajibade’s acting portfolio would eventually encompass roles in television series such as Armchair Theatre (starring in 1963 in “The Chocolate Tree” by Andrew Sinclair, together with Earl Cameron and Peter McEnery), Danger Man (1965), Dixon of Dock Green (1968), Douglas Botting’s The Black Safari (1972), The Fosters (1976), Prisoners of Conscience (1981), and Silent Witness (1996), and work on the stage – for instance, in “Plays Umbrella”, a season of five specially commissioned new plays, at Riverside Studios (in association with Drum Arts Centre, London) in August 1980, and Nicholas Wright’s plays One Fine Day (1980 at Riverside Studios) and The Custom of the Country (1983 at The Pit, Barbican Centre), and in Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs (Royal Exchange Theatre, 2001) – as well as film appearances including in Terence Fisher’s The Devil Rides Out (1968), Monte Hellman’s Shatter (1974), Hanif Kureshi’s London Kills Me (1991), Skin (1995, written by Sarah Kane), Dirty Pretty Things (2002), Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) and Flawless with Demi Moore and Michael Caine (2007).
In 1966 Ajibade led a delegation of British, West Indian and African members to the World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, Senegal, directing a production of Obi Egbuna’s play Wind Versus Polygamy; at the 2nd World Black Arts Festival in Lagos in 1977 Ajibade was supervisor of Drama Events. In 1975 he was appointed as a tutor by the Inner London Education Authority, and he also became artistic director of the Keskidee Centre in north London, where he directed a production of Wole Soyinka’s The Swamp Dwellers (13–23 March 1975).
Among Ajibade’s best known work as a playwright is Parcel Post, which had 29 performances by the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in 1976–77, directed by Donald Howarth, with a cast featuring the likes of Rudolph Walker, Christopher Asante, and Taiwo Ajai (who has said that her own acting career started by chance “when she stumbled across Yemi Ajibade on a production”). Ajibade’s subsequent plays included Fingers Only (originally entitled Lagos, Yes Lagos when it was broadcast by the BBC in 1971 and published in Nine African Plays for Radio in 1973), which in its 1982 production for the Black Theatre Co-operative (now Nitro) was directed by Mustapha Matura at The Factory Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre,and Albany Empire. Waiting for Hannibal opened in June 1986 at the Drill Hall, followed by a national tour, with Burt Caesar and Ajibade directing a cast that included Judith Jacobs, Wilbert Johnson and others; and A Long Way From Home was produced by Nicolas Kent at the Tricycle Theatre in 1991, with Ajibade himself heading the cast.
Ajibade also worked in Ibadan during the late 1970s, as a writer and director (1976–79) with the Unibadan Masques, the University of Ibadan’s School of Drama acting company.
In February 2008, at an All-Star Gala held at Theatre Royal Stratford East on the 10th anniversary of Tiata Fahodzi, Ajibade was honoured as a leader of British-African theatre, alongside Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Dotun Adebayo, Dona Croll, Femi Oguns, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hugh Quarshie and others.
Yemi Ajibade died in the UK on 13 January 2013 at the age of 83.
- Award (unproduced)
- Behind the Mountain – first produced: Unibadan Masques, 1977
- Fingers Only – first produced: The Factory, Battersea Arts, London (Black Theatre Co-operative, directed by Mustapha Matura), 1982. As Lagos, Yes Lagos, BBC Radio, 1971.
- A Long Way from Home – first produced: Tricycle Theatre, London (directed by Nicolas Kent), 1991
- Mokai – first produced: Unibadan Masques, 1979
- Parcel Post – first produced: Royal Court Theatre, London, 16 March 1976
- Waiting for Hannibal – first produced: Drill Hall, London (Black Theatre Co-operative, directed by Ajibade with Burt Caesar), 1986
- Para Ginto (black version of Peer Gynt)– Tricycle Theatre, 1995
- Fingers Only and A Man Names Mokai. Ibadan: Y-Book Drama series, 2001, 142 pp. ISBN 978-2659-88-6
- Parcel Post and Behind the Mountain. Ibadan: Y-Book Drama series, 2001, 147 pp. ISBN 978-2659-89-4
- Gwyneth Henderson and Cosmo Pieterse (eds), Nine African Plays for Radio (includes “Lagos, Yes Lagos” by Yemi Ajibade), Heinemann Educational Books, AWS, 127, 1973.
- 2007: Flawless, 2007
- 2007: Silent Witness (TV series), 2007
- 2004: Exorcist: The Beginning
- 2002: Dirty Pretty Things (as Ade-Yemi Ajibade)
- 1995: Skin (short)
- 1993: Rwendo (short)
- 1991: London Kills Me
- 1991: Smack and Thistle (TV movie)
- 1989: Behaving Badly (TV mini-series), “The Tale of the Turbot”
- 1987: Truckers (TV series), “Stinking Fish”
- 1981: Prisoners of Conscience (TV series), “Nelson Mandela”
- 1976: The Fosters (TV series), “Sonny Gets a Patron”
- 1976: Shades of Greene (TV series), “A Chance for Mr Lever”
- 1974: Shatter
- 1973: Full House (BBC Two TV series), “Black Blast!” cast member – Episode dated 3 February 1973
- 1972: The Black Safari (TV movie)
- 1970: Carry On Up the Jungle
- 1969: The Power Game (TV series), “One Via Zurich”
- 1968: Dixon of Dock Green (TV series), “English – Born and Bred”
- 1968: The Devil Rides Out (uncredited)
- 1968: 30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia (uncredited)
- 1967: Thirty-Minute Theatre (TV Series), “Failpass”
- 1967: Theatre 625 (TV series), “Hotel Torpe”
- 1966: The Witches (uncredited)
- 1965: Danger Man (TV series), “Loyalty Always Pays”
- 1965: The Wednesday Play (TV series), “For the West”; “Clear Sundays”
- 1964: Espionage (TV series), “Once a Spy”
- 1964: Festival (TV series), “August for the People”
- 1963: Armchair Theatre (TV series), “The Chocolate Tree”
- 1963: Suspense (TV series), “Waiting for Wanda”
- 1962: The Sword in the Web (TV series)