Leonie Forbes (1937- ) - The National Library of Jamaica

Leonie Forbes (1937- )

Born on June 14, Leonie Forbes grew up in Kingston as an only child. She attended St. George’s Preparatory, Merrywood Elementary School, Mico Practising School, Kingston Senior School, Excelsior College and Durham College. Ms. Forbes is an actress and former radio and television broadcaster.

Her first job after leaving school was with Sir Philip Sherlock. She worked as a typist at the then recently incorporated University College of the West Indies (UCWI). After a while she went to work with Barry Reckord, a playwright. Here she would type Mr. Reckord’s plays and at times accompany him to the studios of the Government Information Service (now Jamaica Information Service) to watch the recording sessions. It was here that she got her first exposure to radio as she started to do parts in the programmes produced for Government broadcast.

When the now defunct Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) started in 1955, Ms. Forbes became an announcer. She was one of the first voices on the radio along with Dennis Hall, Desmond Chambers, Erica Allen and Beverly Anderson. 

The late Mrs. Rita Coore, who Forbes says was one of the influential persons in her life, heard her on the radio and decided to give her speech lessons. Mrs. Coore said that Leonie had a charming little voice, but was doing some dreadful things to the language.

It was with the help of Englishman Robin Michelin, who came to Jamaica to help set up the JBC, that Leonie was able to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in England. He was quite impressed with her voice and offered to sign her up to attend the Academy. Miss Forbes was sceptical at the time and became increasingly disappointed after months passed and she didn’t get any reply from the Academy. She eventually heard that not only had she been accepted but she had also won a tuition scholarship.

She spent six years of study and practice at the RADA where she pursued a Diploma Course in Radio Television and Stage. Leonie also worked on scripts for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Caribbean service where she did works on Jamaican lifestyle. 

The then Mrs. Forbes-Amiel appeared in several RADA productions including the pantomime “Cinderella”. She also played in “Unknown Woman of Arras”, “Days of the Lion”, and “Antony and Cleopatra” in which she was the lead female actor. She has also featured in television drama series on the BBC and Independent Television networks such as “Z Cars”, “Odd Man”, “Public Eye”, “Hugh and I”, “Desperate People” and “Harper’s West”

On her first appearance in professional theatre, “Busha Blue Beard”, a Lloyd Reckord production, in April 1962, a London critic, Kenneth Tynan reported that Leonie put on “a bewitchingly ingenious performance…as a crystal ball trainee”.

Leonie Forbes returned to the JBC in 1966 after the completion of her training at the Royal Academy. She left again for Australia in 1968 with her husband Dr. Keith Amiel who at the time was doing research in veterinary science at Queensland University. While  there she appeared in the production of the Shakespearean play “Merchant of Venice”. She also took part in ABC radio plays, taught drama at three Brisbane schools and worked as a librarian for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) Australia Limited. 

When Leonie returned to Jamaica in 1970 she went back to JBC where she worked as a producer/presenter for television. In 1972, she spearheaded the development of Radio Two JBC FM Stereo Service and started and ran the JBC TV Drama Work Shop, which produced among other programmes; “Stronger”, “A Scent of Jasmine”, and “Lets Say Grace” – a screenplay which she wrote and produced herself. In May 1976 Leonie was appointed to the post of Director of Radio Broadcasting for the JBC. 

As an actress, Ms. Forbes has played leading roles in twelve pantomimes and has acted in plays such as “Sea Mama”, “Miss Unusual”, “The Rope and the Cross”, “Old Story Time” and “Champagne and Sky Juice”. She has also appeared in films such as “Children of Babylon” (1980), “Club Paradise” (1986), “The Orchid House” (1991), “Milk and Honey” (1995), “What My Mother Told Me” (1995) and “Soul Survivor” (1995). 

Leonie Forbes also authored a book called “The Re-Entry Into Sound“, along with Alma Mock Yen, formerly of the UWI’s Radio Education Unit. This is a standard text used to train broadcasters all over the Caribbean. 

Ms. Forbes is the mother of four children. 

Honours and Awards

  • My Life in the Theatre” medal by the Mexican Theatre Centre of the International Theatre Institute for outstanding theatre personalities of Latin America and the Caribbean (2001)
  • Order of Distinction (Officer Class) Government of Jamaica (1980)
  • Silver Musgrave Medal 
  • Centenary Medal
  • Bronze Musgrave Medal (1973)