The biography of Abdi Yousuf Abokor who died in London written by his English friend, Mr Gerry Harrison

Abdi Yussuf Abobaker has died on 2nd of January 2013 in London. Abdi born 1944 in Yemen. His biography written by his English friend, Mr Gerry Harrison is detailed below. The same will be published in English newspaper, the guardian.  Below is what is written by Mr. Gerry Harrison.

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The actor ‘Abi’, or Abdi Gouhad, a good friend of many, died recently at the age of 65 swiftly but also peacefully in the Marie Curie Hospice in Belsize Park.  He was a very private, almost secretive, man, with a life that he tended to reserve in separate compartments, but over the years he allowed more and more of it to be known.

He was the best-known if not the only Somali actor in Britain, whose achievements were an inspiration to his own people.   In later years committed himself to improving the circumstances of Somali immigrants in London.   In this context he liked to remember the words of W.H. Auden, who is lamenting the plight of Jews, in ‘Refugee Blues’:  “Stood on a great plain in the falling snow/Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro/Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.”

I first met Abi on a football field on Hampstead Heath, in one of many seasons of Sunday morning ‘kickabouts’ among players of all ages known as Dartmouth Park United.   Abi was a skilful mid-field player, with nimble footwork and brilliantly accurate passing.

Born in Yemen, the son of a Sheikh from the noble tribe of Isaaq in Somaliland, as it then was, Abi spent his childhood in the Crown colony of Aden.   When a small boy, his father’s home was adjacent to an open air cinema, and every summer night as the family slept on the roof of their house, he heard the sound-track of the movies being screened next door.  He has since described this treat as “a bed-time story every night”.   At school he took part in plays as diverse as the ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’.

After college, Abi joined the Somali army and as a young officer cadet was selected by the government to train at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.   After he had graduated in 1961, he returned to Somalia where there had been a change in the structure of of government when the British and Italian parts of Somaliland become independent, in order to merge together into the United Republic of Somalia.   Seeing the effects of autocratic rule by President Aden Abdullah Osman Daar, he participated in an unsuccessful coup against this government, and was arrested.   He was quickly sentenced to death, but was himself spared because of his youth.  The experience had a profound influence on him throughout the rest of his life, but he rarely mentioned it.

With an interest in the theatre since childhood, Abi returned to England in order to make a career as an actor.  He has described the huge ship, towering above the dockside, onto which he ventured.  He was the first black actor to train at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, after which he worked regularly in theatre companies that included the improvisational company ‘Common Stock’ where he was a founder member, the influential ‘Shared Experience’ which believed in actors as story tellers, and was a core member of ‘Theatre Melange’, which cast actors from different ethnic groups, from its formation in 1996.   He remained an associate artist and advisor of this company for many years.

Although his colour never deterred Abi in his choice of roles, those for East Africans were scarce, so he also played West Indians, a ‘hired hand’ in Tennessee Williams’ play ‘Baby Doll’ at the Royal National Theatre (2000) and ‘King Idris’ in ‘Gaddafi, A Living Myth’ at the English National Opera (2006).  His knowledge of Arabic and north African culture was of great benefit during its rehearsal, but in a mess of a production he was one of the very few to receive a decent review.

In 1971 he married a Somali woman, Saharah or Sarah, in London, and they had a son.  Unfortunately the marriage did not last.   The precariousness of a career  in the theatre contributed to this, and inevitably affected an actor of Abi’s ability.    For a period he ran a fitness programme in a gym in Muswell Hill, which he termed ‘Dismal Hill’, in North London, but never failed to turn up for the Sunday morning footer.  He was also a regular swimmer and a cyclist.

SALISBURY FOR ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ (1973) AND ‘THE MASSACRE’ (1979) AT BURY ST. EDMUNDS.   PLAY AT YOUNG VIC.

He was soon working in television and film; indeed one of his first performances after drama school was in ‘Rollerball’, directed by Norman Jewison.   Other films included for ‘I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead’ for director Mike Hodges (2003) and Stephen Frears’ ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ (2003).  In television he appeared in such predictable series and serials as ‘The Bill’ (1984), ‘Casualty’ (1989) and ‘Waking the Dead’ (2007), but he also worked abroad, in Austria where he had to speak in German for ‘Welcome Home’ (2004), in Denmark for ‘Borgen’ (2011), and in South Africa in the series ‘Strike Back’ (2012).   The episode of ‘Casualty’, which in those days was less of a soap opera, dealt with the practice of female genital mutilation; Abi’s knowledge of this was of invaluable help to myself, as the director, and the rest of the cast.

In his work, Abi was always looking something new and even dangerous, and was keen to encourage young talent.  One example is the short film, ‘Forgive’ (2008), a stylish two-hander from newcomer Majinder Virk, in which he gives a powerful performance.   In later years he returned to the theatre, and was at the Royal Court Theatre in ‘The Pain and the Itch’ in 2007.   More recently he undertook a creative writing course, and this same theatre now has his play ‘Hiatt’ – a woman’s name in Arabic – under consideration.  Confident that he would beat the cancer, he was passionate about this play and looked forward to its staging.  He even wrote a part in it for himself.   In his last weeks he was reading scripts, accepting and declining offers, and confident that he would survive.

During his acting career, Abi used the stage name Gouhad and reverted his first name to its original Abdi and he is survived by his wife Sarah, his son Adan and a daughter, Muna, in the United States. Adan is from Somali mother and Muna is from Indian mother.

Ismail Lugweyne rabasoro55@hotmail.co.uk

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