If one moment could capture Jay, it would be this:
It’s Autumn 2008. Jay is feeling so inspired by Barack Obama’s campaign for the American Presidency that rather than just following it from the UK, he decides to make himself part of that history. He ups sticks from his flat in Peckham, leaves his documentary work, and travels to the field office in North Franklin County, Columbus, Ohio, to work as a volunteer. For the next three months he goes door-to-door drumming up support for Obama and writing a number of freelance articles for the Guardian.
At a McCain rally in Zanesville, Ohio, Jay spent time talking to a Republican military-mother who missed her son desperately, having only seen him for a few hours over the past few years due to his service commitments. Whilst she was at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Jay connected with her in the short time they met and was moved by her story. Later, he would refer back to this time as showing him the complexity of a given moment, when made aware of how it is seen and felt through a different pair of eyes.
Of course the highlight of the trip was witnessing Obama’s election day victory speech in Grant Park on November 4, 2008. Jay would often describe the ‘electricity’ of that night, as though tapping back in to the current. It was this ability to be both electrified by the world and respond to it in an inspiring way that characterised Jay’s approach to life.
Tragically, Jay’s life ended very suddenly at the age of 43, when he drowned on holiday in Barbados. At the time Jay died he was wonderfully happy, having been promoted to a producer/director position at the BBC, and having recently got married. All who knew Jay found him to be a fantastically warm and engaging person with an endless thirst for knowledge and a passion for story-telling. He will be greatly missed by us all.
Here is Jay’s story as told by me, his wife, together with stories written by Jay’s family and friends.
ChildhoodBorn on the 14th of June 1970 in Lambeth hospital, London, Jay Mororiode Mukoro was the second child of Matthew and Ine (known by her African name Ibobo) Mukoro. Jay started life in Stockwell before the family moved to Beckenham, where he was to live for the rest of his childhood.
Jay would recount the infamous parties held by his parents, resounding with high life music, 1970’s African fashion with flare-fusion and fun and laughter. As the only non-white family on their street in Beckenham, Jay described these parties in equal measures as a source of pride and a maker of difference from his friends at school. In fact he would imaginatively invent stories such as visits to grandparents to better fit in to the school class.
Jay attended Stewart Fleming Primary School in Anerley and went to secondary school at Langley Park Boys school. His (diligently kept) school reports record that at age 4, Jay was “an attentive listener, can repeat his 2 and 3 times table and is beginning to join in with music and movement, but is not always interested in drawing and handwork”.
Jay’s parents placed a strong emphasis on education. Jay described a family ritual of standing before his father reciting his times tables, hands behind his back. This was a serious struggle for him as a result of his then undiagnosed dyslexia and he described how he would smile disarmingly as he spoke to soften any disappointment his father might have felt at the many mistakes he made. Many years later, in the report on Jay’s dyslexia the Psychologist described Jay’s confident and beaming smile as he gave his responses regardless of the accuracy, betraying no sign of worry or uncertainty.
Jay’s first job after school was earning money through the re-sale of German cars involving repeated long European road-trips. Looking back on this, for someone who is such a thinker I wonder how he survived the boredom. But on reflection the answer is obvious – his beloved radio! (Living with Jay was to learn his careful system of radio listening, which involved every room having its own set and once the morning’s wake up to Radio 4 had begun, each one was turned on and remained on, locked in to Radio 4, so that as he moved about the house not a word would be missed).
In any event, the message about the importance of learning won through and Jay went back into education – to Lewisham College to get the required qualifications which would earn him a place on an access course at Goldsmiths. Thus began a long career in acquiring degrees: first a BSc Hons in Sociology and Philosophy at City University, then an MA in Culture, Race and Difference at Sussex University and finally Jay won a BBC bursary to do a further MA in Radio Journalism back at Goldsmiths.
Jay’s thirst for knowledge certainly didn’t end with his studies and he was a news and current affairs junkie (our first date abruptly ended when he rushed home to watch Newsnight). Jay developed a massive collection of books and filled his entire attic in Peckham with them when they wouldn’t fit on his bookshelves. In fact his love of learning was so extensive I would tease him that if there was anything that he could do a course on, then he would. For example, when we got engaged he enrolled us on a “how to make love last” workshop at the School of Life.
Post-graduation, Jay started out in radio working on Radio 4 programmes such as ‘Thinking Allowed’, ‘All in the Mind’ and ‘Crossing Continents’. Working on such a broad array of topics allowed Jay to continue and deepen his love of learning and also meant he could generally ‘riff’ on any given topic of conversation. One of Jay’s favourite pieces that he made was a feature for Radio 4 called ‘Meeting Mandela’; a series about ordinary people across Britain, who had met Nelson Mandela, in the early 1990s. This perhaps is an example of what Jay loved most – considering how ordinary people can be changed and touched by an encounter with someone felt to be extraordinary.
The move to TV from radio was a pragmatic one; as Jay said Radio was always his first love. But Jay became increasingly passionate about telling stories with pictures. In fact, over the nine years he worked in television, he fastidiously honed his eye to getting a good shot and delighted in the wider audience and appeal TV afforded.
From the early days of working on the BAFTA-winning History of Modern Britain, Jay carved out a niche making ‘high-end’ history / current affairs documentaries for the BBC, on wide-ranging subjects from global economics to a portrait of the 1990s and Barack Obama’s presidency.
One highlight was ‘Mixed Britannia’, presented by George Alagiah, a social history series about Britain’s mixed populations over the last 100 years. Jay loved uncovering unexpected details in this and he spent a lot of time with a British-Chinese family in Liverpool – initially gathering material for the story and later it seemed simply because they liked having him around. In fact, this is one of those generally underrated and difficult to quantify qualities that Jay had in abundance. It simply felt good to be around him. And in the work context he had a great ability to engage with people, not just because he was good at “relationship building” to further a documentary, but because he was genuinely curious about others and their lives.
Jay also used his journalism skills for development work, and was involved in a number of projects in Nigeria through the BBC World Service Trust, (now Media Action). He helped to develop the radio drama ‘Story Story’ and assisted with the training of Nigerian journalists.
As much as Jay appreciated the value of these projects he did struggle on some occasions when he had to go “back to basics”. This was never more so than when he went with photographer Tom Pilston to report on the “Twic Olympics” in South Sudan, aimed at peace building and promoting greater equality for women. Twic is, according to those in the know, “the middle of nowhere”. After two weeks with no electricity, let alone running water, and substantial quantities of dust accumulated in every nook and cranny, Jay with his love of hot baths, despite all his high ideals, was ready to come home and dine out on the story instead.
Jay took some time to find his niche growing up. He didn’t fit in easily with Beckenham’s middle-of-the-road culture, and records, chess and poetry (particularly once he’d discovered how appealing his ability to recite Wordsworth was to ladies) became his pastimes. As he got more into music, he tried his hand at DJing and in one story he liked to tell, when on the decks at a too-cool-for-school Brixton bar, he was politely requested to vacate the stage when his somewhat eclectic taste didn’t seem to please the crowd (with an offer of unlimited dark rum to sweeten the pill).
Jay described that his identity was formed “in the mid-Atlantic”, located at some point between America (whose politics and history held an endless fascination), Nigeria and the UK. Jay spent many childhood summers in Nigeria and the ‘pidgin’ English, the classic dishes of pounded yam and egusi soup and Nigerian “hustle” were all loved with the fondness that only an early familiarity can bring. He loved too the rich tradition of Nigerian writers, and the works of Ben Okri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinua Achebe spilled over a number of shelves in his prized book collection.
Jay really found his element at Goldsmiths with ‘The Tribe’ – an Afrocentric group of friends united by an interest in political theory and a taste for African dandyism. Undaunted by the counter culture nature of this dress-code, Jay described going to one party with ‘The Tribe’ flamboyantly decked out in said attire and being unceremoniously evicted by unenlightened folk who viewed the look as “too gay”. But this was a characteristic moment – Jay loved creating his own aesthetic. And many a battle I lost over the way in which this aesthetic developed into the many-shades-of-black look.
In 2005, Jay’s parents died within six weeks of each other. His father had been unwell for some time, his mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. The impact of this on Jay was huge, and the loss of his beloved mother, whom he was so close to, was particularly hard.
This loss was the beginning of a bleak time for Jay, when he struggled with an acute sense of loneliness. This feeling gradually ebbed, and after we met, our connection helped to keep it at bay. But it would come back to haunt him at times and he was considering making a documentary about the topic, particularly once he discovered there is a current issue of loneliness amongst young people in London and that Britain has been dubbed the loneliness capital of Europe. We would talk about how such a thing could be conveyed in pictures.
This was a fantastic quality of Jay’s – to be interested in something difficult and uncomfortable and rather than shy away from it, to stick with it and try to communicate it to others.
Meeting and marriage
If one moment could capture Jay as a partner it would be this:
It is Spring of 2009. The nights are still long and cold and I’ve made the trek from Putney to a bar I don’t know in Stoke Newington. I’m standing with friends watching a band perform. As the music breaks I see a man with a smile that I don’t want to look away from walking towards me. He says hi. For the time we talk, the smile never drops or shifts – it seems to come as effortlessly as breathing. Inwardly I’m glowing as we start to talk about things that really matter and then bounce into something silly and light and we laugh. It’s easy to find words and I’m saying things unexpectedly. I sense a new part of me waking up, stretching and saying hello.
As a partner Jay was a real romantic. For a birthday one summer he sent me out on a treasure hunt, which lasted for hours. Jay had enlisted the help of numerous shopkeepers, cinema attendants and restaurateurs who were persuaded to give out various clues. I don’t think Jay had realised quite how elaborate he’d made it and how long it would take until he was left at the allotted meeting point waiting and waiting and waiting. Eventually I turned up, just in time for him to whisk me onto the last boat down the river. Another birthday he organized a trip to Loch Torridon. We spent a weekend roaming the Scottish highlands building up a great appetite and then gorging on unbelievably fresh langoustine at Applecross.It was not all about the grand gestures however. As those who know me will attest I am not at my best in the mornings. And so every day, without fail, a brimming mug of earl grey would be placed on my bedside table, the smells of which would gently waft towards me and bring me to some sort of consciousness. We would joke that this is how we’d know all is right in our world – that daily cup of tea to wake up to.
Jay proposed in Berlin, in July 2012 and we married in September 2013, on a beautiful sunny day in South East London. Jay was a wonderful husband – the qualities that I described on our wedding day shone through in the eight short months of our marriage: His idealism, his endlessly curious mind, his passion about knowledge and ideas, his appreciation for the small things in life, his openness as a person, his generosity of spirit and his love, so strong, and loyal.
Love transforms us. And Jay made me kinder, more open, and he made me laugh more. When we first started dating my Dad named this “the Jay effect”. Still now, when I smile, often it is because of him. Our love – made up of memories, moments, conversations, jokes, the way we were together- all that stuff, is etched into my being – and will always find ways to be expressed. As surely as the rain will fall, Jay will always be loved and held in my heart.
Jay was on the brink of so many things when his life ended. Jay had just begun teaching master-classes in documentary making skills – he had taught a set in the Spring of 2014 at Goldsmiths and was due to teach another set at Sussex University this autumn. The feedback from both students and staff was fantastic and Jay loved sharing the knowledge and expertise he had built up over the years. Jay had also been promoted at the BBC and was thrilled to be working on his first documentary as a producer-director. We had started out on married life together and were looking forward to having a family. These dreams have been cut short. But they are a testament to who Jay was as a person – his talent, his determination and his passion to fulfil every dream in life.
Jay’s legacy is palpable today and will continue to be so, in so many ways both known and unknown.
John Keats reminds us:
A thing of beauty is a joy forever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness…
This is Jay’s story. Jay lived a rich life, a passionate life and an inspiring life. He is someone who was loved and who loved truly and deeply. He will live on in our thoughts and our dreams and in the many ways he continues to inspire us.
I’m still shocked and confused!
What is happening to Jay?
Where is Jay Mukoro?
We worked closely at the BBC World Service Trust now the BBC Media Action.
I also worked with Jay in Kano and Jigawa States in Nigeria on PATHS II’s assessment of the Ministries of Education in the two states.
Please where is Jay?
Dear King James
This is Kevin Burden, Jay’s friend and colleague. We met in Abuja when we were all working on the PATHS II project.
I’m really sorry to have to tell you the sad, sad news that Jay passed away earlier this year. He and his wife were on holiday in Barbados. Jay went for a swim, but disappeared, presumed drowned. His body was found a few days later, but medical and legal procedures meant that formal identification and release of the body took many weeks.
We marked Jay’s passing at a ceremony on Saturday attended by his family, friends and colleagues. I can reassure you that it was a marvellous and life-affirming tribute to a guy we all miss very much.
Please feel free to share your memories of Jay with us, and I’ll make sure they are posted on the website.
Once again, I’m sorry to have to break the news to you.
Just saw this post and to say I am shocked will be an understatement! For whatever reason, I thought of Jay just about a week ago, while relieving some Goldsmith’s memories. I was on the same MA Radio course with him as a Chevening Scholar from Nigeria. Jay was one of those I first connected with – not because he had Nigerian parentage, but because he had this wonderful smile and was always ready to listen and share an idea.
Jay was very friendly and was filled with ideas! Death is so final and as such painful, but May he find eternal rest and continue smiling!
Jay and I met while studying at Goldsmiths’ through a mutual friend, I believe, in about 1992-93. We easily connected as we, being fellow Geminis with our birthdays only being 3 days apart, shared the same passion for accumulating and disseminating information. He later was of great assistance when I was renting a little flat he owned in Forest Hill. During that time he became a dear friend with whom I thoroughly enjoyed the many discussions we had had on politics, cultural politics and many other topics revolving around contemporary societal issues. Highly intelligent, witty, gentle and kind, with always a sparkle in his eyes, I will forever be grateful for his friendship. He was a true gentleman, always ready to to be of assistance to anyone who needed it. The shocking news came on a random day, when reading the news online one morning, like every morning, coffee in hand. I was absolutely devastated. The last time I had spoken to him was in about 2007 when I once came back to London for a few weeks, working on a film project, and called him to see how he was doing. He was excited about the work he was involved in and we had a long chat on the phone. Upon reading the news my heart sank. There were still so many things I wanted to thank him for. What struck me as an oddity though was the way he had departed. In 1994 Jay came to visit me in Vienna for two weeks during the summer holidays. It was one of the hottest summers with around 40°C. He stayed at my mum’s summer house and we didn’t get to do any sightseeing because of the ongoing heatwave. So he just relaxed in the garden, in tank top and an African wrap tied at his waste, spending most of the time reading books and writing. He enjoyed the peace and quiet of the place. However, despite the immense heat, he not once went into the pool. Puzzled by it, I asked him about it and he told me he wouldn’t go into the water because he couldn’t swim and so avoided it at every cost. The memory of this shot straight into my mind when reading that he drowned while swimming. I immediately found it odd but brushed it off, as him maybe having overcome his fears of water in the meantime. Over the following months I kept checking the news in the hopes he had reappeared again but nothing. I was filled with great sadness. Jay was way ahead of his time. A remarkably bright spirit emanating incredible kindness. He was a very special human being and I am thankful to have shared a short stretch of the path with him, forever grateful for his kindness and friendship.
I apologise for the spelling mistakes that I only noticed post-posting.
Thank you for your memories Nina. It is a shame we didn’t meet in person. Yes, Jay had (obviously!) taken swimming lessons for some time before this trip, and had got into snorkeling on our honeymoon. We had swum on this beach most days and on the day he passed, the sea was full of swimmers including young children. I have since learned there is a campaign to increase notices on Rockley beach due to the strong rip currents there, which we can only hope will save others.