ALL IN A DAYS WORK by Chris Paton
Photos: CBC Studios THEN AND NOW


CBC RADIO IN THE ‘60s and 70s
by Don Mowatt. posted in 1999.

In 1964 when I joined the CBC in Vancouver as a fledgling “variety” producer in radio, we were housed in the sixteenth floor of the Hotel Vancouver above the Panorama Roof.

The location gave a kind of lofty elegance to our work, appropriate for the world I had imagined the CBC should always occupy. In my parents’ home the radio was receiving Music Diary, Saturday Night at the Opera, Clyde Gilmour’s Review of the Movies, concerts of the CBC’s Chamber Orchestra, plays directed by Andrew Allan, and, just for fun, Max Ferguson’s Rawhide from Halifax.

When I was eight years old, I remember listening to Ray Whitehouse’s production of King Solomon’s Mines broadcast over several weeks on our radio station in Shearwater, Nova Scotia. Twelve years later, on my first day at the CBC, I was introduced to the cast of another radio series being directed in the old two storey Studio A of the ground floor of the Hotel Vancouver off the entrance at 701 Hornby Street. In only a matter of seconds I recognized the voice of Alan Quartermain in that old 1950’s production I heard as an eight year old as belonging to Sam Payne. I was at home at once. In those days, CBC Radio was distinctive, polished, educational as well as highly entertaining in a wide range of fields. It gave me a feeling of the great breadth of the country and its colourful components were well represented. It had developed a special balance between the CBC’s upper class accent and the drawl and folkiness of our neighbours to the south.

In 1964 some radio drama was still being broadcast live  - not the longer works but the daily serials on the Schools broadcast and occasionally on the Farm broadcasts at noon.

There were ten radio producers then and, of those, only one woman, compared to almost thirty five producers in radio when I left in 1997 with more than fifty percent being women. It seemed to me that we had a great deal more of autonomy in our production output then with most of our work being approved by our local Director of Radio rather than by executives in Toronto.

The work was handled in a much different way. For one thing, portable recording machines did not appear till the seventies and all recording of music and sound had to be made and later edited exclusively by NABET technicians. In fact all scripted voice recordings also had to be made and later edited by NABET members. I remember much of our day was spent in tiny editing booths instructing technicians, who may or may not have made the original recording, where to make the cuts. In a thirty minute drama there could be over a hundred edits, and in a documentary several times that many.

In the drama studio things were different too. The producer and the technician were located in a glass booth one storey above the studio where the actors and the sound man waited for their cues. And the sound man stood at the side of the studio behind a “cocktail bar” of three or four enormous record players and a unit that could play several cartridges at once. The record players played LPs of sounds or music, but in 1964 most of the records were actually 78s recorded up to twenty five or thirty years previously for the BBC radio drama unit. Realism in sound affects was not a factor till the appearance of stereo FM, and horses’ hooves were still being made by coconut halves. The sound man also had a complex unit that contained windows, screen doors and solid doors, and another machine with a rotating steel  ball that smashed panes of glass when that was required.  All of this was recorded not in the glass booth where the producer and technician sat but two floors above them in the recording room where you played your stops and starts by telephone, when you could get through.

Despite the cumbersome portable recording equipment in the ‘60s, Imbert Orchard made a specialty of going into the province’s smaller communities and interviewing the old pioneers. He made a harness out of an old coat hanger with a hook bent to hold a microphone perfectly in place below the interviewer’s mouth. This oral history of the province provided a decade or more of weekly radio programs and the tapes are now in the provincial archives of Victoria.

Robert Chesterman continued the Music Diary program begun by Director of Radio Peter Garvie and with Peter Haworth and Hugh McLean, oversaw a series of art, music and literature programs on the new FM service.

Gerald Newman directed radio plays in Studio A, and the case that weren’t need for a particular scene were sprawled out on the padded benches outside the studio with recording sessions that often lasted into the early morning hours. Robert Wagstaff used the same studio to produce big band and variety shows with dozens of musicians, singers and actors crowding the performing space. In the summer, he would strip to the waist, throwing cues from the cigarette smoked glass booth one floor up.

Across the street on Howe below Georgia and next to the old Cave Dinner Theatre was Studio G where the CBC Radio Orchestra founded by John Avison were rehearsing under producer-composer Robert Turner. Now thre last radio orchestra in this hemisphere, it was only only one of dozens on this continent. It was also the core performing group for our annual Fall Music Festival given free in the Playhouse, Ryerson United Church and the ballroom of the Hotel Vancouver. Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth, Anne Murray, Alan Hovhaness, Cathy Berberian, Ned Rorem, Marni Nixon and Harry Newston were some of the international personalities who performed in the Festival over two decades.

As well as the small pool of radio producers who all worked on a great variety of programs from Dal Richards Live from the Panorama Roof, “The Carsons” daily farm serial, current affairs series, and very many live musical series , classical, pop and jazz, there were a number of production specialty units: Outside broadcasts led by Bill Herbert and including Len Chapple and Diana Filer, covered events outside the studios: Royal visits, ceremonies and a Prix Italia prize-winning documentary on the sinking of the Luisitania. The Farm broadcasts under Norm Hansen represented a different era in Canadian history when rural economics played a much larger role. Hog prices, cattle auctions and information on wheat growing were available during the noon period from Monday to Friday, highlighted by the farm family serial “The Carsons” and its successor “51 St North” which, between the two of them, ran for over thirty-three years. School broadcasts, led by Marg Musselman and Fred Laight, were piped live into all Canadian classrooms following the noon hour farm broadcasts and included songs, games, short talks and dramatizations.   

All of these units flourished until they were gone by the mid-seventies to be succeeded by a stronger diet of current affairs programming on AM radio and disc shows on FM. The Meggs-Ward report of the late sixties, which emphasised the need for more focusing on a more popular, more news and current issues style of broadcasting, was slowly pushing the arts oriented BBC pattern into FM and eventually much of it out altogether

In 1975, in our last year at the Hotel Vancouver, a number of important developments occurred that particularly affected the Radio Arts and Music in B.C.  Robert Chesterman managed to persuade management to let him take an unpaid sabbatical in Europe to study new directions and approaches to music and drama productions. On his return he brought with him stories and tapes that forever changed the way a number of us saw our craft. Bold experiments in sound and form that had become standard in Europe and even in PBS in the States was very exciting.  

When the move to our new building at 700 Hamilton Street occurred in 1976, it was significant that the “state of the art” drama for radio was designed after pop-music studios in Los Angeles and not on the European models in England, Germany and Scandinavia. Fifteen years later, at great cost, the radio drama studio studio was completely altered to the European pattern, allowing for different acoustic spaces for the actors and sound effects crew to approximate living situations for a wider range of dramatic expression. Staff announcers including Bert Nelson, Stan Peters, Telford Oliver, Bob Sharples and Gordon Hunt, who had hosted almost all radio series, gradually became replaced in the seventies by a new breed of personality hosts under contract.  Otto Lowy and Bob Kerr, who had been around for years, continued to host programs but an increasing number of outside voices led by Vicki Gabereau began to replace the old institutional hosts. The assignment of technicians to strictly technical functions also began to relax a little before the end of the seventies as producers and freelancers began recording more with the new portable walkman-style recorders and editing in their offices where they couldn’t be monitored as closely. Technicians actually became more involved in other production responsibilities but this was still at its very earliest stage in the late seventies. Today of course technicians produce a number of programs, voice weather reports and perform many other activities that they never dreamed of even a dozen years earlier.

Originally published in Stationbreak  Oct - Dec 1999


For a couple of years in the mid-1970s, almost half of CBC’s television drama programs were being produced from Vancouver. “The Beachcombers” was filming 26 episodes a year up in Gibson’s Landing.  “Leo and Me” was shooting 13 half hours of single camera taped shows with Brent Carver and a new kid named Michael J. Fox all over the Bayshore, and in the brand new studio on Hamilton Street we had 60 and 90 minute Specials like “Stacey” by Margaret Lawrence, W.O. Mitchell’s “Sacrament” with another new kid, Ian Tracey, in the lead. And there was “A Gun, A Grand and A Girl," “Kaleshnikoff,” Claude Jutra’s production of Anne Cameron’s “Dreamspeaker.” And yet another kids’ half hour series called “The Magic Lie” that was honest to God regional production, with shows from Halifax, Winnipeg, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver. Bill Mitchell hosted the series (spitoon by his side) from Studio 40, and all the regions kicked in for the budget.  So what happened to all that?  The answer is not one of the high points.

Drama production was always a priority here in Vancouver. Politics and population made Toronto and Montreal the nationals centres for News and Current Affairs. Sports, Farm and Fish, and Music belonged everywhere.

But somehow Vancouver got the idea it had a special talent for telling stories. It started in radio. Remember the CBC’s  great “Stage” series?  It started here with a youthful Torontonian named Andrew Allan sent out to learn the trade, then heading back East with a raft of Vancouver talent as the “Stage” nucleus – John Drainie, Fletcher Markle, John Bethune, Lister Sinclair and more.  Others stayed here – Frank Vyvyan, Bill and Doris Buckingham,  Kathy and Jimmy Johnstone, Alan Young (until Hollywood gobbled him up), Eric Nichol (with temptations from London and Paris along the way). And Sam Payne, the incomparable. And Dorothy Fowler and Dorothy Davies …

Radio drama was really something at that time. CBC Studio A in the Hotel Vancouver was a huge space, two storeys high, with the control room window up on the second floor from which the godlike producer waved cue to actors on the floor, and to the 12 piece orchestra conducted by John Avison or Lawrence Wilson. The Sound Effects crew was amazing – records spun, men ran up and down staircases or crunched real gravel, rang doorbells.

When television started in the early ‘50s, it was Variety that was the star, not Drama. Daryl Duke and Mario Prizek’s “Parade,” “Bamboola” with Eleanor Collins and “Lolly Too Dum” with Betty Phillips and Ernie Prentice.

But at 5 o’clock on Friday afternoons, television drama hit the air live. Producers Jack Thorne and Frank Goodship turned the tiny studio into Charlie’s Chocolate Factory one week, the Agora of ancient Athens the next.  30 hours of dry rehearsal for the cast, one day in the studio for cameras and crew from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., then live to air. We called it Learn or Die. We did both.

When I arrived in CBC drama in 1957, I was handed over to Jack and Frank for care and feeding. Or perhaps it was to Technical Producer Lloyd Harrop and Lighting Director Jim Ellis. They certainly seemed to be the ones in charge. Michael Rothery and Jorn Winther began producing about the same time.

Time for a tribute to Harry Hooper and Jim Currie., two cameramen who saved our necks and our shows many times. If a camera packed up or an actor dried or the lighting effect didn’t light, the show went on. There was no choice.  But wheeling and dipping those great clunky studio cameras, improvising and improving, Harry Hooper and Jim Currie sewed it together, made it work. Hooper and Currie were worth any three producers.

Summer time was the off-season in those days, and while Toronto shut down for thirteen weeks, Vancouver had the chance to invent “summer replacements” along with Montreal. Where this tradition came from, I don’t know. Nowadays the repeat season and the regular season blend endlessly together. But in the late ‘50s it worked marvelously. It seemed that the critics and the audience took holidays too, and we tried out some pretty strange formats and ideas while nobody was watching. It’s hard to remember when television had time to explore and experiment.

“Tidewater Tramp” was a breakthrough for us. It was another kids’ show but it was a series with a continuing storyline and characters – youngsters growing aboard a tramp steamer on the Pacific coast. Jack Thorne and Mike Rothery produced most of them, and even shot some scenes on film. At the time there was a very formal agreement between the CBC and the Film Board that CBC would only use film for news coverage , everything else had to be electronic so the two crown corporations stayed off each other’s turf.  That’s another Immutable Law from the present day, but it was real. Well, first they extended it to other documentaries, which was good for Daryl Duke and the documentary unit at CBC who were already making about ten a year, and then it spread to Farm Broadcasts, and on. It was probably the most important thing that happened for drama productions too, although we didn’t know it yet.

Among the summer replacement shows one year was a half hour script by an editor at the Vancouver Sun, Paul St. Pierre.  St Pierre was a hunter and an outdoorsman who had developed a passion for the people and the places of B.C's Chilcotin, maybe as an antidote to his suit-bound career as the Editorial boss at the Sun. One day he told Frank Goodship and me that he could write a better show in ten days and with one hand tied behind his back than the things we were inflicting on the public. So Frank said “Do it. We don’t have a script for the week after next.” And Paul did it because he didn’t know how to get out of it. The result was “The Window at Namko,” an aimless half hour conversation amongst a bunch of cowboys in a rundown beer parlour somewhere up in the Cariboo. There was no dramatic conflict, no crisis, no hero, no villain, no action. Frank Goodship decided to do it anyway, he liked shaggy dog stories too.

When “The Window at Namko” went on air, the response in Vancouver was amazing. The audience (those not on holiday) liked it. They liked it a lot. They said they would like to see more of this. Frank Goodship was surprised. I was astonished.  Coming out of a kind of academic theatre background, I had been pretty lukewarm to the idea but realized the show had a story-like magic on camera. It’s lucky I caught on as I was going to spend most of the next eight years in the Cariboo.

First of all we mounted a thirteen episode studio series of “Cariboo Country.” The stories screamed to be filmed on location but we shot in Vancouver. Len Lauk and I directed most of them when Frank’s health deserted him just as the show began. Humorous, ironic, a mixture of sharp character observation and small tragedy, they reflected us to ourselves.  Which is when the Corporation axe fell. Vancouver was told to stop all future drama productions.  Network said that our shows from our low-ceiling garage studio couldn’t compete with the Hollywood sound stages the US networks had taken over.

The Network was right. The Western and the back-lot Cop show were the new Kings of the Tube. The prestige live dramas like Playhouse 90 and Omnibus in the States, and CBC’s Folio, were toast. And so was CBC Vancouver.  Except that our Program Director, Marce Munro, was a very stubborn man. He told the Network it was political suicide to stop drama out here. He told them we had thirteen brilliant “Cariboo Country” scripts. I told him we had five very brief outlines. He told me to go to Toronto and not come back until the Network told us to go ahead.  I went to Toronto.

   by Philip Keatley.

 Originally posted April-June 2000

A month ago I wrote the first part of this article about the early days of CBC television drama production out here in Lotus Land, ‘way back there in the 1950s and 60s  when the baby boomers who are now planning their retirement were watching The Friendly Giant and Chez Helene. It was fun to write. That was before the news that English language TV is about to cancel regional News Hours to concentrate its collapsing resources on National concerns, here in the time of Internet and Convergence, and other aspects of the brave new world. It may seem that the two stories are very separate but in fact there is very little distance between them, dear reader. And it makes it difficult for me to focus on the happy anecdotes on the young local actors who become stars of stage and screen (like Brent Carver) or stagehands who become production designers of mega-million movies (like Mike Bolton) or Production Assistants who become Clint Eastwood’s line producer (like Bob Gray). But listen. I’ve been thrown out of a lot of better places than this before. Vancouver Drama Production was cancelled at least three times – first around 1963 because They said the studio were too small. The second around 1976 when They wanted to focus on more meaningful drama. Third in the late ‘80s when They simply drained the money away from everything but “coverage” productions of other people’s creations, whether in Current Affairs, Sports, Variety or Drama again. This trick is to create, and I should get back to the story of how a lot of shows got done from the West Coast.  

So, 1963. We had been banned from Drama production because our studio was outdated and inadequate. But we persuaded the network bosses to look at the idea of doing drama on film and on the location where the stories were set, and that was the genesis of Cariboo Country, the first CBC film drama series. Between 1963 and ’67 we made just 22 half hour films but they were good enough that Bob Allen, the head of drama, gave us the chance to do bigger and longer stories for CBC’s series Festival – truly the big time in the days when CBC was the only Canadian game in town, and television reviewers were as respected as literary critics. How To Break A Quarterhorse remains my personal favourite, a 90 minutes yarn (all the scripts were from Paul St. Pierre) about a rancher named Smith, a murderer named Gabriel Jimmyboy, a ten-year long manhunt across the wilds of the Chilcotin, and an Indian sage named Ol’ Antoine who can break a horse the old way, just by talking to hm. In the style of all the stories, it turns out that the murderer goes free, the horse goes unbroken, and Smith ends up in jail. All of which in my opinion demonstrates how precisely accurate the title is. The leading parts in this wonderful piece were played by Lillian Carlson, Chief Dan George and David Hughes. I got to be both director and producer. What a joy! Creating a fictional screenplay has striking advantages over the ‘real facts’ of news or documentary, and Cariboo Country showed them. How To Break A Quarterhorse was a story that centred on the impossibility of our law system dealing justly with events and people who cannot know a system in which they have never been included. But no defeats here, in that extraordinary St. Pierre universe of Indian and rancher, cowboys and Mounties and judges who understand more than the law. Justice sort of gets done, and we in the audience care deeply about the people, and the issues too. But no editorial bits to infuriate watchers with different ideas about politics, and no need to state the other side of the case.

Another important lesson of Cariboo Country was how the crew invented ourselves and our jobs. We came out of theatre and live television and documentary film crews. Five years later we realized that we had been Location Managers or Continuity Supervisors or Camera Grips or all those at the same time. But in the moment everyone figured out what needed doing and then we did them together. Later on in life I learned that this was a classic way of training and development, and that we had reinvented the wheel. Fortunately we also loved the job and the scripts and the actors and the landscape and the opportunity to work our butts off. Or at least, most of the time.  

People Who Helped: Fighting the bureaucratic fight doesn’t get much of the credit what actors and directors do.  But Cariboo and what followed was made possible by some people who stuck out their professional necks. Ray Whitehouse was our champion at court, and it was a tough court. Hugh Palmer made things happen at the time we had to have them, and Wilf Porth became another member of the crew in ways that very few people know about. Wilf was a true friend back in Vancouver to the difficult bunch that we were sitting up there in Riske Creek and screaming for money, help, better equipment, more time.

The Crew: Bob Gray and Alma Waddell were supposed to be Production Assistants. In fact they were the Producers, company organizers and Planning Department. Gerry O’Connor was the Lighting Director; incidentally he was the Catering supervisor and Hotel Manager. Dick France and Hugh Beard did the Sound. But that turned out to include designing equipment, building a post-sync studio in a large log cabin in the Bull Pasture, and doing post-production. John Seale was one DOP. He also created a camera crew pattern for Drama that we still use today. And Ron Thompson, who simply became a Cariboo native, as he remains. And Phyllis Newman, make up – including horses and gunshot wounds and Entertainment Director. And Archie Kelly. Oh, Arch! The sight of you standing at the Cotton Ranch  holding a horse covered by oilskins as we waited for another thunder shower to blow over. Archie with his theatre training in England, staring at the gang of young savages he had fallen among in the wilds of Canada, and loving it. Pat Cairns in Costumes and Rudy Penitsch in Camera, and Gordon Fish and Jake Wiebe. There were less than twenty of us on location. Dave Jones was only sent on location for start up. Why would you need a designer outside a studio?  Funny times!

Reading this, I suspect you notice that Keatley liked the experience. But by 1967 it was time to move on and it was really time to build on what we now knew what to do. It’s great to be a one-man band, but orchestras are more interesting. If you want an orchestra you need lots of players.  1967 was a Centennial Year for Canada, and we took aim at a Centennial series of historical stories from British Columbia. We aimed mainly at film production – after all we had a film drama crew ready to go. But we also bid on the new art of Edited Tape, on the grounds that we would adapt film techniques to the low-cost video style production, and we could train a new bunch of people in location drama at the same time. And because there was extra money from the Feds to celebrate Centennial Year, ir WORKED!  The series was called Where The Action Was, with stories about the Pig War, Judge Begbie and Catalan, the Basque muleskinner of the Cariboo gold rush, about the American plot to corrupt Amor De Cosmos and lots of others. Jack Thorne, Don Eccleston and Elie Savoie became producers/directors in a quickly formed Drama Department and we were on our way. I suspect that the Network brass (who may not actually exist in a coherent group) were more than nervous at this outbreak on the Pacific frontier, because they made Where The Action Was a regional series, not a national one. But if you read Part I of this endless saga, you may remember that, back in the days of the Stage series on radio, this was exactly the way that Andrew Allen had started out, and that regional experiment had been the showpiece of the country very soon afterwards.

By the time Where The Action Was went on the air, we were pressing hard for steady work in drama on a continuing basis. Now that we had TWO drama crews and four PRODUCER-DIRECTORS we needed work. And because colour came to CBC in 1968 we concentrated on that too. Where better in Canada to produce the first drama series in colour than here on the West Coast where the rain gave a special quality to the television image, and by the way we can shoot outside for twelve months of the year?  Elie Savoie and Don Eccleston had jointly developed the outline of a series on one hour social dramas centred on the lives and times of two probation officers and their clients. Once again the Network Brass took a deep breath and agreed on two pilot episodes on tape. Once again they were good enough to get approval for a season of eight hour length films, and The Manipulators series was born. It ran for two seasons. I think eighteen episodes. Daryl Duke came home from Los Angeles to direct the series opener, which got a huge audience based on the fact that a young woman bared her breasts in a crucial scene. Such a fuss! Len Lauk and Don Eccleston directed most of the films. It was a very interesting concept that we jointly decided should wrap up after the two years because we had major difficulty with the central character of Rick, played by Marc Strange. It wasn’t the actor’s fault, but a dramatic flaw in the way real life and fictional heroes are not the same things.

The problem was that good probation officers are basically passive in their relationships to their clients. They don’t fix their clients’ problems but help them make their own decisions. That makes good social sense, but it meant we were going to have a series hero that didn’t play any part in the central story unless he messed up the case every week. It’s the only time I have come up against the conundrum. It doesn’t matter in a single story where the character is at risk in a particular situation. It’s only when you’re doing new stories with the same hero week after week that you start to notice the guy if far too involved and doesn’t win very often. It only happens in that peculiar dramatic form called the television drama series and sometimes in detective novels (as a series). Though it also happened to The Boys of St. Vincent with the second half of the story. Weird!

Fortunately we realized what was wrong when he had enough good scripts to complete two seasons, but we got out just in time. And everyone started looking for the next project.

And this brings us to The Beachcombers.

by Philip Keatley.

This is the last installment of what was going to be a short reminiscence on the beginnings of the drama department in television in Vancouver. If it has turned into a saga it’s because there are a lot of people and events that insisted on creeping into the story. And there are five and ten times as many who haven’t been mentioned and should be.


They say that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. They also say that history is written by the winners.  And both things seem accurate to me, though it’s often difficult to know when the war is over and winners can be declared.

In 1968 CBC Vancouver had been in the television wars for fifteen years. We had all learned that our audience wanted continuity in our schedule. Put the nightly news on at the same time every night and you build an audience. Move it around to suit the NHL in New York and Orlando and you get nothing but the NHL fans watching CBC News. Just a simple fact.

In television drama we had never had that continuing production of shows to build an audience over the long haul. We needed a series, a long term commitment of both air time and skilled crews to move us into the winners’ circle. That was the lesson from television history. In the jargon of the ‘70’s, we needed a critical mass.  

Fortunately the corporate policies of the CBC in 1968 gave us the chance. As everyone who works for the CBC knows, this is a very small political (small ‘p’) organization. The broadcasting facilities set up in Toronto and Moncton and Calgary and Quebec all reflect a calculated decision as to what part that place deserves in the Canadian structure of political power, cultural influence and economic clout. In 1968 the teeter-totter was tilting towards the West and toward Entertainment on the tube. Maybe the time was right for a drama series centred on family values rather than anger.

There were preliminary drawings for a major new studio building in Vancouver in the mid ‘70s.  It would have huge studios for the elaborate entertainment programs. We had a functioning location film unit. We had talented and experienced film cameramen, editors, sound and music post-production people.  The Design and Technical departments needed a lot of help. They thought of themselves as Service Departments, generalists who could cover anything, but what was needed was artists and craftspeople. The Program department was much the same – we were mainly enthusiastic amateurs.

Ray Whitehouse and Wilf Porth and I plotted. We cold-bloodedly examined CBC’s schedule for the soft spots and picked Sunday evening at 7 o’clock, right after the Walt Disney Hour, biggest lead-in audience of the week.There had been a show called Rainbow Country there, but it had financial problems and disappeared. CBC Toronto wasn’t especially interested in a “family entertainment” drama with its overtone of Hollywood schlock, so Opportunity was knocking. Ray and I reverted to the memories of the 1950s. “The Way In will be summer replacements and kids’ shows" we muttered, and here we go again.

Bob Gray joined us, back from his first sally into Feature films. We began to assemble the story elements and the production plan. A family at the centre, but twelve year old heroes who realistically could take central roles. A series for optimists.  A series set in a small place so everyone knew everyone.  Set on the coast. Stories about the sea and about the mountains  and people who travel as far West as they can get on the continent before they settle down. People from somewhere else, here by choice. And I have always had a love of English Pantomime, with its combination of adventure, gallantry and absurdity, particularly because it suits television so well.  Here we would be, 7 o’clock at night, with the kids controlling what the family watches, and with their parents stuck with watching too. Pantomime has always had that same problem in the theatre. And the answer is wonderful: the kids carry the plot, and there are adult characters who carry on a slightly risque line of banter and sub-plot, jokes that the parents think go over the children’s heads, to the delight of both parents and children.

We sent out a call to writers to invent ideas that fitted the formula (how crass that sounds) and got about ten really interesting proposals back. One came from Marc Strange called Orphan’s Island  A charming funny idea about an old sea captain and a bunch of lost children on an island in the Depression years of the ‘30’s. It was rejected by an executive who shall remain nameless. “The Depression,” said he,“was not a place for optimism. It was hell and we should forget it.”

So we tried again, sticking with the central article that Marc Strange wrote and shared. And about two days later the old captain had transferred into a footloose Greek, the island had become a café, and the year had become 1970, and the series was approved. But the experience had depressed Marc Strange, and he withdrew from the project after finishing just one script. (He returned six years later but that isn’t part of this chapter).

So there we were, with approval to shoot seven episodes right away, and 26 in the first year. And no writers! Suzanne Findlay came from Montreal as Story Editor on three days notice. Suzanne and I became the story department. Dennis Donovan and Merv Campone started scripts. To our delight Bruno Gerussi gave up his national morning radio program to come home to play Nick Adonidas. And we found our home in Gibsons Landing, and at the head of the Government Dock, Molly’s Reach.  And we found the Smiths, Harry and Margaret and John, without whose help the show would not exist.  John is now a long-time film producer, but in 1971 he was a beachcomber with an Australian jet boat who became Technical consultant, organizer and friend to us all. He also introduced us to another beachcomber with a jet boat- a gentleman who always dressed in black, stood ramrod straight at the wheel, and was john Smith’s greatest rival. And that’s where Relic began. When Robert Clothier agreed to play the character, it became a whole invention. Clothier wrapped himself up in Relic like putting on a suit of clothes (starting with dirty underwear in that case). A marvelous creation. He and Gerussi as a kind of B.C. Zorba, the Greek clone had the same magic as the Dames of English pantomime that we all knew and loved.

Many of you reading this will not know the name Norm Garriock but Norm was an extraordinary ally to Beachcombers. He was one of the high Muck-a-Mucks of English television, its Managing Director. On the day that we got approval to begin the series, I was called into Garriock’s Toronto office and asked to guarantee that the Beachcombers could run for five years. That was longer than I expected to be alive at that moment.  Five years back then meant five times twenty-six episodes, for a total of 130 episodes. And we had just heard that Marc Strange was leaving us!

Mr. Garriock explained that CBC's budget system charges off all a production's costs at the moment it is first broadcast. So, if we could save up five years of Beach after their first broadcast in Canada, there would be no carrying charges to pay. And then we could sell them into syndicated release around the world. CBC might earn back everything it cost to produce that show. It would mean that the next generation of drama producers would have the money to do the same twice over. It was a new way to keep the CBC in business as a true public broadcaster. At which point Norm Garriock extracted a guarantee from me that I would stay on the show for those five years, and so would Bruno Gerussi. And then he asked me what our plans were to train people to replace us in the future, so that there would always be skilled people available. Norm Garriock knew how to build things.  Train your own replacement, and never hire anyone who is not going to be better than yourself. It was the credo of Beachcombers at the start, and you will find Beachcomber graduates everywhere in Canadian film, television and beyond.

Every senior member of Beachcombers was expected to hire and train people who would do a better job than themselves. Roy Luckow in Camera was great at developing people, and Murray Devlin in Design, Bob Gray in Production Management, and Mal Baardsnes in Film editing. In the first season we had two Executive Producers who had started as sound men and stage hands. I think we populated Canada with trained Continuity Supervisors and Production Designers.

Beachcombers ran for nineteen years. I was on the show for only the first seven, and I couldn't start to mention outstanding contributors without missing many of the best. I will just say that the Beachcombers was the proof that you can train expert craftspeople and artists of the most subtle work in the same time you entertain a mass audience with a little bit of style and some warmth of fellow-feeling.

So that pretty well finishes off the "Early Days of Television Drama" as this tome was to be called. Where did it go?  To be brutally frank, it went where all of regional news hour production is apparently going in this year 2000, that is back to central Canada. Because when you cut off the development of new talent and the opportunity to get experience, this ability to express ideas and opinions disappears rapidly. And right after that it's not the expression that is gone. It is the ideas themselves.

They (whoever They are) refer to film/television productions in B.C. as a "shoulders down" industry. The creators, the writers, the stars, the directors come from elsewhere. The worker-bees are from here. Alas, the creators came because there were great crews here for some reason. The reason was the CBC, but we don't seem to own that anymore.

I consider it despicable that we are discarding the Canadian identity that has been built in the second half of the 20th century. Never has a medium suited a country size and regions and differences as television broadcasting suits Canada. And the current developments in interactive programs, the internet and wireless technologies create even more possibilities. And WE are giving it to an international "shoulders down" commercial Mafia that only understands one thing: money.

Brief CBC bio of Philip Keatley leading up to these 3 Chapters on the CBC Vancouver Drama Department's success in creating teams of experienced drama personnel. Our thanks to Peggy Oldfield for the following.
"Philip's career with CBC began in Vancouver when he was offered a position as a Production Assistant in November, 1956.  Three months later he was appointed a Producer in the fledgling television studios and like all new Producers at the time, cut his teeth on programs that ran the gamut from News to Sports to Mobiles, Variety and Drama.  During those early days, he produced the first Grey Cup broadcast from Vancouver and the drama series Tidewater Tramp.  By the end of the 1950's, CBC's newly connected network across Canada and the restrictions of the tiny Georgia Street studio for production, were conspiring to bring about the end of TV Drama on the West Coast.  In response to this inevitability, Philip Keatley, Len Lauk, Frank Goodship and others began to look at the feasibility of doing drama on film. (His 3 parter then goes into details)
In 1977, Philip transferred to CBC Toronto as Head of Production Training for the English Network.  In that capacity, he developed a Drama Directors' course with BBC Training and later adapted the idea to training for Current Affairs and others.  In addition, he developed training courses in Saint Johns, Montreal, Windsor, Edmonton and Vancouver.  Philip joked that in 1980 he discovered that his entire family had moved home to Vancouver without actually telling him.  Very fortunately, CBC agreed to let him join them .In 1985 Philip became Western Head of Development with the responsibility of creating co-production and independent production in the new relationship between public and private broadcasting and film-making.  It was, he said, a great job at an awful time as CBC struggled to come to grips with budget cuts and new media.  In 1990 he decided to take an early retirement from the Corporation and embarked on a new venture, starting a private production company with daughter Julia Keatley and producing the series Cold Squad. That series played for seven seasons; Philip retired for good after three of them.  Sadly, Philip passed away unexpectedly on August 6, 2007 following complications arising from respiratory problems."


ALL IN A DAY'S WORK by Chris Paton

A friend and colleague recently posed a question to me. She said "do you remember when we didn't have to buy tickets to see celebrities or famous people? All we had to do was come to work every day and sooner or later almost everyone we wanted to see would end up coming through the front door of the CBC studios."

That observation got me thinking about those days - a time before the instant mobility of ENG - electronic news gathering cameras - and the death of in-house arts and entertainment programming. These were the years when many a CBCer had only to pass by the reception desk to see, and sometimes even meet, world famous individuals coming into the studios to be interviewed, or to perform in musical or dramatic productions. Long before the advent of the internet, the daily lineup of celebrities was largely fueled by the publicity needs of organizations that regularly sponsored visits of world renowned speakers and lecturers. It was also due to the existence of two legendary Vancouver night spots - the Cave and Isy's - both popular supper clubs that for decades brought in a steady stream of big name entertainers. The fact that the CBC studios were conveniently located in the core of the downtown area didn't hurt either.

Between 1957 and 1968 the CBC had a large and dedicated audience for a nightly half-hour current affairs program titled "The 7 O'Clock Show."


The program, with host Bob Quintrell and interviewer Doug Collins, obliged community needs doing studio interviews with both famous visiting speakers and celebrity entertainers.

In 1968 local current affairs programming and the nightly news amalgamated inside a supper hour program titled Hourglass. In well over 25 years of information programming, a parade of VIP guests offered up hundreds of CBC hallway star gazing opportunities. Days of reading through old program synopses and archive files brought back a flood of behind the scenes memories. I share some of them here with colleagues who just might, as my friend once said to me, remember those days when all we had to do was come to work  .....

One of the earliest encounters I remember took place in the mid 60s in the main floor corridor of the old CBC building at Georgia and Bute. It happened when I swung around a very tight corner into the hallway and found myself face to face with comedian Bob Newhart. At the time Newhart was the feature standup comedy act at the Cave Supper club. That day he was in the building to record a 7 O'Clock Show interview and had just stepped out of the makeup room and directly into my path. Startled, we both stopped for a second and just looked at each other. Then I stepped aside, he stepped aside, I stepped aside again, he stepped aside again at which point he reached out and took hold of both my shoulders. Looking me in the eyes, and in that famous deadpan slightly stammering style, he quoted a line from one of Oscar Hammerstein's most famous song lyrics. "I won't dance, don't ask me." To this day the Newhart near collision of 1965 still makes me smile.

Another fun memory took place in 1971 when the late Broadway star Carol Channing was in town on tour at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and starring in her Broadway smash hit musical Hello Dolly. As a studio director, I was thrilled to usher Miss  Channing from the makeup room up the stairs to the old studio 42 news and current affairs set. Entering the studio Miss Channing abruptly came to a full stop in front of Bob Fortune's big green weather forecast chalkboard. Then to the amazement of all of us on the studio floor, she opened her mouth and belted out a short but fantastic a cappella chorus from her show-stopping hit song, Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend. When she stopped, everyone on the studio floor broke into applause. I explained to her that it was wonderful, but we hadn't managed to record her performance so would she please sing it one more time? She smiled and said in that unmistakable raspy, deep crackling drawl, "That's sweet dear, but it was only a little something I do to loosen up my vocal cords. I'm so happy you all enjoyed it."

In June of 1966, the famous Cabaret style singer Eartha Kitt was booked into Isy's. Eartha was reputed to have had a long running affair with Orson Welles.  He was later famously quoted as calling  her "the most exciting woman in the world." The Welles quote gave Eartha a preeminence and new popularity. Cast as Cat Woman on the 1960's TV series Batman, the skintight costume and her trademark "growl" went a long way to perpetuate the sultry image - as did her hit songs, - I Want to Be Evil and the seductive Santa Baby. Eartha was invited to appear on the 7 O'Clock Show, but couldn't make it for the  afternoon pre-taping session, so it was arranged that she would appear live on the program that night. We were all relieved when she arrived for the interview on time and was seated on the show set across from interviewer/host Bob Quintrell.

Right on cue the interview began and progressed as expected until Bob asked a question that, for reasons known only to Eartha prompted her to smile mysteriously, rise up from her chair and launch herself toward Bob - or as one crew member later commented, "she kind of came at him in sections." Being seated in a chair atop a 16 inch high studio riser didn't allow Bob any latitude to escape the looming Eartha. She stood over Bob for what felt like an eternity,
while in the control room jaws hung open in anticipation of what might come next.

What did come next was that Eartha dropped into Bob's lap and put both arms around his neck. She then did one of her cat woman growls into the boom mike and began to croon her song "Santa Baby" into the ear of the surprised, but unruffled Bob Quintrell. As I recall there was some press coverage the next day which went a long way to solving the question of Eartha's primary motivation for the move to Bob's lap. 
This year, while doing research to find photos for this article, it turned out that during that same visit to Vancouver, Eartha had found Beachcomber's star Bruno Gerussi similarly irresistible. The only record of Eartha on Bob's lap was thanks to the quick thinking of the VTR operator, who rolled tape on the live show, allowing the performance to be replayed as part of that year's Christmas show.

There is one last celebrity remembrance to write about in this article. It was an incident that happened outside the CBC building, but it's noteworthy just the same. It involves Johnny Carson who was in Vancouver October 24,1969, to open one of a chain of his new Here's Johnny Restaurants. The restaurant closed before it even opened, but Carson's visit remains a fun memory. It all took place at the Bayshore Hotel where Carson held a press conference. Jack Wasserman, cameraman Peter Allies and I were hoping to get an interview with Johnny, but couldn't get a confirmation.

So with only a hope that he would agree, we got a room at the Bayshore and in readiness, Peter set up his lights and camera. Jack and I went to the press conference during which Carson sat at a table. I was sitting directly in front of him, about 3 feet away. At some point during the announcement he pulled out a cigarette and began anxiously fumbling for a lighter. As a smoker in those days, I reached over and handed him my Bic lighter. He took it, lit his cigarette and mumbled "thanks, I owe you one." At the end of the conference, I approached him and asked him if he'd do an interview for us. He said he really didn't want to do any interviews. Then he said "that was you with the lighter wasn't it?" I said "yes and I'd be happy if you keep it if you'll just do this interview." He agreed and we ended up in the room where Peter was ready to roll film.

As a newly minted studio director my function that day was to hold the slate to camera and do the standard audio readout of the ID. I readied the slate.

Then I put it in front of Johnny's face and dutifully read aloud the ID info. "Johnny Carson Interview, Scene one Take one."


Then I nervously slapped the bars of the slate together and moved it away from Johnny's face." I noticed that Wasserman was laughing and Johnny had quickly leaned forward in his chair. On his face he had that "I just dodged a bullet" expression that was so well known to millions of the viewers of his late night show. I suddenly realized I'd almost managed to separate his nose from his face.

When we finished up I apologized and told Johnny the truth. I was new at this job and I wasn't wearing my glasses. He said, "well in that case I'm glad I wasn't sitting in that chair looking for a shave." Later that day when the film came back from the lab, Peter put the 20 second ID slate fiasco on a separate film core and, as a memento of the day, he gave it to me. For 50 years that film core has been sitting in a box in my file cabinet with never a thought about putting it to videotape or disc. But in writing this piece I thought it might be time to get it transferred and finally see how close I came to amputating the nose of America's most famous Late Night TV host. That can be checked out on the link posted here.




Over the years in CBC TV production I came to see the design department as the heart of the television business - a place where artists and craftspeople made real the ideas of writers, producers and directors.

Except for Canadian towns close to the U.S. border, there was no television service in Canada before the CBC went on air in 1952. Artists, craftspeople and designers ventured into this new TV world to find themselves in partnership with lighting, audio and video technicians, a group crucial in defining what would work on electronic screens, and what wouldn't. Every aspect of the 1950's business of design for television was new. Artists being artists, treated the business of sketches and illustrations as work for the ages. A great deal of it, such as set and costumes sketches, graphic department illustrations and promotional pieces were stunning pieces of art. Unfortunately, unlike the BBC archival treasure-trove, there has never been a CBC mandated design archive to keep safe the departments' artist sketches, drawings, graphic department illustrations or photographs - all of which would by now have comprised a 66 Year History of Canadian Television Design.

In my time at the CBC Vancouver plant there was seldom, if ever, a dull day. During the early years in the old studio at Georgia and Bute, and continuing right into the Hamilton Street facility, the plant rocked with music productions, drama series and one-off specials, along with continuing nightly news and current affairs shows. Studios, and all the design components that came along with them, were in constant demand and the work that came with that demand was never cookie cutter easy. Producers and directors came to the design department looking for original visual ideas that reflected the feel and look of the times. The work usually began with a set designers' illustrations and sketches, always solid working calibre drawings, but often beautiful highly detailed one of kind pieces of art. For historical productions, or productions outside the scope of off-the-rack procured clothing, costume designers researched and made detailed drawings of gowns, uniforms and all manner of authentic period apparel. Those drawings and sketches would be the guide from which cutters and seamstresses created the wardrobe.

With a production green light go ahead, set designers sketches were converted to blueprints that went to the carp shop, to wood frame construction, to canvas, to paint, and finally to the studio where staging crews put the pieces together, and set decorators and properties artists added the perfect finishing touches. When the machinery of design was operating at full throttle a walk through the carpentry shop was an amazing adventure. The shop was an enormous space that upon entering hit the senses like a forest of fresh cut wood and turpentine. Painters atop ladders broad-brushed and rolled color onto the surfaces of wood flats and canvas, their overalls so dotted and splattered with paint, the workplace garb alone deserved to be framed and celebrated on gallery walls. In fact I remember once asking one of the painters if I could have the old paint covered overalls if I replaced them with a new pair. The reply was, "no way. These are my history."

Even before any formal production meetings, individuals from various TV departments could be spotted checking out designer sketches and blueprints laid out on carpentry benches. The shop was a place where everyone - directors - producers - writers - camera - lighting and audio crew would make a point of dropping by. In a business that exists on the thin air of ideas it was a practical first place to spot and fix potential problems, to collaborate, contribute and just add your two cents worth in the effort to create the best possible work. It was a joy to be part of it all, and a heartbreaking loss when it ended with the termination of design departments all across Canada. CBC design attracted and employed some of the finest artists and craftspeople I've ever known. I considered working with them a major job perk. These days when I so often hear high praise from movie and TV directors for the excellence of BC design crews, I'm both saddened and proud knowing that the praise is meant for so many former CBC design colleagues who now work their magic on large independent projects - work that's gone such a long way in enriching the reputation of the industry in BC.

For the sake of illustrating this column there was an effort to locate as much vintage visual material as could be found. But with no dedicated archive, it became clear that most of the material had long ago walked out of the building with the artists who created it. What hadn't was lost in the rush to downsize. But efforts to find the stuff didn't go totally unrewarded. It was enlightening and a heck of a lot of fun to talk with former design staffers. I loved the anecdotes and the memories about the people, the times, the productions and the wonderful way it was in those years. It dawned on me that colleagues in the 20 Year Association would enjoy those stories as much as I did. I wanted to incorporate some of the anecdotes in this article, but they are memories that belong to, and would best be told by, the design artists and craftspeople who lived them. As much as it was fun in person, it would be a pleasure to read the stories here on the 20 Year Website. And who knows? Like an archeological dig, burrowing through home file cabinets and cupboards to find the visuals to illustrate your stories might just uncover some of those magical long lost works of art.

With affection and thanks to David Croal and Bill Waterloot for their research help, and to John Rogers, Marti Wright and Beverley Takeuchi for their contribution of pictures of people and memories spanning the last 50 years of CBC Vancouver Design History. TO SEE ALL 40 OF THOSE WONDERFUL PICTURES CLICK HERE


60th ANNIVERSARY OF CBUT part 1 and part 2
1200 W Georgia St - December 16, 1953

Part 1 click on:
Part 2:


Photos: CBC Studios THEN AND NOW