60th ANNIVERSARY OF CBUT '53 (Parts 1 and 2)
Photos: CBC Studios THEN AND NOW


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




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


by Jeff Groberman.

In 1980 I left CKVU to produce Dr. Bundolo at CBC Vancouver. Gordon Craig, the director of television at that time, was spearheading the show's move from radio to TV. The idea was to give the show two years on regional television, then make the jump to the network.

Despite a Sunday midnight timeslot (and this was before PVRs) the show quickly picked up a devoted audience and won a regional ACTRA award as the best TV show in its first season. It took only a few weeks for the show to be picked up by all the other provinces on the regional exchange program. The show was wildly popular – with everyone except the Toronto CBC honchos who still believed if a show was good – it should be coming out of Toronto.

Toronto CBC was backing the Royal Canadian Airfarce, and despite several failed attempts at producing a network show, the network was still determined there was going to be only ONE network comedy show - and that was going to be the Airfarce – period!

That, coupled with the fact that Gordy Craig left CBC Vancouver for the CBC Network in Toronto and was replaced with two Toronto parachute executives indicated the show's days were numbered.

I had left CKVU to produce Dr. Bundolo and now that it was coming to an end it left me in a quandary. I could head back to CKVU and resume producing the Vancouver Show or find a new role at CBC. I decided to be pro-active and pitched a show to Jack MacAndrew, the head of television Variety. Jack listened patiently to my pitch then told me he'd rather I produce a new series he was planning: The Paul Anka Show.

At the time CBC was producing a lot of variety shows: The ever-popular Irish Rovers, the David Steinberg Special and Burton Cummings were just a few but, without a doubt, the Paul Anka show was going to be the plum.

Paul was an international star and the show would be a co-production with American partners. It would be a big budget high profile show – I couldn't say no. Instead of being constantly pushed aside as the little regional show by the network, I would be the guy doing the pushing. Of course, it turned out the guy I would be pushing would be me - as Dr. Bundolo was still in production.

I had to keep switching hats and fighting with myself for resources - but I made it work. Paul Anka would be coming out studio 40, the big studio, and Dr. Bundolo would come out of studio 41, the smaller studio. During one week both shows were recording simultaneously! I was running from one control room to the other. It was the best week of my life.

My title on the Anka Show was Line Producer. I was in charge of all the day to day running of the show. The executive producers were responsible for financing and providing the main talent. I would be in charge of the rest: hiring writers, back-up singers, arranging productions schedules and post production. Today the title would be Show Runner.

The American executive producers were Burt Rosen, an Emmy winner who had worked with Ann-Margret, Raquel Welch, Bobby Darin and the Smothers Brothers. His partner, Clancy Grass, had a less glamorous resume: his IMDB credits included Five Angry Women, Night Call Nurses and The Student Nurses.

The Director was Bill Davis, originally a CBC director, who had made it big time in the U.S. directing shows for Frank Sinatra, John Denver, Julie Andrews and Dick Clark to name just a few. He was a pleasure to work with. He had infinite patience with the cast and the crew would walk across hot coals for him.

Paul, on the other hand, was another story. In the 26 shows I produced I probably didn't have more than three discussions with him. Handling Paul was the sole responsibility of the Executive Producers.

Paul had also isolated himself with his own entourage. First and foremost were Jose and Mary – his gatekeepers. "Nobody gets in to see Paul. Not nobody no how!" was Mary's mantra. Jose and Mary communicated with each other with walkie talkies – even if they were standing next to each other. Paul also had his personal hair dresser (even though he had hardly any hair at the time) and a personal secretary who had three-inch nails and wore six-inch heels – enough said.

The designer, Danny Chan, had designed a gorgeous set with a stage that had multi-coloured lighting under a plexiglass floor. The floor would light up with all sorts of designs – it was way ahead of its time – and very prone to scratching. Any of us who got too close to the floor were chased off by Alex Pappas, our floor director.

A couple of days before production, Paul arrived unannounced in the studio. He was wearing a large cowboy hat and cowboy boots - and the first place he headed for in those cowboy boots was the stage. He had clomped around the stage for about 30 seconds before Alex spotted him.

"Hey you," Alex shouted across the studio at Paul. "Yeah, you, the idiot on the stage, get the hell off it - now!"

Paul stood there stunned. The whole studio suddenly went very quiet - waiting for the inevitable explosion. At this point I should point out Alex had never actually met Paul and had no idea what he looked like. All he knew was some idiot was scratching up his stage.

I took control of the situation: I rushed over to Alex and grabbed him by the elbow and walked him over to Paul.

"Alex, I'd like to introduce you to Paul Anka, the star of the show. Paul, I'd like to introduce you Alex, he used to work here."

Paul paused a moment then laughed and apologized to Alex. From that moment on, Alex and Paul had a special relationship. Paul might not listen to us, but he would listen to Alex.

Paul's contract called for him to have his own dressing room. The CBC provided the studio green room and had it re-carpeted and rented fancy furniture for him. All of us, including the director, were forbidden to enter the inner sanctum – except for Burt, Clancy – and one of the drivers - whose nickname at the time was "The Prince of Snow." The lack of access to Paul led to some hilarious incidents.

Since we weren't permitted to enter Paul's dressing room to choose his outfits Paul become the sole arbitrator of what he would wear for the show. For one set, he chose a black velour suit. Unfortunately, the set director had chosen a black curtain as a backdrop and a black piano for Paul to perform on. When Paul walked onto the set it was like watching a pale pumpkin float across the set. There was a bit of a Mexican standoff to see who would back down first: we changed the set.

We would shoot five shows a week - take two weeks off - then shoot another five shows. The day would begin at ten in the morning with the orchestra rehearsal. Paul would arrive around four o'clock to rehearse his numbers and run his lines.

At seven we'd tape the show. The moment we finished taping Paul would rush to the airport, jump on his chartered jet and head down to Las Vegas where he'd do a midnight show. At three in the morning he'd head back to Vancouver and catch a few hours sleep before showing up in the studio for the next day's show. Eventually burning the candle at both ends caught up with him.

We had just begun taping a show when Paul got the hic-coughs. He'd sing a line then there'd be a loud hiccough. The audience thought it was hilarious – and so did Paul – for a while. The audience shouted out their favourite cures and Paul tried them all – drinking out of the top of the glass of water, breathing in a paper bag, holding his breath – nothing worked. Eventually we had to record the show complete with hic-coughs. The director stayed mostly wide and said we'd lip-sync the show later in the week.

A few days later, I was summoned to the Director of Television's office. He wasn't happy with me. He was never happy with me. He held up a can of video tape.

"Do you know what this is?" he demanded.

"I'll take a wild guess – video tape?"

"Don't be a smartass. It's an Anka tape. And do you know where I got it?"

"The tape library?" I offered.

"No. I got it in shipping where it was about to be sent to Dick Clark's Blooper show. This is CBC property and I want to know who authorized this ... and when I find out," giving me a knowing look, "that person's fired. Now get out and get me that name."

I should point out our director, Bill Davis, was also the director of Dick Clark's Bloopers show and felt the hiccough episode would provide excellent promotion for the upcoming series. I agreed and said I would take care of it - hence my summons to the principal's office.

I waited about five minutes then returned to his office carrying a clipboard.

"Do you have the name?" he demanded.

"Right here," I said pointing to the clipboard.

"Let me see that, "he shouted, yanking the clipboard out of my hand.

He stared at it a moment in disbelief.

"That's my name!"

"Yes, you signed the request two days ago."

"I didn't realize what I was signing," he stammered.

"Does that mean you're fired?" I asked

"Get out!" he shouted.

Paul wasn't the only one burning the candle at both ends. I was not only responsible for running the show, but also responsible for the post production. Because of the tight schedule, a previous show was often being edited the same day another show was being recorded. On those occasions my day would begin at 9:00am in the studio, and when the taping was over, I would head to the editing booth for another 8 hours of editing. On those days I didn't go home; I just caught a few hours sleep in one of the dressing rooms.

On one of those nights I got a call in the editing booth at 1:30am from Don Costa, the musical director of the show. Don only worked for two performers: Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra.

"What are you guys doing?" asked Don in his gravelly voice.

"We're editing the show, Don. What's up?" I asked.

"I've cooked a huge pot of pasta and the guys didn't show up. You guys hungry?"

I conceded we were hungry, so the editor and I grabbed a cab and headed down to Don's suite at the hotel. We arrived around 3:00am.

Don was sitting at the kitchen table, a glass of scotch in front of him, a huge joint in the ashtray, and a pen in his hand. His attention was divided between a porn movie on the TV, a steaming pot of pasta on the stove, and scoring the parts for that day's show. The orchestra had 30 pieces and Don was scoring each of their parts by hand.

While Don was busy with all this the phone rang. I wondered who the hell calls at 3:00am?

"Can you get that, Jeff?" shouted Don from the stove. "I'm sort of busy here."

"Hello?" I asked.

"Put Costa on," a voice ordered.

"Who's calling?" I asked.


"Frank who?" I asked.

I was greeted with an icy silence. By then Costa had waddled over and took the phone. I suddenly realized which Frank it was. I'd heard he called at all hours of the night.

Don put the phone on speaker so he could continue his multitasking.

"What are you doing up there?" demanded Frank.

"I'm working with Paulie," replied Don.

"You working for the midget? (Frank's nickname for Paul). How's it going?"

"F**king Paul," sighed Don. "He can't sing Happy Birthday without six sets of cue cards."

The exec producers, Burt and Clancy, liked pasta too, but not Don's. They only frequented Vancouver's finest Italian restaurants.

One of their favourites was Umberto's. They would have lunch or dinner at least two or three times a week. One of Burt's favourite dishes was special meatballs that he claimed Umberto made just for him. It was rumoured when Umberto heard Burt was coming he got the can opener out.

One day the Director of Television dropped by the production office to wait for Burt and Clancy who were taking him to Umberto's for lunch. He was very impressed the American co-producers were taking him to an expensive restaurant for lunch. I recommended he order Burt's special meat balls.

About three hours later, he dropped by again to comment what classy guys Burt and Clancy were. We could all learn a lot from them.

"Yes, including how to expense everything," I replied, holding up the receipt Clancy had just dropped off. "Congratulations! You just bought yourself lunch."

There was a plethora of "big name" guests booked on the show: Andy Williams, Dionne Warwick, Anne Murray, Tony Orlando (without Dawn), Andy Gibb ... Some stars were bigger than others – in more than one way. I remember the night we had Peggy Lee on. She was in the twilight of her career- but could still belt out "Fever," her signature song. They had flooded the stage with fog and as she entered through the fog one of the cameramen whispered into his headset, "I thought there was a law against something that big moving through fog without running lights." Not nice, but still funny.

One star the exec producers signed was not a musical star but a Canadian sports idol, Wayne Gretzky. Wayne couldn't sing to save his life; but he'd just signed a contract the night before for 20 million dollars - making him the highest paid hockey player in the NHL. It was the sports story of the month and I had him in my studio – along with every sports reporter in the city demanding interviews. In addition, the studio was filling up with adoring fans thrusting hockey jerseys, sticks, gloves at him to sign. There was such bedlam we couldn't run a rehearsal. I finally got on the P.A. and announced that it was a closed set – Everyone out! I didn't care who they were. A few moments later I felt a tap on my shoulder.

"Does that include me?" asked Len Lauk, the Regional Director, clutching a recently purchased Gretzy jersey.

"Rank has its privileges," I conceded.

All good things must come to an end, and so did the Anka series the following spring. After 26 episodes the show wrapped and Burt and Clancy threw a gigantic wrap party. It was held in a Gastown restaurant and the food and booze flowed. There were speeches and tears. The crew had chipped in and bought Paul an expensive Cowichan Sweater.

The next morning Paul was gone. For the first time we could enter his dressing room. We found the Cowichan sweater balled up and tossed in a corner.