CBC RADIO IN THE 60s and 70s by Don Mowatt
Photos: CBC Studios THEN AND NOW



On December 20, 2020, Cinematographer Doug McKay passed away in Vancouver. Readers who knew and worked with Doug will appreciate the problem involved in writing a tribute to the man. For openers Doug preferred the job title "cameraman," and just the use of the word "tribute" would be enough to put him off the entire process. When wrapping a film shoot, offering up something like "thanks Doug, that worked well," would be right at the line of Doug's acceptable accolade limit. Praise that attempted to go beyond an acknowledgment that his film came back from the lab in good order would fall into the category of what Doug called "show-business hooey." Doug once said about his own work that he was just somebody lucky enough to get the opportunity to turn ideas into images. And now in looking back over his life, what wonderful images they were..

Doug’s work was easily recognizable. His gift was an indescribable mix of all the elements that go into great picture making, composition, framing and style. But the telltale giveaway was always Doug's use of natural light, a signature so distinct it was as if his pictures bypassed the camera lens and came directly from his mind's eye. Perhaps part of that was that growing up in Vancouver, Doug formed a love for the range of atmospheric light and colours intrinsic to the west coast of British Columbia. Where others saw gray Vancouver days, Doug saw glowing luminosity and soft pastel colors. The quality of light influenced not only his work, but the way in which he experienced almost everything in his life. 

Lisa Kolisnyk, who along with Doug Solquist, form a terrific professional video production team, wrote about working with Doug. "We were doing a 'Just Say No' anti-drugs video in Victoria for a couple of weeks, and Doug was there as our DP. One evening, we were out and about looking for a restaurant for dinner after a long day of shooting, and we bumped into Doug. He gave us some advice that we never forgot...”Look at the lighting inside the restaurant, if the lighting is good, the food will be good." And you know, he was absolutely right!"

Seen through Doug's eyes, ordinary and even downright ugly objects were transformed. An example of this sorcerer-like talent is captured in a story told by Producer Al Vitols. It involves former City Alderman Warnett Kennedy and a film documentary titled “Entrails of the City.” The title was in reference to what the Alderman saw as the ugly drooping webs of wires and cables that at that time, stretched out for miles above the City of Vancouver. Doug was asked to go out and shoot visual coverage to depict that theme. What Doug came back with was useless in terms of that story but later, set to music, the images became a mesmerizing pictorial essay which celebrated the beauty of the wires, cables, poles and all. 

Screening Doug's film when it came back from the lab was always a little like opening gifts at Christmas. No matter what you thought you were getting, there was always the surprise of a sequence of shots, or just a moment that only Doug had seen and managed to capture. Not always relevant as useable visual cover, those moments were still always fascinating and often fun. For instance once while on location in Stanley park, we were filming an interview with a prominent visiting entomologist. The man was in Vancouver on a mission advocating a more cautious use of pesticides on behalf of all the insect species known to be helpful to the environment. After we finished the interview, the man stayed and chatted awhile. I noticed what I thought was Doug, Bolex in hand, getting cutaway shots. When he stopped filming, Doug said to the man, "I should tell you that you have an ant in your pants." The man laughed and said something like “well, I'd never advocate anyone going that far for the cause ...”Doug said “no, seriously. It just climbed up your leg and, ah... disappeared.” When the film came back, included in the footage was a beautifully focused closeup cutaway of a little ant's arduous journey up a khaki trouser leg, a journey that ended when it made a quick right turn and escaped into the flap of the man's fly. 

Along with his Bolex, Doug always carried a still camera. Over the years he accumulated an enormous archive of stills going back to the time when, as a youngster, he got a Brownie camera as a birthday gift. There were also stills from a strange time in his life after he discovered Polaroid cameras. It wasn't the instant picture feature of the Polaroid that enticed Doug, it was the discovery of a trick that changed the picture colors in shades ranging from wild hot splashes of colour, to antique ambers and browns. He did it by tampering with the temperature, and either warming or cooling the picture immediately after it popped out of the camera. One day during a coffee break, Doug raised his Polaroid camera and took a picture of me. When the thing popped out of the camera, he opened his jacket and tucked the picture under his left armpit. It was a weird thing to do, and I took note of it, but wasn't sure how to ask why he'd done that. We continued chatting and a couple of minutes later, he retrieved the photo and handed it to me. 

I remember that moment as the beginning of Doug's "Polaroid Period." For weeks after, he would take Polaroid pictures of everything and everyone, putting the pictures into a warm oven, a refrigerator, a radiator vent, and the highly favored armpit position or any handy place that gave off extreme temperatures. I even remember opening the CBC refrigerator in the old Hourglass office one day, only to discover the shelves lined with metamorphosing polaroid pictures of the colleagues that Doug, with Polaroid in hand, had accosted earlier that morning. When Doug noticed friends and coworkers had begun to turn and run in the opposite direction when they saw him coming, he finally put the Polaroid away. To my knowledge it was never seen again. But the technique produced some fascinating little works of art, some of which I framed and kept.  

In his professional working life, Doug maintained a long relationship with two things - one was his trusty hand-winding Bolex - the other was his old VW bus. Over the years he gathered more than one Bolex. In terms of his VW, he bought three of them, all from the same era to ensure what he hoped would be a lifetime supply of spare parts. As years went by he slowed down, stopped taking on a lot of film work, and put his Bolex cameras aside. Then in 2010, Doug found out that Jack, the grandson of his dear friend, the late CBC Producer Neil Sutherland, was going off to the U.S. to study film making. Doug selected one of his Bolex cameras as a gift for Jack. As it was a special occasion for Doug and the family, I went along to take pictures on the day he delivered the camera.

Throughout his lifetime, Doug shot hundreds of films and movies for both theatre and television release. In his early career he worked and travelled for the National Film Board in Ottawa. His resumé was long and impressive. Yet some years back, when I asked him what he enjoyed the most, he was clear that the times in his life that he dearly loved were the times he spent, and the work he did with Vancouver writer, historian, philosopher and film maker David Brock. 

For almost 3 decades the two collaborated on a series of stories about Vancouver and about the history of the west coast of B.C. all of which were telecast on CBC current affairs programs on which I worked. 

David Brock died in 1978 and as a cherished friend and colleague, Dave's death left a big empty place in Doug's life. It was around then that from time to time, Doug would visit friends at the CBC, sometimes extending an invitation to spend a few hours exploring and taking still pictures. Another of Doug's friends, and a favorite Film Editor, Ray Hall, wrote in much the same way, saying that just when he began to wonder about Doug, he'd look up and there he'd be, coming up the garden and asking "where the hell have you been?" 

It's still impossible to believe Doug is gone, but there is some comfort in knowing that his work lives on in the CBC film library and other archives all across Canada. It also helps to remember way back in time and realize that at the end of his life, he'd done what he so wanted to do and turned a library full of wonderful ideas into unforgettable images. 

Because of concerns with posting a larger display of Doug's still photographs on the internet, there is an attempt underway to put the collection together as an Art Gallery presentation, so that in the future it might be available for public viewing.

Below is a small assortment of pictures from his work and life.

Portrait of Yousuf Karsh, one of the great portrait        Tulips
photographers of the 20th Century

East End back yard                                                      Neil on the set of Red Serge

Pond Silk                                                                      Doug's friend CBC Producer,
                                                                                     Neil Sutherland at his Piano




REMEMBERED FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES (Part One) by Chris Paton (Posted February 21, 2021)

When I think back about friends and colleagues lost over the years, they still appear in all the old familiar places - in the studios, offices, sets, all the places where once we worked together and shared some of the most productive, creative, and just plain best years of our lives. 

It takes only the mention of the old 1200 West Georgia studios, or the building on Hamilton Street, and the brain hits instant replay. Images stored over years of working and walking the halls inside both those buildings, plays back like an old movie. In reading the names and career details of all the associates we lost in 2020, the movie became the background against which old friends and colleagues came back to life. While I didn't work with and know well all the people on the 2020 list, I remember many of them. In fact some memories go back to the times when as a new script assistant, I started with CBC in the old and long gone 1192 Alberni Street CBC Production office. 

The front door of 1192 opened to a flight of stairs that led up to a long narrow office space, painted wall to wall in a flat and depressingly worn out shade of blue. On either side of the space small office cubicles, barely able to accommodate a desk, were assigned to the producer/directors of that era. That old office space came to mind with news of the 2020 deaths of two colleagues who once worked there. 

In those early 1192 Alberni days, Len Lauk was a producer whose office was at the very back of that second floor space. Len was the only producer who had a window, envied by all, even though it only looked out at the alley and the back of an old service station that sat on what is now super prime real estate at the corner of Robson and Bute. Len had come to the CBC as a production assistant in the 1950s, but as a producer, went on to establish and direct a long list of Vancouver shows and series. Among them the student quiz show, Reach for the Top, the cooking series Cuisine, and a number of drama specials and series such as The Manipulators. On the Scene was another of Len's series, this one produced out of the Cruiser, an old delivery truck sized vehicle, equipped with one camera and an enormous B&W VTR machine. The truck was an early response to the need to get outside of the studios and into the community. In its own blunderbuss kind of way, it did the job and is still affectionately remembered by some of us as the great granddaddy of todays totally self-contained ENG cameras. 

In 1968 as executive producer of Current Affairs, Len oversaw the marriage of two nightly half hour shows, the local news show then titled Home Edition, and the current affairs production The 7 O'Clock Show. The combined hour became the supper hour program, Hourglass. A few years later, Len went on to follow a career path that took him from Vancouver to Halifax as Director of TV and Radio. Still later another move took him to Toronto as Director of English language Radio and TV.  When Len finally returned to Vancouver it was as Regional Director for the Province of B.C., rounding out a lifetime of hands-on experience in both the administration and creation of television programming. 

In the 1960s, and within the Western Regions of CBC Television, women producers and directors were a rarity. Len never had a problem recognizing intelligence and ability as genderless, and wholeheartedly supported women in areas of responsibility that the Corporation had previously widely disallowed. With his passing, those of us who had the opportunity to realize our dreams and potential, remember Len with respect and gratitude. Len passed October 30, 2020.

Another colleague from the 1192 Alberni days was Paul Deyong, who in the 1960s was the assistant to the Production Manager, Bill Inglis. Paul worked at CBC for only a few years before moving on to a successful career in the mining and stock business. Paul passed December 19th, 2020


The Alberni Street production office sat kitty-corner across Bute Street from the rear door of the CBC Studios. The back and forth across Bute Street took place dozens of times a day as producers and production assistants headed out to videotape editing sessions or show recording days in the studios. Large productions, like drama or music specials, meant lugging loads of scripts, show formats, sheet music and other assorted necessities through the back door of the1200 West studio building. As a special memory all on its own, that old back door speaks volumes about Vancouver in those days. In striking contrast to present day CBC building security, the unattended back door of 1200 West was never locked during the day, only at night did a security guard wander by and lock it up. 

Entering that door and heading down the stairs just inside, took us past the old Switchboard room where Jean Danbert could be found handling incoming phone calls for the entire 1200 West Georgia office conglomerate. Jean also shared duties and was a familiar friendly face at the Georgia Street front entrance reception desk. Jean passed March 21, 2020

Past the switchboard room and directly ahead was the door to the studio 41 Control Room. Studio 41 was the largest in the Vancouver CBC operation. In the 1960s it was usually 41, or in the smaller studio 42, where we were most likely find Technical Producer David Liddell.  In 1970 David joined Rogers Cablesystems as Program Manager, pioneering and installing Community Television in Western Canada and in later years, became Rogers VP of Programming. David passed May 24, 2020  

One of the studio 41 productions on which I worked with David took place during the early days of the music series Let's Go. As a script assistant alongside Producer/Director Ain Soodor, the show introduced the talented musician and singer Miles Ramsay. Later in his career, Miles had his own CBC radio series backed by the Dave Robbins Big Band. In 1972 Miles, together with a popular and talented group of Vancouver musicians, got together and created Vancouver's Little Mountain Sound Company Recording studios. Miles passed June 19th, 2020

Miles' very first appearance on Let's Go might well have been on a production day that found cameraman Doug Franks manning one of the studio 41 cameras. Doug passed April 27, 2020.

Walking through old studio 41, an exit door opened up to the front lobby of the 1200 West building. A sharp left turn at the reception desk led down a hallway that ran the entire length of the front of the building. It went past the makeup room, the costumes cutting room, graphics department and finally arrived at the TV Traffic offices. Long before the advent of computers that digitally sorted and kept track of all the CBC studio production bookings, this was the place that the Manager of the department, Alan Gadsby, and his team of Fred Boyer and Audrey Brock booked and managed to keep straight studio requirements for every Vancouver TV series and program. Alan passed March 16th, 2020.

Continuing down that hall we arrive at the foot of a splintered and disintegrating wooden staircase leftover from the days when 1200 West was a Packard car dealership. Very likely the upstairs office was where salesmen made deals with car buying customers. The staircase continued to take years of crushingly heavy foot traffic to and from that office space when decades later, it became the CBC television newsroom. 

Hard to imagine the time when one person assembled, and sometimes even edited, the reels of film that made up most of the local nightly newscast. In the 60s, well before ENG cameras, local news stories were shot, processed in a lab and edited on film. National stories came via feeds from the east, and were recorded on videotape, but local stories were almost always on film.

In the final hour before air time all the film stories had to be assembled in playback order on a reel to reel film deck. The deck was located in a dark little screening room at the back of the old 1200 West newsroom. One of the many editors who did that final assembly, and often even edited actual news stories, was Danny Tanaka. All these years later, I remember Danny as one of those editors, who in the midst of the ruckus and commotion that is always a TV newsroom in the hour before air time, stood in the newsroom calmly splicing together end to end and in order, all the day's film stories. When Danny finished the assembly, he like other film editors in the newsroom, would take hold of the reels and begin a race against time to get the film stories down the stairs, up the hall to the other side of the building, up a second set of stairs and into the Telecine projection suite. Danny went on to the quieter and slightly less time restricted editing days of the Beachcombers and other drama series production. Some years later Danny would start his own Editing company, receiving two Anik Awards for his work on outstanding docu-drama features. Danny passed on October 6th, 2020.

When the rest of us left the newsroom to get to studio 42 it was more often by the infamous and perilous backroom passageway - a route taken by crew and on camera people desperate to make it to the studio floor before the on-air deadline. The passageway started at the back of the usually darkened news screening room. It was there that a smaller than normal size door opened up to an immediate and frightening highway of plumbing pipes, all of them in circumferences that ranged from extra large to very thin. Underneath that pipe cluster existed a crawl space of a height no more than 4 feet. Only with body bent deeply from the knees and waist, face eye to eye with the cement floor, could a person avoid serious head injury or just plain decapitation. This was the route that was nightly navigated by tall newsreader Harvey Dawes, sportscasters  Bill Good, Steve Armitage, Ted Reynolds and right along with the rest of us, weatherman, Bob Fortune after checking news teletype machines for last minute updates. 

If you came into the back entrance to 1200 West Georgia and took the staircase up to the second floor, you'd find the TV Technical Maintenance Department. 2020 brought loses there of colleagues invaluable at keeping the station functioning and on the air. One of those was Senior Broadcast Technologist Ray Wittrock. More times than I can recount, while producers panicked in studios and control rooms about equipment breakdowns and lost time, Ray, the calm voice of logic and reason would come to the rescue, quietly diagnosing technical problems and doing everything he could to get the show back on the road. With an amazingly successful batting average in that department, Ray will be missed and remembered by so many of us.  Ray passed on February 7, 2020.  

Peter Puttonen is remembered as a Vancouver Maintenance Technician in old Studio 2 at 1200 West. Later he was on the job, but seldom seen around the building as his responsibility was as Supervising Technician of the Mt. Seymour Transmitter. Friends were glad to see Peter in person once again when he came off the mountain and back to work in the 700 Hamilton Street building as the ENG Technologist. Peter passed February 13, 2020.

Down the hall from Maintenance and through the first door on the left, would find Erv Wegwitz, a Master Control Operator with a wide and extensive broadcast knowledge that, over the years, he unselfishly and wholeheartedly shared with many a new co-worker. Master Control operators are responsible for all programming that both comes into and leaves CBC Vancouver, and it is on their skilled eyes and ears that the final stage telecast quality of on-air presentation always depends. There was no one more skillful or reliable at the job than Erv Wegwitz. 

In 1994 when the CBC obtained host broadcaster rights for the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, it was a months long event that put all areas of CBC's technical proficiency front and centre on a world stage. Erv was the supervisor/master control on those games. Over the course of his long career, Erv worked many such events, including the Olympic Games in Australia, Japan and Atlanta. As a lifelong sports fan with a special love of baseball, he both coached and played the game until he was well into his 60's. Erv retired in 2002, but remains fondly remembered for his talent, dedication, wonderful sense of humor and friendly good nature.  Erv passed on December 13, 2020.

This column comes with gratitude for the kind assistance and input of Bob Glumac, Rick Beal and Peggy Oldfield. The list of those lost to us in 2020 includes friends from the Newsroom, TV Finance, Accounting, Design and Production. Remembrances of those colleagues will be shared here in future Stationbreak articles.  



REELING IN THE YEARS was the title of ten of lunchtime screenings of CBC Vancouver’s television firsts from 1954 up to now (2003). Each show was tied to someone who was part of the action. Ted Reynolds, host of the 1954 British Commonwealth Games, took a look at the daily coverage (60 minutes with no satellites, no microwave no betacams) of an International Sports Special. Musician/producer Claire Lawrence talked about 'Let’s Go,' R & R, the discovery of new talent and eccentric first producer Ain Sooder.  Len Lauk showed special coverage of Princess Anne dedicating the corner of CBC’s new production centre, and footage of the new Production Centre. Rob Chesterman talked and showed the work of writer, director, producer Neil Sutherland, involved with serious music, variety, drama and documentaries. Stan Fox was a creator of the unique late night program 'The Enterprize.' Producer and outdoors enthusiast Andy Snider’s subject was his popular series 'Klahanie.' Ted Reynolds introduced Ripple Rock, the largest man-made explosion ever made. George Robertson and Philip Keatley talked about CBC’s awkward coming-to-terms with our Red Brothers. Chris Paton and Bill Dobson remembered the adventure of very basic News production (our feature story). Musician Doug Parker has played with the very best including Eleanor Collins, Fraser McPherson, Juliette and Shirley Harmer. Just watch and listen!
                         Excerpts from IT WAS NEWS TO US by Chris Paton.

When Colin Preston asked me to participate in the lunchtime screenings, so many memories about the old CBC newsroom came to mind. Long ago, I started as a Script Assistant and shared news duties with other scripts in the old 1200 West Georgia St. newsroom. The half hour included news, weather and sports and was called 'Home Edition,' going on the air at 6:30. A current affairs program called 'The Seven O’Clock Show' followed it at what else, 7 o’clock. Later, in 1967, those two shows would be joined together and run for the next 12 years under the title 'Hourglass.'

But for today, I’d like you to imagine it’s the mid 60’s, and you’ve just walked through the front door of the old building at the corner of Georgia and Bute Streets. No security people stop you as you enter and you wave to the receptionist. You immediately turn right, go through a door, down two steps and begin to follow a wide linoleum highway that runs the entire length of the building, parallel to Georgia Street. First you’ll go past on the left the men’s dressing room  and past the women’s dressing room - there was only one of each. Now feel free to glance into the Makeup room and say hello to Phyllis Newman. On the left hand walls were Alvin Armstrong’s framed black and white photos of scenes from Vancouver productions. At the end of the hall there’s a closet-sized room full of ironing boards, mirrors and always yards and yards of fabric. It’s in this room that Brigitte Schweickhardt and Pat Abercrombie, assistants to costume designers Josephine Boss and Charlotte Trende, could most often be found sewing up a storm for shows like Neil Sutherland’s Some of Those Days or for one of Philip Keatley’s television dramas.

The hall takes a dogleg left. We keep on going past the cubicles that belong to the Graphics department. This was the place where artists such as Kris Krismanson, Gerry McLaughlin, Jeff Pritchard and Dennis Badgely worked on hand-made graphics, hot-pressed all the super name cards and closing credit roles. No such things as electric fonts in those days. A little further down the hall we go past the TV Traffic Department, home to Alan Gadsby, Audrey Brock and Fred Boyer. At the very end of the corridor, you’ll find the Set Designers’ offices. There, no matter what time of the day or night, it wasn’t unusual to meet up with David Jones, Victor Miles or Murray Devlin or Director John Williams’ secretary Ebba McRoberts, before she became Ebba Reiter.

Right at this point, you’ll veer left and go up a narrow old wooden staircase. At the top, if you were over five-foot-five, you’d have to duck to get through the doorway. But ducking was good practice for the last phase of your adventure. In fact, I came to believe that short people got hiring preference, so crawling under the vents and pipes to get from the newsroom to Studio 42 was a life-threatening experience for tall people. The entire space, the one and only edit room included, wasn’t much bigger than today’s Screening Theatre on C floor of 700 Hamilton Street. At any given time, between 15 and 20 very busy people did a kind of dance, trying to move around each other. There was one TV set – black and white of course, for this was before the advent of colour – and that one TV set sat on a low shelf, usually obscured by newspapers, a cabinet full of telecine slides, piles of files and of course coats and lunch bags. A green chalkboard displayed the day’s lineup.

At the far end, above Georgia Street, one large arch-shaped window looked out over Maynard’s Auction House and beyond to the North Shore mountains. On the window ledge there was a large, butt-shaped, red cardboard cutout, and underneath it read, ‘The Myron Lacka Memorial Seat,’ so named for a notorious but well loved reporter who was very much alive at the time, but who always started and ended his day by sitting on his memorial valentine, whilst reading the Vancouver Sun.

I’m sad to say that the 1960’s newsroom was still many years away from hiring women reporters. At that time, the women of the newsroom were the bright and patient Production Assistants, Edna Schmidt and Pat Macdonald (not to be confused with Script Assistant Patsy MacDonald). They had desk space, along with the reporters and the Assignment and Lineup Editors. The desks were squashed together, back to back, side to side, like domino blocks.

The old black phones had dials and three digit locals and all the dials came through a real live operator who worked in a bunker down beside old Studio 41. Neckties were loosened but never taken off. Everybody smoked. Some of the chaps even smoked cigars. By five in the afternoon the smoke got thicker and the adrenaline started to flow. The real heady rush began about five-thirty and, from then on, the air grew heavy and the mood serious. The sound of the typewriters increased, bouncing off the cement floor and finally building to an eye-crossing cacophony. Bells clanged as Reporters and Editors slapped the return handles in their old carriage typewriters.

So it was that into this noisy, stinky, chaotic and claustrophobic place, I came on my first day of employment of the CBC, On my second day, the veteran Script Assistant who was training me must have figured I was a quick study because she didn’t show up. By the time I figured out that she wasn’t coming, it was too late to get help and I was doomed. George McLean was the News Announcer – there was no such thing as anchormen in the early ‘60s. George sat hunched over a tiny table in one corner of the room. Eros Pasutti, the Assignment and Lineup Editor, bobbed up and down every few minutes, dropping thick five-part green scripts on George’s desk. We actually called the scripts 're-cues' – they were the pieces of on-camera copy that would link the tape and film inserts.  Anyway, George would calmly pull the scripts over until they were right under his mustache. Then he’d reach over and start a big stopwatch that was bolted down to his table, and he’d quietly read and time each of the script bits. When he was done, he would pass those times onto the Script Assistant, that would be me. The idea was that when George’s times were added to Danny Tanaka’s – Danny was one of the News Editors - he’d know the length of the entire newscast.

That first night on my own, I remember being so nervous my knees were knocking together. To steady myself I perched on the side of a desk near George and his pile of green scripts. There I practiced flicking my ancient stopwatch on and off and worked at finding the quickest way to clear the thing. More nervous as the minutes ticked away, I reached into my purse for a cigarette – I smoked in those days. I put the cigarette into my mouth and started to light it. Realizing what a dumb, embarrassing and, worst of all, uncool thing I’d done, I looked around to see if anybody was watching. Thankfully all the people in the room were too busy to notice. I substituted my lighter for the stopwatch, gratefully took a long drag on my cigarette and tried to relax. I remember glancing over at George McLean who, without taking his eyes off the 're-cue' copy in front of him, spoke in the incredibly mellow voice of his, “If that’s how you light a cigarette, lady, you’re going to burn down the entire control room trying to time this newscast.”  It was the start of a beautiful – and as it turned out - lifetime friendship with George McLean and with the newsroom.

There are a million other stories of things that went bump in the evening newscasts. Now that I think of it, it seems to me that only the names of the perpetrators have changed over the years. For the most part, the dangers of newscasts that turn out to be on-air shambles have stayed pretty much constant. My early news days happened at a time when television was barely a decade old. What now seems so outdated and in some cases comical, was in fact the hard work of people inventing and shaping the use of a whole new technology. They were exciting times, not unlike these days when television Journalists and Producers face the challenges of news gathering and reporting in the computer age. I’m just not sure the future generations will ever enjoy the freedom or have the fun that we did. Then again, they may. We’ll just have to wait another 30 or 40 years to find out.


 by Jim Nelson. (originally posted in Sept 2001)

There are a few of us left on staff who will remember either "the hotel” or “the garage.” But it appears I’m in the unique position of remembering both. Most knew me as a “radio guy” but actually I started my career with CBC Vancouver in the TV world.

“The Garage,” better known as 1200 West Georgia, was where CBC and I first got acquainted. Fresh out of BCIT in the summer of 1970, I joined CBC-TV as a “Vacation Relief” operator (a special wage scale lower than anyone else). It was an interesting time, the-times-they-were-a-changing, to borrow a familiar phrase. This was the time of the social revolution, marches, long hair, free sex and be-ins. There was a major technological revolution underway. Transistors were now replacing tubes and the first integrated circuits (ICs) were now appearing. There was also a new way of listening to the radio called FM. Colour had just taken hold in CBC Vancouver. The new 3 colour Mobile had just arrived along with the revolutionary Cruiser, bringing the region’s compliment of colour cameras to an amazing total of 7. NBC had its Peacock as its logo but we had the Butterfly. Colour wasn’t everywhere yet. Control rooms had only one or two colour monitors and they needed constant calibration. The old B&W monitors had the interesting brand name of Private Eye. We still shot the 11 O’clock News and occasionally the 6 O’clock in black and white.

VTRs were now finally reliable enough as high band colour was introduced, the Ampex VR2000 machine was la-crème-de-la-crème. VTR was a key department in all productions. Led by Cliff Gilfillan as the Group 111 (the equivalent of today’s group 8), Gordie Gill, Perry Eaton and Archie Reid were always on the job and in demand. But final copies were not yet kept on tape. Tape was too easily damaged and would not keep, so final copies were archived onto film via a system known as kine.

The first FRED (Frigging Ridiculous Electronic Device) appeared. This was the first computer to be introduced to MCR. It wasn’t overly reliable but it sure mad every show start and end on time. FRED was merciless.

A lot of my assignments were in Studio 42. Like today’s Studio 42 it was also the News studio. The News hour was called Hourglass, the host was Mike Winlaw, Harvey Dawes read the news, and weather was done by the one and only Bob Fortune. He would go over the maps of BC and Canada writing down in chalk all those temperatures that he seemed to know intuitively. Want to know his secret? Fifteen minutes before air he would take his chalk and write in very small lettering all those temps. The cameras could not see this and so it appeared as if he just knew what happened everywhere all the time.

Getting the news to air was a major undertaking. Any actuality was shot on film that had to be rushed to the lab for developing, and then edited by hand.  All scripts were done on typewriters (no spell check here). To play back the film clip it came from telecine at the other side of the building which might involve rolling up to three reels at once. When a picture appeared behind the newsreader, it really was being projected from behind him by a rear screen projector. Now the newsroom was located right next to Studio 42, all you had to do was crawl under the heating ducts. Yes, all CBC buildings are labyrinths, I believe it is part of the CBC charter somewhere. But News wasn’t the only diet for 42; we also shot commercials, did auditions and any other quick item that could be fit in. I was there the day a Russian freighter sliced into a BC ferry.  There were no professional films of the incident but there was an 8mm of it shot by an Island resident. We obtained it and set up a screen and projector in 42 and shot it with a studio camera.

Studio 42 had a lot of people coming and going through it. I can’t remember them all but here is a bit of a snapshot. Ralph Parker and Marv Coulthard did audio, Bob Black and Toby Reddecop were switchers, Jerry Williamson, Carl Pedersen and Gunter Mende did video, Andrea Maitland was script assistant, and just starting out in the director’s chair was a young PA named Chris Paton. There were a number of cameramen working the floor, among them were Bill Lawton, Des Saumer, Jack Bell and Neil Trainer. Neil was studying for his commercial pilot’s license at that time and the first to wear running shes in the studio. … blue and white Adidas. Quite a rebel Neil!

On the other side of the building was the other production studio 41.  This was the home to the then new but already very popular Irish Rovers show, produced/directed by the ever energetic Ken Gibson. I got to pull camera cable on this show, a low job but I was proud to be a part of it. This series was not only popular but ground breaking . Studio 41 had a ceiling not much more than 10 or 11 feet high and it wasn’t all that big either. Yet despite all of this, the Rovers were shot with a live audience with guest stars. Annie Murray was the first, singing barefoot of course. Chroma-keying was new but nowhere near perfected.  It was on this series with the leprechauns that many people came together to take it from a black art to a predictable tool. The Irish Rovers show success was the result of many people and some that come immediately to mind are Patsy MacDonald as script assistant, Roger Packer as the ever-in-control PA (floor director), Ray Waines, Bruce McDonald and Gene Baedak or Jack Bell as the cameramen, John Crawford handled audio on the three-tiered Northern Electric board, Ali Beheshti switched, and Andy Martens was the technical producer.

The term “media” had not even been coined but we were on our way. I was part of the first EFP/ENG crew. The cameraman had a B&W camera and I got to carry the “portable” VTR. It weighed 55 lbs, used 20 minute 2” wide tape and lead acid batteries. The VR3000 was our passport to many sports events, games, luncheons, press conferences, etc. I got to meet a lot of people in the sporting business but none nicer than Jack Short, The Voice of the Races. There was guaranteed excitement, as Chuck Lere would race back to the station at speeds of 80+mph on city streets in order to make the Late Night Sports often read by Bruno Cimoli. Equally up there in the hair-raising department was the week after the Gastown riot. We were sent in to cover the party put on by the Gastown merchants, and our CBC bosses issued us with bright blue hardhats equipped with face shields. We left them in the car! One more incident comes to mind. While covering a track and field event, my assignment was to stand at the end of the field where … the javelins were landing!

In the next issue Part 2 … “The Hotel” and who lifted the horse’s a_? 

 by Jim Nelson.
Originally posted Jan.2002.

I must admit that I have been both plagued and richly rewarded by my memory since writing part 1 of this little collection. The more I work on this the more old memories percolate to the surface. I suppose I could write chapters, DON’T WORRY  … I won’t. But I do apologize in advance if I do miss someone or a program. 

I made the jump from TV to Radio on January 3rd, 1972. Or as it was called back then the Junior Service to the Senior Service. With the intention that she would be a short diversion and I would be back in TV in maybe 6 months … 2 years max!  I guess I’m a bit off in my estimate, right? 

About a month later I found myself and the rest of my union brethren locked out and walking the street in NABET’s first ever national strike.lockout. Fortunately it only lasted three weeks and it was very civilized. Many times Flora Campbell, our departmental secretary, would lower an envelope out of a window just above our picket line. We would drop in money and a few minutes  later she would appear at the door with coffee. This was very much appreciated in a cold winter’s day along with a heat lamp installed in the entrance way. That was my introduction to the Hotel Vancouver!

After all the silliness was over, I started to get accustomed to the Radio way of life. I soon realized I had joined a family of sorts and a fairly tight-knit one at that. I was warmly welcomed by all. New hires were a rarity and a bit of curiosity. Once you joined Radio you stayed until you retired or died. This was an institution that had pre-dated the hotel itself. The Hotel Van had opened in 1938 but we started broadcasting in '37. And the history goes further back yet. There was an amazing amount of loyalty to staff, to the company and to each other.

One of the key elements that made this such as family were the many social occasions such as birthdays, the annual Shop Party and even funerals. The most notable were the Studio “A” parties.  Wine and cheese parties were new and very in then and Studio A was the forum for them. Tom Robinson would often chose the wines and people like Pat Kirk, Gwyn Gunn, Bobby Gibson, Sally and Flora Campbell would organize them. The parties were a great forum for conversations, sipping, eating and just having a good time. Some took to sharing on a more romantic basis, with other consulting adults  … after all it was the early 70s. Not all parties were planned. It only took a snowfall to send someone out for “supplies" and the party was on.

Of all the parties, the last party was the best. Packed to overflowing with current and retired staff, the party spilled out into the lobby and up the stairs to Master Control, Studio C, and surrounding offices. Lasting late into the night, I believe it was a fitting farewell to a memorable old home.  Now … if you look closely at the back wall of the studio (above) you will see a mural of a Greek god. After that last party was over, the wall panel with his derriere so nicely portrayed on was missing! Do the initials JK ring a bell with anyone?

We had our own entrance: 701 West Hornby. As you walk in a couple of stairs, you might hear Judy Piercy typing scripts for Fred Laight, producer of The Schools Broadcast, or Doug Haskins, drama producer. Judy went on later to become a staff announcer and host. The three of them occupied the only office space on the lobby level. Studio A hosted programs such as The Happy Gang and Café Continental with performers the likes of Juliette, Lorraine McAllister, Dal Richards, Lance Harrison, The Rhythm Pals and Cleo Lane. This was the home for drama, jazz, pop and classical music.

If you leave the studio and head up the stairs, you come to the Main Mezzanine. Here you will find Studio A’s control room. You would often find people like Don Hardisty, Bill Seeback, Gerry Stanley and Gene Laverock recording away with producers such as George Laverock, John Merritt, Don Kowalchuk, Don Mowatt and Norman Newton. Of course if you look under something you might find Dave Newbury tinkering away on some detail. Dave had only a few years of experience then but was able to transform the control room to a state of the art multi-track-studio. It was amazing! 

If you went outside and turned the corner, you would be in Master Control, no automation here but an awful lot of tubes. Some of the residents would be Danny Vieira, ever vigilant and always fixing something, or a younger Eric Anderson (though he still hasn’t aged) who was a fresh face from the transmitter and UBC, also Russ Brownlow, Rick Matthews, Clare Purvis who a had crusty outside but a deep passion for Radio.

Walking through Master would take you into a large closet known as Studio C. The control room was cozy to say the least and the studio was not much bigger. Mostly this was the domain of the current affairs department which was only the 4-6  time slot.  Harold Gray would be producing there later, succeeded by Kim Whale and Volkmar Richter.  Patrick Munroe and Anne Petrie hosted the show then known as 3’s Company. Wreck Beach was a new phenomenon back then so one of Patrick’s assignments for this cutting edge show was to go and interview the inhabitants, wearing only a tape recorder. (Not sure how he placed his mic).  A year or so later Kim left and was replaced by the very talented and hardworking Anne Penman who came to us from Ottawa

If we come out of Studio C and Master, we could turn left pass the lounge and drop in at the Technical Office.  Florence Campbell would be often typing the schedules but always had time for anyone who came by. Bob Gray (not TV's Bob Gray) was the departmental supervisor and Don Horne was the Director of Technical Operations, aka my boss! You won’t meet a kinder or more genuine boss as Don.

After you had left their offices, you could walk past the 4-6 office and into the music library. Karen Wilson had joined us as the music librarian. I think she was all of 30 at the time but to us younger ones we were so impressed as to how much spirit and energy a person had and be so old!  Remember the phrase Never trust anyone over 30? Karen proved us very wrong and still continues to impress.

We have now done the circle of the Main Mezzanine with only one more stop: sound effects and the home of the ever amazing Lars Eastholm. From here we head out to the service elevator and up two floors. Working at the hotel placed us alongside the hotel staff. They became an extension of us and vice versa. Often we would ride with trolleys of fabulous food and there might be a free sample or at least a joke to be shared.

Two floors up was the First Mezzanine, the new part of Radio. Formerly the maids’ quarters, we had moved in here in the early 60s. To the west were French Services and our Shop. Located at the farthest distance from any studio, it was not as spacious as today’s. It was always neat and organized. Don Reagh always saw to that. He had another trait. He liked gold. So he had the Shop door painted gold, but it didn’t stop there. The wastebasket was gold and yes, even the phone was, you guessed it, gold. Jay Moore, the remarkable Dave Newbury and myself were shop members. A few years later long haired hippie John Henderson joined.

Next to us was Jacques Laudry, the Director of Radio for CBUF. He was very popular and greatly appreciated by all. Christian Bernard was a staff announcer for CBUF but was also the first to cross over to English and then bilingual shows. A few others I remember from this side are Annick Resag, Jacques’ secretary, and Nicole Moore, PA and Jay’s wife.

If we walk back to the opposite side of the floor, we find ourselves in the main production area. There were 5 more studios, a couple of editing areas and two listening booths. Unlike today, every station had a dedicated studio that was live from sign on to sign-off. Studio D was the one for CBU (AM). You could find Bev Small and maybe John Hireen, Bob Spence, Larry Hartman, Joe Silva, Eric Batut or even Ian Stephens at the controls. Bert Nelson, Bruno Cimolai and Dan McAfee were among the many others on the other side of the glass. To one side of D was Studio F. This one was the on-air studio for CBUF-FM.  Peter Schell would be one of many keeping it running. To the other side was Studio E running CBC-FM. Rusty Hopper was at the controls every morning. If you got him talking you could hear a lot about the Avro Arrow, the Spitfire and other planes.  Studio E was also the home of Bob Kerr and Off The Record which ran for 35 years.   If you turned up the hall you would pass the Recording Room, hearing sounds of many programs being recorded, like the new morning show The Country in the Morning. Manned by the likes of Dennis Mackie, another crusty one with a marshmallow inside, or Les Hansen, who seemed to be always smiling or laughing. This, a vital area, was named the Wheelhouse.

Directly across was Richard Woo’s domain, the tape library. Richard loved photography and every month he would have a new 11x14 portrait of a staff member on his wall. I guess it was his enthusiasm that got me into photography in such a serious way. Next to Richard was Studio J, the only stereo packaging studio we had. Rob Chesterman would piece together his masterpieces here. Across the hall in Studio H a different sort of masterpiece was taking place. A young long-haired rocker named Claire Lawrence (from the rock group The Collectors) had somehow got in the door and started the program Gold Rush. He was joined by a PA who you may know, Susan Englebert. She would often work late in the evenings, editing away in a very smoky listening room. I used to lecture Susan on smoking and she would give me a very polite yes and continue editing. Then as today they were a catalyst for change.

Up the hall were the rest of the offices. Traffic housed the ever likeable Colin Astle. Howard Rose was also there. Radio News was headed up by Jim Baugh and joined by Jim Kearney (doing sports, what else), Brian Kelleher, Dick Elson, Barry Bell and a very new Eve Savory. Telford Oliver, the small fellow with the huge voice, read the news along with others like the always cheerful Stan Peters. Next door was the GMR (Good Morning Radio) aka the morning show with its new 10 speed riding, very trendy Bob Sharples. This was a radical move from a mostly music format to information radio. There was still some music but it was a start into the format we have all come to know as CBC Radio.  Bill Terry was the producer along with Johanna.

Radio Noon, the 12-2 show, was a resources show coming from the old Farms Broadcast. Gordon Inglis produced and led the show with Alf Spence operating the show. The rest of the team consisted of Ron Travis, Evelyn Harper and Norm Griffin. Up in the Music Library,  Ruth Levy lead the way. The team consisted of Judy Knox, Berry Austin, Neil Ritchie, Elizabeth (Ibby) Wilson and Pat Van Horne. Across the hall in the Record Library overflow was someone just starting out in the public relations field, John Lysaght. Do you remember the day when a whole case containing over a thousand 45s tipped over next to your desk?  I do because I had to right it again. A few more inches and we would have had a John pancake! Rounding out the English crew we had Keith Barry as Program Director and Ken Davey as Director of Radio. Oh, I almost forgot the tall slim mail boy who had just started … Tod Elvidge. Still remember you trying to steal my beer!

I would like to end with a few acknowledgements. Thanks to Catherine Morrin and Peggy Oldfield for the spell check on all those names. To  Dave Newbury, Neil Ritchie, and Eric Anderson for help in the recall department. To Ray Adams and Don Horne for your photos. And especially to all that have shown me just how special Radio can be.

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

                                                                      HIGH TIMES.
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."



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