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ALAN WALKER'S OLD TIME CBC TV Oct 25th

 

                                  Welcome back everybody.

Last month's column on a Royal Tour brought back these memories of royal visits to Al Vitols:

                         The Queen Mum and the Brownie caper

Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, Empress consort of India, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, but known to one and all as Queen Mum, visited Victoria on March 19, 1966. She was in Victoria to lay the cornerstone for the new Royal British Columbia Museum, an event being covered by the CBC with Len Lauk in charge. While in Victoria she was also reviewing a batch of Brownies. I was to blame if things went south at that location. Mum, as befits royalty and government appointees, was staying at Government House and the Brownie event was to take place in front of the main entrance. While the crew was busy setting up I wandered around the mansion and wound up in the kitchen where, having explained to him what I was doing there, the chef invited, nay - insisted, that I sample the breakfast he was providing for Her Highness. It turned out to be a British kind of breakfast, kippers and all. I still don't see the Brit's love for smoked herring at the crack of dawn. I suppose I'd be correct in saying I shared Queen Mum's breakfast.If I recall correctly, the event was scheduled for ten o'clock to be telecast across the CBC network as well as fed to CTV, the only other Canadian network at the time. By nine-thirty, we were all set and ready for the ten o'clock appearance of Her Highness. At nine thirty-five it started to drizzle. By nine forty the event was moved indoors into the Government House ballroom without consulting me regarding what the move would do to the nation-wide telecast.

But move we had to.

Not only was the location changed, but because the ballroom stage featured a grand piano, a short recital was added to the ceremony by the local Brownie leaders. I don't recall how and why we had enough camera cable to reach all the new camera positions, but we did. There certainly wasn't enough time to fetch any from the old mobile in downtown Victoria. There was one camera up on the ballroom balcony, a place shared with a few light standards to add some extra illumination to the otherwise candelabra-lit parquet floor and whatever light seeped in through the windows. Another camera was at floor-level inside the ballroom and the third covered Her Highness while she chatted with invited guests in the lobby. We were not allowed to actually hear what Her Highness was saying and had to 'bury' her comments into the general hubbub. When the time came for her to move into the ballroom, cameraman Bruce McDonald outdid Bannister* and Landy in getting his camera from the foyer through a short hallway into the ballroom to see her disappear through one door and watch her arrive through the other. No mean trick with a                                         The Queen Mother
top-heavy, tiny-wheel, hard to steer tripod.                                                              & Premier W.A.C. Bennett                                  

From there on all went boringly as planned and I hope people in Punkeydoodles Corners, ON and Spread Eagle Bay, NL enjoyed our seamless on-air effort.

1968 – Vancouver – The Two Jacks 

Anyone of my vintage will remember Jack Wasserman and Jack Webster.  They were fierce but friendly rivals although the reality was that Wasserman was really a celebrity columnist and Webster was an investigative reporter.  Their real competition in later years was not in the print medium but as talk show hosts on competing radio stations.  Both appeared many times on CBC TV in Vancouver both as guests, and sometimes as hosts.  Wasserman became a regular host on CBC's Hourglass, and Webster had five years as a panelist on CBC's Front Page Challenge.  The royal connection?  When the Queen Mother visited Vancouver on the royal yacht Britannia, a few "important" people were invited to dinner aboard the royal yacht.  One of those individuals was Jack Webster and not even on his deathbed did he divulge what took place during that dinner or what they talked about. Wasserman was quite jealous that he was not invited.

 

Editor's Note:

In next month's column we'll be featuring some more stories from Al Vitols about Jack ("Wass") Wasserman.

 

* Many will remember the great rivalry between the two long distance runners, Englishman Roger (later Sir Roger) Bannister and Australian John Landy.  Both had broken the 4-minute mile barrier in separate meets earlier in 1954.  The first time they competed with each other was in the 1954 British & Commonwealth Games held at Empire Stadium in Vancouver in August, 1954 in which both men broke the 4 minute mile barrier, but Bannister won.  The press called it "The Miracle Mile". You can see the whole race on film in CBC's archives. 

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For readers of last month's column, I can report that I have not yet received the first of the anticipated TEN MILLION ($10,000,000.00) Dollars U.S., likely as a result of postal delays.

My column this month is a little personal – I hope you won't mind.

I Travelled Halfway Around the World to be an Office Boy at CBC

Part I

When I was a teenager living in a dusty, small town in south-east Australia, I came upon a travel magazine which dedicated a whole issue to travelling by train across Canada. There were CP trains and CN trains dashing hither and dither through and around mountainsides, across rivers, through forests and wheat fields, around and across lakes, and occasionally stopping at some obviously historic railway stations. What a vision! I determined there and then to go to Canada as soon as I was old enough, and had enough money.

My school friends scoffed at my plans – why don't you do what we're all going to do, and go straight to England – see Big Ben, buy a ticket to the Folies Bergère, and drink beer at the Oktoberfest in Munich? They also pointed out that you could enter England without a visa, and get a job almost immediately. I wasn't dissuaded then, but when I applied for a Canadian visa at the Canadian High Commissioner's Office (the name for a Canadian embassy in a Commonwealth country) I almost changed my mind.

It took me a year to comply with the various visa requirements. (Many years later, a Canadian immigration official explained to me that in those days when I applied to emigrate to Canada, there was an unwritten policy among some Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, not to "poach" immigrants from each other's country, but rather to concentrate on getting English and European immigrants to their respective countries. Presumably, a Canadian in those days would have had as much trouble getting an Australian visa as I had getting a Canadian one.)

When I thought I had completed everything, the junior Canadian consular officer said to me, "Just one more thing, Mr. Walker, we need you to provide us with a TB x-ray, certified by two Canadian doctors". I was stunned! Where would a teenager living in a dusty, small Australian town find two Canadian doctors? But then I thought, my dusty small town is Canberra, the capital of Australia, and Canberra has a national university. Maybe they have                             The Canadian flag in 1957 
graduate medical students? And they did, and I got my   X-ray and then my Canadian visa after proving that I had the minimum necessary finances of $300 Canadian dollars!

After stops in New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii, and many nights and days of partying, my P&O ship and I arrived in Vancouver in late October, 1957. As the Lions Gate Bridge came into view, I said to myself, "Holy wombats, I thought we were going to Vancouver first, that's the Golden Gate Bridge!" This was the tip of the iceberg of my ignorance of Canada and Vancouver.

As we were approaching the ship's berth at CPR's pier B/C (now Canada Place), I saw this giant lighted tower with a large "W" on top (it was the Woodward's sign). I nudged my new shipmate friend, and said, "Look at that – they put up that sign just to welcome me to Vancouver, "W" for "Walker"!". My friend said, "Not funny." He was eastern European.

After establishing my residence ashore at a rooming house at a giant $7.00 per week, I walked up and down Granville Street and went into every store and asked if they had any jobs. I was a bit surprised when everybody said, "No", and some even seemed to be laughing at my audacity in even asking for a job. Of course, if they told me that 1957 was a recessionary year in Canada, or even told me that Fall/Winter wasn't a good time to find a job (hence all those ads by Manpower Canada re "Why Wait for Spring, Do It Now"), I might have understood.

  

  

                                                                                   The classic elevated sign "W" for Woodwards,
Vancouver's
own department store chain, much
beloved by locals and much missed on its demise

I gave up on Vancouver, but on the day my bus was scheduled to leave for Toronto, I received a call from CBC Personnel, to come for an interview for the position of an office boy as a result of an application I had made several weeks earlier. I survived three interviews, including one by legendary Personnel Director, Cal Pepper, and joined a group of six other office boys who were bossed around by Brian O'Dowd and Jack Hundley. My salary was $160 a month, but then a case of beer only cost $2.52, and my rent, in a shared West End apartment, was only $40 a month.

Part II

Location, Location, Location!

When I arrived for my first day's work as an office boy at CBC's "office" location in the Day Building on Burrard Street (then between Christchurch Cathedral and what would later become the Park Place high-rise), I found out that that CBC was spread out! CBC Radio alone had three locations, (including the station itself), all in the Hotel Vancouver on the 16th Floor, the First Mezzanine, and the basement. Just visiting CBC Radio's location to distribute and pick up mail kept an office boy busy. CBC TV was just as bad with its sprawling Georgia Street location, which needed two of us office boys to service. Later the office staff would move from the Day Building to an office building at the corner of Burrard and Davie. The TV program staff later moved to the upper floor of a small office building at the southeast corner of Alberni and Bute, and subsequently moved to a floor of a brand new building at the southwest corner of Alberni and Bute, part of the Pacific Palisades complex.

Only 6 weeks after my start as an office boy, a vacancy came up
for a junior (very junior) TV technical position, and relying on my
teenage hobby of electronics, I applied, and was accepted.
My boss' boss at the time, Betty Rollins, said to me "I'm                    Competition to my arrival in Vancouver in 1957.
recommending you for the promotion,  not because I think you           Can't remember the singer's name. Enos?
have any talent, but because you're one of the worst office boys
we've ever had. On the average, an office boy takes 20 minutes to do the rounds at TV, but you take 2 hours. I know you are watching shows in the TV studios". (Many, many years later when I had a different career and Betty became one of my clients, I reminded her of this conversation, and she said "I wasn't wrong, was I?")

Although CBUT was only 4 years old when I joined it, it was already a very sophisticated television production centre, and I had a lot to learn. More later on my initiation into show business.

Vancouver downtown when I arrived in 1957.

Since then:

- The ugly Shell sign on the top of the Vancouver Block building has gone, but the historic building itself and its clock remain;

- The black shadow to the right was the Courthouse, and is now the Art Gallery;

- The beautiful old Birks Building at the corner of Georgia and Granville has gone, replaced by the uninteresting Scotiabank tower;

- across from Birks on Granville Street was a large parking lot, the former home of the second Hotel Vancouver (demolished in 1948) , and subsequently became part of Pacific Centre with the Eaton's Building (later becoming Sears and then Nordstrom's);

- the large fountain in the middle of the grassy area, courtesy of Premier W.A.C. Bennett, came, and went;

- Opposite the Bay and kitty corner to the Birks Building was a series of low rise offices, subsequently becoming the tip of the iceberg for the underground Pacific Centre Mall.

The West End still had a multitude of classic houses from the 1920's and 30's, and earlier

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Breaking News!

CBC Toronto has announced an upcoming one-hour special on women's underwear to be called "The Nature of Thongs".           =================================================================================

An Abbotsford couple were treated for injuries yesterday after their Smart Car hit a squirrel on the trans-Canada highway near Langley.  The squirrel refused treatment, and left the scene. 

The success of this column's future lies entirely in your hands. Comments would be welcome, and your contributions would be greatly appreciated. If you have an item to add to a future column, please email me at alangwalker@gmail.com . If you require any assistance in editing, I would be happy to help.  Alan