Alan Walker's Old Time CBC TV August 29, 2021


Hello Everybody:

Last month's column about the history of VTR at CBC Vancouver sparked these stories by Al Vitols about working with VTR Technician Emeritus Cliff Gilfillan.

CLIFF & I  by Al Vitols

I don't recall when Cliff and I first met or worked together, nor do I recall the final time, but in between there were some dandy sessions. Two come to mind.

The CBC had agreed to cover the Unlimited Hydroplane Races for some unknown reason held on Lake Okanagan rather than Seattle's Lake Washington.  We were to provide a copy of our edited show to KING-TV, the usual Seafair broadcaster and our Seattle 'partner'. At their suggestion, I hired Bill Muncey, a legend in the Unlimited community, to help Ted Reynolds provide commentary when Bill wasn't behind the wheel himself. Ted had never done a hydroplane race before. 

Never having done one myself, I stuck a camera high up on Knox Hill to provide a magnificent cover shot which, as it turned out, saved not only my posterior but also the show.

The two main cameras were in the pit area and were shooting toward the west, with one more camera on a diving tower at the southern end of the course providing great head-on close-ups along the backstretch and dynamic shots as the water-borne airplanes made the end turn.

All went well until the final race. We had recorded all the heats leading to the final but then the race was held up because of weather. The waves were considered too big for racing. Waited and waited and waited. Then, close to sunset, the water calmed down enough to race. Unfortunately, the two pit cameras were shooting straight into the setting sun and that pretty well made their pictures useless except for the few final yards to the finish line. What has this got to do with Cliff, you might ask.

Well, he and I spent a long shift reconstructing the final race mostly using shots from all the heats. When we were totally stumped there was the Knox Mountain picture as it was wide enough not to show details. Can't recall how many laps we had to 'reconstruct' but it took a long time. Someone watching at home with a stop watch in hand would have seen that the laps had different times, but otherwise it looked just like all the heats. Don't know if Cliff ever enjoyed a minute of the session, but he certainly did more than one would have expected and it was mostly he who got it looking as if it were done 'live'.

Later I got a note from Bill Muncey suggesting that our CBC coverage was better than that of KING-TV, the usual telecaster of the Seattle Sea-fair and the Unlimited races. Cliff can take a lot of the credit for that.

And then there was the Pat Hervey Show, officially known back in the days of long show titles as "Miss Patricia's Presentation of Songs and Things".

For the first show of the series I had Doug McKay, the through-the-lens genius, shoot some stills with his fish-eye lens of Patsy, dressed in striped pants, at assorted Vancouver landmarks, such as the Crab at the museum.

As with all Doug's work, the slides were terrific. The song I had chosen for the opening number was "Bend Me, Shape Me", and Cliff and I did some very fast cutting between shots. Almost at every bar, or 'measure' as Vancouver Symphony's Kazuyoshi Akiyama would say, and sometimes even with every beat.

Back in those days VTR required a 10 second roll-up. So for every edit, there was at least that time to select an edit place, then a 10 second rehearsal roll-up and finally the 10 second roll-up to the actual edit. At least a minute of the tune for every splice, and there were hundreds of them. Imagine hearing the same 10 seconds over and over again because there were many splices within the 10 second period. Cliff did a magnificent job and I wonder if, like myself, he couldn't listen to "Bend Me" for decades afterward. I've only now began to like the song again.

The Bobby Hales arrangement ended with a kind of trombone 'raspberry', and Doug had shot Patsy from behind hanging sort of doubled up onto the museum Crab. The fisheye effect on the striped pants was memorable, but I chickened out and did not use the two together. Can't recall for sure, but I think Cliff agreed that although the fish-eye view of Patsy's striped posterior with the trombone raspberry was very funny, good taste did prevail. Thanks for that, Cliff!

And thank you Al.


Unless you're a lady, only old ferts would remember the career of Canadian comedians, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster.  Certainly, Ron Devion and Ken Gibson will remember them.  Wayne & Shuster were stars of radio and TV in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. for almost 50 years.  Now some trivia questions about them – answers at the end of the article.

1.    What was their show business name before "Wayne & Shuster"?

2.    True or false?  They were Ed Sullivan's most frequently recurring guests.

3.    How many times did they appear on the Ed Sullivan show?

       (a) 67 times

       (b) 58 times

       (c) both (a) and (b) above.

4.    What year did they make their radio debut?

       (a) 1941

       (b) 1951

       (c) 1961

5.     True or false?

        (i)  They first hosted a regular TV show on CBC in 1954

        (ii)  They consider their favourite script "Rinse the Blood off my Toga"

        (iii)  When they signed their first one year contract with Ed Sullivan, they were paid $7,500 per show

        (iv)  In 1962 and 1963 they were ranked the "best comedy routine in America"

        (v)  They produced Wayne & Shuster specials for the BBC

        (vi)  Johnny Wayne was born Louis Weingarten

        (vii)  Their first radio show was called "The Javex Wife Preservers"

        (viii)  They were best friends and visited with each other socially

        (ix)   They were loved for their ease of working with the technical and production staff.

My tiresome editor was reading over my shoulder and asked "Why are you writing about Wayne & Shuster – they never worked at CBC TV in Vancouver?  I answered "You see the word "Vancouver" in the name of my column?  He frowned, and left.

Answers to the Wayne & Shuster trivia quiz:

1.      "Shuster & Wayne".  An advertising executive said their names sounded more musical if reversed.

2.      True.

3.      (c)  What?  Ed Sullivan Productions says they have appeared 67 times, but Frank Shuster himself says that's wrong, and it was only 58 times.  How could these two groups be so far out?

4.      Surprisingly, 1941.

5.      (i)         True

         (ii)        True

         (iii)       True

         (iv)       True

         (v)        True

         (vi)       True

         (vii)      True (What a name!)

         (viii)      False

         (ix)       False.

The duo were infamous for their vociferous arguments when working on scripts or during rehearsals.  Wikipedia says:  "the two agreed early on to not mix socially.  Shortly after their CBC radio show became popular, Wayne told Shuster that he was organizing a party but that he wasn't going to invite his partner "because we're always together and we'll start in about business.  So, to hell with that!"  Shuster agreed, and they maintained separate social lives during their long career together.


(This article originally appeared in Stationbreak in May, 2019, as "A Wind Disaster")

On October 12, 1962, I came to work at the CBC downtown studios on the evening shift, 5:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.  I was no longer a technician but a coordinating producer, in charge of the Transmitter Booth, sometimes called Studio 50.  There was a large storm in progress when I arrived at work, but before I left it had turned into a hurricane – Hurricane Freda (sometimes called Hurricane Frieda).  I had hardly started my shift before the CBUT transmitter on Mt. Seymour went off the air – no doubt a tree, or a multitude of trees, had knocked down the power lines to the transmitter.  We did not know it at the time, but the hurricane caused the death of 7 people in B.C. (46 people in the U.S.), knocked down more than 3,000 trees in Stanley Park alone, and had gusts of wind over 90 miles per hour.  It is still the worst storm on record in B.C.

About 11:00 p.m., the technical supervisor on duty and myself came to the conclusion that there was no possibility of getting back on air that night, so the technical staff was able to go home (and some staff were nervous, worrying about how their families were doing during the storm).  They say it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the technicians were glad to get off early instead of the usual 1:30 – 2:00 a.m. after the late movie.  I was about to leave myself when the phone rang in the control room.  I answered, and found a very frightened elderly lady on the line, wanting to know what she should do in the storm.  I asked why she was phoning CBC TV, and she responded that she had tried phoning the police, fire department, every newspaper, every radio station, and couldn't get through to anyone on the phone.  So, I counseled this lady as best I could (not exactly being qualified to do so), and eventually hung up the phone.  No sooner had I done that when the phone rang again with another frightened person at the other end.  And so on and so on!  I was still answering the phone at 2:30 a.m.

When I finally got to leave, the hurricane had abated somewhat.  I remember driving south on a deserted Thurlow Street, swerving from side to side to miss fallen power lines that were sparking away.

A Hurricane Freda result in Oregon

Footnote:  Weather experts have said that our hurricane should be called "Typhoon Freda" as it occurred on the west side of North America.  Only storms on the east coast side are entitled to be called "hurricanes".  I'm stashing this important piece of information away for further possible use.

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