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Alan Walker's Old Time CBC TV March 28, 2021

Hello Everyone, and welcome Back. 

Al Vitols first brings us some stories about legendary CBC personality and executive Len Lauk who passed away just last year.

His Laukness, The Leonard in too many words, the penultimate version.

From Len's Vancouver Sun obit: 

“Len joined the CBC in Vancouver, starting as a script assistant [studio director] and worked his way up to Producer of the evening news before moving to Halifax to be Director of Television and Radio. From there Len went on to be the Director of English Language Radio and Television in Toronto before returning to Vancouver as Director for the Pacific Region.”

Back to be the boss of his former buddies.

I first saw Len when he was a production assistant on a Thursday night 60 minute live drama. He was working with the sound effects technician and was responsible for the right mood-setting music being played at the right time and in the right place. 

Len was a smoker and to see him light up and inhale was witnessing a theatrical performance. Mind you, that was so with most everything Len did. Back then, before smoking was banned from the premises, the small sound effects booth, if nor actually blue, was redolent of his Pall Malls. The booth was accessed through the Studio 41 control room and when not used during dramas was a place to store extra gear and occasionally, just occasionally, was a place to make out, should the idea appeal to one of the switchboard operators who manipulated the connecting cords from a cubby next to Studio 41. 

Hugh Palmer, the Director of Television at the time, told me that Len kept pestering him to sign him up to produce and direct. According to Hugh, he swore on a short stack that he would direct news forever if only he was made a Producer. This was a tempting promise as management had a problem finding capable and willing Producers who didn’t think it was beneath them to perform the daily task. When I was making similar overtures about producing, Palmer told me that after signing his contract Len was back in his office what seemed like just a few days asking, almost demanding, to be assigned to produce and direct dramas. It took a while but eventually Len got his wish and the list of his drama productions is extensive. 

Archie Kelly & Len Lauk

A while before Len started doing the news, all the CBC control room clocks across the nation had been synchronized and ticked in unison from Newfoundland to British Columbia. They were self-correcting within five minutes but otherwise could only be changed by the master control supervisor.  Len, like most new Producers, had to have his “initiation” and I think Technical Producer Andy Martens was the instigator of the now legendary prank.  One night with the assistance of Master Control the Studio 41 clock was set three minutes early. 

To make it all look normal the coordinator in Studio 50 ran a phony station break, commercials and all, which could be seen on the control room “off air” monitor. That was followed by their own output.  At the ‘top of the clock’ at six Len and the script assistant, who was not in on the gag, began the newscast. The theme, played from a Chappel disk, wowed in and continued at the wrong speed. The camera shooting the news graphic, a CBUT logo on a corrugated cardboard background, wasn’t framed properly and was not in focus. The newsreader’s camera was caught dollying in to its position while the announcer was still clearing his throat and checking his tie. Actually none of that mattered much as Ali “never makes a mistake” Beheshti punched up the color bar instead of the camera and while in a ‘state of panic’ pushed every other button on the switcher console, all ten of them, before returning to the studio camera.  Len, who was nobody’s fool, thought he had figured out what was going on and said:

“Ah, you guys have fixed the clock.”  “Not so,” Martens denied the possibility, “All clocks are pulsed from Montréal and cannot be changed locally.” 

Len turned back to the still problematic newscast and continued to suffer until guffaws erupted everywhere and the jig was up. Everything was reset and the newscast went on at the real six o’clock without a problem. 

I didn’t know his stage background, but always thought Len was an actor or at least a wannabe. This was evident when he was rehearsing actors and he was sweating, literally, while doing so. He was respected by actors as, unlike some of the drama producers, he didn’t play out their roles but allowed them to contribute to the production.  I only worked closely with him on two shows and I can’t recall if I was still a cameraman or had changed departments and was his studio director. The dramas were: “A Raft In the Middle of Noon” and “Bespoke Overcoat”.  That he was ‘miscast’ as a Producer rather than being actor was evident when in one of my comedy series I was doing a parody of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In party and hired Len to be Canada's leading, or so he thought of himself, cape-wearing, silver-tipped Malacca cane wielding, Toronto drama critic Nathan Cohen. Can’t recall his line, but Len delivered it perfectly. 

I think Len’s first departure from drama was a ‘talk’ show - ‘Consensus’ - four people sitting at a table and arguing some currently popular subject. Two were pro and the other two anti whatever the issue. That show was Jack Webster’s early appearance on CBC as he was one of the two permanent debaters. 

After The Seven O’Clock Show chimed for the last time, Len was assigned the six o’clock time slot. He chose to call it Hourglass and it was a 60 minute mish-mash of news, sports and weather, with current affairs closing out the hour, similar to Almanac, CBUT’s original supper hour show. He still ‘moonlighted’ with a few dramas. 

Len was not kind to his ‘underlings’ and many a script assistant was in tears after Len publicly expressed his thoughts of her capabilities. I don’t recall similar opinions expressed regarding the male studio directors. Lauk loved magic and like his friend Mandrake he’d hide coins in assorted places and then, given the opportunity, ‘magically’ produce them. A better version of “There’s s a coin in your ear.” 

His obituary mentions Len’s love of opera. I don’t recall a single instance of discussing ‘serious’ music with him, much less opera. An aficionado of Figaro?  Didn’t seem likely to me. 

I don’t know what sort of inducement made Len leave production in Vancouver and move to be part of management in Halifax. Perhaps he secretly wanted to be a ‘suit’ and the title Director of Television and Radio certainly did that. 

I had very little to do with Len after he returned to Vancouver to be Director for the Province although I had an open invitation to join him for a cup -  china, not paper or plastic - of his Hawaiian Kona. 

He lost a little of my respect when he sided with the head of news at the time (who wore a fedora day and night and only needed a  “PRESS” card stuck in the headband to make him look like an idiot). Perhaps it was to remind him of his prairie newspaper roots.  The issue arose when Chris Paton, Executive Producer of Hourglass, wanted a few minutes at the top of the show to commemorate the death of Jack Wasserman who, at age 50 had a terminal heart attack while speaking at the Hotel Vancouver during a roast for Gordon Gibson Sr.  There was to be suitable song by either Almeta Speaks, as Chris recalls, or Eleanor Collins, if my memory serves. Although Chris was responsible for the hour, news was ‘grandfathered’ in to start the hour hence the need to get Len’s approval to move the newscast.  The head of news argued that Wasserman wasn’t important enough to delay the newscast even by five minutes.  Len’s thinking was different, but the result was the same. “We can’t do that because he is ‘one of our own,’ was Len’s reason. 

By contrast, the Vancouver Sun used “second coming” type size on the front page, above the fold, to mark the death of “one of their own”. 

Thanks Al

Alan:  When I was a very junior technician at CBUT, Len was a studio director.  In those days it was rumored that Len weighed 300 pounds although later he disciplined himself to be a svelte 180 pounds.  The problem in those days for Len as a studio director was ducking down in front of the on air cameras so that he could cue the performers and the props people and others.  It happened so often that Len's bent over back was in the bottom of an on-air shot that the control room gave up saying "The studio director's back is in the bottom of the shot, and instead just shouted out "Lauk shot!"  None of us in those days would guess that Len would end up the boss of CBC for the whole of the Pacific Region.


The Long and the Short of Late Night Movies on CBC - by me

I think myself and my editor are the only ones old enough to remember "spaghetti westerns" – no, hang on, perhaps Andy Martens and Al Vitols might also recall.

The spaghetti western, known in Japan as the "macaroni western", was a genre of western movies made in Italy and elsewhere in Europe between about 1960 and 1978.  Many of these movies relied on the success of three Italian-made movies by Sergio Leone starring Clint Eastwood, "A Fistful of Dollars", "For a Few Dollars More", and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". More than 600 "spags" were made, and it would not be unfair to say that most of them were pasta duds.  We had plenty of them on CBUT.  One, whose actual name I don't remember, I'll call "A Fistful of Crap" ("AFOC") because it was so bad, and I could hardly understand its muddled plot.  The dubbed English dialogue was pathetic.

I pre-screened AFOC as it was part of my job as a coordinating producer to check movies a week or so ahead of their airing, to figure out where to insert commercials, and to provide a plot summary for the coordinating producer when the movie was actually aired through the Studio 50 control room.  As bad luck would have it, I was the coordinator on duty when it aired the following week, and I tried to ignore as best I could what was airing in front of me.

In those days, before we had videotape and DVD's, movies usually consisted of three reels of 16 mm film, each about half an hour long, and using two projectors, one would "cross-over" from the first reel to the second, and then from the second to the third.  An experienced telecine technician could cross-over between reels without anybody at home noticing.  It was the coordinator's job, my job, to be aware when a reel was coming to an end and a cross-over was imminent.  Airing AFOC, we successfully crossed over from the first reel, and I was getting ready to cross the third reel when up popped…. the closing credits of the movie!  "Holy grasshoppers", I said when I realized we had just aired the third reel of AFOC instead of the second reel.  While I was still flabbergasted with what had happened, we went into the sign off routine, and went off the air for the night.  Obviously somebody had put the wrong reel on the projector simply by error, or because the reel was wrongly numbered.

The Telecine room.  One of the  two film projectors can be seen in the middle

As I sat there feeling happy because I was getting off work a half hour early, I suddenly thought "How come no viewers phoned to say that the movie didn't make any sense" (because we had left out a whole third of the movie).  And then I realized that the audience of AFOC, if any, didn't understand the movie any better than I had (and I saw all three reels originally!).

We never told our bosses we got off work a half hour early, and nobody ever realized what a giant edit we had done to this spaghetti western.

It's a big wheel that turns.  Some time later – might have been years later – the same thing happened when I was on duty in the control room – the third reel followed the first reel.  This, however, was not a spaghetti western, and within minutes the phone started ringing with confused and angry viewers wanting to know what had happened.  So, I had an announcement made admitting we'd made a mistake, and that we would put the missing reel on the air at the end of the movie.  And that's what we did.  And then after running the missing reel, we started to close down the station when the phone started to ring again.  "Why aren't you finishing the movie?" viewers asked.  Then we realized that some viewers had only started to watch the movie after the missing reel two had started to air.  What could we do but run the third reel again!

So this time, we got off work a half hour later, and the technicians claimed overtime (except for the telecine technician who put on the wrong reel!)  And, that's the short and the long of it.

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EDUCATIONAL SEGMENT 

From the Middle English Insult Generator, the third, and the last article about finding new insults for stupid or irritating people. 

Adjective #1                 Adjective #2                 Adjective #3                 Noun 

wirtled                          weather-bitten              weedy                          whey-face 

currish                          knotty-pated                 reeky                           claybrain 

milk-livered                  malt-wormy                  measled                        mammet 

soot-faced                    saucy spleened               spur-galled                   scut 

mammering                  motley-mind                 mangled                        minnow 

ill-borne                       idle-headed                  infantile                         ignoramus 

beef-witted                   bolt-brained                  bootless                        bladder-cladder 

tickle-brained               tottering                        toad-spotted                 beetlehead 

half-faced                     hedge-born                   hasty-witted                  harpy 

headbroke                    hugger-muggered          horn-beat                     hedge-pig 

wayward                      wartweight                    yeasty                           puttocky 

rump-fed                      self-skinned                  imp-bladdered              bell-smell

The success of this column's future lies entirely in your hands.  The comments of mammets and minnows would be welcome, less so contributions from bladder-cladders or bell-smells.  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.  If you think my articles need editing, please email me, and I would be happy to have your help.

Alan