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 ARCHIVES FOR ALAN WALKER'S OLD TIME CBC TV

3. 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 top-heavy, tiny-wheel, hard to steer tripod.

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 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.

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 recommending you for the promotion, not because I think you 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.

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.
Alan

2. ALAN WALKER'S OLD TIME CBC TV Sept 22, 2019

Hello Everyone and welcome back!

In my last Stationbreak Magazine article, I invited those readers who did remember me from CBC TV early days but I had neglected to mention their name in my article, should write to me and tell me I'm "old and stupid". Well, I've had hundreds of replies, although, strangely, all of them were from people whose names I really didn't remember, and they all lived in Nigeria. "Perhaps the CBC pension goes further in Nigeria", I thought. Each email offered me the opportunity to join with the email sender in a scheme where I would get TEN MILLION US DOLLARS ($10,000,000.00 U.S.), with just a little assistance from me. Well, I've written back to them all, and most have replied that I just need to send them ONE THOUSAND US DOLLARS ($1,000.00 U.S.) to cover initial expenses, and the game will be afoot (not quite sure what that means).I'm getting the money orders together now for mailing. Readers will be excited to know that when I receive the first lot of TEN MILLION US DOLLARS ($10,000,000.00 U.S.), I plan to give it to Stationbreak so that the editors can enhance the website, or perhaps pay Peggy an honorarium. Stay tuned!

And now for something completely different.

You've Lost the Queen!

Almost every July since 1959 I've has this recurring dream. In my dream I'm a cameraman working on the televised Gay Pride Parade, and the show's technical producer yells at me through my headset over and over again "Alan, Alan, you've lost the queen!" It has been suggested to me by paid professionals that my dream is likely a kind of ongoing trauma brought about by a real life incident that occurred during a visit to Victoria by the Queen and Prince Phillip. The following is the story of what happened.

It was a hot July in 1959 when Vancouver technical producer John Christensen called a group of us technicians together to give us details of our roles in what he described as "an overseas live telecast". I was slightly less excited when I realized that "overseas" meant Victoria, but then I was the most junior technician in the group, and thrilled to be going on a special assignment.

The Queen and Prince Philip were on a royal tour of Canada, and our TP explained that CBC would provide live coverage of the arrival of the Royal couple in Victoria's harbour from Nanaimo on a Canadian naval ship. "Your job, Alan", said the TP, "is to operate a microwave dish near the edge of the harbour so that your dish tracks the ship which is hosting the Queen and Prince Philip. We will have cameras aboard the ship, but we won't be able to get the signal out to the network without firing the signal from a fixed microwave dish on the ship out to your dish on shore, and then your dish will the shoot the signal to the mobile truck, and then onto the network". "Wow", I thought.

After being dumped at a very hot former quarry on Victoria's harbour edge with nobody there except me and my dish, I waited eagerly for something to happen. I had no monitor to see what was up. I did have a headset, and could hear the TP who said he would help me aim my dish by telling me continually the signal strength, like a game of "hotter/colder", except he said "good, better, worse" and sometimes "gooder and worser".

I proudly pointed my microwave dish at their Majesties' ship in the middle of the flotilla as they cruised into the harbour, reveling in the thought that all Canadians watching this program were relying on my stalwart hands moving the microwave dish to stay aligned with the Royal couple's moving headquarters.

And then, the TP screamed into my ear "Alan, Alan, you've lost the Queen!" (Afterwards I thought, "You don't hear those words every day!") I was confused – I hadn't done anything differently. I furiously swung my dish back and forth and up and down, and finally after 20 seconds (it felt like 20 minutes) the TP said in my ear "Great Alan, the signal is even better than it was before!" I was surprised because my dish was pointing in quite a different direction from earlier. Later it was determined that my dish had been pointing all along at the wrong ship in the flotilla, but by a fluke chance the signal from the Queen's ship was reflected by the superstructure of an escorting ship, right into my microwave dish. I was embarrassed of course, especially when I heard an ethnic slur on my headset from some unknown technician as to "that dumb Australian". (Did I mention I was from Australia?)

I somewhat redeemed myself the next day when the Queen and Prince Philip arrived in Vancouver – again by way of a flotilla of Royal Canadian Navy ships. This time my microwave dish and I were stationed on top of the mini lighthouse at Brockton Point in Stanley Park. This time, being more experienced and much closer to the action, I could identify the appropriate ship, and the viewers across Canada had the benefit of my dish-tracking skills. The Queen obviously forgave my error in Victoria, and instructed CBC to send me this certificate. I understand that no more than 6,500 certificates were issued. I have been resisting the temptation to put mine up for sale on e-Bay.
Alan

1. ALAN WALKER'S OLD TIME CBC TV Sept 1 2019

Hello everyone. The editors of Stationbreak Magazine have kindly allowed me to write a column to be called"Alan Walker's Old Time CBC TV". (It took us a long time to come up with that catchy title). Part of the column will be my reminiscences of working at CBC Televisionn Vancouver from 1958 to 1973. The other part of the column will be, hopefully, your reminiscences of working at CBC Vancouver, whether during or after my years. The Stationbreak editors and I believe there are lots of readers out there who could contribute shortitems about something funny or interesting that happened during their time on the job. As our technical editor Bill Morris says, it's not necessary to write "War & Peace", in fact an item could be as short as a couple of sentences.

I think of my decade and a half at CBC as the "Happening Age" because so many things happened during that time that changed television, or in some cases changed the world. Those events included the completion of the television network across Canada, TV competition in Vancouver, the coming of videotape and color to CBC, television via satellite and sending men to the moon. There were also international emergencies including the FLQ crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis, local tragedies such as the Second Narrows bridge disaster and Hurricane Freda, and three world-shaking assassinations, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Before getting to my first reminiscence, I'd like to acknowledge, in the list below, the staff at CBC who I recall. Certain departments of CBC TV are not well reflected in my list because most of my time at CBC I was hidden away in the master control area – so apologies to some in staging, props, graphics, carpenter shop, costumes, makeup, design and stores. If I did know you back then and failed to mention your name below, please email me and advise that I'm old and stupid.


And now, to reminisce:

The Rabbit Warren – 1200 West Georgia
Ottawa, 1952: An imagined conversation between the Head of Plant & Engineering, CBC Ottawa (the "Boss"), and various employees of his department (the "Team").

The Boss, addressing the Team: "I need you guys to go out to Vancouver, and find a place to house the offices and studios for when CBC Vancouver goes on the air next year with the first television broadcasting station in British Colombia."
Team Member: "Will we get hardship pay?"
The Boss: "Don't be a wiseass. We only have a limited budget, but you will need to find a downtown Vancouver building that is big enough to hold a large TV studio, a medium size studio, and a utility studio – as well as space for 100 or so employees".
Team Member: "What about utilizing some space in the existing CBC Radio location?"
The Boss: "Dummkopf – the CBC Radio studios are in a hotel. Do you think we can take over the hotel's ballroom and make it our Studio 41!?
The Boss: "And the building must have a microwave direct line of sight to a nearby mountain called "Mount Seymour", because that's where the transmitter is going to be".

........Two months later, the search team returns to Ottawa to report to the Boss......

Team Leader: "We have good news and we have bad news".
The Boss: "What is the good news?"
Team Leader: "We have found a location in downtown Vancouver that is within the budget, and has a direct view of Mount Seymour".
The Boss: "And what is the bad news?
Team Leader: "It's a two-story building on a corner....
"And, it's connected to an ugly one-story building....
"And the ugly one-story building is connected to an ugly three-story building.
"And the space where Studio 41will go does not have a very high ceiling, so the boom operators will need to be midgets.
"And, they'll need signs throughout the buildings as there are so many entrances, exits and staircases.
"And the teletypes for the newsroom will need to fit under the equipment in the air-conditioning room.
"And there's no room for the office staff.
"And we will need to pray that someone doesn't build a tall building kitty-corner because if they do we will never see that mountain called "Mount Seymour" again (they'll be calling it "Mount See-Less").
The Boss: "Well, it may not be a great location but we only need to use it for a little while because a brand new complex for all of CBC is planned to be built in Vancouver within the next five years."

Actually, it was 22 years before the new building.

                         Home of the future studios                                          1200 West Georgia Street circa 1974
                 1200 West Georgia Street circa 1931

It's interesting to compare the two photos. You can see how much the contractors had to do to the exterior to turn the Willy's buildings into studios and offices. I don't know when the later picture was taken, but the butterfly on the corner shows that it was after color TV arrived in Vancouver, and after the Pacific Palisades complex and the Empire Landmark Hotel in the background were built (the Landmark in 1973). Time marches on: one of the Palisades building in the background was demolished by imploding more than 25 years ago, the brown building partially seen above CBC to the left was a 5 story office building, once partly occupied by CBC Program staff and torn down 25 years ago, and the Empire Landmark hotel on the right was recently demolished, floor by floor.

For all the jokes about the rabbit warren studios of CBC TV in those days, it was the home for an amazing amount of television production of huge quality and great quantity, and everybody who worked there was proud of what we accomplished.


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From the staff magazine Intercom, February 1961:
Dear Mr. Editor,
Listening to the program "Cornucopia" on Saturday, January 21st, I was overjoyed with Greg Barnes' suggestion that Gerard Hoffnung be invited to the Vancouver International Festival this year. Splendid idea Mr. Barnes – should the authorities sanction exhumation since Hoffnung having ceased composing, is now rapidly decomposing.
Bill Terry, TV Tech

Alvin Armstrong was the still photographer at CBC TV for umpteen years. He was always busy shooting stills of productions for record purposes, shooting stills of sets to assist set designers, creating scenic and graphic slides for station breaks and commercials, and a million other projects. Not everybody was aware of his sense of humour unless they tried to phone him, or read this letter in the staff magazine Intercom in February, 1961:

Dear Mr. Editor,
Try phoning Alvin Armstrong on local 297 when he's not in the back room. A voice says "Just a moment"; you hear 4 gun shots fired in succession; there's a long pause and the dull throated voice at the other end says "he's no longer here".

Memories from Hugh Beard.
Practical jokes were an accepted fact of life at CBC Vancouver in the 60's. Some elaborate classics included a goldfish swimming inside an electronic scope. This took days to prepare allowing the perpetrators to witness a brief moment of surprise on the intended victim's face. Or the master control supervisor's desk lamp that was wired to turn off ten minutes after the supervisor sat in his chair in the darkened room. Thinking it was a burned-out bulb he got up to get a new one. When he returned with the new bulb the desk light was back on. A few minutes later, after he sat down, it turned off. So, he thought it must be a faulty lamp. He plugged in a replacement lamp, but after a short while it also turned off.

This frustrating event went on for hours much to the delight of the master control technicians who had rigged his chair with a contact switch that activated a timer to turn off the power to the electrical outlet that his lamp was plugged into. Hours of prep to pull off a practical joke.

For a brief part of my CBC career, I worked in studio 42 as a switcher. Doug Haskins was the host of a live 15-minute program titled "Scan" that showcased upcoming CBC programs. He was good at his job, but very nervous. Before going on air, as the switcher, I would cut between the two studio camera shots of Doug allowing Harry Taylor, the video tech to match the cameras. Then I would leave up a close-up shot of Doug as we waited to go on air. I noticed that Doug always checked himself out in the studio monitor. He'd adjust his tie, and then he would take out his comb and run it through his Brylcreem greased hair. This was his nightly ritual before going to air.

So, I got an idea. I would stay on the close-up of Doug until he just started to run his comb through his hair, then quickly cut to colour bars. Doug would be frozen with his comb partway in his hair waiting for me to cut back to his close-up so he could finish adjusting his hair.

I started to play this game every evening for months. Sometimes I would keep Doug frozen with his comb partway through his hair with only seconds until air time — much to the delight of my friends Harry Taylor and audio mixer Bob Hepworth, who shared in my practical joke. I was careful to vary the timing, and not to do it every day, so Doug never found out that I was playing a game with him.

That also reminds me of a practical joke played on Len Lauk who thought he was 10 minutes late for the evening news broadcast ... but that's a story for another edition

The success of this column's future lies entirely in your hands. We would greatly appreciate your contributions. If you have an item to add to a future column, please email me at alangwalker@gmail.com. If you require any assistance in writing, I am at your service.
Alan.