Stationbreak Magazine

                                                      Compiled by Ken Gibson for March 1 2019.
                                                      (with technical assistance from Bill Morris)

INSIDE VIEW: BEHIND THE LENS  New book by Mike Varga
AULD ACQUAINTANCES by Peggy Oldfield Excerpts March 1999
item from Alan Walker


                                                                                by Al Vitols

My favorite pilot, Freddy Fandrich (he's the one who was once kidnapped and forced at gunpoint to extract some criminals from the exercise yard of a B.C. penitentiary), who used to own Highland Helicopters based in Agassiz, told me of a close call. He had been "trucking" assorted supplies to some work camp up the Fraser River all day and was pretty well exhausted when on his way back to home base he heard a request for all aircraft in the area to execute a search for a lost prospector.

Freddy could pretend his radio was off and not join the search, but tired as he was he took part. As he put it, with his bad luck he was the one who found the man on some high ridge near Hope. There was a tiny clearing nearby and Freddie was able to land and rescue the man. However, because he was so very, very tired he got a bit careless on takeoff and clipped a small tree with his tail rotor. That did enough damage so that normal flight was no longer possible - he had to auto-rotate down to the valley.

He was taught the procedure at flying school all those eons ago, but never had to do it for real. Auto-rotation is tricky. Basically the main blades are angled for a very rapid descent. At a precise moment the blade angle is changed so that using their inertia they provide lift and stop the descent. The tricky part is when to change the pitch of the blades. A bit too soon and the aircraft comes to a halt too high off the ground and crashes. Too late and it, well, crashes.

Freddie did it right and they landed safely. On the ground the prospector kept hugging Freddie and thanking him for saving his life. Freddie did not tell him that he had almost killed them both.

We were filming a rafting sequence on the Thompson River and Robert Asgeirsson had to reload a couple of film magazines so we had to set the heli down somewhere. Freddy opted for the tip of a sandbar near a picnic site. The place was being used by a large Italian gathering who were dining at tables set with checkered tablecloths. There were many open dishes of assorted salads and other Italian goodies. Our landing kicked up much dirt and debris and most of it landed among the picnickers. I thought we'd be maimed, if not killed, as surely we must have committed a capital offense. It turned out to be the greatest thing for the family to have this machine so close to their tables. When Freddy invited the kids to climb aboard and touch some controls, the smiles said it all. So, what's a little grit in the potato salad when the children get to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience.

Another time I thought I was in deep trouble was up at Bowron Lakes. En route from Mt. Robson to Barkerville we overflew one of the lakes and saw a family strike camp on a sandy beach. A couple of their canoes were already in the water. We did a few low passes and got some good idyllic canoe-camping footage. I thought we might get a nice little sequence if we could film on the ground as well and add that to what we had from the air.

Recalling the problem of the dust storm we caused in the Thompson Canyon, I had the chopper land some distance from the campsite. I got out to go and ask the campers if they'd be amenable to us filming them packing up. At this point what looked like a shorts-wearing hairless sasquatch detached himself from the group and came toward me. I could see that he was purple-in-the-face livid with steam coming out of his ears and he was at least four inches taller than I.

Nevertheless I pressed on and introduced myself as being from the CBC at which point his manner totally changed and he became all smiles, friendly and polite.

So, why the obvious extreme anger when we first landed? He was a Hughes Corp. Vice President from Texas in charge of satellite sales and worked 24/7 for all but three weeks a year. The three weeks were his holiday time and he spent them with his family and his privacy was not to be violated by anything work related, regardless of how important. They usually spent their family holiday in some secret location. So when he saw the heli flying about and eventually landing near him, he thought that the Hughes Corp. had found him and needed him to fix some disaster that had taken place in the Lone Star State. He was livid right up to the point where I introduced myself as being from the CBC and not from Hughes.

As it turned out, they were more than willing to participate and everyone did as asked, including undoing and then repacking some bags, setting up and striking a tent and re-launching canoes over and over to get an assortment of angles. I must have held them up for an hour or more, but they could not have been more cooperative.

For some reason I no longer recall, I had a paper bag full of oranges, a dozen or so, which I offered as a small 'thank-you' for their cooperation. The teenagers, being from California where children are weaned on oranges, had been on the Bowron Lakes some nine days by then and had not seen an orange in all that time. They were ecstatic – manna from heaven. Well, manna from a helicopter...

As part of the B.C. Parks film series I devoted a couple of shows to winter ski-hiking and backpacking. The easiest and best place to shoot was Manning Park where spectacular winter outdoors was close by and BC Parks provided accommodation in one of their exclusive park lodges.

Freddie and I flew around the Three Brothers area of the park and we found a good site for winter camping and some spectacular scenery for cross-country skiing.

We as usual shot the "postcards," the B-reel, first and then Freddie ferried our outdoors couple to the camping sequence and a cross-country skiing location, both in impossibly spectacular settings. We had to hustle with that as there was a storm approaching and it would take two trips to get us all off the mountain and to safety. I asked Freddie to keep an eye on the sky and when he thought the time had come we'd quit and fly out.

And so it happened. Freddie called a halt and the first load departed with Freddie promising to get back as soon as possible to fetch the rest of us, the rest being Asgeirsson, myself and the BC Parks' representative, Wayne Stetsky.

We waited and it got darker under an immense black weather front. We waited. We waited some more. While waiting I was also looking for a suitable snow cave under a tree. Some trees provide an excellent place under their branches for spending a night with not much work to construct a reasonable shelter. Warm enough to be comfortable tucked into a sleeping bag. Such basic creature comforts were packed into our "purse" - a small bagful of life saving items I insisted was never to leave one's side in case of need. It looked like the need would be upon us.

At the last possible moment with some snow swirling about already, Freddie found us, and within a couple of minutes we were in the air on the way to Manning Park and creature comforts.

When I told Freddie that we were just about to get ready to spend the night, he said that he would never have left us on the mountain. How could he not? How could he land in the swirling snow? He said that he'd pick a tall tree near us at the edge of a clear spot and then have it as a vertical guide for landing and takeoff.

St. Mary's Alpine is a spectacular area high up and far away from anywhere. Cranbrook is as close as one can get.

We flew in to do a film piece on this unique high alpine part of our province. I had as a guide a well-known local woman backpacker. Unfortunately she had broken her leg on a trek a month previously and was not quick on her feet for this trip. No problem, as I could record all she had to say while she was perched on a boulder by a beautiful, ice 'doily' edged lake.

As always, we did the scenic pictures for the B roll first. After we'd shot the required visuals the pilot asked how long it would take to do all the on-the-ground stuff. I guessed three or four hours. In that case, instead of just hanging around and waiting, could he go away and do a bunch of work and return in a few hours, say about two o'clock? Sure.

As it turned out we actually got done much sooner and had time to sit around, eat our sandwiches and chat. "How long to hike out?", I asked our guide. From where we were, about two days to get to a very seldom used logging road and from there it was at least 25 miles to the highway. Not something to contemplate, particularly with a leg in a cast.

Two o'clock, no helicopter. Three o'clock, no helicopter. Four, four-thirty, five o'clock, still no aircraft and I'm now a bit concerned. I assured everyone that the worst-case scenario would be that we'd have to spend a night on the mountain. Not a huge problem as it was the middle of summer and we all had our "purses" with us containing large-scale topographical maps of St. Mary's Alpine, space blankets, food and primitive tin can stoves. There was a lake full of pristine cold water and plenty of soft moss.

None of that became necessary as just around 6 o'clock our pilot returned. Apparently there had been a multi-car smashup on highway 95 and all aircraft in the region were commandeered for medi-vac needs as people were shipped as far as Calgary. He came as soon as he was released.

I asked him about possible abandonment. He always lets the home base know where we're located. What if he had a "mechanical" before he could tell anyone? He'd call before losing radio altitude.

When flying in the co-pilot seat and beyond airport control, i.e., not having to wear a headset, there's time for talk. Usually about flying or helicopters.

I asked about the dead engine glide path of the Jet Ranger. "Pretty good", admitted the pilot. "Thankfully", he said, "we don't have to use Hughes 500 which has the glide path of a brick". Hmmm.

When on a shoot in the Queen Charlottes we bunked near the airport on Moresby Island, the southern one. However most of our work was on Graham Island across the Skidegate Inlet. The first few days the pilot made a beeline across the bay from Skidegate to Sandspit. While flying across I saw a rarity – a totally circular double rainbow. Eventually I needed to extend the shoot for a couple of days and wound up flying with a different company and a different pilot. Instead of flying across the inlet as we had done previously he followed the shore. Thinking that his route was adding hours to the daily total I asked him why he took the circuitous route as opposed to directly across. DOT regulations demand that a helicopter without inflated pontoons must never exceed auto-rotating distance from shore. But the other pilot used to fly straight across. Illegal.

Same new pilot, different problem. The cameraman had a number of silver cases of film gear, one of which holds a 300 mm lens. Very useful if one can't get close. Original pilot loaded all the gear, cameraman and myself and we flew without incident. This pilot refused to take the 300 mm lens box, claiming that it would put him over the load limit. I argued that the other pilot had no qualms about the total weight including the long lens and we seldom exceeded 100% torque at takeoff.

Illegal and unsafe to operate with more than 80% torque was the new pilot's response. (My favorite pilot, Freddie Fandrich, used to "pull" 115 percent regularly) We also got a lecture about clients thinking of the aircraft as a truck where realistically it is a balloon. It can lift so much, and not a gram more. Actually the real problem was that the first pilot was gaunt and the second somewhat obese. Too much weight was his blubber, not the 300 mil lens.

The 'good' pilot was flying us to a west coast cove, the field headquarters for a pair of professional beachcombers who had built a spectacular cabin, more like a mansion, out of lumber found on their beach. The entire west cost of the Charlottes has lumber stacked in deep piles. Some dimensions are rare or no longer available. I saw some 18" by 18" clear (knot-free) fir beams 30 feet long. All of it in excellent shape except for slightly rounded edges.

The cove was inaccessible except by boat and then not always. When we landed the pilot asked if he could have an hour on his own. Apparently he had seen something not quite right on one of the mountain ledges we passed and he wanted to go back and see what it was all about.

"Sure. We'll be busy for a couple of hours."

When he returned he told us about a prospector who was not to be picked up for ten more days, but had been "robbed" by some local wildlife and was out of food and was waving his arms trying to attract our pilot's attention. He succeeded and was getting sated at a convenient logging camp.

In the meantime we were beachcombing the nearby yet remote boulder-threwn beach looking for Japanese glass driftnet floats - West Coast treasures. Would they not get broken on the rocks, I asked the professionals. Yes. That's why one should go far into the coastal salal brush and look for concentrations of Styrofoam cups, plastic bottles and other such trash. Look for the glass balls there. Apparently storms toss such flotsam far enough into the thick salal bush so that the glass survives.

I searched where directed and now have a very nice large specimen floating in my Koi pond. Mine is somewhat unusual in that it has about 50 cc of water inside. Nobody is sure how the water gets in, as the balls start out their life dry. Some guess that somehow they get dragged to extreme depths and at such pressure water "seeps" through the glass "pores". There's been some suggestion that the floats have been dragged down to those immense depths by whales who had been entangled in bits of ball-bearing fish nets. Possible? Yes. Likely? No.

By the way, virtually all of the trash found on the West Coast beaches is Japanese. Nobody knows if that trash is tossed overboard from Japanese ships or has drifted over from Japan. This was before the Fukushima disaster and just common jetsam.

Some years before that, before I knew about glass floats, Robert Fortune and I were on an island just off Tofino in order to do a story about a nearby island, part of a reservation, being clearcut of old growth trees. While waiting for the cameraman to get ready the discussion with our interviewee turned to beach treasures. They talked about blue glass beads and other goods used for trading with the early locals. There was also some concern about the dearth of glass fish-floats. None seen for years on Tofino beaches. "Oh, what do they look like?" I was told that the balls came in different sizes, some as small as three inches across, some much bigger. "You mean they look like that?" said I pointing to one at our feet. I pocketed it along with some of the blue glass trading beads.

I filmed a couple of shows in the Spatsizi Wilderness Park, Canada's Serengeti. Our first heli pilot up there was unbelievable. Fortunately we only had him for a day after I registered an official complaint. While in the air he was telling us that he desperately wanted a flameout so that he could put his schooling to good use and auto-rotate. He also wanted some problem with transporting cargo; a drum full of J-fuel would be good, so he could jettison it as he was taking off. That would have dumped the drum on the roof of the ATCO Hilton, Iskut's finest motel. He refused to fly below 500 feet and generally treated the aircraft as fixed-wing. I had to threaten him with financial harm before he would fly low enough so that we could film a grizzly galloping up a grassy slope. The fur on the bear's back looked like a wheat field on a windy day.

It seems that I may have annoyed one of the muses, the one responsible for film.

I wanted to record an interview with Tommy Walker, Mr. Spatsizi, somewhere on the plateau. I chose a ridge that would provide me with a spectacular background. The sky was partly filled with puffy white clouds - postcard stuff - yet my chosen location was in full sunshine. We landed, shut down the heli and the cameraman got unpacked and set up, and we were just about to roll when a small cloud obscured the sun. A small holdup - we'll wait. And we waited. And waited. The small cloud, if anything, got bigger. Finally it was obvious that the cloud was there to stay and I started to look for another location, a different ridge. There was one about a mile up the valley and it was in full sunlight. We packed up, loaded everything onto the heli and moved ridges. This new location was, if anything, even better. Of course, just as we were about to record, the sun hid behind a small cloud. And stayed hidden. How was the ridge we had abandoned? In full sunlight with no suggestion of another cloud.

Eventually we did what we set out to do and filmed in a bright haze. In fact, the diffused light was better on Tommy while the Plateau and mountains behind him were in bright sunshine.

Coldfish Lake, the Spatsizi Plateau focal point and BC Parks base, was about 45 minutes from Iskut. The Bell 206 carries about three hours of fuel, so without being able to refuel nearby we'd only have a half hour or so of flying time on location. Having learned of this too late to have fuel flown in by fixed wing aircraft I had no choice but to 'truck' in a couple of drums by heli, a much more costly delivery.

Eventually when we got to Coldfish Lake I saw some other drums sitting near the heli-pad. Why didn't we use that fuel and replace it when a fixed-wing craft was available? No. Those belong to Greenpeace. Why can't we borrow their fuel? Because Greenpeace has been fighting the local trophy hunt outfitters and one could not be sure that the hunting guides hadn't "improved" the contents of the drums. Although the Bell 206 filters remove everything that has a mass down to a few microns, they cannot remove things that have been dissolved such as salt or sugar. Thus we flew in our own drums and used our own fuel.

The first year filming on Mt. Edziza, a long dormant volcano, again more than a half hour from Iskut, we ran out of "weather" and had to postpone filming until the following year. I left a drum of "CBC's" jet fuel on a mountain ridge and carefully marked the location on my large scale Mt. Edziza map.

Next year, flying with a different pilot, after the short "working" time he said that he had to go back to Iskut for fuel. I told him he did not. He insisted that he did as he had barely enough to get back. I told him again he did not as I had a full drum stashed nearby. He was skeptical to say the least, but I showed him my map with the 'X' marking the spot. We found "my" cache without difficulty. The drum was still upright, the universal sign that it contained fuel as opposed to lying on its side when empty. We filled the tanks and were able to fly long enough to get the job done before having to hurry home.

Another time flying on a Pacific Report shoot back to Prince George from what was to become Tumbler Ridge, we refuelled from a supply in the middle of nowhere. We just filled up and carried on. Whose fuel? Oh, a common cache. Everyone uses it and they keep track as to who owes what back at some fuel distributor office. The pilot just lets his own office know how much he slurped. Apparently the cache can be restocked by truck.

I wanted to do a survey to see if the Cape Scott lighthouse and its keepers would make a good story for television. The Canadian Coast Guard agreed to take me along the next time they had to fly there.

That time came sooner than expected. Apparently the main generator at Cape Scott had broken down. So had the back-up. They could not use parts from one to fix the other as they both suffered more or less the same fate. Cape Scott wound up being lit by a tiny portable Honda generator and when and if that gave out the lighthouse would become a blacked out tower.

The weather was such that neither boats nor helicopters could get close to the problem. It was a daily and hourly weather-wait and it was suggested I bunk close to the CCG air crew in Port Hardy.

The next morning I found their engineer, one of the crew of three, up on a stepladder inspecting the blades using a large magnifying glass. Why? Apparently some Bell 212 rotors of that vintage show hairline cracks along the leading edge and are a sign of imminent rotor problems, to the extent that the aircraft is grounded until new blades can be installed. Any cracks? No, we were good to go. And so we went. Capt. Service, brother of Vancouver TV master control supervisor, gathered up the mechanics and his co-pilot and through a short "weather hole" we descended on Cape Scott. The opening in the sky was expected to last about three hours and the mechanics had to fix everything within that time or remain at the Cape until flying weather returned.

Lighthouse keepers are a peculiar lot. Although there were two families sharing the work, they weren't close friends and didn't talk much among themselves about things not related to their work.

Our acceptance of the invitation for coffee laced with evaporated milk by the wife of the on-duty keeper was followed by her unceasing talk. After a polite interval the pilot and co-pilot made some excuse about having to look at something and we flew off to a nearby but very remote and difficult to get to beach. It was unlikely that anyone had stepped foot on it for centuries, if ever. One would think that it would produce a plethora of flotsam, but not so. It was an open sandy beach and the winds swirling about the Cape constantly swept it clean. It did have a huge tractor tire – just the tire, no rim - partially buried in the sand. Huge! At least six feet from tread to tread. How did that get there, as obviously it couldn't float?

The mechanics managed to fix both generators and we departed well within the available time. We flew over water along Vancouver Island's inside coastline and according to Capt. Service, we were flying 50-50-150.

What does that mean? Fifty feet above water, fifty feet from the shore at one hundred and fifty knots. To me it seemed that if the captain hiccupped we'd be in either the forest or the saltchuck.

They were being very kind and were going to deliver me to Vancouver and save me from having to take the ferry back. However flying between Texada and Lasqueti Islands we ran into a white wall of fog and had to make a quick U-turn to get out of trouble. So back to Pat Bay we flew. Feeling sorry for me in that he couldn't land me at their now closed Kitsilano base, Capt. Service gave me his CCG air crew hat. A souvenir I still treasure.

I used to do a weekly half hour ski show and feature a different ski area every week. Location filming took forever because none of our cameramen could ski and a lot of time was wasted getting them around the mountain on a Ski-doo or sometimes on a first aid toboggan pulled by the local ski patrol. Then I discovered Ski-bob, something like a bicycle on skis. It needed no special footwear and took about ten to fifteen minutes to learn how to use it. Eventually all our cameramen loved filming the ski show. Hey, why not? Ski sitting down! I equipped one Ski-bob with a lidded handlebar basked for carrying the camera and a couple of saddle bags over the rear ski for film and other cameraman needs. Bob Reid, our senior cameraman, first got introduced to the Ski-bob on Granite Mountain, a resort known for the steepness of its runs. In about fifteen minutes Bob was all set to go. As usual with the Ski-bobs, we completed filming in record time and were back again on top of the mountain doing more "postcards" when the ski-patrol found us and told us that the mountain would soon be closing for the day and "what was that contraption" I told them that the Ski-bob had won speed competitions in Europe and they were welcome to try mine. Ha, ha. Then I told them that Bob, who had first sat on one that morning, would race them to the bottom of the hill and if he came second I'd buy the patrol a drink. Even without knowing the terrain Bob got down first by a couple of minutes. He just took the most direct route, regardless of how steep, to the lodge. I still bought the ski patrol drinks just so that we could gloat.

There were a couple of terrible Ski-bob racing accidents in Europe and eventually every ski resort in B.C. banned them. In fact, they're the safest possible means of getting around on a mountain and infinitely safer than snowboards. Writing as one who knows and has himself been mowed down twice, along with my then 10 yr. old niece, by board jockeys without apologies of any kind or even pausing to see if anyone got hurt.

Because we were filming, we continued to use 'Bobs' as long as I was doing the show. If any resort objected I just told them they would not be covered by the show and they changed their minds post-haste. Quite often we'd be finished by early afternoon and had a few hours to just have fun in the snow.

That is not to say that one cannot get hurt. I suffered some pain when faced with a very short but steep slope I chickened out of and instead of going straight down I chose a diagonal traverse. The uphill handlebar dug into the slope – yes, that steep! – and I tumbled down with the 'Bob' attacking from above. One of its skis banged into my nose.

Oddly, a similar mishap took place once on Lake Muskoka when I fell waterskiing and having bobbed back up above the surface I came back down and hit my nose on the edge of the ski.

Cameramen and sound men are, as a rule, a tough breed. However, on an early Pacific Report shoot we were some miles out off the west coast doing a fisheries story. A story which didn't get done that day. The cameraman got terribly seasick and I was totally unfamiliar with his type of camera and so unable to cover.

On the other hand, Doug Sjoquist was sicker than a dog for a couple of days while we were shooting in New Zealand. He'd shiver in our car until I was ready, do the shots and get back to his 'hospital bed' in the back of our minivan.

Back in early March of 1977 I was doing a film with Jack Wasserman hosting. While in Montréal he got quite ill. The hotel doctor didn't think it was too serious and prescribed bed rest and some meds. This was on a Sunday. In all of Montréal there were only two drugstores open on a Sunday, one of which was in the basement of the Ritz hotel. We finished the shoot in Caughnawaga (Kahnnawake now) the next day. Back home in Vancouver Jack had a complete physical by his own doctor who found him in good health. Jack died of a massive heart attack on April 6, 1977 a week after his 55th birthday. Was Montréal a forerunner? Who knows.

I will conclude this look-back with my very first film. It was shot by Jack Long, edited by Fred Engel and was all about the then newly formed Canadian Ski Team, for the first time training as a team and housed in the Notre Dame University facilities in Nelson. All men except Nancy Greene who would spend the brief rest intervals between organized exercises doing some of her own invention. She also carried one of the men piggyback on the daily run up the mountain adjoining Nelson.

All this exercise resulted in great appetites. The NDU treated the team as if they were just more students and were stingy with portions. The team was forever hungry. As a thank you I provided the wherewithal, including a $100.00 standing rib and all the fixin's for a memorable meal which a local team supporter had offered to have at their house. Don't recall anything ever being as appreciated as that meal. Looked good on film also. Had to include that in the show in order for the CBC to pay, else it would have come out of my own very shallow pockets.

Jack Long didn't ski, nor had I thought of bringing snowshoes. We hiked/plowed through chest-high powder snow to the various camera positions I thought necessary. Took forever. To capture "real" sound of ski edges at work on the slalom course I had the coach (name forgotten) ski with Jack's Nagra over his shoulder while holding the mike close to the skis. Had him do it two or three times just to make sure. Later, during editing, tearing strips of tissue paper sounded much more "authentic."

Bill Terry, the sfx technician back then, always claimed that if it sounded right – it was! Something I've always remembered. Mike Oldfield, his replacement, as far as I can recall, carried on in a similar tradition. There was a time when a Bic pen drawn across an audio console cooling vents represented anchor chain running out. A Deere tractor sound played at a different speed was perfect for an old idling chopper and a finger-popped cheek always sounded better than a real champagne cork popping. And a ruler slammed on a table is a better gun shot sound than actual recording at a range.

I think Bill added the ultimate glass breaking sounds to our sfx library. All studio lights get replaced at a predetermined time, usually long before they're expected to fail. These hundreds of huge bulbs would normally get broken inside metal garbage cans. Bill used the re-lamping occasions to find different ways to break the bulbs, some of which were quite funny.

I think the real Bill Terry legacy (not the blue poppy books he's been writing lately) was teaching us how to flip knots in the ends of audio patch cords. Some of us even learned how to undo the knot by flipping. These were the short cords. Back at the BBC whence Bill came, they apparently used to flip knots in very long cords while dangling them in a stairwell.

Eventually Bill accepted a position as a manager in Winnipeg and became a "suit" until he retired and could write about blue poppies

And so it went. Still does.

Al Vitols
joined CBC Vancouver staff as a TV Technician in 1958 and soon thereafter became a TV Production Assistant working mostly with Ain Soodor on "Let's Go", Vancouver's contribution to "Music Hop". A couple of years later Al became a Producer/Director, having the "B.C. Open Golf Tournament" as his first assignment to be followed by "The Canadian Open Tennis Championships", "The Canadian Kayak Championships" as well as "The Macdonald Brier" from Kelowna. For the next few years along with Ted Reynolds, Al was responsible for all CBC Vancouver sports productions which included football, hockey, basketball, tennis, lacrosse, swimming, sports fishing, track and field, kayaking, rugby and series such as "Ski Scene" and "Time Out For Football". Variety series included "Let's Go" (1964-66), "A Second Look" (1969), "Miss Patricia's Phantasmagorical Collection of Songs and Things" with Pat Hervey (1970) "Pifffle & Co" (1971), "Reach for the Top", "Big Band Jazz" (may not be the accurate title) and the "Carroll Baker Jamboree" A Dixieland jazz series with Lance Harrison from the Horseshoe Bay pub in 198). He produced "B.C. Parks" and "On the Scene" and profiled some of the better known BC artists, such as Toni Onley, Benita Sanders, Haida artists Robert Davidson and Bill Reid, John Horton, Wayne Ngan and Robert Bateman. "The Inventors" which Al produced in 1979 was a series highlighting amateur inventors. For a number of years he was Executive Producer of the nightly News/Current Affairs' program "Hourglass" as well as other Current Affairs programs. Later Al created the highly rated "Pacific Report" with Carole Taylor as host. After leaving CBC, Al and wife Barbara moved to Vancouver Island where they are happily settled and Al says that he "is suffering retirement".

                                               INSIDE VIEW: THE EYE BEHIND THE LENS 

For your reading pleasure....
If you haven't yet read Michael Varga's newly published biographical memoir Inside View: The Eye Behind The Lens, co-authored with Roxanne Davies, I would highly recommend that you do! If you know Michael then it's a given it will be a fun and interesting read about his life and 40-year career as a CBC Cameraman. But that holds true even if you don't know the man himself. If you worked at CBC or any other television station, have an interest in sports as an event coverage professional, as a participant, or as a broadcast viewer, you'll find Michael's reminiscences, stories and facts riveting to read. He shares memories of people you may have worked with or whose names you recognize from professional sports and other fields. He is candid about his personal life and relationships. There are times you will want to laugh out loud and times that may bring a lump to your throat, but through it all, Michael's enthusiasm for his work and embracing life in general is crystal clear. Since I'm not a sports' fan or participant, I expected to skip through portions of the book but I found Michael's experiences and stories so interesting that I read – and enjoyed – every single word. I think you will too.
Peggy Oldfield

Inside View: The Eye Behind The Lens is available in paperback via or as an e-book via Chapters/Indigo.

Here are a few short excerpts to whet your appetite:

From Chapter 2 A Young Cameraman
The inspiration to become a television cameraman first hit me when I was a nine-year-old kid pushing a broom. Dad had the cleaning contract for the local station CFPL, and from time to time he would let me tag along when he visited a customer. Occasionally I helped carry out the trash, empty overflowing ashtrays and sweep the floor. As we walked through the CFPL reception area, I looked up at the framed glossy photos lining the walls. My parents watched the evening news every night, and I recognized the photo of popular news reader, Hugh Brenner. I peered through a large glass window, and I could see an enormous grey machine chugging along with a two-inch roll of plastic tape running in it. I turned to ask my dad to say, "What's that?" but he had marched past me into the studio to chat with the station owner.
CFPL was founded by Walter J. Blackburn, who also owned London's major newspaper, the London Free Press, as well as radio stations on both the AM and FM dials. Dad was an excellent networker, and he drummed up business throughout the city. Over the years he became friends with many business owners, including the Blackburn family. My mother didn't approve of him going out to meet people at night. Booze was the generally recognized social lubricant and drinking at night with his professional associates was one way to get business.
CFPL first came on air on November 28, 1953, and it started out by broadcasting only four hours of programming daily. The London station was only the second privately owned station in the country but the first station in Canada to schedule its nightly newscast at 6:00 p.m., during "the supper hour", and that set the standard for all the other stations in Canada. Owners and managers of local stations carrying CBC programming bet on the daily news to raise the ratings and lift the rest of their programs. I didn't know any of this background history, and I certainly didn't care. I was hypnotized by the tape going round and round in that gigantic grey machine.
From the very beginning, I was fascinated by the environment in a studio: the equipment, the busy activity, the smell of the place. Even today when I walk into a television studio, all my senses get a real rush. I remembered thinking: I like this environment!
In the 50s, 60s, and 70s most television shows were broadcast live. You would see bright lights, curtains, ropes, cables and people milling about the studio doing various jobs. There were a lot of people working those cameras. Each camera had heavy cables, and it took two men to move them. Those television cameras were enormous beasts.
I walked up to a fellow standing in front of a camera.
"What are you doing?" He looked down at me and smiled.
"Waiting for that guy over there to tell me when the show starts."
He let me touch the cold metal of the camera. He showed me the lens and the viewfinder and the lever he pushed and pulled to focus the camera.
"{How much money do you make?" I blurted out.
"Oh, I don't know, maybe $10,000 a year."
I was a pretty brash kid to ask that kind of personal question, particularly when I didn't have a single clue what that amount of money really meant.
As dad and I walked back to the car, I said, "I want to work in a television station just like that when I grow up."
Without breaking his stride, dad looked over at me and said, "Yeah, sure, kid." That look said it loud and clear. "If you want to work in television you'll have to make it on your own." There wasn't the slightest chance that he would make it happen for me, even if he could.

Chapter 5 Celebrities Don't Scare Me
Videotaping the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at the Orpheum Theatre was another favourite assignment. It wasn't often we got the chance to get all dressed up for a shoot. Back then the TV crew covering the VSO all wore black tuxedoes. On this particular occasion when I got to the theatre, there was no tux waiting for me. Maybe it was a budgetary decision to eliminate the fancy suits, but no one had told me. So there I was wearing jeans on stage within sight of the audience, and no tux.
I wasn't about to gamble with tradition. I asked wardrobe if they had a tux in my size. Luckily they found one. I quickly put it on, grabbed my camera and took my position on the side of the stage. Conductor Sergio Comissiona came out to thunderous applause, shook hands with the violin concertmaster and then walked over to me and shook my hand. I'm sure everyone in the audience was thinking: hey, what's going on here? The conductor just shook the cameraman's hand. I don't think it was me. I'm sure it was the tux!

Chapter 7 The Mother Corp
In 2006 many cameramen, including me, were offered the chance to cover the war in Afghanistan. One of my fellow cameramen, Alan Stewart, accepted this challenge to experience firsthand Kabul, Kalashnikovs (Russian rifles) and the Taliban. Before going into the war zone and being embedded with the Canadian army, Alan completed a one-week training course in Atlanta, Georgia on how to survive in a hostile region.
Alan learned a region is considered hostile for three reasons: climate, war zones or environmental disaster. There are three unwritten laws of working in a war zone: Hostile events will occur, they will never match the incident and they will happen at the most inconvenient times you can ever imagine. Fifty percent of the course dealt with medical training.
Alan and the other recruits watched a film shot by a Swedish camera crew. It was a gunfire scenario in an African street. It showed one of the camera crew being hit in the leg by gunfire while crossing he street. One of his colleagues runs across the street to help him. No one knows where the shot or shots came from or from which direction. No one could see the shooter. What do you do? Run into the middle of the street and help the person who is shot and risk getting shot yourself? Or, let the wounded person lie there in the middle of the street and bleed out?
The point of the film: the days of wearing a body protecting flak jacket with the words MEDIA or waving a white flag and yelling "Journalist!" are over. War may be hell but for some photojournalists, wandering through a country looking for the best stories can be an adrenaline high, the ultimate challenge.
Journalists are important, but they're not gods. You need some courage to do the job, but it's not so important you have to risk your life. If you missed something, your producer might be upset that you're upset. Remember, there are only two people in the room who know that you missed something, unless you say something. Generally, you are hardest on yourself. If you didn't get the best story, don't worry. Nobody will know if you got there. The moment is gone. Next day, next assignment.

Chapter 11 Broadcasting Evolves
I remember the day I saw my first Betacam still in its crate. Diane Douville from scheduling said, "Mike, you better figure out this camera. You're going to San Francisco tomorrow with Brian Schecter and Eric Dwyer.
That night I took the camera home and learned how to use it. The sound and pictures I could take were amazing! Now I was able to record everything by myself. I didn't have to look behind to locate the sound guy. I could go anywhere, at any time, and shoot anything. The development of the Betacam, using videotape instead of expensive film, had revolutionized sports broadcasting.
On my first assignment using the Betacam, sports producer Brian, our sports commentator Eric, and I flew down to California to tape interviews with two former members of the B.C. Lions all-time dream team, quarterback Joe Kapp and defensive lineman Dick Fouts. I can't quite remember what the documentary was called.
These two athletes had played with the Lions back in 1963, the first year the BC Lions played in the Grey Cup, and then again in 1964, the year the Lions won the Grey Cup. Kapp left B.C. and was employed as the coach at the University of California-Berkley. Fouts is a larger-than-life character who now lives in the seaside community of Carmel. Fouts proved to be a very entertaining host. We enjoyed meeting him at home for a booze-soaked interview while he reminisced about his early days with the Lions. The next morning, slightly hungover, we drove to Berkeley to shoot footage of Joe Kapp in action.
I stood on the sidelines, shooting Kapp as he stood behind his guys barking out orders. Americans take their football very seriously. The stadium was packed with cheering fans. I was having fun working my new machine. Halfway through the game, Kapp decided he didn't think the students were energized enough, so he marched into the stands to animate the fans. I followed. I was maybe a foot or two away from Kapp the whole time he was up in the stands causing a ruckus.
We had arranged to have an in-depth interview with the coach in his office the following morning. When we got to the stadium everything was shut down and his office was locked. When we finally tracked him down, we could see Kapp had forgotten about the scheduled interview. I was stunned. I couldn't believe Kapp didn't recognize me, the camera guy who had tracked him for the entire game. He promised us only ten minutes but we stayed over half-an-hour and he provided us with a great interview.

Chapter 14 Powder and Ice
This segment pertains to the 1988 Winter Olympics....
In 1987 the year before the Calgary Games, one important men's downhill race was postponed because conditions were too cold and stormy to start the race. The race organizers reluctantly agreed to postpone the race, first from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. then to 12 noon hoping for better weather. All we could do was to wait for a break from the winds. I experienced how quickly weather conditions can change on those mountains, from windy to extremely windy to what the hell am I doing on this mountain?
That night as I was getting ready to leave the mountain, I decided to unplug my camera. Normally you wouldn't do something like that. When you're working on a mountain in wintertime, the most important thing you can do is to keep any snow from landing in the connectors. You only cover up the camera, but you still keep it plugged in. I don't know why, but this time as I left the slopes I decided to unplug it.
The next morning going up on the chairlift, panic! I couldn't see my camera. What happened to it? Did someone steal it? I skied off the lift and raced over to the platform. I discovered a strong wind had whipped up overnight and had blown everything off the mountain. Eventually, someone found my camera. It had tumbled down the mountain and was gently planted in the snow near camera four.
I examined my camera very carefully. Luckily nothing was broken. To this day, I don't know why I had left the camera unplugged. If the camera was connected to the cables, the connector would have ripped off and destroyed the camera!
The following year before the start of the Calgary Olympics director Jim Marshall and I were at the top of the mountain busy figuring out where to position one of the cameras. Sixteen or seventeen cameras on tall platforms would be mounted along the race route. Camera one would be focused on the starting hut, camera two would pick up the racer a little further down and so on all the way to the finish line. I was assigned to camera three.
I took off my skis and went to jam my poles into the snow to get a better balance. Soon I discovered that I was hitting sheer ice. I fell hard, sliding all the way down the mountain from camera two to camera four. It turned out to be a spot I knew well. It was the exact spot where my camera had unceremoniously landed the year before. As I struggled to get up, I called on my radio, "Can someone please bring down my skis?" It was scary, but I know it gave the other guys a big chuckle. The next day 100 skiers would race down that mountain but first I had tested it for them on my backside!

Chapter 17 Blindsided
I was scheduled to cover the 1993 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague in the Czech Republic. I would be working with Toronto cameraman Mark Punga. Mark was CBC's top figure skating cameraman. He worked consistently with veteran CBC sports producer Bob Moir. I was looking forward to Prague and working with these two seasoned professionals.
Everyone knew Moir loved figure skating more than any other sport in the world. In fact, at the 1992 Olympic Games in Albertville, he was more excited when Canadian figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi did a triple axel in a practice session than when our downhill racer Kerrin Lee-Gartner actually won gold for Canada.
Moir would not be disappointed in Prague. Our wonderful, talented Canadian skating team truly out-performed during the week-long competition. In men's figure skating, Kurt Browning won gold and Elvis Stojko won silver. Canadian Pairs champions Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, who had been a duo since 1987 and had won five pairs championships, won their first gold for an outstanding performance. The Russian skaters may have won five medals in total, but we Canadians beat them in the important gold category. Moir was ecstatic. Canadian fans were thrilled. And I would have been overjoyed with all those medals if not for an unfortunate incident that occurred during the medal ceremonies.
I found myself at the end of the rink where Brasseur and Eisler were getting ready for the awards ceremony. I looked around for Mark. I could see him at the far end of the rink. He was at the "Kiss and Cry Corner", the place where figure skaters sit with their coach surrounded by flowers to wait for their scores. Mark was the only guy who was authorized to be on the ice, but he was too far away to get to the podium in time. As well as being far away, I could see that his cabling wasn't right. I knew I could get on the ice in time to shoot the ceremony. Our director Chris Elias glanced at Mark at the end of the rink, looked at me, and said, "Okay, Mike, go ahead."
A short time later, all hell broke loose. The figure skating organizers came down hard on Moir. Why was that cameraman Varga on the ice? Varga wasn't allowed to be on the ice, he didn't have the credentials. Moir got an earful from another skating official as he tried explaining it was a matter of logistics. Moir explained that I was at the right end of the rink at the right time. Moir is a realist. You don't worry about permission. You do what you have to do and deal with the fallout later.
In the end, nothing bad had happened. It was just me, on the ice, taking a picture of an award ceremony. But someone, namely me, had challenged the producer. Moir could have defused it at the time but he didn't. He knew I was right. There was a reason why he had overreacted. I suspected Moir was hoping to become a governor in the sports alliance after retirement. He was being challenged by an international skating official and I was thrown under the bus. From that moment, I got a reputation as a troublemaker. It can happen to anyone at some point in their career, whether they deserve it or not. In the early 90s, it would be my turn.

        AULD ACQUAINTANCES by Peggy Oldfield  (Excerpts from Stationbreak March-June 1999)
Do you like gardening or admiring fabulous gardens? Do you enjoy holidays by cruise ships? Well, David Tarrant is combining the two when he hosts "David Tarrant's North to Alaska Cruise Tour," August 26th to September 5th this year.  If you were at CBC between '63 and '64, you may remember Michael Tindall as a TV tech. Mike is now Vice President of the Southern Media Unit for the Okanagan Skeena Group responsible for the Kelowna Stations. If you ever travel on the Granville Island ferry, don't be surprised to find a very tanned and relaxed Derek Gardner steering the boat. Derek is doing it as a part time job and insists he hasn't given up the biz. He's currently working on a program proposal with Mark Perry (Saltspring Island).  Jordan's Caterers hosted a "client appreciation" Sunset Dinner Cruise aboard the MV Native Paddle Wheeler and extended an invitation to CBC 20 Years Association President John Kennedy. John was unable to attend so Peggy and Mike Oldfield were the lucky guests for a delightfully enjoyable cruise. There are so many CBC retirees living on Vancouver Island that they have organized an informal social club to arrange get togethers in their area. Their president is Ferg Sidwell, their secretary-treasurer LLoyd Harrop. For some years now, the Island group has graciously extended an invitation to CBC 20 Year Association members to attend their Spring Luncheon in Victoria. Among those enjoying the festivities were Jim Patterson, Len & Dallas Chapple, Rae Whitehouse (Ray's widow), Ken & Hope Brown, Fernand Choquette, Stan and Janet Fox, Harro & Margot Garmsen, John & Eve Gow, Connie Munro,  Peter Symcox, Alex McDonald, Lloyd Harrop and Don Waterston. 
On the travel front, a number of friends have been on the go. Jack Binns and wife Doreen headed south for three weeks in the California sunshine. Derek and Nancy Chung soaked up the warm rays in Palm Springs for two weeks. On the opposite coast Ed Bignall plans to enjoy the Florida sunshine in a condo he recently purchased there. Going a little further afield, Jackie Bewley (Ken's widow) travelled with a group of six throughout Australia for 23 days. Marilyn Barker (nee Haines) returned to Australia for a month's holiday with son Curt after an absence of 26 years. Likewise Judy Knox returned from a month's holiday visiting relatives on that continent. John and Ann Lysaght spent a month in Spain in celebration of Ann's retirement from work. Philip and Elizabeth Keatley flew to England for a month of visiting family in London and Sussex. Lucky Anne Matheson won a one-week holiday in Rarotonga and Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. Back in Canada Sharon Spruston has just reurned from Ontario where she was a happy mother of the bride when daughter Shawna married. Marguerite and Roy Callegari headed east on a holiday in Ottawa (where they'll celebrate Roy's birthday and visit Marilyn Brown), Quebec City (where they'll celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary) and Montreal (to visit family). John and Penny Kennedy are in Ontario for a couple of weeks to get to know their newset granddaughter, Juliet Kennedy, who made her debut last month.
CEP union members held a barbecue on the sidewalk in front of 700 Hamilton Street as a morale booster for those walking the picket line. Despite the worst rain/wind storm of the season, Bill Morris remarked that morning that it was dry at sidewalk level because the torrential downpour was blowing sideways. There was a good attendance with a number of former colleagues turning out with a cheery if soggy smile. Hidden beneath layers of hoods, hats, scarves and parkas, the faces of John Rogers, Judi Grindlay, Bob Gillingham, Andrea Maitland, Maurice Moses, Larry Watson, Hans Fousek, Chris Stear, and Mike & Peggy Oldfield could be discerned. 

Did you know that Winston Churchill was born in a ladies' room during a dance?
No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver or purple.
The name for Oz in "The Wizard of Oz" was thought up when the creator, Frank Baum, looked at his filing cabinet and saw A-N and O-Z, hence Oz!
The characters Bert and Ernie in "Sesame Street" were named after Bert the cop and Ernie the taxi driver in Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life."
Microwave was invented after a researcher walked by a radar tube and the chocolate bar melted in his pocket!



I very quietly confided to my best friend that I was having an affair.

She turned to me and asked, "Are you having it catered?"

And that, my friend, is the sad definition of "OLD".


Just before the funeral services, the undertaker came up to the very elderly widow and asked,

"How old was your husband?"

"98," she replied: "Two years older than me"

"So you're 96," the undertaker commented.

She responded, "Hardly worth going home, is it?"


Reporters interviewing a 104-year-old woman:

"And what do you think is the best thing about being 104?" the reporter asked.

She simply replied, "No peer pressure."


I've sure gotten old! I have outlived my feet and my teeth

I've had two bypass surgeries, a hip replacement, new knees, fought prostate cancer and diabetes

I'm half blind,

Can't hear anything quieter than a jet engine,

Take 40 different medications that make me dizzy, winded, and subject to blackouts.

Have bouts with dementia.

Have poor circulation;

Hardly feel my hands and feet anymore.

Can't remember if I'm 85 or 92.

Have lost all my friends. But, thank God, I still have my driver's license.


I feel like my body has gotten totally out of shape,

So I got my doctor's permission to join a fitness club and start exercising.

I decided to take an aerobics class for seniors.

I bent, twisted, gyrated, jumped up and down, and perspired for an hour.

But, by the time I got my leotards on, the class was over.


An elderly woman decided to prepare her will and told her preacher she had two final requests.

First, she wanted to be cremated, and second, she wanted her ashes scattered over Wal-Mart.

"Wal-Mart?" the preacher exclaimed.

"Why Wal-Mart? Then I'll be sure my daughters visit me twice a week"


My memory's not as sharp as it used to be..

Also, my memory's not as sharp as it used to be.


Know how to prevent sagging?

Just eat till the wrinkles fill out.


It's scary when you start making the same noises as your coffee maker.


These days about half the stuff in my shopping cart says,

'For fast relief.'


Grant me the senility to forget the people

I never liked anyway,

The good fortune to run into the ones I do

and the eyesight to tell the difference.