STATIONBREAK.CA

MAGAZINE: MAY/JUNE 2024

MAY/JUNE ISSUE, 2024

   Don Mowatt joined the staff of CBC in Vancouver in 1964 as a Radio
   Variety Producer and retired in 1997 as a Producer, Radio Features.
   During that 33-year span, Don won innumerable awards in recognition
   of the programmes he brought to air including 2 George F. Peabody
   medals, ACTRA, Armstrong, Gabriel, B'Nai Brith and the New York
   Audio Arts award for his feature documentaries and radio plays. He
   was chairman of the Radio Jury for the Prix Futura, Berlin, Germany
   in 1993 and in 1995 was the Canadian Media representative at the
   International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. From 1964 to 1997,
   he produced over five hundred full-length documentary features and
   plays, and interviewed dozens of major figures in the Humanities i
   ncluding: George Woodcock, John Irving, Ray Bradbury, Jean Vanier,
   The Aga Khan, Sir Malcolm Arnold, Sir John Gielgud, Dame Peggy
   Ashcroft, Ruggiero Ricci, Janos Starker, Aaron Copland, R. Murray Schafer, Jean Coulthard, PK Page, Bill Reid and Earle Birney. He was also the principal western contributing producer to the Ideas series from 1982 to 1997. Following retirement from CBC in 1997, Don joined the UBC Faculty of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing, where he remained for nine years. He was Co-artistic director of Western Gold Theatre in Vancouver for eight years, has been a lecturer and media consultant for The Aga Khan Trust for Culture for many years and has continued to write, perform and lecture on a wide variety of subjects. In 2007, Don wrote the libretto for Lloyd Burritt’s opera “The Dream Healer” on the subject of Carl Jung. It premiered at the Chan Centre with an international cast and the UBC opera company directed by Nancy Hermiston. In 2012, he and Carolyn Finlay toured Britain from Devonshire to the Aboyne Festival in the Scottish Highlands as Mark Twain and Olivia Clemens. He, Carolyn and the late Cam Cathcart performed together for two decades at Barclay and Roedde House Museums and the Silk Purse Gallery in an original play by Don with music: “A Charles Dickens Christmas“.

Stationbreak.ca is delighted that Don has shared more of his memories from his years with CBC Vancouver Radio when offices and studios were located in the Hotel Vancouver.

 

 

The CBC in the Hotel Vancouver 1964-1976

A MEMOIR by Don Mowatt

The CBC in the Hotel Vancouver, 1964-1975

In the summer of 1964 I was looking for work in the fall ahead. At the age of twenty, I was still living with my parents in Victoria, having completed my second year of postgraduate studies at UBC. The summer had been busy. I had an almost full-time job selling women’s shoes at a store on Douglas Street - Debbie’s, where all the shoes were the same price @ $9.95. In the hours I had off, I taught with my parents at a tutorial college in town. Between us we taught high school French, English, Latin and German. And beginning in July, I was acting and singing in a British Music Hall show six nights a week at the Langham Court Theatre in Oak Bay: Crazy Capers, devised, directed and produced by an old English vaudevillian Art Budd. But all of this was fine for summer, though definitely not a model for my own five to ten year plan.

My father had to give a service in the Fraser Valley at a military installation one weekend in August and brought me back a copy of the Vancouver Sun he had picked up on the ferry to the mainland advertising for a CBC radio producer in Vancouver. What they were looking for seemed to match my qualifications and interests and so I applied. My expectations were not high as recent applications for less interesting jobs had not amounted to anything.

Two weeks later I received an encouraging note from the Director of Radio asking me to come to his office in the Hotel Vancouver for an interview within the week.

The Hotel Vancouver was the third hotel with that name and was built a couple of blocks north of the previous hotels on Georgia Street in 1939. It was a CN Railway Chateau style hotel and since the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was begun as part of the Railway Department nationally, its offices and studios  were still there when I applied for a job in the fall of 1964.

I took an elevator from the lobby up to the first mezzanine floor where the offices of the Regional Director, Ken Caple, the Program Director, Marce Munro and the Director of Radio, Peter Garvie , were located.  The elevators at that time and for the next few years were operated by uniformed personnel, dressed in chocolate brown suits and ties with white gloves. Most were women who operated a wheel near the doors, and it seemed to me at first that I had come into a ship’s wheelhouse with a very personable navigator at the helm.

I had brought with me copies of the letter from the Director of Radio, three letters of reference, a scrapbook of newspaper stories I had collected, programs, photos and a copy of a libretto I had written for a folk opera based on Huckleberry Finn.

My first interview was with Marce Munro and Peter Garvie in Mr. Garvie’s office. He asked most of the questions about my university background, my experience in drama and music and what programs I had been listening to on CBC radio. As with many Canadians born in the war years, I had been raised with radio, particularly the CBC, as my prime source of both news and entertainment and I mentioned specific series that I was acquainted with over the years.

Mr. Garvie was particularly interested in my German language abilities, since he had recently received a major LP collection of “Music from Old Cities and Residences” that he wanted to run as a series of one hour music broadcasts, but the notes were all entirely in German. I explained that I had majored in German and this would be no problem to translate.

The other point made by both directors with some insistence, as they looked through my scrapbook of activities, was that in this job, my efforts were to go completely towards focusing on the artistic output of others, not on my own endeavours in this regard.  This, too, seemed to me to be no problem. The fact that I might be working closely in any capacity with musicians, actors and writers I had admired for years was a thrill that remained with me for the next thirty-five years at the CBC.

At the conclusion of the interview which lasted about forty minutes I was told that I should see next the Director for the Province, Mr. Ken Caple, whose office was next door. As I left, I had a good feeling about the two gentlemen I had been talking to. Peter Garvie with his upper class London accent seemed particularly warm, receptive and erudite and both interested and highly qualified in many of my favourite subjects. The meeting with the Director of the Province, though amiable enough, was more a formality and quite perfunctory.  He spent most of the fifteen minute interview telling me about the plans for the CBC building to go up next to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre complex further down Georgia Street. By the end of the two interviews, I felt they had perhaps already decided in my favour. I returned home by bus and the ferry optimistic though cautious about saying so to anyone except my parents.

Within a week, they had phoned me, sent me a letter of confirmation and notified me that I was to report for work and sign some documents in two weeks time. I was elated, but perhaps not as much as my parents, eager to see me on my way. The next issue: where to live. I had a distant cousin in Vancouver, one of three sisters, all school teachers and retired, who advised me to rent a room on Denman Street as she once did decades ago, by the sea in the West End. It was not good advice. In my first week there in a dingy but relatively cheap bachelor one room apartment,  a man was murdered next door. I moved out after two months into a one bedroom apartment on nearby Pendrell Street and lived there for the next four years, walking the two miles to work at the Hotel Vancouver every day, in spite of the weather.

In the fall of 1964, the radio producers’ offices were on the 16th floor, one floor above the celebrated Panorama Roof restaurant and dance floor.  I would produce a radio hour here for several years every Saturday night live from 11 to midnight that featured Dal Richards and his orchestra with guest vocalists.

There were ten or eleven other producers on staff at that time, all but one were men and all were at least ten years older than me, several were two or three decades older. The secretaries were also considerably older- one secretary for every two producers and there was a business manager for our group of producers, Gwyn Gunn.

I was to succeed a veteran Australian, John Must, a variety producer, who was genial and knowledgeable generally in a number of fields, not especially in either classical music or drama but more in comedy and popular music.

I was assigned an office with Robert Chesterman, another Englishman in the production company on the 16th floor. He was short, red haired and lively, an avid soccer fan and a capable tennis player, I soon learned, as well as an accomplished pianist. He produced a ninety minute music, drama and documentary series of an hour every Saturday evening on FM which just began in Vancouver the month I joined the CBC. He was also the host and producer of a long running AM series begun by our director of radio Peter Garvie, a few years previously, Music Diary, featuring essays, commentaries with musical extracts by an international array of noted music critics and musicians.

He had a sign on his door, a quote from the BBC Pilkington Commission: “Any broadcaster whose policy is to give the public what it wants, first underestimates his audience, then proceeds to debauch it.” It was to be a cornerstone of the philosophy of our office on the 16th floor for years to             CBC Radio Producer Rob Chesterman 
come … with increasing opposition from many sides.

   When I was first introduced to Rob sitting in his office, he was talking with another
   older gentleman, also short, but balding and not as slim or as… lively, but certainly
   genial and well-spoken with an Eastern European accent: writer, director and actor
   Otto Lowy. He was sprawled out in my oak chair with both feet planted on top of
   my desk! I felt a kindred spirit immediately. He had been a Czech Jewish war
   refugee who spoke fluent German.

   John Must  introduced me to Rob and Otto and then took me to meet the other
   producers and secretaries on the floor and then to see the studios on the first
   mezzanine and the other radio locations in and near the Hotel.

   Studio A was located up a short flight of steps inside the principal entrance to
   the CBC at 701 Hornby Street. There was a glassed-in reception desk there and
   a lobby where actors and others waiting for their appointments or for scenes in
   the radio plays could wait in comfortable seating.

When we arrived, there was a group of five or six actors waiting for their scenes to be rehearsed and recorded inside Studio A. I was introduced to each and one older gentleman stood up and spoke to me in an English accent I recognized from my childhood listening to CBC radio. I asked him if he hadn’t played Quartermain, one of the principals in King Solomon’s Mines on radio in 1953. It was the wonderful actor Sam Payne who became a valued colleague and a good friend in the coming years. Yes, he had played that very part on radio eleven years earlier, over half a lifetime back for me, but just yesterday for him probably. It was not the first or last time vocal memory revealed fascinating results. Sadly, Sam died of prostate cancer about fifteen years later and I recorded him the week  of his passing for a documentary on cancer I was making at that time. As I was leaving, one of the other actors apologized for not saying anything but most of them had been there for fourteen hours already and they weren’t sure when they could all go home. This was not so unusual, John Must explained later, as the drama producer involved in this particular production was Gerald Newman. “He once forced the soundman to strike a match over fifty times before he was satisfied with the right sound.” As it later turned out, the engineer involved told me, Newman chose take 1 of the match striking. Apparently that often happened as well with the multiple takes of the actors. Everyone was paid overtime of course and those productions ended well over budget. You couldn’t argue with Gerald Newman. He had been a jeweller in an earlier life, but after a bachelor’s degree at university he became an authority on drama and classical music. He retired not long after I arrived and went on to teach in the English department at Simon Fraser University, eventually becoming chairman of the department, armed only with a standard bachelor’s degree!

He was a character… mustached, portly, a TransAtlantic accent and attitude. In spite of this, I admired him in many ways, though I found his radio dramas rather dry with hardly any music or sound effects… beside the perfect striking of an occasional match. He was pompous and arrogant, but he fought for standards which many of us began to feel were slipping as years went on and as priorities changed from arts programming to current affairs and from audience numbers counting for more than insightful and well-done productions of greater depth and length.

Gerald could be quite a tyrant. He particularly intimidated Rob Chesterman who at this time wanted to produce more plays, but there Gerald fiercely held onto his monopoly of that form. He also bullied Otto Lowy who supplied Gerald with many translations and adaptations for his drama productions. He never bullied me. It wouldn’t have been worth his while. He ignored me in those first years. I was a novice….well below his vision of the world.  I was also a fair mimic. After I got to know Otto, I used to phone him about a project… remember there was no telephone identification screen at that time… and began the conversation: “Otto… Gerald here…” in a perfect Newmanian accent and pomposity. He fell for it every time. It did get me into trouble on one occasion his wife Barbara once told me. Years later when Otto was hosting his radio series The Transcontinental, his adoring fans would write or even phone him in the middle of a broadcast. On one occasion he received such a call from a woman with a low voice in a heavy German accent calling herself Gertrud Messerschmidt. After a minute or less he suddenly interrupted her “Don, knock it off! I’m fed up with your imitations and I’m hanging up!” He did and she phoned him back, twice, outraged at him for insulting her. Then he phoned me and blamed me in no uncertain manner for getting him into trouble with his devoted fans. We remained friends and co-conspirators in a number of crazy escapades over the decades and I was asked to give one of a handful of eulogies at his memorial concert with the Vancouver Symphony at the Orpheum Theatre where he had hosted their Tea and Trumpets series for years.

Studio A at that street level entrance of the Hotel off Hornby Street retained a lot of wonderful memories for me. My last office in the hotel before we moved to the new building was just outside the studio with an iron barred window to the street across from the Art Gallery, that had been the home office of the Outside Broadcast Team for decades before they ceased operations.Studio A was a large two storey room with the control room overlooking it from the upper floor and where I sat as director and producer of plays and recording sessions for twelve years. Most of that period I shared it with technicians who were allowed at that time to chain-smoke.

I somehow escaped lung cancer in that tiny glassed-in control room, blue with smoke.

There was a floor-to-ceiling mural in the studio that someone had painted long ago of two rearing horses on one wall. Against the wall facing the door was a panel of sound effects turntables for 78 rpm discs, a door and a window machine and a control desk for introducing other effects including coconut shells for duplicating horses’ hooves. And there was a glass breaking machine and a canvas roller for making wind sounds.

There was a small Steinway grand piano at one end of the studio, several music stands, a harmonium and baffles to isolate the actors being recorded. And of course many microphones on tall metal stands.

I recorded the daily Carsons farm family broadcasts here with a cast of Vancouver’s finest and most established actors: Bill Buckingham, Dorothy Davies, Jimmy and Cathy Johnston, Sam Payne, Walter Marsh and Jack Anthony, among others. I must admit that the initial reaction I had to my assignment to produce and direct the already long running daily noon hour farm drama The Carsons was not enthusiastic. I had been a devoted listener to CBC radio since early childhood but we had never paid much attention to the farm broadcasts with their news on the latest hog and cattle prices. But the first day in the studio with actors Bill Buckingham, Dorothy Davies, Jimmy and Cathy Johnston changed all of that. I couldn’t have had a more talented, patient and congenial cast to work with. We recorded in one day all five of the week’s episodes of only  five minutes duration each with enthusiasm and camaraderie for the remaining two years that the series had left. The Carsons had been running for almost a quarter century when I joined the company. Set in rural British Columbia, it portrayed the life of farmer John Carson and his wife Mary and their son Bill and his wife. They represented old values faced with an evolving urbanization typical of the trend across much of North America following the Second World War. Farm information was supplied to the writer David Savage by the Farms Department, now long defunct, but the characters were vibrant, warm and received a great deal of fan mail individually, particularly in the first two decades. And the radio show was taken out into the province on tour in those years with great success. I learned so much about both radio and acting in their company and we developed a close relationship for life in each case.

We would break for coffee during the sessions, retreating to the Hotel basement cafeteria, which was demolished by 1970, sadly. On one occasion, the cast was joined in the studio by the Johnston’s youngest daughter Julie who played their daughter on occasion in The Carsons broadcast. That particular day, their older daughter Janice who was exactly my age also joined us for coffee in the cafeteria. She was vivacious, funny and great company. A week later she was involved in a fatal car accident on the Upper Levels Highway on the way to Lion’s Bay.  The story was worked into the radio play obliquely by the author a month or two later. In that series reality and drama often appeared seamless.

The crew of the Farm Broadcasts Dept., the playwright and all the main cast of The Carsons have passed away, long ago. And the studio where it had been brought to life for over a quarter of a century is gone too.

I was never quite sure why The Carsons series was cancelled. It was replaced for a couple of years by a new series written by Jan Williams. Fifty-First North was set in a rural coastal community with a new cast and a greater emphasis on young people and contemporary issues as the country generally was changing from rural to more urban development. Betty Phillips and Ernie Prentice were the principals with Terence Kelly and Carol Pastinsky. The Carsons cast was not forgotten but they had support roles and were much treasured in other dramas that I and the other radio drama producers directed.

This studio had history, as well as the actors named above, the artists working here since the late thirties also included Steven Staryk, Lukas Foss, Eleanor Collins, Dylan Thomas, Bruno Gerussi, Cameron Mitchell, Ann Mortifee, Peggy Ashcroft, Douglas Raine, Chief Dan George, Andrew Allan, Esse W. Ljungh, John Drainie, Dave Robbins, Roma Hearn and Lance Harrison.

You could feel their ghosts here in this place. If not, there were those who could soon remind you, most notably Sam Payne whose theatre recollections were endless and legendary.

John Must, continuing his guided tour of the CBC radio studios, then took me out of the building a couple of blocks east and then north to Howe Street where there was an austere cavernous hall… Studio G… which was used for recording the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra with its founding conductor John Avison, as well as the occasional large cast drama and several musical series including Music on the Menu with Claire Klein and Bud Spencer and the Bud Henderson Quartet and A Night from the Nineties led by Harry Pryce, both of which I was to produce in that studio for the next few years.

This former concrete garage had a natural echo but it was not a warm sound, despite the attempts of the technicians to mike the performers as best they could. Concrete is not a friend to good recording. Especially with the introduction of the new FM network in the fall of 1964, this space was not looked upon as having much of a future.

Not long afterwards, many of the weekly recordings of the Chamber Orchestra were done in the North Vancouver Centennial Theatre, obviously an improvement over the cement bunker.

It wasn’t a bad location in many ways, old Studio G. It was near an all hours coffee shop adopted by the orchestral musicians and members of the Cave nightclub band in the same block. All those are gone now, Studio G, the Cave, the coffeeshop and most of the musicians. Those were special times and genial, where the locals and the internationals met frequently and new compositions, arrangements, connections and inspirations were encouraged, conceived and executed.

The Hotel was in the centre of it all, with the Cave, Izzy’s Night Club, City Stage, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Playhouse and the Orpheum Theatre all within a five minute walk.

Just inside the door at 701 Hornby Street, were the offices of Outside Broadcasts, a department that disappeared not long after I began working at the CBC. But it had a remarkable team of four led by Bill Herbert who had known my naval chaplain father years before and was both a commentator and an executive. The producer was Len Chapple who won a highly coveted international award, in 1965, the Prix italia, for a documentary on the sinking of the Lusitania. His assistant was Diana Filer who later became network head of radio variety and later headed the International Service of the CBC. Their technician was Elmer Winton. Outside Broadcasts was particularly known in the 1940s and 50s for covering royal tours and other events on location around the province.

When radio was the only medium, its presence outside the studios was heralded and well publicized, involving not only its many reporters, but also its travelling shows of actors and musicians who entertained in communities all over British Columbia. Of course, in those years, the equipment was very bulky and not as easily transportable as it became… and there were strict rules as to who could use it and who could not. Areas of expertise were far more clearly defined and were not crossed without significant penalties.

The question of who could operate the increasingly miniaturized and therefore portable audio equipment became more intensely debated until finally in the late nineteen seventies, there was a committee formed by CBC management consisting of producers across the country. I was chosen from Vancouver, but the chair in Toronto was Stuart Mclean, executive producer then of Sunday Morning but best known for his long running series The Vinyl Café. That committee was eventually responsible for loosening the stranglehold on equipment use long insisted on by the technicians’ powerful NABET union. But it took years.

On the same floor with the smaller studios and offices on the first mezzanine above the Hotel lobby was the record library, the tape library and the recording room where programs were recorded from a variety of sources inside and outside the building on a series of tape recording machines under the supervision of a master technician. All the recordings from the large Studio A downstairs, for example, were made in this room and the producer had to phone up to the recording room to begin each taping session and to end it. Early in my tenure there, an affable Chinese technician, with a very heavy accent who was named Jeff, was the recording engineer. There were others but when he replied to my phone call preparing him to start the taping from Studio A, I would call him by name and he would always reply: “Don, how you know was me?” After two or three years he moved to Seattle where he was hired as a technician at the Boeing plant. I missed him and his accent. Next door to the recording room was the tape library run by Richard Woo.

This small room was not so much a library for our hundreds of recorded tapes, but a kind of clearing house for tapes, mostly for those ready for broadcast in the coming days and for those just broadcast. Producers were expected to store their own broadcast tapes in their own offices or at home or somewhere that was never quite specified. There was a tape archive in Toronto for nationally broadcast programmes, but no comprehensive system for regional or local tapes. As producers, our offices were crammed with broadcast tapes going back years and also tapes of edited and unedited interviews and other program components.

At some point, it was decided by one level of radio management, unknown to the rest of us, that these hoarded tapes held by the producers were capable of being reused. Why invest in more new tapes at great cost when you can wipe the old ones and record over them indefinitely? 

So Tom Robinson who had been an announcer, and then chief announcer and ultimately a middle manager, took it upon himself early one morning to enter the radio producers’ offices, well before any of us were accustomed to show up, and gathered all our tapes so they could be erased, without informing us and consequently, in most cases, without knowing the importance of what was on these tapes.

I had an early morning session with a group of actors in Studio A so showed up early at my office just as he was opening it up with his master key to abduct my tapes, some of which contained what I considered both unique and historically significant material by artists that had given notable and even definitive performances, interviews with individuals that had spoken on important subjects, musical rarities, etc.

A ten dollar tape was more valuable to Tom and his fellow managers at this point than a multi-thousand dollar production or a unique historical aural document! Not to mention the blood, sweat, tears and talent we all poured into those productions!

I refused to let him enter my office and said I’d report him to the Director of the Province and the police if I had to, and began to phone two or three of my production colleagues. He backed off but not without threats of his own and the matter was settled for that day at least. Unfortunately, he had already over a hundred and fifty of our tapes wiped in the process, without our knowledge, but it could perhaps have numbered in the thousands without intervention.

In my experience with other international broadcast organizations, this kind of disregard on a managerial level for taped materials or for establishing archival mandate, was quite unprecedented. The matter of tape preservation, to my knowledge, was still not completely satisfactory when I retired from the Corporation thirty odd years after this incident. Of course, none of this activity could be charged to Richard Woo as the tape librarian. He didn’t set the guidelines on tape usage or misusage. He was a good man and very popular for a number of reasons. Inside the CBC tape library, for example, his skills as a photographer were much appreciated by the radio staff, particularly by the male members. He managed to encourage some of our female colleagues at the CBC to be photographed and these photographs, often enlarged to full human scale would appear on the walls of the tape library on a weekly basis. Many of these playmates of the week would be undraped. That certainly made Richard’s library a popular gathering place, not so much for the tapes which could be wiped anytime, as for the other documentary archives of the visual aspects of life around us. Richard was also a popular chap outside the CBC later on as one of the spearhead organizers of a group that began systematic planting of palm trees in Vancouver’s West End. He certainly added a marvellous visual component to life in radio in and around that old hotel. I think there should be a bronze star with his name on it in the CBC building on Hamilton Street.

Situated in the middle of the city, the Hotel Vancouver was at the heart of constant action and interaction. It was a city in itself with its staff, its clientele, the shops, the restaurants and the entertainment at night and on weekends. Most of that has changed since the CBC moved to its own building several blocks away. We have gone, the entertainers and the cafés and restaurants have gone. The shops in the Fairmont Hotel, as it is now called, are all much more upscale, not as inviting or varied as they once were. We used to see famous movie stars, hockey players, politicians, artists and real characters in the lobby, the restaurants, the elevators and the studios. We knew them and the staff by name and looked forward to greeting them in the morning and saying good night when we left, riding up and down several times a day in those staff operated elevators. Everything afterwards became so impersonal, detached. Who will tell us their stories now or listen to ours?

It never occurred to me when I was working in the Hotel to look into any of the rooms of the guests. In retrospect, perhaps I should have, to make the context of the job more complete. I had heard stories about the ghost of a lady in red who inhabited the 14th floor rooms and the elevators on the Main and First floors. She apparently had been in residence in her ghostly state since 1944 when she was involved in a fatal traffic accident just outside the main entrance. A number of guests over the decades had seen her on the 14th floor in their rooms. She was always in red. I never saw her and no one I knew had seen the lady. I wish I had asked to see some of the guest rooms though, especially the Royal Suite.

In some ways, when we moved from that old hotel, all these tangibles, like our programs, were erased and held now only in our memories.

© Don Mowatt

July 2022

 

***************

(Newspaper Articles on CBC Vancouver Radio Programs mentioned by Don in his Memoir)

“The Carsons” Say Goodbye

Thursday, June 10, 1966
AM Radio 12:30 p.m.

On Thursday, June 30, CBC radio listeners in B.C. will hear episode 6022 of the Carson Family.  This broadcast will mark the conclusion of this serial drama of B.C. farm life which has been a part of the B.C. Farm Broadcast for 25 years.

The Carsons have enjoyed the longest run of any dramatic series in Canadian broadcasting history.  The Carson family made their debut on June 2, 1941 from CBC Vancouver.  In the years since that first broadcast, listeners have come to know the fictional family from Willowbrook Farm as well as if they were living in their own neighbourhood.

Bill Buckingham and Cathryn (Graham) Johnston have been featured in the roles of John Carson and Ann Carson (Tandy) since the inception of the series and are the only remaining members of the original cast.  Irene (Robertson) McKenzie was the first Mary Carson, a role that for a number of years now has been played by Dorothy Davies.  The other member of the original cast of four was Al Pearce, who played the Carsons’ son Pete.

Veteran listeners will remember Sam Honey, a character that has been portrayed by such well-known actors as Alan Young, Bernard Braden, and John Drainie; Tom Tandy, who was portrayed by Frank Vyvyan; Eric Vale in the role of Fred Wright; Gilbert Worthington played by Alan Roughton; Jack Bowdery as Ed Saunders; Mrs.Phee, played by the late Ruby Chamberlain; Dorothy Fowler as Bunny (Wright) Worthington; Walter Marsh as Pop Walters.

One of the highlights in the story of the Carsons was the marriage of daughter Ann to Bill Tandy in 945. Bill Tandy was originally played by the late Juan Root.  When Juan left for Hollywood, the role of Ann’s husband was taken over by Jimmy Johnston – the real-life husband of Ann (Cathy).

The Tandy-Carson marriage produced two children: Tommy, played by Norman Stacey, and Julie, played by Julie Johnston (who is also the Johnston’s real-life daughter).  Julie has really grown up with the Carson family.  Now fifteen years old, she has been featured in the series since she was seven years of age.

The Carson family was created by David Savage and he has written all of the programs, except for a two-year period when he served with the RCAF.

In the 25 years that it has been on the air, the show has had over 30 producers.  Producer of the program for the past two years has been Donald Mowatt.

Evelyn Harper of the CBC Farms Department, Vancouver has been associated with the Carson family ever since that first broadcast.

                                                          

***************

Carsons Gone

by Les Wedman, Vancouver Sun

 

June 30, 1966

CBC’s Farm Family Played 6,022 Shows

 

Actor Bill Buckingham took a lungful of studio air, peered through his glasses to where his script said “John Carson” and spoke into the microphone:

“That’s the way it is, alright.  One generation passes away and another generation comes along.  But the earth abides forever.  We’re all growing old but the land’s still young – what’s left of it.  Good thing, too.  Oh, well, come on now, Mary, it’s time for us to go.”

From a speaker the tinkly notes of Country Gardens swept down on Buckiungham, silent now, shoulders sagged slightly.  He looked sad, but no sadder than Dorothy Davies, Cathy Johnston and her husband, Jimmy.

“Thank you, that’s it,” called Don Mowatt, from his producer’s booth.

The actors put away their scripts to take home and keep, because this one – the 6,022nd written for The Carsons – was also last.  Canada’s oldest radio serial is no more.

The final episode was taped at CBC today and will be on air next Thusday at 12:30 noon, ending 25 years and days of broadcasting to the B.C. farming community and thousand of city folk who listened to The Carsons regularly.

This serial is the third oldest in all of North American radio.  Helen Trent ran 28 years and Ma Perkins was just a few weeks short of that.  These were “soap operas” with commercials, whereas The Carsons was a sustaining show.  This is a record but Bill Buckingham and Cathy Johnston also break records.  Nobody else in radio has ever played the ongoing roles as long as they have.

They were on the first broadcast, back in June 2, 1941 and now they’ve done the final one, with hardly a break in between.  Mrs. Johnston had a couple of babies during the run of the show but she says writer David Savage “was most accommodating.  I worked right up to the end and he wrote the story so that I didn’t miss many broadcasts.”

Savage did the same for Irene Robertson, the first Mary Carson, and was equally obliging when her replacement Dorothy Davies – wife of CBC-TV producer Andy Snider – needed a little time off for the same reason.

Don Mowatt, the 35th producer of The Carsons, was hardly born when the show first went on the air. 

It all began when a young Ontario farmer, Orville Shagg, wrote a 10-page letter of complaint and suggestions to CBC head Gladstone Murray asking why the CBC didn’t do programs for farmers.

Murray yanked him off the farm and made him national supervisor of farm broadcasts and out of this eventually evolved The Craigs in Ontario, The Jacksons in Winnipeg, The Gillans in the Maritimes and The Carsons in B.C.  The other programs left the air two years ago.

The original Carson Family consisted of father and mother, daughter and son.  The son was played by Al Pearce, now living in Toronto.  Juan Root, now dead, played the hired hand who was sweet on Cathy Johnston – the Carson girl.  When Root went east in 1946, Jimmy Johnston – real-life husband of the actress – came on the show as her husband, Bill Tandy.  They even had a child on the program and it was their own, too, a young lady christened Julie.  Now past 15, Miss Johnston was in one of the last episodes of the serial.

Alan Young, Bernie Braden, John Drainie and Fletcher Markle all were in The Carsons.  Whenever they returned for a visit to Vancouver, writer Savage wrote them back into the script as a gag.  They loved doing it.

The Carsons used to be on the air 50 weeks of the year.  When the actors looked at the small print in their ACTRA contracts and thought they should be entitled to two weeks holiday with pay, the CBC legal eagle intervened.  The Carsons went to 48 weeks per year so the actors had to pay for their own vacations.

Writer of The Carsons also holds the record for sticking to his typewriter longer than any other radio scripter.  Except for a couple of years overseas in the RCAF in the Second World War, Savage has been the only writer for the show.   Peter MacDonald, now a bigshot Screen Gems’ executive in the U.S., filled in for Savage as writer.  He also produced the show and acted in it too.

Being born next door to a farm in Duncan was the closest Savage had ever been to the soil when he started The Carsons.  The CBC remedied that.  They sent him to board with Mr. and Mrs. H. Leslie Davis on their Milner farm.  He has been back several times for “refresher courses.”

Savage began at $35 a week and now has worked that up to four times the amount and he says “It wasn’t a way to get rich.  But it gave me something every week in a very uncertain profession.”  He has supplemented his income by writing humor – his favorite diversion – which he has sold to Playboy, Saturday Evening Post, Look, Reader’s Digest.

Two years ago, when other farm families were being dropped off radio, Savage “saw the handwriting on the wall.”

He went back to UBC and is just completing his thesis on Alexander Pope for his master’s degree.  He will teach English at Simon Fraser University in the fall.

Actors Buckingham, Davies and The Johnstons, have been told that another farm series is being reconstituted and they will be on it.  But they are taking a “wait and see” attitude.

“It was a plum,” Buckingham recalled.  It’s been a steady living for him and the others, including Frank Vyvyan, forced to retire because of illness and Ruby Chamberlain, who played gossipy Mrs. Fee until her death.

 

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NEW DRAMA:  “51ST NORTH”

51st  North, a new drama serial about the mythical British Columbia community of Monk’s Landing, begins this Monday, January 2, at 12:30 p.m. on CBC-AM radio.

Written by Jan Williams and produced at CBC Vancouver by Donald Mowatt, 51st North will be heard weekdays within the B.C. Farm Broadcast.  Each daily episode will be ten minutes in length.

Monk’s Landing is somewhere in B.C., situated near the 51st parallel, at the northern end of Lake Matsiquat.  The lake is a long, narrow body of water in the middle of a valley, and is fed by the Matsi River.

The Matsiquat Indian Reserve is situated on the west shore of the lake.  At the lake’s southern extremity is Fort St. Joseph, commonly called “St. Jo,” which over the years has grown from a trading post into a sprawling mining and smelting boom town.

Monk’s Landing derived its name from its first settler, Jonas Monk, who settled on land at the head of the lake just before World War I.  He married an Indian girl from the reserve and they had two children, Alfred, now 52, and Mary, now 50.  Mary is a spinster and has been the schoolteacher at the small primary school for the past 30 years.

Alfred Monk has one son, 21-year-old Jim, whose mother died when he was a child.  Alfred has recently remarried a woman 20 years his junior, Jennifer.

John and Emma Wakefield came to Monk’s Landing under a land settlement scheme after World War I.  Their son Alden, now 48, was just a toddler when they first came.

While overseas during World War II, Alden married an Irish girl, Moira O’Flaherty, and they have four children – Brent, 19; Teresa, 18; Brian, 17; and Johnny, 11.

Close friends and neighbours of the Wakefields are Renée and George Black, an Indian couple.  They have two children – Anne-Marie, 21, and Peter, 17.

Monk’s Landing also has its share of eccentrics.  There’s Old Crusoe, for instance.  He’s in his sixties, retired, and lives by himself in a secluded cabin.

Then there’s Joan Weatherby, in her late thirties and a landowner in the community…and Old Slater, also a landowner, in his sixties and of Scottish descent.

Listeners will recognise many familiar names and voices among the cast of 51st North.

Betty Phillips and Ernie Prentice will be heard in the roles of Moira and Alden Wakefield.  Two of their children in the series will be played by Carol Pastinsky (as Teresa) and Allan Haythorne (as Brian). 

John and Emma Wakefield, the grandparents of Teresa and Brian, are portrayed by Walter Marsh and Rae Brown.

In the role of Alfred Monk is Bill Buckingham.  His spinster sister, Mary is played by Dorothy Davies.  Shirley Broderick will be heard as Jennifer Monk.  Terence Kelly, who has had roles on CBC-TV’s Festival and in Studio Pacific, plays Alfred’s son Jim.  Roy Brinson will be heard as Old Crusoe.

Also featured in the cast are the husband-and-wife acting team of Cathy and Jimmy Johnston, who play the Wakefield’s Indian neighbours, Renée and George Black.  Their son Peter is played by John Sparks.  Doris Buckingham is featured as Maud Henty, the town gossip.

Joy Coghill will be featured in the role of Joan Weatherby, Ted Greenhalgh plays Old Slater, the Scottish landowner, and Otto Lowy will be heard as Otto Kiel.

Merv Campone, who was featured as the half-breed Walter Charlie in the Cariboo Country series on CBC-TV, will be heard in a variety of roles on 51st North.  Later in the series he will be heard as Brent, eldest son of Moira and Alden Wakefield.  Other characters will be added as the story evolves.

 

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MYSTERY THEATRE

Friday, Nov. 17, 1967
AM radio 9:30 p.m.

This Friday, November 17, mystery-drama fans will have the opportunity of hearing the first of several plays by Vancouver writers on the AM radio series Mystery Theatre at 9:30 p.m.

This week’s play, entitled The Duel is by Howard Griffin and is based on Zodomirsky’s Duel written by Alexander Dumas.  The action centres around a point of honour between two French officers on the eve of the capture of Quebec.  The cast features Robert Clothier, Derek Ralston and Linda Sorenson.

Dorothy Davies’ Sight Unseen, to be broadcast on November 24 is about a young couple who buy a house sight-unseen and who become involved with ghosts and murder.  Peter Haworth, Judy Armstrong, Roy Brinson, and Doug Campbell are featured.

Otto Lowy’s The Adventures of the Noble Bachelor on December 1 has sleuthing in the Sherlock Holmes tradition as its theme.  Pinch of Snuff written by Jan Williams and Roy Brinson, to be heard on December 8, is a suspenseful ghost story set in B.C.  A private-eye spoof by Jack Humphrey titled The Notorious Adventures of Sam Trowel will be heard on December 15; and two plays by Otto Lowy will conclude Mystery Theatre from Vancouver; a spy intrigue story on December 22, and The Lonely One, a highly suspenseful tale based on Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine on December 29.  Mystery Theatre from Vancouver is produced by Donald Mowatt.

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Mystery Theatre

Suspense in Canada’s ranching country is offered Friday night in Mystery TheatrePinch of Snuff, by Jan Williams and Roy Brinson, is produced by Donald Mowatt.  Michael Lamb, a lone camper washed out of his tent during a heavy rainstorm in the Cariboo area, is picked up by a rancher, who drives him to an inn run by old Angus McNab.  Just before dinner, Lamb is joined by a man who looks as if he might be from a nearby artist’s colony.  This man tells him a story about a gold miner who was murdered in the area decades before.

Their conversation is interrupted by the announcement of dinner.  Later the innkeeper tells Lamb that he had been quite alone in the sitting room – there had been no artist there.  This mysterious situation leads Lamb into an incredible confrontation with the past and involves him in a murder of long ago.  The cast features Derek Ralston, Roy Brinson, Walter Marsh, Patricia Gage, and David Glyn-Jones. (Dec. 8th, 9:30 p.m., AM radio).

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MYSTERY THEATRE

Mystery Theatre on radio Friday night, December 22, at 9:30, presents a story of foreign intrigue.  Double Strip by Otto Lowy, produced in Vancouver by Donald Mowatt, describes a strange interlude when an aging British agent, John Gray, receives an assignment in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.  The cast features Edward Greenhalgh (as Gray), Terrence Kelly, and Eva Theren.

 

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The Lonely One by Ray Bradbury

 

 Front L-R:  Al Haythorne, Lars Eastholm Roma Hearn.

Back:  Gary Scrivener, Joe Golland, Gene Loverock, Dorothy Davies, Brian Buckingha, David Glyn-Jones.

 

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VANCOUVER SCENE

CBC Studio A, 701 Hornby Street
1966

 

L-R:  Angela Gann, Jack Humphrey, Roger Montgomery, Jay Hireen, Doug Campbell, Daphne Goldrick, Mel Read and Jimmy Johnston lying down.

 

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OVER THE EDGE

Don Mowatt’s Apartment, 1445 Pendrell Street, Vancouver
1966

 

 Front L-R:  Daphne Goldrick, Roger Montgomery, Janet Henrikson, John Sparks.

Back:  Derek Ralston, Linda Sorensen, Jack Humphrey, Pat Greening.

 

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Panorama Roof Restaurant and Dance Floor

 

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The Red Lady Ghost on the 14th Floor