Friday, June 30, 2017

VIDEOS: Peter Mansbridge retires: end of an era at the CBC - Part 1

So farewell then, Peter Mansbridge. Today will be your last time anchoring The National and telling grateful Canucks "Thanks for watching. Now go to sleep." OK, just kidding about the last part, but Agent 3 assures us that watching Mr Mansbridge read the news is the last thing he does most nights, before turning out the light. So also it has been for millions of Canadians. Now, no more.

Peter Mansbridge first sat in the CBC National News anchor's chair just over 29 years ago. Since then he has become an institution -- a rare thing in the Not-so-great, Not-so-white North -- the Canadian counterpart to the late great Walter Cronkite. In spite of the fact that he spoke for the state broadcaster, Canucks trusted Peter not to lie to them, and he didn't... as far as anyone can tell. People trusted him. The news was what he said it was, no more and no less.

Peter Mansbridge was not the first CBC national news anchor, of course. The CBC's English television service debuted in the fall of 1952. Agent 3 is old enough to remember those early days, and with his help we've put together a photo montage of most of the people who sat at the Big Desk from them until now.

There at the creation (or almost) was Larry Henderson, the only CBC newscaster to sport a dapper pencil moustache, à la Errol Flynn. By all accounts, Mr Henderson was no Errol Flynn, but a serious but pleasant straight shooter, establishing the model for those who would follow. He was the first regular reader of the National News, serving from 1954 to 1959. A devout churchman, he went on to become the editor of the Catholic Register. He died in 2006 at the age of 89.

Special mention must be made here of Rex Loring, a long-time CBC newsie who passed away in April of this year, at the age of 91. (There must have been something in the water at CBC's old Jarvis Street studios in Toronto.)

Known mostly for his work on CBC Radio, Mr Loring filled in for Larry Henderson on weekends and when the latter was off. At one point he even grew a moustache -- no pic could be found -- so he'd be all set to take over when Mr Henderson left, but in vain, as the job went to the moustacheless but more avuncular Earl Cameron. A pic of Mr Cameron proved even harder to find than one of Mr Loring's moustache, but Ed. did manage to locate this very short clip of Earl doing his job.

Earl Cameron succeeded Larry Henderson as the anchor of the CBC National News in 1959. During the 1960s, managers at CBC News moved towards a philosophy of regarding news announcers as journalists rather than performers. As part of this shift, they put pressure on the announcers' union to accept an agreement prohibiting news readers from commercials or accepting outside contracts with ad agencies. In 1965, Mr Cameron gave up reading commercials for such products such as Crest toothpaste and Nash Rambler automobiles, but that didn't save him. He was dropped from the anchor position the following year, but continued as a staff announcer for another decade. He died in 2005 at the age of... wait for it... 89.

There was something of a revolving door (or a revolving chair) at the National News for the next four years, as the CBC kept up its search for a "real journalist" as opposed to an actor or "bingo caller" who just read what was put in front of him. (Rex Loring was the acknowledged master of the "cold read" -- reading convincingly a script which was handed to him while in the middle of a newscast.) Lloyd Robertson had moved to Toronto to host CBC Weekend in the late 1960s, and anchored The National from 1970 to 1976, before jumping to the independent CTV network.

One of the reasons he left the CBC was his frustration at union regulations which confined news anchors to the role of announcer, prohibiting them from writing their own scripts or participating in editorial decisions concerning the news broadcast. Mr Robertson is still alive and, at the age of 83, still appearing occasionally on CTV.

Some of our readers will have fond and funny memories of the SCTV News, a regular shtick on SCTV, the funniest sketch comedy show ever. Eugene Levy's Earl Camembert character on SCTV was named after Earl Cameron, but otherwise bore no resemblance, except maybe for the bow tie that Earl sometimes wore. The name was merely an offhand joke designed to get a laugh from Canadian viewers. The same is true of Camembert's co-anchor, Floyd Robertson, played by Joe Flaherty, who otherwise bore only a small resemblance to Lloyd Robertson.

Note from Ed.: We were originally going to do this tribute to the CBC newscasters as one long(ish) post, but as I did the research, I found so many photos and videos that I've decided to cut the piece into two parts. Scroll up to see Part 2, including a video of the late, unsung George McLean and, yes, more about Peter Mansbridge.

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