Tommy Banks, the star who helped others shine

Tommy Banks, at home anywhere, but mostly at his piano.

The show always started the same way. At the top of the clock – 7 p.m. on Wednesday – there was a jazz fanfare, a flourish of trumpets and saxes and a drum roll, as the title flashed across the screen. The audience in the studio began whistling and applauding, just as the CBC voice-over announcer, Larry Langley, introduced the show.

“From Edmonton,” he called out enthusiastically, “It’s Tommy Banks Live!”

Just off-stage, out of the range of cameras and microphones, the two writers of the weekly show – Colin MacLean and I – used to stand, joining the audience’s applause in anticipation of the next hour of live-to-air television. Inevitably, as Tommy entered the studio to acknowledge the studio audience’s applause, either Colin or I anticipating the start of another show would lean to the other and say rhetorically, “Does TV get any better than this?”

We are all Syrians

Greek Line S.S. Olympia
Greek Line T.S.S. Olympia in service from 1953 to 1974.

My sister and I made it our business to arrive in the theatre aboard the ship before most other passengers. We loved the idea – especially on rainy days during our Atlantic crossing – of getting the best seats from which to watch the Hollywood movie screened that afternoon, a new one every day.

But this day, when we got to the theatre, most seats were filled with other passengers. The Greek Line ship on which we were sailing – the Olympia, bound from Athens to New York City in the summer of 1964 – had recently stopped at Naples. A large number of Italian passengers – we sensed they were immigrants – had come aboard. Anyway, when my sister and I entered the theatre this day the woman in charge of ship orientation was scolding some noisy children among the immigrant passengers.

“Be quiet!” she scolded with a thick Greek accent. “If you do not behave, I will throw you away!”

When heroes let you down

Dr. Allan Dafoe and the Dionne quintuplets on display at Corbeil, Ontario, in May of 1934

It was a new idea at the time. In the late 1990s, students in college were certainly used to attending classes during which experts lectured them. But perhaps not quite the way I envisioned such a thing. I was interested in having the journalism and broadcasting students I teach at Centennial College meet contemporary media figures, who were highly visible in the profession. One of the first to agree to come to engage my students was quite eager.

“I truly enjoy, and still feel flattered when I’m asked to chair a symposium, referee a debate, or give a speech,” she told me in March 2000.

My guest speaker was Pamela Wallin.

Leading change with kindness

June Callwood worked as a professional freelance writer for 66 years. "It's All About Kindness," a new book, offers reflections on her care and concern for others. Photo by David Henderson.

On days such as Victoria Day, and its anachronistic connection to life in 2012, I wonder about how change happens. Is it just the passage of time that helps us recognize that monarchs are people too? Is it just greater access to information that brings down a Berlin Wall? Is it just mellowing that makes a Toronto mayor realize gay lifestyle is a fact of life? Well, yes, time, knowledge and acclimatizing help. But change happens because some push to make it happen. Or, as writer June Callwood observed during a 2002 lecture:

“The profession of journalism enjoys its finest moments when it speaks against oppression and greed.”

Trusted anchor

CTV News anchor Lloyd Robertson speaking at Centennial College in 2006.
CTV News anchor Lloyd Robertson speaking at Centennial College in 2006.

It seems commonplace now, but for a long time those working in the media were not considered able, nor in some cases were they allowed, to do two things at the same time. Today it’s called multi-tasking. Thirty-five years ago, it was considered a violation of the working agreement between workers and managers in the media. The first person to break that barrier in Canadian news media will leave his revered spot on the air later this week.

“Unions were so powerful [when I worked] at the CBC,” Lloyd Robertson told a group of journalists a few years ago. “As an announcer there, all I was allowed to do was pick up news copy and read it on the air.”

Making census of the data

On a hypothetical day, responding to downtown apathy, the township votes against redeveloping the main street. Or, guessing about a population shift, the public school board makes plans to dismantle one of the town’s elementary schools. And then, wildly projecting buyer trends, several of the big-box stores in town decide to forgo sales for gardeners, truck enthusiasts or on Boxing Day.

Canadian long-form written census.
Canadian long-form written census.

In these make-believe scenarios, the municipality, the board and retailers are quite happy to ignore information readily and often freely provided by Statistics Canada in its regular written census. They would agree with the current Industry Minister’s perception that Canadians can do without the long-form census.

“The state has no right to demand intrusive information,” Tony Clement told reporters, and further that “up to 24 per cent of Canadians believe [they] should not be forced to answer it.”