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?”

Government versus democracy

To talk about sickness among salmon, in B.C. is to break the law.

It was Sunday afternoon. Our writers’ conference was wrapping up. About 200 of this country’s most celebrated novelists, poets and non-fiction writers had gathered for the weekend at a Vancouver hotel to discuss writers’ issues. But before our annual general meeting of The Writers’ Union of Canada broke up, one of TWUC’s founding members, Andreas Schroeder, rose to read a motion put forward by B.C. members of the union.

“Whereas Bill 37-2012 (about to be passed in the B.C. Legislature) will make it an offence for anyone to disclose the presence of a reportable animal disease (in B.C.),” Schroeder said. “Be it resolved that the union opposes the muzzling of both the press and public discourse.”

Jobs and dodos

Jobs that go the way of the dodo bird are often the ones we rely on most.

The other day a canoeing partner of mine mentioned he’d faced a bit of dilemma. His cedar-strip canoe, which he and I had used one spring to paddle down the Black River in Muskoka, was in need of repair. Stored out in the open, the canoe had generally resisted the elements fairly well, except where the water had collected in the canoe gunwales and caused some of the wood to rot.

“I needed somebody to repair the damage,” he said. “Surprisingly, I found a guy near Huntsville. That’s what he did – repaired canoe gunwales.”

Gretzky at 50

The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, as seen on a hockey collectors' card in the Edmonton Oiliers' heyday during the 1970s.
The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, as seen on a hockey collectors' card in the Edmonton Oiliers' heyday during the 1970s.

All last week, they remembered his 50th. Hockey commentators waxed eloquent. His on-ice peers remembered their brushes with him as teammates or opponents. Most columnists had at plenty of anecdotes about his goal-scoring prowess, his record number of records and his so-called sixth sense on skates. Well, I was there for his 50th too. Not his 50th birthday. I was there to witness the final seconds of the game of games:

“Anderson gets it to Gretzky. He’s got the open net!” shouted Rod Phillips, the Oilers’ play-by-play announcer that night. “Will he shoot? He does. He scores! He has broken the record. Wayne Gretzky’s 50th goal in 39 games. Gretzky has done the unbelievable.”