Articles

CULTURE

Harry Boyle, the man who dishes up those highbrow Wednesday Night sessions, is an ex-hobo who used to write horror stories for the pulps and who likes his music schmaltzy. Yet one night he spent $16,000 of your money on art

H. C. POWELL December 1 1950
Articles

CULTURE

Harry Boyle, the man who dishes up those highbrow Wednesday Night sessions, is an ex-hobo who used to write horror stories for the pulps and who likes his music schmaltzy. Yet one night he spent $16,000 of your money on art

H. C. POWELL December 1 1950

CULTURE

Harry Boyle, the man who dishes up those highbrow Wednesday Night sessions, is an ex-hobo who used to write horror stories for the pulps and who likes his music schmaltzy. Yet one night he spent $16,000 of your money on art

H. C. POWELL

BACK IN 1932 a brakeman kicked a young hobo named Harry J. Boyle off a westbound freight, somewhere near the Manitoba boundary. By all odds this should have been Boyle’s exit cue. The most optimistic prophet could never have foreseen him in 1950 as a top CBC executive, charged with spending $2,500 every Wednesday night to ladle out the biggest gobs of radio culture Canadians have ever been offered.

Boyle’s three-hour program, “CBC Wednesday Night,” has become one of the country’s most controversial. Largely because of it a new series of epithets has been aimed at the CBC. A Flin Flon radio station manager complained to the Massey Commission about “too much longhaired tripe on the CBC; a Toronto colleague referred disparagingly to the CBC s culture hounds”; a Vancouver paper has called the corporation an “arrogant culture trust.”

On the other hand Boyle has been deluged with fan mail. The CBC got 1,000 requests for scripts of one Wednesday Night program, “A Layman s History of Music.” And when Boyle shot the works and presented Benjamin Britten’s revolutionary opera, "Peter Grimes,” the 'C’s Toronto switchboard was jammed with Continued on page 36

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calls for a repeat performance before the final bars were sung.

“Grimes” was the biggest and most expensive experiment on the Wednesday series of advanced and significant programs. It cost the chronically hardup CRC an estimated $16.000 and the repeat show ran around $4.000. The letters that poured in the following day ran the gamut of opinion from the woman in Cranbrooke, B.C., who wrote, “Please, please spare us”; to the man in Highland, Ont., who was so pleased he discussed the opera scene by scene; to British composer Britten himself who pronounced it the best radio performance of his work he had ever heard. Most of the letters were complimentary.

Wednesday Night has matched “Grimes” with such conventional operas as “Don Giovanni” and “La Traviata.” Dramatically, there have been such offerings as O’Casey’s Irish rebellion play, “Juno and the Paycock,” and “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus,” a dish compounded of blood, thunder, sex and symbolism by the Elizabethan Christopher Mar-

On the lighter side there have been dramatizations of Stephen Leacock’s small-town stories and specially composed musical comedies such as “The Gallant Greenhorn,” with book by Harry Boyle himself.

The ex-hobo who directs Wednesday Night is a hulking, red-faced, blondish product of rural Ontario who still sometimes looks as though he had slept in his clothes. Though he can talk with forceful eloquence his conversation is not always fit to print. The words with which he describes the inception of Wednesday Night are j printable and show a rare faith in the artistic future of the country.

A Day With Old Sam

“We became aware,” he says, “of a growing dissatisfaction on the part of many listeners with stereotyped material. There were good things available, but you had to poke about in the nooks and crannies of our schedules to dig them out. We felt that busy people would not go out of their way to listen to a solitary half-hour of something good. We did hope, though, that they would find the time to sit down before their radios if they could be sure of a whole evening of programs embracing a wide variety of material hut all of it of the highest quality. Mind you, we were not trying to copy the British Broadcasting Corporation’s “rl bird Program” nothing so esoteric as that - hut simply somet hing different and good, and all of it in one block.”

The average Wednesday Night cost of $.'1,000 is for three hours of entertainment. Radio costs being what they are this is cheap programming. “Music for Canadians,” a half-hour musical show prominent on the network a year or so hack, used to cost its sponsor better than $3,000 per program. Another half-hour commercial, the “Wayne and Schuster Show,” probably works out to at least $1,700 a show.

A typically ambitious Wednesday Night program was the 2' .-hour documentary, “A Day in the Life of Samuel Johnson.” It began when Boyle got the idea of recreating an interesting period in history in words and music. Me talked it over with writer Lister Sinclair who suggested tying it down to the jsTsonality of Or Samuel

Boyle told Sinclair to go to work on the necessary research and writing.

Then he called in Dr. Arnold Walter, of Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, to select appropriate period music.

The finished script was turned over to drama producer Esse Ljungh who assigned the 40 different characters to 26 actors, many of whom played several roles. Samuel Hersenhoren was engaged to conduct an orchestra of 20 musicians with Walter at the harpsichord. Nicholas Goldschmitt, conductor of the CBC’s opera company, was in charge of a chorus of 12 voices.

Ljungh estimated 20 hours of rehearsals would be needed and he spent two days devising a schedule so these rehearsals would not conflict with other programs. But he was still forced to rehearse in carefully timed segments. When show time came he put these segments together for the first time.

What the listener heard was a picture of a full day’s life in London in the year 1765, starting at the Inner Temple in early morning. Dentists, turnip-sellers and other street merchants wandered about, uttering their traditional cries—the first singing commercials. Then the great doctor appeared on his way to Drury Lane Theatre Where his friend, the famous actor David Garrick, was rehearsing a moving drama of the day, “The Tragedy of the Orphan of China.” Oliver Goldsmith appeared on the scene and before the day ended the listeners accompanied Dr. Johnson to a concert of 18th century music.

A Big. Stick Is Ready

“Wednesday Night” fans wrote in their applause. Other listeners had the usual privilege of tuning in “The Great Gildersleeve” on the CBC’s alternative network. Wednesday Night listeners will have opportunities of further timetravelling. They are scheduled to sit in on the age of Elizabeth and on the rise and fall of Napoleon.

Boyle’s own tastes are simple. He likes going to the ball game, listening to old-fashioned waltz music and hoisting a few with a congenial spirit. Me is outspoken and has no patience with red tape. In his off hours, which means after midnight, he writes radio plays. They deal with such subjects as the troubles which beset a proud and hungry man on strike, or about the evils of racial intolerance. Toronto’s New Play Society recently presented Harry’s first stage play, “The Inheritance.” It was the story of an old farmer's love for the land, his hatred of new ways, and his clash with his son. There were technical faults in the play, hut il dealt with real people in believable situations and it packed an emotional wallop.

Around the CBC Boyle is known as a man who gets things done. Me does not like having to use a big slick hut unfairness arouses him. Take the ease of the night club I hat was glad to have its music broadcast hut did not consider the radio technicians fit to mingle wit h its guests. 'I hey were shoved into a corner by the service entrance and told to keep out of sight When Boyle heard that, he blew up. “By God,” he told the proprietor in the milder portion of his remarks, "those men are as good as any of the people who go to your sound so place to kill time and if you don’t treat tlvni like gentlemen I’ll come down there and tear the mikes out with my own hands." The affront was hurriedly

Boyle comes of third-generation Irish (.’anadian stock Me was horn ,84 years ago, near Goderich, an Ontario town on Lake Huron. Mis father was a farmer and a storekeeper.

At the age of 10 Boyle submitted a

story in a contest sponsored by an over-all manufacturing company and won the first prize of $50. The story was about a railroad engineer. It must have sounded authentic because in addition to the money the companysent Boyle 10 suits of overalls all size 44.

When Royle was nearly expelled from Wingham High School for writing stories instead of heeding his teachers bis father felt that his fears were being justified.

One day Boyle took his bat and razor and, without saying good-by, left home. He worked first as a truck driver then as a house painter and after that be was a bum drifting about the country. He might have ended up in British Columbia or China if it hadn’t been for the brakeman who threw him off the train in Northern Ontario. “The next train I jumped was headed back east, so that’s the : way I went." He finally drifted back to the family store.

By this time he was 19 and things were getting a little better. He began to write rural news items for the Goderich Signal-Star and he sold some short stories to the Family Herald, tapping them out on an antique typewriter in between waiting on customers. He began to write a rural column called “Phil Osifer of Lazy Meadows,” and after 15 years it is still running in several Ontario weekly papers. Farm readers like its homely style, its humor and sentiment.

Two Mastodons, Head On

There is an impulsive side to Boyle's nature. One day a girl walked into the store and asked for a bottle of ink. Boyle found out that her name was Marion by asking her—and the next night he walked out with her. They got married the same summer. There are two children now—Patricia Ann. 10, and Michael, 4.

One day soon after his marriage Boyle was in Wingham. While he was there he thought he might as well tell the manager of the local radio station that he didn’t like his news broadcasts. Invited to show what he could do Boyle became the station’s news and farm commentator at $3 a week.

In 1942 the CBC invited him to become its Ontario farm broadcast commentator. He rose to head of the farm broadcasts department and began to make his presence felt at the CBC.

When Ernest Bushnell, CBC directorgeneral of programs, heard Boyle criticizing lack of co-ordination in network operations, he decided to make him put up or shut up. In a snorting encounter which must have resembled a minuet between two mastodons. I rough tough Ernie roared, “So you don’t like our so-and-so programs, eh? Can you do any better?” Replied Boyle, “You’re damn right I can." “Okay,” said Bushnell. “I’ll give you a chance and you’d damn well better do better.”

Boyle therefore became program director for the Trans-Canada Network and began to stir things up. Not everyone approved of his rapid rise. “He won’t last,” some predicted. “The red tape will get him.” Or. “He’s an outsider—has no respect for precedent .” But Boyle has lasted, though responsi-1 bilities have added lines and blotches to his face.

For a dreamer he is plenty tough. He still upsets some of the more sensitive CBC executives with his blunt ness. And for those artists and listeners who expect the embodiment of CBC Wednesday Night to wear a goatee and a pince-nez. the sight of the rumpled man with the farmer’s face comes as a not unpleasant surprise. ★