SOCRATES WAS ONCE A COP
This former officer in the Indian Police went on to become radio’s Macbeth, Old Man Gatenby, Socrates and Farmer Craig, but the role he likes best is Francis Grove Peddie
FRANCIS GROVE PEDDIE, a rugged redhaired Scot of fifty-five, has a harder time than most men deciding who he is.
His predicament is understandable. For Peddie, who began his career with a four-year stint as a policeman in India, today finds himself cast in half a dozen roles—all different, all demanding.
There is, for instance, Peddie the radio actor, whose rich deep voice and convincing personality reach Canadians from coast to coast six or seven times a week from the studios of the CBC in Toronto. There is Peddie the barrister, who meets troubled clients in his office downtown. There is Peddie the farmer, proud possessor of a hundred acres of rolling country and half a hundred sheep, up by Mono Centre, northwest of Toronto. There’s Peddie the stage actor, the star in last spring’s successful production of Socrates by Toronto’s Jupiter Theatre group. There’s Peddie the cinema personality, whose narration for the documentary Newfoundland Scene helped win Crawley Films, of Ottawa, the 1951 award for the Canadian "film of the year.”
In radio Peddie’s already split personality is split still further. Toronto mothers who tune in to CKEY, a private station, for the program Our Babies, hear Peddie as a reassuring authoritv 03 what ails their infants and why. Rural families in Ontario and Quebec, gathering for their noon meal, recognize his deep chuckle five days a week os The Craigs, from CBL, CBM and other outlets. Thursdays he’s a typical dairy farmer on a short spot called Down Dairy Lane. Sundays he’s testr Old Man Gatenby on the CBC’s prairie comedT series Jake and the Kid.
On evening programs he’s been almost everybody, including Colin Glencannon, a lovable old seafarer addicted to quart bottles of Duggan's DewLord Steyne, the cynical nobleman of Vanity Fair: Wardle, genial host at the Christmas party is Pickwick Papers, and Ebenezer, the wicked uncle in Kidnapped. Peddie has been Willie MacCrimmon. Dr. Dogbody, and Macbeth. He has eves been the Voice of the Salvation Army.
Like all good actors Peddie lives his parts. W. 0. Mitchell, who writes the Sunday afternoon radio comedy Jake and the Kid, says he never writes a line for Old Man Gatenby that he doesn't see Peddie scowling at him from the other side of his typewriter. A visitor to the CBC studiof last spring when Jake and Old Man Gatenby were battling their way through A Man’s Best Friend Is His Enemy reports that the realism was extraordinary. Peddie slurped his soup, chewed on hie pipe, scratched his head, hunched his shoulders, muttered imprecations, turned red with fury and as the tempo of the story mounted, all but hh John Drainie playing Jake over the head with the microphone.
Unlike Drainie's voice, which is so supple he car convincingly tackle any male part between the ages of ten and a hundred in any accent you can mention, Peddie’s voice is always his distinctive owr —warm, strong and mature. He mouths his vowels and lingers lovingly on fine phrases. His scripts are unmarked except for a few pencilings representing short stops, long pauses and the occasional change in pitch or pace.
Well-known radio producer Andrew Allan, who does not make a habit of throwing verbal bouquetssays. "Some actors act with the head. Others act from the heart. Frank does both.”
Peddie is tremendously interested in peoplq, fascinated by their complexities, sympathetic about their troubles, furious at the situations they get themselves into. His main opportunity to help people comes through his law practice which hi says he maintains “partly for a feeling of security, but mostly to convenience my friends.” It take* Peddie ten times longer than anybody else to g&. from the basement cafeteria of the CBC up to e first-floor studio because he’s stopped so many timaen route by people whose legal affairs he’s lookinj after. During Peddie’s absences from the office
his practice (mainly devoted to real-estate deals, wills, and the preliminary work in divorce cases) is looked after by an assistant, Ron Taylor. How often Taylor sees his boss can be estimated from a glance at the Peddie schedule for one week last spring:
Saturday: Last performance of Socrates. Party afterward. Leave early, rehearsal tomorrow morning. Sunday 9-12 a.m.: Rehearsal, CBC Wednesday Night: 1066 and All That. Noon: Rehearsal, Jake and the Kid. 5.30 p.m.: Broadcast, Jake and the Kid. 7.30 p.m.: Rehearsal, Stage 52: Captain of St. Margaret's. Monday: 9-12 a.m.: Record The Craigs (five shows in advance). 2 p.m.: Rehearsal, 1066. Tuesday: 2 p.m.: Rehearsal. Dr. Dogbody’s Leg. 9 p.m.: Broadcast. Dr. Dogbody's Leg. Wednesday: 9 a.m.: Magazine interview until noon. 2 p.m.: Rehearsal. 1066. 7.30 p.m.: Rehearsal, 1066 (till 10 p.m.). Catch train for Ottawa. Thursday 9 a.m.-5 p.m - At Crawley Studios, narration for film about co-operative oil refinery. 6.30-10 p.m.: Narration for film about fur trade. 10.30 p.m.: Voice test for film on Baffin Land. Friday: Back to Toronto by train. Rehearsal for Ford show. The Willow Saturday: All-day rehearsals. Stage 52.
Producer Frank Willis once observed of Peddie, “Given a part that fits his voice and person, he can project that character into your living room like no one else I know.”
The character that Peddie has most successfully projected into thousands of living rooms ever since 1939 is that of a southern Ontario farmer by the name of Thomas Craig. The Craigs, once loosely described as “an intelligent sort of soap opera about farmers, with a strong educational slant,” is a short dramatic interlude on the popular CBC noon feature Farm Forum. Written by Dean Hughes, himself a farm boy, it has run for thirteen years with its original cast.
Thomas Craig is—like Peddie—of Scottish extraction, sociable, fond of words, respectful of learning. Peddie—like Craig —is quick-tempered, fun-loving, fairly conservative. Hughes says, “They’re so much like each other that I can’t tell them apart any more. Why, I’ve even got to calling Frank ‘Thomas.’ ”
It’s no wonder that Hughes is confused for the CBC farm department—which sponsors The Craigs —has gone to great lengths to provide them with an authentic background. For instance, since the program can be heard as far west as Kenora in Ontario, and as far east as Sherbrooke in Quebec, the non-existent Craig homestead is presumed to be located halfway between western Ontario and eastern Quebec, at a mythical place named Rock Falls, Ont. Sugaring time, seeding, ploughing and harvesting are scheduled according to the actual climate of this arbitrary locality. So that sound effects will be logical, a map of the farm hangs on a CBC wall with all distances carefully marked. If Thomas Craig, standing on his front porch, hears a car honking its approach on the highway, the sound effects man is briefed that the highway is four hundred feet from the front porch and gauges his sound accordingly. Since what has gone on in thirteen long years is obviously impossible for any author to remember, the map also keeps track of geographical and physical changes like old buildings that have burned down, new buildings that have been erected and minor characters who have come and gone over the years. Scripts are the subject of a weekly get-together between author, producer and farm department and all major changes in plot are known and approved a year ahead of time. Fact is the main ingredient of The Craigs and every script is judged on two points: Is it true to life? Is it good for the farmer?
As authentic as their foolproof setting are the
four main characters themselves: Thomas Craig
the father Peddie); Martha his wife Grace Wehsten, an even-tempered, efficient farmwoman devoted to the well-being of her family: Janice their young widowed schoolteacher daughter Alice Hill and Bill their son (George Murray who has gone to Macdonald College for his farming education and represents today’s progressive younger generation of Canadian farmers.
Because writer Hughes sees Peddie and Craig as practically interchangeable he takes sly delight in ribbing Peddie occasionally by giving him ironic lines to speak. Not long ago Thomas Craig wondered if he’d have made a good lawyer: his son
Bill assured him he’d have been a dismal failure. Another time, fresh from acting the lead in a rural play, Thomas bragged that if he weren’t a farmer he would have made a fine actor. This sent the rest of the Craigs off into gales of laughter.
So emphatically does Peddie mouth Craig’s opinions that his lines require careful editing. A CBC farm department man explains, “WTien Peddie says c cereal is no good, it sounds as if it’s no damn good, and from there on plenty of farmers wouldn’t touch it with a long-handled rake.”
When Thomas Craig complained of his laryngitis on a program last year many listeners hastened to send him their own guaranteed homemade remedies. WTien Janice Craig was married for some time with no sign of approaching motherhood they penned anxious letters to the CBC asking why Janice hadn’t had a baby—was anything the matter? Last year a postal official forwarded to the CBC a letter addressed simply “The Sentinel, Rock Falls, Ontario.” It was from a farmer’s wife who wanted to take out a subscription to the Craig’s town newspaper. And a receptionist in the CBC booth at the Royal WTinter Fair remembers the woman who discovered a publicity picture of The Craigs gathered around the mike and turned happily to tell her husband, “My, aren’t they fine-looking people? I think it’s so nice for a family to be able to earn its living that way.”
Three years ago Peddie, infected by the rural atmosphere in which he soaks five days a week, bought i hundred-acre farm himself. Since then his identification with Thomas Craig is complete.
Kay Stevenson, who produces the program, tells how she got lost on a side road on her way to visit the Peddies. She asked her way at half a dozen farmhouses but nobody had ever heard of Frank Peddie. Finally, on a hunch, she said, “Well then, do you know where Thomas Craig lives?” Immediate response. “Craig’s place? Oh, sure! Just on down the road a piece. You’ll know it all right—it’s all done up.”
T.il Peddie, Frank’s wife, remembers their first visitor, a friendly farmwoman who had heard about their new place from a Toronto columnist and came right out for a neighborly call. “How’s your back?” she kept asking Frank, who as Thomas Craig had once fallen out of a cherry tree. And, “Heard you lost your cow. Find her yet?”
Once Peddie had gone to a rural community to clear up u title, in his capacity of lawyer, only to discover on arrival that the township treasurer was not at home. The treasurer’s wife answered the door—a gentle intelligent-looking woman who, even as Frank stated his business, seemed to be staring strangely at him and listening with unusual concentration. All of a sudden, a smile covered her face and she reached out to touch his hands. “Now I know who you are. You’re that man on the radio. I knew I’d heard that voice before. Oh, if I could only see you!”
WTien Andrew Allan was recently asked what he attributed Frank Peddie’s solid success in half a dozen different fields to, he smilingly quoted the Old Country saw: “It taks a lang spoon tae sup wi’ a Fifer.”
It’s true that Peddie was bom in Fifeshire, the younger of two sons. His parents intended him for the law but even as a boy his true love was the stage. At fourteen he acted the lead in a school play, Ici On Parle Français. At fifteen he knew most of Shakespeare by heart. At sixteen he was begging his parents to let him join the E. F. Benson
Touring Company, a well-known acting group. They refused, and Frank reluctantly went back to his books.
In 1914 both Peddie boys enlisted. James, the elder, later died in India. Frank won the Military Cross, was wounded, and taken prisoner. In 1920, still unwilling to pursue his law studies, he was one of eight hundred applicants for eleven vacancies in the Indian Police. A year later he was assistant supervisor of police in the Punjab.
Peddie contracted malaria and after four years of attacks his doctor insisted he quit India. He had always wanted to live in Canada, and he chose Toronto. His first job, on the landing dock of a packing plant, ended abruptly when he forgot to duck an eight-hundred-pound side of frozen beef and went to hospital with concussion. Next came a. brief stint in c marble yard and after that a job selling stoves on commission.
One day while playing tennis he met attractive Lillian McNish and her lawyer brother, J. D. McNish. Soon after, with their encouragement he decided to enter Osgoode Hall and complete his legal training. A month before he graduated he married Lillian and the following summer entered her brother’s practice.
First A Family Doctor
He was still in love with the stage. In Scotland, as a member of the Mermaid Society of St. Andrews University, he had played a walk-on part in She Stoops to Conquer. Now he began to appear in Hart House productions at the University of Toronto. He played Mitrich, the old soldier, in Tolstoy’s Power of Darkness so well that Andrew Allan says, “It was a performance I’ll always remember, on any stage anywhere.” He played in Arms and the Man. His performance as Casalonga. in His Widow’s Husband, so impressed actress Judith Evelyn that she still calls him "Cas.”
"Come to England, Cas, and be an actor,” she once urged him. “You could make a thousand pounds the first year without even trying.”
But by now Peddie had a family to support so he stayed in Toronto, a lawyer by day, an actor by night. Rupert Lucas, a producer and fellow actor, urged him to try radio which, in the early Thirties, paid an actor five dollars for a half-hour show. Peddie’s first appearances before the mike were in a corny soap opera called The Family Doctor, followed by a long-winded but extremely popular serial, Forgotten Footsteps. Soon he was earning ten dollars for a half-hour program.
Gradually radio became the main source of Frank Peddie’s livelihood. He had twice played the lead in the radio version of Lister Sinclair’s Socrates when Jupiter Theatre, a newly formed Toronto drama group, decided to present the stage version last spring. Praised by critics and public alike, Socrates ran eight days to almost capacity houses, was the most successful of the Jupiter
Theatre offerings. Peddie’s most treasured accolade came from his twenty-two-year-old son David who wrote in his college daily, “Frank Peddie playing Socrates was the standout of the play. He outdid even my expectations and I have known him all my life.”
Peddie traces all his success to hard work. When he learned he was going to play Macbeth he got hold of a great heap of books, discussed the role interminably with anybody who would listen, studied his lines for weeks, then turned in a magnificent performance.
Although his attitude toward his work is serious enough to be termed austere, he has a volatile sense of humor. When an unscheduled crash interrupted a broadcast of The Craigs and Grace Webster frantically ad-libbed. “Did you drop something. Thomas?” Peddie calmly replied, 'Wes. a piece of string.” Once he set fire to Alice Hill’s script while she was reading it she just read faster).
Although on-stage he often shows signs of the nervous excitement, the color and vitality known as temperament, there’s nothing Bohemian about Peddie. He doesn’t wear a beard, he has no esoteric interests like stargazing, and it would never cross his mind to turn up for a business appointment or a social event in an old pair of pants and an unmatched jacket. He lives a pleasantly conventional life with his wife and two sons in a comfortable house on a good street in Toronto, where he listens to hockey games on the radio, reads philosophy and enjoys Burl Ives records. Lately he’s taken a bedtime fancy for whodunits. This worries seventeen-year-old Jim Peddie, who has commented sadly to his mother, “I think Dad’s got a good mind, but I’m afraid it’s deteriorating with all those detective stories he’s reading.”
T.il Peddie likes gardening, bowling and golfing and cooking highly spiced curry dishes. She claims that all she does to further her husband’s career is to save old clothes for some future tramp role, but Frank is apt to remark at the end of a radio show, “Well, I still have to meet my critics”—and go off home to find Lil and David and Jim, each with an individual opinion and point of view. “When we all agree we liked it, then he knows he was good,” says Mrs. Peddie.
When his boys were small Frank discouraged their appearances on-stage or before the mike, feeling they’d miss a lot of fun and grow old too soon. He encouraged them to be independent, to work hard for what they wanted. Today David plans to make dramatic criticism his career and Jim toured Europe last season in the Upper Canada College production of Our Town. Peddie’s sons have tremendous respect for his professional status. When Lil Peddie observed anxiously that Frank looked tired during the long Socrates run and murmured “Would you rather have stuck to your legal work?” young Jim was shocked. “Mother!” he exploded, "You’re talking to an artist!”
During the summer, with many radio programs shelved, the Peddies can hurry off to their farm. Bought on an impulse a few years ago the place has two streams and a magnificent dew. Their new log house, set on a high knoll, has an up-todate bathroom. Kelvinator in the kitchen, a fieldstone fireplace, and bedrooms with foam-rubber mattresses and electric blankets. The Peddies, though extremely sociable, invite few guests to the farm for, as Frank says, 'T come up here to work not talk.”
Peddie has drawn a map of the country around his house, and is going to plant fifteen different kinds of trees at specific spots. Already he and Lil have planted fifteen hundred Scotch pine and five hundred multiflora roses and built a bridge across one of the streams. They have a flock of fifty-eight sheep and have entered a. small-scale partnership with a neighboring farmer, Frank providing the sheep, the neighbor the care.
Picture Peddie then, on a quiet summer evening, sitting by his farmhouse window and gazing at the wavering tufted top»s of his black-cherry trees. At such moments, cast simply as himself, he’s probably as contented as a man can get. ★