THERE IS THIS prostitute being interviewed about inflation. “Well,” she confides, leaning against her lamppost. “It is getting harder to make ends meet.”
Dissolve to: Scottish-castle horror movie starring Brigadoon Simpleton, “the village girl who goes out in any heather," and the evil Arturo Slime, "a retired Spanish flyer.”
Dissolve to: Two Nazi officers goosestepping around like Siamese twins joined belly to back. “Watch it!” screeches the first. “You’re goosing when you should be stepping!”
And, in Detroit, a fan watches the closing credits, clicks off his television set and sits down at his desk to write a letter to the CBC in Toronto: “Re Nightcap. Did I really see what I think I saw — or do I think I saw something I didn’t see?"
He saw it all right. During the past three seasons, this weekly late-night hour of songs, skits and impossible one-liners (“Paul Hellyer a ship-disturber?"), this
most blatantly bawdy show on television has been the underground movie of the airwaves for people who appreciate “action-packed pornography" and know where to find it without leaving their living rooms. It has been produced by Toronto’s CBLT, and sneaked like a sip of Pernod between the lollipops of the North American TV diet, by fans within range of “the world’s smallest network” — Toronto, London, Barrie and Windsor (where • Detroit viewers catch it).
Nightcap's success (it outrâtes Johnny Carson wherever both are seen) has been a source of self-conscious nervousness to the CBC, which seemed determined to keep it acloca I toy. The corporation did little to*publicize the show, and when the program finally expanded this season to include Vancouver, Ottawa, Pembroke, Montreal and Quebec City, network publicists forgot (on purpose?) to put it in the program listings.
In the past, the CBC gave it such a
puny budget that on one show last season the orchestra (“Guido Basso and His Rubber Band”) had to leave part way through an extra-long taping because there was no money to pay the musicians overtime. The regular cast of five — AI Hamel ("our smiling Razzle Dazzle reject”), Billy Van (“our versatile singing comic”), June Sampson, Bonnie Brooks and Vanda King (“our half-naked broads”) — whistled and hummed the closing theme themselves, while conducting an empty bandstand.
But Nightcappers fight back. One skit in the form of a promotional message for CBC Festival’s $200,000 production of The Magic Flute, exhorted viewers: “Watch the thousands of dollars being spent magically. Watch the international cast of thousands. Join the 300 other people who enjoy Festival — and, while you’re watching, say a prayer for Nightcap. We’re using green stamps until July.”
This summer, Billy Van left the show for a few weeks before the season
started because the CBC refused to give him a raise of $100 a week, even though more stations across the country were requesting Nightcap. Van went to California to look over prospects there. Nightcap producer Terry Kyne and writer Christopher Beard frantically searched for a “bull type” comedian to replace him, and TV columnists raged against another loss of talent across the border. In the end, the administration must have decided Van and the show were worth it for they gave him the raise.
Why are the CBC brass so withdrawn about Nightcap? Well, as more stations across the country pick up the show, and its publicity increases, somebody is bound to notice that this is not precisely family entertainment. In fact, much of the press seems in a perpetual state of gasp over the doubtful jokes, double entendres and, especially, the profusion of female skin.
The three girls alternate their wardrobes between-black negligees, low-cut leather
raincoats and flowered bikinis — but it’s all very funny as well. Black-nightied Mountie Vanda sinks onto pillows with moustached Russian diplomat Billy Van, muttering, “For Canada and the Queen,” while her co-agent hides in the closet with a camera. At the finale, Mountie Bonnie rushes in with tripod and flashbulbs. "All right, everyone on the bed for a nice group shot.”
Writer Chris Beard gets upset by the critical concentration on his "Restoration Comedy” sketches. “Nightcap,” he insists, “is not a dirty show or a leering show. It is meant to be light and sexy — I don’t want any eibowing in the ribs. All I want to do is make people laugh and I sometimes feel boxed in by those critics who get hung up on the sexual.
“Actually, only one sketch in each show is that way and, if we don’t do it, people write in and want to know, ‘Where are the' half-naked broads?’ ”
If there’s one thing Nightcap does do,
it’s respond to criticism. When Toronto Star columnist Roy Shields pronounced it "the worst TV show in the world,” Beard picked up the phrase and had the program introduced that way for a month. (Shields really won that one, though: in a subsequent review, he wrote, "Nightcap, the worst TV show in the world, slipped last night.”)
Says Beard, "It is a continuing thing you must see every week to get the feeling of it. The first time peoplè usually think, What a lot of garbage. But after a while, it’s probably like smoking pot. You bigin to get the message.”
Those who do not get the message find the show sick, corny and vulgar. There’s the Annual Toilet Flush, run instead of a Nielsen rating. "You have one minute to flush your toilets, turn on your taps, use as much water as you can,” host AI Hamel tells viewers. The following week he presents an "official” water-department chart to show how / continued overleaf
a busty, bawdy baby tfeat nobody loves...but tfee viewers
continued / drastically the water level was down from a normal night. “This is where you flushed your toilets.”
Says Hamel, “Most people are watching TV because it is the only thing in the house that’s moving. They sit in front of the set in a myopic stupor and little gets through the wall between them and it.
“On Nightcap we try to provoke some thought about what is happening in the world — or even about what we're doing in the studio. Complaint letters condemn us as getting dirtier every week. You have to see it every week to notice that.”
Ordered not to mention Munsinger, the Nightcap cast did a complete spy-sex-andsecurity show, beginning with a “Norman de Pot” interview zooming in on “Christine Peeler and Gotta Humdinger” in a European air terminal. “What are the Canadian politicians like?” asks Christine. “Just like in parliament," responds Gotta. “All talk, no action."
One regular Nightcap sketch was so popular it is now on tape as a six-episode, half-hour show of its own — and will have a separate time slot or be viewed in place of Nightcap while the crew is on vacation this winter. It is also indicative of the
form the show will probably take after this year — if it continues at all.
This particular spin-off is Flemington Park (Flemingdon Park — with a “d” not a “t" — is a suburban high-rise development in Toronto). As the continuity explains at the beginning of each episode, Flemington Park, “cesspool of desire in the heart of suburbia, an apartment complex with a complex,” is the continuing story of Doctor Carson, a handsome young medic, pivot of desire for three sex-hungry women who live in his building — Selena Carpenter (“a seething mass of desire"), a married woman whose husband neglects her (“She is ready to go snap . . . crackle . . . and even pop”); Jane Morton Murdock, the spoiled daughter of millionaire financier Merton Morton Murdock (“Jane is used to getting her own way, and it’s been said her own way is very interesting”); and Natalie Nolan (“16-year-old schoolgirl with the body of a woman — a gifted student who is always trying to give herself away”).
The most avid Nightcap fans seem to be in Detroit. When Nightcap did a broadcast from a Windsor auditorium, more than half the studio audience .of 1,500
was from Detroit. “It was like a Billy Graham crusade,” marvels Beard.
Last year, every Nightcap taping was like a Billy Graham crusade. They are now asking people to write in for tickets because, as AI Hamel puts it, during the past season there were "several near riots. ;: jhe audience invariably arrived as if every.one had just been juiced up.”
Fans lined outside CBC’s Studio Four an hour before showtime regardless of the weather and, once admitted, they filled the bleachers, and extra bridge chairs had to be placed right on the studio floor to accommodate the overflow. Sometimes there were so many that more bridge chairs were put behind the scenery.
The show, seen from the studio, is worth it. The performers race around, whipping off wigs and parachutist suits, crawling under cameras and running bent over double to get to the next set. Van and Hamel cannot resist playing to the bleachers as well as to the cameras (they carry on the Nazi-officers routine offstage as well and recently went to a Halloween party as Batman and Robin) and, depending on your point of view, Beard’s warmup is as funny, or as sick, as the script. “You
poor people up there at the back,” he asks, straight-faced, “what are you going to do if there's a fire?”
Some nights, the audience reaches near, hysteria, laughing and whistling and throwing cracks back at him. “I’m sorry you are all so crowded,” he tells them, "but please try to keep your hands to yourself — we have three cases pending. Next year we’ll probably be in a smaller studio. That’s the logic of the CBC.”
“Where’s the other [Smith] brother?” one spectator calls to Beard, who is bearded. Beard responds irrelevantly with, "We ask you not to pick your noses on camera.” “It’s a tough audience," he explains privately. “You have to sit on them."
Beard says he has no plans to make the show more nationally topical now that Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa are tuned in. “I write for the world," he says. “I don’t believe in reaching the ‘prairies’ as such. We reach everybody — from pseudointellectuals to truck drivers.
"I want to keep the flavor of a week’s happenings seen through the eyes of a bunch of people in this city. People like to feel they are in on an ‘in’ joke somehow, especially if it isn't their ‘in’ joke.” ★
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.