FRONT

HOW TO RUN THE CBC

In 1956, Maclean's asked that question. Some of the answers may surprise you.

April 26 2004
FRONT

HOW TO RUN THE CBC

In 1956, Maclean's asked that question. Some of the answers may surprise you.

April 26 2004

HOW TO RUN THE CBC

Mansbridge on the Record

In 1956, Maclean's asked that question. Some of the answers may surprise you.

HAVE YOU EVER wondered about the difference between a flea market and an antique store? We presume the quality of what’s found in one is higher than the other. For the most part, that’s true—but it’s remarkable how many similar articles are found in both. Which raises this question: how many of those Queen Elizabeth II coronation plates were actually made in 1953? Based on the thousands I’ve seen over the years, Canada must have cornered the world market. And there are all those early Quebec pine cabinets, tables and blanket boxes. I never realized so many people lived in “early” Quebec—or that their homes were so well furnished, because an endless supply of their household belongings keeps turning up at dealers all over the country.

I’m an avid bargain hunter, and sometimes find myself in mid-flea market saying, “Peter, what are you doing here?” Then I find something intriguing, and spend 1U minutes gazing at it before realizing I don’t need it. But there are occasions when I can’t resist, and after a bit of haggling (it’s part of the routine) I make a deal. Like a few weeks ago, when I picked up, for $3.50 (original cover price: 15 cents) the April 14, 1956, edition of Maclean’s. What made me buy it? The editor, Ralph Allen, and managing editor, Pierre Berton, had highlighted one story on the cover, and it looked interesting: “Thirteen top TV stars tell how I’d run the CBC.”

U ‘After you do a show which you think will appeal only to highbrows, you’re amazed at the reaction. Audiences are amazingly perceptive.*

These days, too much of what you read about what should be done at the CBC— especially in newspapers—is by certain gossip writers and editors

who failed to get employment at the CBC. There’s too much bitterness to take them seriously. But this was different, and I couldn’t wait to start reading. When I did, there was no disappointment. Maclean’s asked some of the brightest, most successful people in the Canadian arts and entertainment scene then what CBC television should be doing. A few of their answers:

“I’d rather see a lousy original idea than an imitated good one. I think that’s a big problem in Canada: we’re all looking to the States and saying, ‘My God, they’re doing a wonderful job, why can’t we imitate them?’ comedian Johnny Wayne

“Far too much money goes to light entertainment. Some should go to something more educational.”—playwright Lister Sinclair

“Withdraw all commercial atmosphere and let the CBC devote itself to improving people’s thinking.”—private broadcaster Ruy Ward Dicksun

“After you do a show which you think will appeal only to highbrows, you’re amazed at the reaction you get. The audiences are amazingly perceptive.”—actress Toby Robins

“Size of audience is not the most important thing. The best newspaper in England, the Times, has the smallest circulation.”— quiz show panellist J.B. McGeachy

“It’s impossible for any corporation such as the CBC to work (by going)... to Parliament for an annual grant. It is the very first thing that must be solved if the CBC is to tackle any other problems.”—actor/producer Mavor Moore

Canadian television was barely four years old then. Forty-eight years later, despite the many accomplishments of television, public and private, so many of those concerns are still expressed, and so many of those dreams have yet to be realized. I think I’ll send this little treasure up the line. flfl

Peter Mansbridge is Chief Correspondent of CBC Television News and Anchor of The National.