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I owe the memory of Elwood Glover a huge and heartfelt apology.
Elwood Glover was a veteran CBC broadcaster, one of the most familiar voices in Canada through World War II and the years after. But in my house, he was known until this week as Exhibit A of the horrors of life in the dark ages before cable.
“Imagine,” I’d say to my children, “being home from school sick. You think: hurray, unlimited, unsupervised television! But there are only six channels. The cartoons end at 8. Then there are a couple of lame shows for preschoolers on CBC. Then it’s hours before The Flintstones and Jetsons are broadcast at lunch! What are you going to watch? Truth or Consequences? Bowling for Dollars?
And then, the punchline: “. . . Elwood Glover’s Luncheon Date?”
At this, my wife would always burst into laughter. A Toronto girl, she grew up on the same TV schedule, and in her memory, too, Luncheon Date is preserved as the most boring television show ever.
So Thursday afternoon I’m in Toronto, driving my rented car back to Pearson airport to catch a flight. I turn on CBC radio, and I hear the voice of Michael Enright introducing some programming from the archives: an episode of Luncheon Date. I think:Oh no! But I’m executing a tricky lane change; I don’t want to fool with the dial to look for news on the satellite channels, and so I listen.
And guess what? It was delightful! The episode featured an interview with another CBC broadcaster, Claire Wallace. If Glover occupied a space on the far horizon of my memory, Wallace was a name from just beyond. I remember my mother mentioning Wallace as a pioneering woman in Canadian broadcasting. Other than that, total blank.
Wallace, I learned, was born in Orangeville, Ont., in 1906. Her father had started as an apprentice at the local paper and ended as its owner. She attended Branksome Hall school in Toronto and then went newspapering herself. She was a venturesome reporter. She joined a diving expedition to the bottom of the ocean and learned to take the controls of airplanes. She tracked down Canadian-born movie stars in Hollywood and buttonholed visiting royals. An appeal by her saved Toronto’s Casa Loma landmark–she had once slept in the then-derelict building to gather material for a broadcast on ghosts. She joined the CBC in 1942, covering off-beat home-front stories, including one about a family that contributed to the war effort by weaving sweaters out of the discarded hair of their English sheepdogs.
Wallace spoke directly to women about the concerns of women in a world from which so many men were absent. She counted the number of women who had appeared to date on Canadian stamps. She spoke in a voice that bubbled with humour and cheer, but that also acknowledged that cheer was achieved only by effort.
Listening was like unearthing an archaeological dig from a vanished Canada. They talked differently then. The Scottish influence upon the Canadian accent could still be distinctly heard: “special” pronounced “spay-shul,” “you” pronounced “yew.”
They thought differently, too. King George VI was “our king,” and what Canadians were fighting for was not just Canada, but the whole Empire of which Canada was only a part.
My 10-year-old self was not wrong to have noticed a certain deliberate avoidance of excitement in the Glover interview method. But as he talked to Wallace, I understood better: That generation of Canadians born between 1900 and 1920 had experienced more excitement than the human mind can endure during two world wars and a great depression.
“Perhaps someday it will be pleasant to remember even these things,” says the shipwrecked Aeneas to his crew. That could serve as the motto of the whole Depression-and-wartime generation. Elwood Glover’s soothing voice helped sustain Canadians through some of their most difficult days.
And a generation later in the calm and prosperity of postwar Canada, it was for those who had endured indeed pleasant to remember. The children could wait a little longer for The Flintstones.
Children of course don’t feel nostalgia–that strange emotion that mixes happiness into even the worst memories. But as we age, the emotion can be triggered by the strangest things–including a rebroadcast of the television show we used to hate most in the entire world.
David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.
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