This Hour Has Seven Decades

by Patrick Watson
ISBN: 1552784401

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A Review of: This Hour Has Seven Decades
by Clara Thomas

Patrick Watson gives the reader due warning of his intentions: "While I have done extensive research in my own journals, and in CBC and other archives (especially regarding chronology), the Life I have written here is the life that I remember." To characterize its author requires many words: brave, adventurous, creative, gallant are some of them. So are maverick and loose canon. Above all he is unremittingly enthusiastic, with a voracious curiosity and zest for experience and a total commitment to and involvement in all his many ventures.
He makes his youth into a Boy's Own Annual Adventure story, complete with family heroes, his father, his brother Cliff, and a loving and understanding mother. The early years of school were just minor hills to be climbed in a hurry-"as I arrived in Grade four, I was two years younger than most of the others, and small for my age." Summers were idyllic, for Stanley Watson and a fellow teacher ran Camp Layolomi, near the town of Sundridge, 185 miles north of Toronto. Camp offered a constant invitation to adventure and experiment; "ever since, the Precambrian landscape has been invested with power, nourishment and a sense of the rightness of the world." High School, partly in Toronto at Oakwood Collegiate, then in Ottawa where Stanley Watson had become principal of the Normal School, and then back to Oakwood for Grade 13, offered new challenges, all of them, from Geometry to Shakespeare to playing Bass, to girls, met with enthusiasm and eager responses. During the High School years he was also injected "with a virus for which there is apparently no antidote: performing." His radio debut was as the villain in a CBC serial, "The Kootenay Kid" played live by a group recruited from Oakwood but interrupted by his family's move to Ottawa.
Watson has a wonderful memory for detail. Of all the writers whose accounts of childhood and adolescence in Toronto I have read, only Hugh Hood in "Swing in the Garden" can match him. Home, school, games, movies, even the dusty smells of summer streets and the pangs of first love come alive as he recalls them. By the time that he graduated from the University of Toronto in English Language and Literature and began an M.A. with a Teaching fellowship at Queens, he had enjoyed a wide range of extracurricular activities, kept up his camping and canoeing skills and married Beverly Holmes, a fellow camp enthusiast and a beginning teacher. In 1953 he seemed set in a job with Gage publishers and a part-time enrolment in a PhD programme at the University of Michigan. An interview with Neil Morrison, Head of the CBC's Department of Talks and Public Affairs changed all that and sealed his fate.
Once into the CBC world he speedily became a totally committed broadcaster and producer-in-training. He arrived on the early post-war scene of the late forties when the CBC was in the most confident, feisty period it has ever enjoyed. Talented beginners like Percy Saltzman and Eugene Hallman had moved from wartime posts into the Talks Department, Ross McLean had almost god-like status as a producer, and Watson bloomed in that atmosphere. He was part of a group of idealists who believed in the boundless possibilities of CBC with all the fervor of religious converts. All these decades later, Watson's fervor remains, an integral part of his response to all the challenges he has sought and accepted ever since. To know these men at that time was to realize that they believed their broadcasting to be a mission, an agent for change, its possibilities endless. As Peter Gzowski said in a similar context: "After the war we had every opportunity. We looked up and there was nothing but blue sky above."
The centre of his career he obviously considers to be This Hour has Seven Days, the ground breaking and notorious public affairs programme of the mid sixties. But before that, on a personal level, Watson had suffered an accident that nearly killed him, cost him a leg, and would have totally defeated many a man. Building a summer cottage in Muskoka on Go Home Bay, his ladder slipped on a rock and his foot was almost severed from his badly broken leg. The wound developed gangrene and weeks of pain-filled hospital treatment followed the necessary amputation. Through a long convalescence he was buoyed up by the promise of a national programme, Inquiry, as well as by his own determination to get back to work. Almost certainly there never has been an amputee whose disability has crippled him so little.
He tells the story of Seven Days with everlasting pride and affection. Eric Koch's book, Inside Seven Days gets much of it right, Watson says, when he calls it a "social phenomenon, the device whereby a group of journalists and filmmakers deliberately tried to change the country." But, he objects, Koch didn't understand "the stress on the cinematic, visual, pure documentary and dramatic intentions that gave the program both its distinctiveness and its power." Powerful it was, as anyone who witnessed it will remember, but also from beginning to end, a highly contentious program that the "Kremlin", the so-called administrative centre of CBC, found obnoxious at best and offensive at worst. It lasted for almost two seasons, 1964 and 1965, but then it was cancelled in the midst of a first-class publicity storm. Watson came out of the Seven Days imbroglio massively disgruntled with the CBC (as was the CBC with him), but ready and eager for the next challenge, learning to fly. He found that having only one leg was no major problem. He qualified for his pilot's license, commercial license, then instructor's licence and invested in a partnership in a Twin Comanche. "Within months it was earning its way as clients learned that I could transport myself and a film crew to out-of-the-way destinations for thousands of dollars less than it would cost them to send us by commercial airlines."
With three children and Beverley gamely holding the family together, his career in the following years became a dizzying list of achievements. Among them are a Daily News stint in New York, producing and directing Jacques Cousteau, the celebrated underwater explorer, inventing our well-known Heritage Minutes and writing, directing and producing many of them. The detail becomes difficult and tedious to follow, its abundance the book's major stumbling block. There is however, no denying Watson's remarkable abilities and successes. Though it is hard to choose among them, the climax came, perhaps, with his Chairmanship of the Board of CBC, an intensely political appointment and a triumph, especially in the light of his often contentious earlier history. In middle life a final breakup of a marriage that had long since become incompatible and a happy new partnership with Caroline Bamford rounds out this work whose every page breathes Tennyson's pledge from "Ulysses": "To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield." Watson ends his massive record philosophically, with a guarded hopefulness: "On the whole I incline to the considered and rational view that, slow as it seems, and largely because we are crying out against our barbarities instead of concealing them-that on the whole we are moving slowly towards civilization."

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