Readers of a certain age will recall watching the CBC‘s flagship news program The National back in the day and the amiable anchor Knowlton Nash. He was long the face of the network and his retirement in the 1990’s was the end of an era for so many of us. Nash had written several books before leaving television, but Cue The Elephant seemed like a true labour of love, a humourous look back at the varied and strange history of the CBC up until the 1990’s.
The title comes from an early television show which tried so professionally to, well, Cue The Elephant, with results of the not expected kind. That tale is just a sample of the type of stories Nash takes you oh so gently on. He starts very early, right at the beginning of the public broadcaster, and moves through its history, culminating with the tumult caused with the arrival of new boss Ivan Fecan.
Over a hundred interviews and plentiful pictures are featured throughout this volume, with tons of anecdotes and factoids provided to entertain and enlighten. From several veteran actors showing a great dislike for my favourite William Shatner to multiple horror stories from the set of another favourite Wayne and Shuster. The Beachcombers and Front Page Challenge, two shows I wished they had never cancelled, are given new life here with wonderful stories. For the record, I never liked Gordon Sinclair and even after reading this chapter with Nash trying in my mind to humanize the man, I still don’t. Other productions from the past I had almost never heard of, like The Happy Gang and Tommy Hunter, are extensively profiled as well.
With the CBC always seeming to be living in a sea of turmoil, Cue The Elephant shows us this is actually the status quo for the decades old public broadcaster. And they always weather the controversies with humour, grace, and impeccable stage directions. At least the elephant would say so.
P.S. Cue The Elephant is copyright 2012 to Knowlton Nash and was originally published in 1996. It is 325 pages in HC.