Gordon Sinclair and Betty Kennedy
During the many years I was a commentator and guest host on CFRB in Toronto I spent a lot of time with many legendary broadcasters who were regulars on the station, such as Wally Crouter, Jack Dennett, Bill Stephenson, Dave Hodge, and Don Harron (as his alter ego, Charlie Farquharson). And then there were Betty Kennedy and Gordon Sinclair. Those of you outside Toronto will remember them as the mainstays on the long-running CBC show Front Page Challenge, but they were also CFRB superstars.
Gordon, of course, built his reputation on being a crusty, cranky, curmudgeon who loved attacking the so-called establishment, and whose threshold for suffering fools was about the thickness of a spider web. Betty, on the other hand, was a gracious, empathetic lady. She was a woman in whose company I always wanted to be a gentleman.
My base of operation at CFRB was the newsroom, which is where Gordon had his office. Probably because I was basically a financial guy (and Gordon loved money more than anything), we developed a relationship. As a result, Gordon allowed me to use his office when he was out. As he usually occupied it only in the morning, I often took him up on his offer. Even if Gordon was in, I would leave my coat and briefcase in his office while I was recording or actually on air. On those occasions, we often had spirited discussions about a variety of issues, financial or otherwise.
Betty had a very popular afternoon current events show, and she usually had me on as a guest any time she was covering a business, sports, or entertainment story. I also filled in for her a number of times when she was away on vacation.
But my fondest memories of Betty and Gordon stem from the many times I joined them as a panelist on CFRB’s immensely popular Sunday afternoon news news show Let’s Discuss It. We taped the show on Thursday, immediately after Gordon finished his noon newscast. Although the show was taped, we did it as if we were live on the air with no stoppages. That in itself made it challenging, and throw in the fact that I was working with two of the most renowned broadcasters in Canada and I probably should have been scared stiff. But I wasn’t; I loved every minute of it. As enjoyable as the tapings were, the off-air debates that continued after the tape stopped rolling were even more so.
The time I spent with those two giants of broadcasting was always intellectually challenging and incredibly rewarding.
For a number of years I’ve been a member of a luncheon group known as Thursday’s Children. Not surprisingly, the group meets every Thursday, usually at Windfield’s restaurant in Toronto. (Twice a year we meet at Kingsway Fish and Chips; and our annual Christmas party, which includes spouses, is held at either the Lambton Golf Club or the Granite Club.) To qualify for membership you have to have, or have had, a connection with sports and broadcasting.
Current members are: Dave Rae, Art O’Connor and Doug Bower, who, for many years, were key executives behind the scenes with Hockey Night in Canada; Jim Gregory, former Toronto Maple Leaf general manager and currently an NHL vice-president; Pete Conacher, former NHL player and son of the legendary Charlie Conacher; Bob Primeau, son of the equally legendary Joe Primeau; Doug Beeforth, former president of Sportsnet; Rick Briggs-Jude, who produces curling, major junior hockey and Blue Jay games for Sportsnet; Frank Bonello, who played for the world champion Whitby Dunlops and was head of central scouting for the NHL; Sportsnet’s John Shannon, a former executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada and who knows more about sports than anyone I’ve ever met; and, Ralph Mellanby, another former Hockey Night in Canada executive producer. (Ralph now lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake and rarely attends.)
When I first joined the group, it also included: Roger Mallyon, another behind-the-scenes executive with Hockey Night in Canada; Al Stewart, who for many years produced most of the video features seen on Hockey Night in Canada, and Frank Selke Jr., who needs no introduction whatsoever. Sadly, Al, Roger and Frank have passed on.
How interesting are these guys? Well, consider the following. We meet at 11:30 and I’ve been as late as 3:45 getting home. Every now and then someone will stop off at our table and say something like, “Who the hell are you guys?” A couple of weeks ago a woman from South Africa, who was visiting Toronto, came over and expressed her amazement at how animated we were and how much fun we seemed to be having, even when disagreeing with each other.
But the capper happened one time after Bob McCowan mentioned us on his widely popular show Prime Time Sports. A fan of Bob’s drove over two hundred miles from North Bay to Toronto and showed up at Windfield’s to meet us. Unfortunately, he thought we met for breakfast on Mondays, not lunch on Thursdays, so we didn’t get to meet our biggest (and possibly only) fan.