From the Archives... Tidewater Television: Phil Keatley & Early CBC Vancouver TV Drama

(Canada, 120 mins, Digital Betacam)
CAST Mercedes McCambridge, Chief Dan George, Chuck Davis, David Hughes, John McDonald
Classification: PG


In the early 1950s CBC Television began to add its own stitches to the fabric of public broadcasting begun by the senior service, CBC Radio, in 1936. CBUT- CBC Vancouver’s designated ’pattern’ was to pruce original drama & documentary programmes. There were no Media Studies programmes then, no Broadcast Journalism degrees. Cameramen, editors, lighting & makeup people with little or no experience arrived to be hired. Some university education, even better, a degree, was desirable, but by no means necessary qualification for the young post-World War II generation of writers & producers who appeared to take up the programming challenge.

Among this cadre of young TV storytellers was North Vancouver-raised and UBC-educated Phil Keatley. For those who remember, Phil’s name is most often associated with his role as the first Executive Producer of ’The Beachcombers’. But long before Phil began that long-running ’wrestling match’ with contracts, logistics, budgets & network bureaucrats, he cut his Producer’s teeth on childrens’ and educational programming and studio dramas.

Keatley introduced the concept of on-location drama production to the CBC, moving the Paul St. Pierre-scripted ’Cariboo Country’ series, first produced in the CBUT studios in 1960, and re-shooting episodes on location near Lac la Hache several years later. Those 16 ’Cariboo Country’ episodes that aired on the network ’The Serial’ introduced Chief Dan George to a national audience as the character of Ol’ Antoine, trained a generation of film people in on-location production and set the stage for BC-produced location dramas that followed - ’The Beachcombers’ & ’Red Serge Wives’.

Phil Keatley was an infinitely curious man, was unfailingly generous with his experience & energy and mentored many writers, performers & producers who tried their hand in the Television Game. Three Black & White dramas chosen for this programme are an all-too-brief sampling of the work Phil created alongside an eclectic, inexperienced and highly talented crew of people.

• ’Some Days You Have To Hit Somebody’ (1958) with Hollywood actress Mercedes McCambridge

• ’Slow Jive For the Dragon’ (1967) Vancouver plays itself, the CBC Television studio is transformed into an AM rock station, Vancouver historian Chuck Davis takes on the role of DJ ’Milt Bradley’ and the ’Classics’ with Howie Vickers & Bill Henderson play in a school gym.

• ’Moccasin Telegraph’ (1966) Out of the studio and on location. Chief Dan George and a sly lesson in communication in the Cariboo

So adjust the rabbit-ears antenna of your 16” Black & White TV, turn the dial to Channel 2 and tune in for three 30-minute dramas produced in a converted Packard-dealership at 1200 West Georgia.

Q&A to follow, along with Special Guests.