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Tribute: Harry J. Boyle by Pierre Juneau

Jan 27, 2005

Source : Globe & Mail

'A wonderful, creative individual who ... produced some of the best programs the CBC ever did'

MONTREAL -- Harry J. Boyle will be remembered as a creative broadcaster and executive. But I think many people who crossed his path will just think of Harry as a sensitive, genuine person with a great sense of humour, a sharp mind, a flair to perceive talent in people or to detect bluff. While I was vice-chairman of the Board of Broadcast Governors, its chairman, Andrew Stewart, supported the idea of assembling a small and informal group that would try to come up with new ideas to stimulate and evaluate "Canadian content" in radio and television. While I was searching for names, I happened to meet a CBC researcher, Rodrigue Chiasson, who worked in Toronto. He mentioned Harry's name to me. Coming from Montreal, I had never heard of him.

"I can't think of a better person for what you have in mind," said Rod. "He's just a wonderful, creative individual who has produced some of the best programs the CBC ever did."

That is how Harry and I came to meet. The group was formed and, besides Harry and Rod, included Patrick Watson and two or three others.

Later, in 1968, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission was created and Harry was appointed vice-chairman. He remained in that post until I left in 1975, when he then became chairman. We worked closely together for seven challenging, but exciting, years. The BBG had been in existence from 1958 to 1968, but a completely new act had been passed by Parliament and new policies were expected: An important increase of Canadian programs on radio and television, more Canadian music on radio, the Canadianization of all radio, TV and cable companies. Almost all cable companies were American or British. It took about two years to arrange for the transfers to Canadian owners, and involved investments of about $150-million. We had support from some people in the industry -- mainly those who were acquiring some of those previously foreign properties. But the proposed increase in Canadian programming met with some pretty dramatic opposition.

Besides Harry, the commission included some journalists such as Pat Pearce from Montreal, literary critic and professor Northrop Fry, an engineer, top business people from every province, and a physician from a Newfoundland outport. Five of the 15 commissioners were full-time members. Despite lively controversies, decisions were unanimous.

Harry and I had an entirely informal relationship. We had the commission meetings, of course, but if something important suddenly came up, there were no appointments arranged through secretaries. There would be a sharp knock on my door, from Harry's big brass ring. He would come in and sit down. I enjoyed the interruption and dropped whatever I was doing. Very often, the discussion would reorient our thinking and open a new perspective in our deliberations.

Harry was a wonderful storyteller, and his collection of stories was inexhaustible. I have met few people with such an extraordinary memory. He remembered people, conversations, scenery, happenings, even odours in the general store that, if I remember well, his family owned in Wingham, Ont. Harry could hardly speak a word of French, but I was constantly amazed by the number of friends he had in Quebec and how familiar he was with Quebec culture. Although he was not bilingual, he was bicultural.

Harry's career had been mostly in public broadcasting, while the CRTC dealt more often with private broadcasters throughout the country. But he seemed to have as many friends in private radio and TV as he had at the CBC. There were few public broadcasters and hundreds of private broadcasters and cable companies. He had been so long and so creative in that field, and they respected his competence and his sense of humour. He seemed to enjoy himself despite the endless hours we had to spend in public hearings listening to applications for an increase in cable rates in northern Newfoundland or the Beauce region of Quebec or whether a Texas cable company owner in Trois-Rivières ought to be allowed to retain his company despite recent Canadian legislation.

I liked having Harry beside me during these hearings. We could share comments, and I enjoyed his very personal way of questioning applicants. I hope I may be permitted, now, to mention something I never brought up with him during all those years of companionship. Hearings would often go from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., sometimes for four or five days. Harry would smoke a pipe filled with very strong tobacco almost continuously. But our friendship endured. Eventually, he moved back to Toronto. We met now and then but not often enough.

Pierre Juneau is a former broadcasting and National Film Board executive who served as chairman of the CRTC from 1968 to 1975.

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