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Signature sign-offs

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There was nothing fancy about it -- just like the man himself.

For 10 years, when he signed off broadcasts of CBC's flagship news program, The National, veteran anchorman Knowlton Nash bid Canadians a humble "goodnight."

That simple sign-off -- delivered in his soothing voice, bright eyes magnified by his trademark oversized "Dad" glasses -- became a Canadian tradition, something we looked forward to hearing before we toddled off to bed.

Canadians lost a lot more than a longtime, respected news broadcaster last Saturday when Nash died at the age of 86 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

They lost a man many viewed as a trusted family friend, a newscaster unofficially dubbed "Uncle Knowlty" for his easygoing style and scholarly delivery as he dished up the headlines during a decade behind the CBC anchor desk.

Snooty critics scorned his so-called unemotional delivery, but Canadians loved him for it. His voice was warm and engaging, but he had a straight-faced style and took pains to avoid contaminating stories with his own personality.

In an essay for the Toronto Globe And Mail, Peter Mansbridge, who took Nash's place in the big chair, fondly recalled his predecessor's beloved exit line.

"He didn't say it as the speech coaches might have taught it," Mansbridge wrote. "It didn't come with the authority vested in him by his anchor desk. Knowlton's 'goodnight' was friendly, even folksy. It was a lullaby for Canada, delivered with charm so genuine, it became something to look forward to at the end of The National."

In a tribute to this non-nonsense newsman, here's a misty-eyed look at five of our all-time favourite signature sign-offs:

 

5) THE STAR: TV journalist Linda Ellerbee

THE SIGN-OFF: "And so it goes."

THE STORY: This hip, outspoken American TV icon has been known for many things over the years -- her trademark large glasses back in the day, brightly coloured sneakers and a raspy voice a sports journalist once described as the "last two drags of Camel chased down by three fingers of Wild Turkey." But viewers of a certain age remember the former Today Show reporter best for the signature catchphrase uttered at the end each broadcast of NBC News Overnight in the early 1980s -- "And so it goes." The phrase -- which became the title of her memoir published in 1986 -- was dispensed by Ellerbee and her co-hosts (Lloyd Dobyns and Bill Schechner) as the punchline of a show-ending, wry commentary. It was such a hit that, in 1989, Ellerbee guest-starred as herself in an episode of the hit sitcom Murphy Brown. In the episode, TV journalist Murphy Brown, as played by Candice Bergen, accuses Ellerbee of stealing the famous catchphrase during a long-haul flight. Ellerbee has gone on to win many awards, including for Nick News, a TV show presenting the news of the day to kids, but she will always be synonymous with her sign-off.

 

5) THE STAR: Former CTV anchor Lloyd Robertson

THE SIGN-OFF: "And that's the kind of day it's been."

THE STORY: Like Knowlton Nash, Robertson can be summed up in a single word: integrity. In more than 60 years of broadcasting, the longest-running national TV anchor in North America stood on the front lines of history, covering everything from the first moonwalk to Terry Fox's bid to run across Canada to 9/11. Through it all, he was a calming, trusted presence on Canadian airwaves. It all began in Winnipeg in 1956 when he applied for his first-ever TV job with CBWT. And it all came to an end on Sept. 1, 2011, after 41 years as an anchor at both CBC and CTV, in a newscast packed with emotion and memories. Of his 35 years as CTV's chief anchor and senior news editor, the beloved baritone said: "For me, it's been a rare privilege to have been able to serve in this position for so long. It's been a front-row seat to history." With his final words on air, however, he bid Canada farewell the same way he had every night for so many years, gently telling us for the last time: "And that's the kind of day it's been..."

 

5) THE STAR: Founding Today Show anchor Dave Garroway

THE SIGN-OFF: "Peace."

THE STORY: A true broadcasting pioneer, Garroway began his career as an NBC page in 1938 and, as a Pittsburgh radio reporter in 1939, once filed reports from a hot-air balloon. But he is most famous as the founding host and anchor of NBC's Today Show, where his trademark easygoing charm was on display from 1952 to 1961. In 1960, a New York Times review gushed: "He does not crash into the home with the false jollity and thunderous witticisms of a backslapper. He is pleasant, serious, scholarly looking and not obtrusively convivial." Sporting a bow-tie and horn-rimmed glasses, Garroway became known as "The Communicator." If his trademark sign-off wasn't the first, it was arguably the most elegant. He held up one hand, palm to the camera and, with a quiet smile, uttered a single word: "Peace." Raved Houston Chronicle columnist Ken Hoffman: "Television news can stay on air for the rest of time, and nobody will top that." Tragically, suffering from serious health issues, he took his own life in 1981.

 

5) THE STAR: Late CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite

THE SIGN-OFF: "And that's the way it is."

THE STORY: For 19 years, the man considered "the most trusted man in America" was the voice of authority in TV news. If this famously unflappable anchor said it, it had to be true. At the end of almost every broadcast, when he stated "and that's the way it is" followed by the date, viewers believed wholeheartedly that, in fact, that's the way it really was. A true pro, he skipped the catchphrase on nights when he ended the newscast with an opinion or commentary. When he created the signature line, CBS fretted whether it would suggest the network was infallible. Here's what Cronkite said of the famous sign-off: "That whole phrase 'that's the way it is' was born out of the fact I assumed I'd have time for a little vignette at the end of the broadcast, which would be maybe sad, pathetic, humorous, ironic. That's the way it is could be said so many wonderful ways to reflect all those various emotions... From the very first broadcast, we never had time for them." And that, indeed, is the way it was.

 

5) THE STAR: Broadcasting legend Edward R. Murrow

THE SIGN-OFF: "Good night and good luck."

THE STORY: The dominant figure during the formative years of American broadcast journalism, this chain-smoking man with the matter-of-fact baritone became internationally famous during the Second World War with broadcasts that started, "This... is London," with the emphasis on this, followed by the hint of a pause. Murrow became a worldwide celebrity because of his war reports, which kept North American listeners glued to their radios. During the Battle of Britain, when Londoners didn't know whether they would survive each night's German bombing, Londoners (including the Queen) would bid one another farewell by saying "good night, and good luck." At the end of a 1940 broadcast, Murrow ended his segment with that catchphrase, which became the title of a 2005 movie directed by George Clooney about Murrow's legendary conflict with anti-Communist U.S. senator Joe McCarthy. He smoked 60 to 70 cigarettes a day and died of lung cancer at the age of 57 in 1965.

Which brings us to the end, a perfect time to bid you farewell in the no-nonsense style of a greatly missed Canadian legend: "Goodnight!"

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2014 D2

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