The Kind of Life It's Been
By Lloyd Robertson
HarperCollins, 354 pages, $34
Winnipeg played a prominent role in the career path of Canadian broadcasting icon Lloyd Robertson, but in his otherwise enjoyable memoir, The Kind of Life It's Been, he gives us only 13 pages.
Known for his long tenure as the reassuring anchor of the CTV National News, Robertson was born in Stratford, Ont., on Jan. 19, 1934. He got his first taste of working behind a microphone at the local radio station in Stratford while he was still in high school.
His first experience with the new medium of television occurred when he joined the CBC in Windsor in 1954, and two years later, on a frosty January day in 1956, he began work as a staff announcer at CBC in Winnipeg.
Robertson married his high school sweetheart, Nancy Garrett, and the first of their four daughters was born during their four and a half years here.
He did a variety of tasks at CBC Winnipeg including hosting Spotlight, the supper-hour news package. He was not the news anchor, but he worked closely with the legendary Cactus Jack Wells and Ed Russenholt, among others.
Wells is about the only colleague from Robertson's Winnipeg days who receives more than a mention in the book, but music legend Tommy Edwards is the focus of an interesting story.
All on-camera interviews were done live in those days, and the African-American singer best known for the classic song It's All in the Game was performing at a local nightclub. Robertson says the interview was about the longest nine minutes of his life. He suggests that Edwards was somehow "coming on" to him. The singer died in 1969.
Another of Robertson's Winnipeg duties was hosting a long-forgotten country music show called Saddle Songs, featuring Vic Siebert and his Sons of the Saddle.
It was hardly the background one might expect for the man who became Canada's most trusted TV news anchor, but in 1970 Robertson became the front man for CBC's The National, at a salary of about $45,000 a year.
Throughout the book he is surprisingly open about the money he has made during five decades in broadcasting. He doesn't even bother to spend much time pointing out how ridiculously puny the pay packets are compared to what U.S. network stars like Walter Cronkite and Canadian-born Peter Jennings took home in similar jobs.
Reading his memoir, one frequently gets the feeling that Robertson shared the adrenalin rush that other TV news performers feel, which easily surpasses the lure of the dollar. It's the kick that goes with having a ringside seat for the great events of our time.
In September 1976 Robertson became the top story in many newscasts himself when he accepted an offer to jump to rival CTV. He was to anchor that newscast for the next 35 years, sharing the spotlight for the first eight years with co-anchor Harvey Kirck.
A major motivation for his making the move to the private sector was his desire to be more than a newsreader. Until shortly after his departure, CBC announcers were strictly limited by union jurisdiction. Writing and reporting duties were covered by a separate collective agreement.
Robertson describes these watershed moments in his life and career with remarkable candor and in an easy, informal style like that which he brought to the nightly news.
His childhood was humble and included events that shaped his life in profound ways. His father, George Robertson, was a craftsman at the CN locomotive shops in Stratford. George had two wives and was 60 when Lloyd was born. Lloyd's mother, Lilly, suffered from serious mental-health problems and underwent a prefrontal lobotomy when he was still in school.
While still in his early 20s, shortly before moving to Winnipeg, Robertson became seriously ill with bleeding ulcers. In the 1970s when he was still at CBC, Robertson described what reads like a nervous breakdown. It required care in a treatment facility that also handled celebrity addiction cases.
When he signed off his final newscast on CTV in September 2011, Robertson was more than ready to pass the torch to Lisa LaFlamme. She succeeded where a number of prominent men had failed, including Keith Morrison and Tom Clark.
Now 78, Robertson still appears on the CTV program W5.
Roger Currie is a Winnipeg writer and broadcaster. His weekly commentaries can be heard on CJNU (Nostalgia Radio) 107.9 FM and on his website, rogercurrie.org.