I am in the process of assembling a collection of some of the Audio and Video interviews I have done over the last thirty years, to leave for my five children and thirteen grandchildren. They were not aware of much of this chapter in Grampa’s life, so I have written a little story to accompany the files. Below is a brief description of two of those interviews which took place in the early 1990s, with the CBC’s Peter Gzowski ,on his Morningside radio show.
Peter Gzowski was the CBC’s biggest culture maven for decades. His “Morningside” show, which ran from 1982 until 1997, had a sizeable national audience. He made no secret of the fact that he was a man of the left, and he wasn’t shy about using the CBC microphone to make this known across the country. I pestered his Producer for an interview just after The Trouble With Canada was released in April, 1990, because it had immediately jumped onto the bestseller charts. But she declined every time, until after the book hit #1 on the Globe and Mail National Bestseller list on August 4th. At that point, the CBC would have looked pretty dumb for declining, so Peter eventually, if reluctantlyagreed to do this brief interview that December.
As it happened, we were in Vancouver when we saw the book had hit #1, and we arranged a fine dinner of celebration at Il Giardino’s restaurant . They had a lovely outdoor setting with great food served in a walled garden, flaming hibiscus flowers everywhere, lots of sunlight, and many tables of happy diners. At one point, Jeanie leaned over to tell me that the man smoking a cigar at the next table was the singer Billy Joel. After a while he became a little agitated and leaned over to ask why we were celebrating: “What’s the occasion?” I leaned back toward him and said, I’m a writer, and my book hit #1 in Canada today!” Then he asked: “What’s the title?” I answered, “The Trouble With Canada.” He looked around at the happy scene, and said: “I don’t see any trouble!” and we all burst out laughing.
I should add that three years later, I again pestered the Morningside Producer for an interview on my next book, The War Against the Family, which had risen to #5 in the Coles Bookstores national chain, but had been banned by the Duthie’s Books chain of three stores in Vancouver. Celia Duthie, was a well-known leftist and radical feminist. She didn’t mind selling books by Karl Marx or revolutionaries like Che Guevara – but not a book by this conservative thinker!
And her book-banning caused a national ruckus. The Globe and Mail published a front page story about “Book Banning” in Vancouver. And because of this, my publisher seized the occasion to print 1,000 additional copies. A national battle over censorship ensued between my publisher and the Booksellers Association of Canada – which defended a bookseller’s right to refuse to sell any book of which they didn’t approve. Meanwhile, The Canadian Publishers Association came charging onto the field, arguing that because books in Canada are given to bookstores free on consignment, and not paid for until sold, publishers should not be denied shelf space to promote their bestselling # 1 books! There was a flurry of angry letters to the Globe from both sides. Later, I learned that the Booksellers Association gave a hefty prize for the best essay published by one of their members for defending their right to censor my book!
At any rate, when I finally got to Peter Gzowski’s CBC studio for the interview on The War Against the Family, things were a little icy. No sooner had I entered the waiting room, with about ten minutes to go prior to the interview, when Peter thrusted a copy of a thick book at me written by a Marxist professor from the University of Winnipeg who was notoriously opposed to the traditional family and defended homosexual rights. Peter announced curtly: “Here. This gentleman will be a guest on the show with you.” I had no time to look at the book. It was a set-up by Peter for a two-to-one gang-up on Bill.
Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of that show. But suffice it to say that it was something close to a shouting-match between myself and the Marxist professor, with curmudgeonly Peter chirping in to take the professor’s side whenever he felt like it. It was all I could do to reply to both of them, one after the other.
When it was over, and I walked out of the studio, I extended my hand to thank Peter. He was standing there beside his Producer, and … refused to shake my hand. That was pretty awkward. He had a somewhat shabby grey beard, and he just stood there and stared at me, like a tired old beaver, as if it was normal for a CBC host to be this rude.
But the story did not end there. Those were still the days of snail mail, and about ten days later I got a call from another CBC Producer who told me that the CBC had received “an avalanche of mail” in reaction to the show, and as a result, they were going to do another show for a whole hour, dedicated to reading a lot of the letters, good and bad, that they had received about the first show!
In fairness, they did read some of the letters chastising Gzowski. But I had received carbon copies by mail of some they never read on air in which listeners lambasted him for his rude treatment of me. Some said that although they had been fans of Morningside for a decade and more, his behaviour was so ill-mannered, they would never listen again!
So … I bundled a half-dozen of those letters up and sent them off to Peter.