It’s pretty clear to me after attending television journalist Bill Cameron’s funeral this morning that he will rest in peace, because he was a sweet man of extraordinary conscience who led a good life. But there are several things that haven’t been said about him, and they need to be said.
There was a moment, slightly more than a decade ago, when it was between Bill and Peter Mansbridge as to who was going to be the next lead anchor at CBC television news. Bill was anchoring the six o’clock news out of Toronto, and he was doing something I’ve never seen done before or since at the tail end of the broadcasts: he was writing on air. No two of his tail-enders were the same. Sometimes it was a riff on a specific event, sometimes a rant, other times a pensive tone poem on the state of the world as he saw it on that day.
Now, offering up a “pensive tone poem” on a national news broadcast is high risk television, arguably the highest risk a serious journalist can take—and Bill Cameron was a serious journalist. Yet he seemed to take this risk gladly, maybe because he had the equipment to pull it off. In retrospect, I think it was his pitch for the big job.
CBC’s management picked the other guy, maybe because his delivery was more conventional, business-like, testosterone-driven, better-tuned to the marketplace Zeitgeist, whatever. I dunno what goes through the minds of people in television boardrooms when deep thinking is required. Nor do I think Peter Mansbridge is a bad television presence. What I do think is that Canada got the lesser presence from CBC’s choice, and that we’re poorer for it. What a thoughtful guiding spirit Cameron could have added to our public life is a quantity too subtle to be anything more than wistful about.
There was another seminal moment in Cameron’s career few people know about that could have also made life in this country better than it is today, if in a smaller way. Like the national anchor moment, it didn’t happen, and again, it was television management that prevented it.
In the aftermath of losing the knife-fight with Mansbridge, Bill was, as is the custom in television, pushed into semi-exile: doing the morning slot out of Halifax, and then as a muzzled fill-in elsewise, a process that eventually saw him reinvent himself with I-TV and a series of independent projects, including a novel. One of the reinventions that never happened came after Daniel Richler and Guy Lawson left Imprint, and the producers thought it would be a great idea to have Bill Cameron host the program. Bill was more than interested, but then-TVO head Peter Herndorf flatly rejected the idea.
Imagining the energetic advocacy Cameron would have pumped into the literary life of the country is enough to make you weep, particularly in light of the way the program subsequently went south. Imagining the editorial sweep he would have brought to the job, given his broad literacy and his television writing skills does make me weep.
Oh well. I’m grateful for what we did get of his intelligence. But I wish it could have been the Full Monty.
600 w. March 18, 2005