2004-09-30 13:30:21 UTC
Special to The Globe and Mail
Thursday, September 30, 2004 - Page R9
Alan Edmonds was the most unlikely television star. He was a tall,
ungainly man, a bit overweight, with glasses and a beard. He could
never be described as handsome. While he was charming, he could be a
bit prickly at times, tough in a team business such as TV. And he
spoke with a British accent, something that usually doesn't do you any
good on Canadian television.
Yet, for 10 years, he was one of three hosts of Live It Up, at its
peak one of CTV's most popular Canadian-produced programs, pulling in
an astounding 1.7 million viewers a week.
The idea for the program came from Jack McGaw, the executive producer,
and Mr. Edmonds, who died in Toronto on Sept. 12 just a week and half
shy of his 72nd birthday. It was in some ways an early stab at reality
Live It Up, which aired from 1978 to 1990, was a consumer program that
came under the news arm of CTV. Canadian television news has never
done light programming well. The idea of a news program that was not
serious and earnest was fought by the No. 2 man at the network. But he
was overruled by Murray Chercover, who ran the place.
"Alan's big idea was that you don't have to be solemn to be serious,"
said Liz Grogan, who was one of the hosts of the program for its first
five years. "People said you can't do that on television and he proved
Live It Up's main feature always involved one of the hosts. Mr.
Edmonds was a natural ham, and would work himself into situations that
sometimes made him look ridiculous, but which he felt entertained and
informed the audience.
Mr. McGaw remembers an incident where the program was testing
high-end, luxury cars. "I think there was a Maserati, a Mercedes and a
Rolls. Alan couldn't get the Maserati to start so he had to jump start
it with the Rolls. Trouble was he had the hardest time finding where
the battery was on the Rolls Royce."
All of this was on camera, and all fodder for the Live It Up format.
Mr. Edmonds broke into television in the late seventies when he began
working for CTV Reports. By this time, he had been a newspaper and
magazine journalist in Britain and Canada with 25 years experience,
who had switched to television where the money was better. He was a
story editor, a combination producer, researcher and writer. But there
was one story where he had a chance to star.
He was sent to Chicago to do a story on pork-belly futures, the stuff
from which bacon is made. Pork-belly futures are a running joke in
most newsrooms since their prices come over the wire but no one ever
knows what they are. So Mr. Edmonds was sent to find out about the
commodity with the funny name.
In Chicago, he speculated on pork bellies, made money and reported it
all on camera. Mr. Edmonds was a storyteller and his training as a
journalist made him a natural on camera, even if he didn't have the
standard, blow-dried television looks.
His accent worked against him, too. Liz Grogan pointed out he could
never say the word television the way a Canadian does. He would split
it in two, tele-vision, with the emphasis on the vision.
The thing that made Mr. Edmonds such a success on Live It Up was his
talent as a writer. He had little formal education. Today, a
university degree seems necessary to land the lowest job in any
He started at the bottom, on London's Fleet Street, working as a
bicycle courier for the Reuters News Agency when he was 13.
Alan Denis Edmonds was born on the outskirts of London on Sept. 23,
1932. He went to school in London and at the time children had to pass
a test called the 11 Plus in order to go on to grammar schools. But
Mr. Edmonds failed and joined those who had to go out to work at age
13 or 14.
"My father was always bitter about that system," says his daughter
Sarah Edmonds, who works as an economic journalist for Reuters in
Washington. "He thought it was cruel to sentence a child one way or
the other at such an early age."
However, Mr. Edmonds received what many people in the business
consider the best journalistic education there is.
Hard work as a bicycle courier leads to an office job, learning from
the older reporters and editors. His first job as a junior reporter
was on The Upminster News, a suburb near where he was born.
After the Upminster paper, he went to The Basildon Standard, followed
by The Brighton Evening Argus and then the Manchester bureau of The
Daily Express, which was owned by Canadian-born press baron Lord
Beaverbrook. He was called back to London, worked there for a time and
then became the Express's Paris correspondent.
His first trip to Canada was to Vancouver to visit his sister. He met
his future wife on that trip and decided to move to Canada.
His Fleet Street experience landed him a job at The Toronto Star. He
was sent many places around the world, including Berlin, where his
daughter remembers from clippings that he reported on the construction
of the Berlin Wall. He also covered an earthquake in Iran where the
first sentence of his story ran: "Armageddon would look like this."
Later in Canada he worked for Maclean's and was in on the start of The
Sunday Sun newspaper, although he didn't last very long there.
Wherever he worked, people remembered him. For one thing he had huge
feet, size 13½, and limited depth perception. That made him appear
In fact, he was good with his hands and built intricate model
aircraft, the remote-control type he would fly in parks in Toronto.
Mr. Edmonds was also an exacting carpenter and in the past few years
he and his sons had done most of the interior work on a house he and
his wife were re-doing.
After his on-air career ended in the late 1980s, Mr. Edmonds stayed in
television, writing scripts and doing things such as adapting foreign
documentary films into English.
They included an odd Eastern European film on sex tourism, which later
made excellent fodder for his stories.
He continued to work in print, although writer David Cobb thinks that
Mr. Edmonds's 10 years on Live It Up were a kind of high point of his
"It used a lot of his talent. He was a great raconteur and so could be
a ham on camera. His ego didn't get in the way if he had to tell a
story," says Mr. Cobb, a close friend who gave the eulogy at Mr.
Edmonds's funeral in Toronto.
"His Fleet Street training made him a great writer."
One of Mr. Edmonds's biggest scoops in Canada was the story of the
S.S. Oronsay, a plague ship anchored off Vancouver in the spring of
1970. There was typhoid aboard the ship and somehow he managed to get
on board. It was the cover story in the May edition of Maclean's, then
"It was a gripping story and ran for many thousands of words," Mr.
Cobb said. "It was a model of its type. Even though he was emotionally
involved with the people on board, he gave a balanced view of what was
happening on shore."
For more than 30 years, Mr. Edmonds thought there was a novel in what
he thought was his best story. For the past nine months of his life he
worked on it, and like the end of a novel, finished it just before he
died on Sept. 12. Its working title is Ship of Fear.
He leaves his daughter Sarah from his first marriage, his second wife
Hester and her sons John and David.