Knowlton Nash: Microphone Wars
Nov 2, 2011 9:27 AM
(CBC Still Photo Collection)
He sold his first newspaper at the age of eight, and never looked back. From Cold War Washington through the battlefields of Vietnam and into millions of Canadian homes each night, Knowlton Nash has had a window seat on many of Canada's major stories.
The veteran journalist was born Cyril Knowlton Nash in Toronto on Nov. 18, 1927.
Nash was named after his father, but at five told his parents he'd rather be known as Knowlton. They called him Cyril Jr., and as he explained at the time, he was no Jr.
A reporter from the start, Nash produced his own news sheet when he was eight. A year later he was writing letters to editor, and at 10 he operated a newsstand in Toronto.
Nash's cousin Gwen Mulholland once explained that people used to ask why, even as a small child, Nash didn't smile. She said, "It was just Knowlton's nature. It was just his temperament."
Nash has admitted he had always put his work first, and as a result, was married four times. He said it wasn't until he met his last wife, Lorraine Thomson, in 1976, that he began putting his personal life ahead of his career.
In 1947, Nash took a job with the British United Press, a Toronto wire service. He was night editor and wrote 4,000 articles.
From 1951 to 1958, his desire to go abroad was realized when Nash accepted a position in Washington as information director with the International Federation of Agricultural Producers.
While working for the American federation, he moonlighted as a freelance writer and broadcaster. In 1961, he joined CBC's Newsmagazine
as their Washington correspondent.
Among Nash's journalistic feats included tracking down the communist revolutionary Che Guevara for an exclusive, and being one of the last to interview Bobby Kennedy before his assassination.
Learn more about Nash in this episode of Front Page Challenge:
Nash crossed over to management in 1969 when he became CBC TV's director of information programs. Fellow journalists were shocked by the move.
While Nash was in the management role, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau complained that the CBC was becoming a propaganda vehicle for the FLQ during the October Crisis. Nash reacted with a directive that limited coverage of the crisis. He later said: "Basically it was my fault. We went too far -- farther than we should have."
When Nash returned to the screen as host after a stint in management, he was not widely accepted. The media accused him of hiring himself; the CBC anchor's union filed a grievance saying Nash wasn't qualified.
He was "poked at and ridiculed for the longest time," explained Mark Starowicz, CBC TV executive producer. But when Canadians finally warmed to him, he was "beloved," and they respected him for not being like a "papier-mâché" American anchor, Starowicz said.
The press also jumped on Nash for his unemotional delivery -- he thought facial expressions might infer editorial opinion -- and for those trademark thick-lensed glasses.
"It's inconceivable to him to actually contaminate a report with his own view. I think he'd probably blow up if he tried," Starowicz said.
It was an awkward fit at first, but soon Nash's reassuring presence and signature "Good Night" became a familiar sight on our television sets.
CBC management put up with the huge specs but told him they had had it with his pink shirt. To that, Nash put the garment in a parcel with a bow and sent it directly to management.
Nash left the anchor chair in 1988, stepping aside so CBC could offer the top job to Peter Mansbridge, who was considering an offer from CBS in New York. Even in his "retirement," Nash continued to work.
He hosted the CBC documentary series Witness
as well as other programs on Newsworld in the 1990s, including the News in Review
. He didn't officially retire from CBC until November 1992, where the last official duty he performed was to host The National
one last time.
Nash has written several books, one of which, entitled Trivia Pursuit
, criticized the media for declining into a state of sensationalism covering celebrities and sex scandals. He explained that democracy would perish without the hard-nosed journalism of his time.
For his accomplishments in the field, Nash received an honorary law degree from the University of Toronto (1993) and was appointed an Officer to the Order of Canada (1989). In 2006 he received a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation.
Nash currently lives in Toronto.