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Errol Flynn: eyewitness to revolution in Cuba

In January 1959, Fidel Castro led his Cuban revolutionaries into Havana. It's a huge story, and Front Page Challenge has found an unlikely mystery guest: Errol Flynn, a Hollywood actor in the twilight of his career. Famed for playing dashing swashbucklers, Flynn put on a reporter's hat while in Cuba for the revolution. Despite rumours he fought alongside the rebels, Flynn tells the panel he "didn't pick up anything more dangerous than a ballpoint pen."
• Errol Flynn became a guest on Front Page Challenge after producer Jim Guthro read in a newspaper that Flynn had been in Cuba during the revolution. When Guthro tracked him down in New York, Flynn agreed to appear on the show -- if the CBC paid for his "secretary" (who was, in fact, his mistress) to fly to Toronto with him. (Source: Alex Barris, Front Page Challenge: History of a Television Legend, 1999)

Front Page Challenge was one of the longest-running shows in CBC history. It began as a summer replacement in 1957 and stayed on the air for 38 years.

• The show's premise was simple. Each segment began with a summary of a news story, past or present, for the audience. Panellists then tried to guess the story by questioning a mystery guest somehow connected with it. Once the story was revealed or time ran out, the guest moved to the interview chair.

• Early in the show's run, American newsman Mike Wallace appeared as a guest panellist. He and his network, ABC, liked the concept of Front Page Challenge and invited creator John Aylesworth to discuss developing an American version. But ABC wanted too many changes -- such as replacing the panel of journalists with Hollywood celebrities -- and Aylesworth declined to pursue the opportunity.

Front Page Challenge experimented with various hosts and panellists in its first few episodes, but soon found a magical combination in host Fred Davis and regular panellists Pierre Berton, Gordon Sinclair and Toby Robins. In 1961 Robins left the show and was replaced by broadcaster Betty Kennedy.

• The panel changed once more in 1984 with the death of Gordon Sinclair. Reporter Allan Fotheringham took his place. Two years later Jack Webster also became a regular panellist.

• In the 1980s Front Page Challenge withstood budget cuts and schedule changes. Production of the show moved from Toronto to Vancouver in 1992. A new producer tried to revive FPC by beefing up its journalistic edge and emphasizing social issues rather than celebrity interviews. But the new approach was unpopular with the panellists, who complained the stories were too dark. They also objected to their interviews being edited.

• The end came on April 14, 1995, when the CBC announced the show would not be renewed. Though rumours had been circulating for months, the panellists were caught off guard. Betty Kennedy learned the news when her husband heard an item on the radio. Allan Fotheringham said that when he wrote a "vicious letter" protesting the CBC's handling of the show's end, the Corporation cancelled a farewell lunch for the panel.

Medium: Television
Program: Front Page Challenge
Broadcast Date: Jan. 13, 1959
Guest(s): Errol Flynn
Host: Fred Davis
Panellist: Pierre Berton, Toby Robins, Gordon Sinclair, Scott Young
Duration: 7:04

Last updated: January 17, 2014

Page consulted on January 17, 2014

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