CBC Digital Archives

Fighting Words: CBC monopolizes Canada's intellectuals, debating dirty jokes

The long-running Fighting Words ranked among the most intelligent, provocative and popular shows of its day. It was a panel show with a simple premise: viewers send in controversial quotations and the panellists discuss them. From 1953 to 1962, host Nathan Cohen presided over verbal bombshells and spirited arguments of prominent thinkers, artists and controversialists, including Pierre Trudeau, Irving Layton, Robertson Davies, Norman Mailer, Peter Ustinov and many more. Watch the fireworks as the CBC Digital Archives features 20 of the most lively, fascinating and provocative panels in CBC history.

Two female panelists (!), poet and case worker Miriam Waddington and political analyst Anne Francis join author Douglas Grant and Fighting Words regular poet Irving Layton in this 1960 discussion. The quartet debate a quote that takes a direct shot at themselves and many fellow Fighting Words participants: "Canadian intellectuals, if any, never crawl out of their ivory towers except to go on CBC panel shows."

Next, poet Miriam Waddington and political analyst Anne Francis join author Douglas Grant and poet Irving Layton to discuss whether "a taste for ribaldry is inherent in the human animal." What's the difference between the ribald and the just plain dirty? Are Canadians more ribald than people of other nationalities? Which panellist shows the greatest fondness for dirty jokes? The answers may surprise you.
• The idea of an ivory tower as a place of elitist seclusion was first used in the 1911 book H.L. Bergson's Laughter by Frederick Rothwell and Cloudesley Shovell Henry Brereton. The line reads: "Each member [of society] must be ever attentive to his social surroundings - he must avoid shutting himself up in his own peculiar character as a philosopher in his ivory tower."

• An excerpt from Miriam Waddington's poem Jacques Cartier in Toronto appears on the Canadian $100 bill released in 2004.

Fighting Words rarely presented female panelists, because host Nathan Cohen felt women aren't good at arguing. In 1958, he told the Montreal Gazette, "Women don't argue well - at least on TV. It's no reflection on their ability, it's just something psychological."

• "Anne Francis" was a pen name adopted by Florence Bird for her career as a broadcaster and columnist.

Medium: Television Program: Fighting Words Broadcast Date: Jan. 31, 1960 Guest(s): Anne Francis, Douglas Grant, Irving Layton, Miriam Waddington Host: Nathan Cohen Duration: 27:48

Last updated: January 28, 2014

Page consulted on January 28, 2014

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