The Happy Gang
An hour of one of the most popular of the arts and entertainment programs of the 1940s and 50s- The Happy Gang. With its signature opening and upbeat tone, it aired for more than twenty years every weekday at lunch on CBC Radio.
You can listen to the show right here.
The Happy Gang aired for years and years and years every weekday- Monday to Friday between 1:00 and 1:30 in the afternoon. By the time they went off the air in 1959, they had produced nearly 4900 programs. That's about 200 programs a year. And they were all live.
The show adhered to a rigid formula. It opened with the sound of knocking on a door, followed by the question "Who's there?" The response: "It's the Happy Gang!" Then Bert Pearl, the MC, would invite the gang to "C'mon in!" And the whole group would sing the theme song, which had been written by Pearl.
And with that it was off. Just one note before we go on, that signature double knock on the door was made by Blain Mathe, who would get close to the mike and rap twice on the back of his violin.
There were skits, comedy routines, and music. The mood was hectic, cheerful and light-hearted.
The first sample today is the earliest recording that the CBC Radio archives has of the Happy Gang. It's from July 1939. The Happy Gang was at the official opening of radio station CBK in Watrous, Saskatchewan. On this special occasion they were actually broadcasting in the evening rather than at their regular time, and you'll hear a reference to that at the beginning. And by the way, you'll hear them play a song they call The Barrel Polka. That's because it was forbidden to say the word beer on air.
Bert Pearl was The Gang's founder and its longest serving host. He was known as "that slap-happy chappy, the Happy Gang's own pappy." He was known as a bit of a control freak. He planned the program in detail and didn't like there to be any surprises. So one time when the other Happy Gang members set the clocks forward by a few minutes and announced to him that they were late, he raced into action. After doing the opening, a couple of performers started to whine: "I don't want to do this." Thinking they were actually on air, Pearl was shocked -- and didn't feel much better when he learned it was all a joke. In 1950, after 18 years, he left the show and moved to the U.S. to write for the actor Jimmy Durante, among others.
The show always featured lots of songs- some of which became very familiar to listeners. during the Second World War, they performed the iconic There'll Always Be an England every day.
After the war the Happy Gang was still going strong, as evidenced in this program from September 1947. You'll note that commercials were mixed right in with the fun.
The Happy Gang performed mostly before studio audiences in Toronto but as you heard, toured Canada in 1947 and then again in 1951.
In the show's heyday, two million listeners tuned in every day.
The series also served as the template for CBC's French language service, Les Joyeux Troubadours, which was broadcast in Quebec from 1941 to 1977.
The Happy Gang made its television debut in May 1956 on the CBC's Cross-Canada Hit Parade but the experiment didn't last long.
The program was on the air until 1959. In 1975 there was a Happy Gang reunion at two concerts at the CNE in Toronto. Each event drew 15,000 people and the show was broadcast by CBC.
To end, words that were in a booklet sent out by the Happy Gang to its loyal listeners.
We have no way of telling what the news of the day will be. We do know that all of us have much to worry and be blue about these days. The Happy Gang is dedicated to bringing at least some cheerfulness, and maybe a little courage, to you every day, just as long as we are able.