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Why The National banned fur coats on air in 1983

A reporter's words could be undercut by the luxurious look of their choice in winter wear, and that's why CBC's The National sent a memo banning fur coats on air.

In recessionary times, 'elitist' fur wasn't a good look on reporters

Concerned that fur appears "elitist" in recessionary times, managers put a stop to sable and a moratorium on mink. 1:32

A reporter's words could be undercut by the luxurious look of their choice in winter wear, and that's why CBC's The National sent a memo banning fur coats on air in August 1983.

"We think it all started when ... reporter Sheila MacVicar outfoxed all her colleagues in February last year," said the CBC's Tom Harrington, then a reporter for the local Calgary Newshour.

Eve Savory, an Edmonton correspondent, had worn a fur coat complete with hood while standing in front of a majestic snowy mountain valley.

Edmonton reporter Eve Savory told the Globe and Mail she had spent $1,400 for a raccoon coat with a custom hood attachment. "I did a gorgeous stand-up in a fabulous coat ... nobody heard a word I said." (The National/CBC Archives)

And Calgary's Bob Nicholson sported a fur collar on his overcoat.

"Whatever it was, The National's TV news bosses decided it was better to be cheap than in wolves' clothing," said Harrington.

Even though it was August, and no one was likely to be tempted for at least another four months, the edict had come: no reporter was to wear fur on air.

The reasoning, as Harrington explained when asking Calgarians for their reaction to the decision, was that fur coats appeared "elitist."

Canada was in the midst of a recession at the time.

"It depends on the fur coat, really," said a man in a striped shirt. "Looking at your fur coat, it certainly doesn't look elitist, that's for sure."

Reporter Tom Harrington appeared to have borrowed a woman's fur coat for his report. (Newshour/CBC Archives)

Harrington filmed his report while wearing what appeared to be a woman's fur coat that was too small for him.

"They should dress as is appropriate for what they're doing," said a woman.

On the same day this report aired, the Globe and Mail published a story on the memo headlined "Fur flies at CBC."

According to reporter Marina Strauss, the issue had come up when four different reporters wore fur on the air on a single day the previous March.

"Perception is a reality in this business," The National's executive producer, John Owen, told the paper.

In a memo to reporters, Owen had said that wearing fur "is a message to our viewers that seems to say we're rich and you're not."