Sunday, March 27, 2011

Remembering Roger Abbott

How many times did I interview Roger Abbott over the decades?
It all started way back in 1979 when I was TV critic at The Hamilton Spectator and met up with Abbott and his RCAF gang at Hamilton Place where they were putting on a CBC radio show.
At that time they were very much radio comics. CBC's then head of TV production Jack Craine told me they lacked the necessary visuals for TV success.
Which was just plain crazy.
Abbott who died yesterday of acute lymphocytic leukemia which he had been battling for 14 years was a sensitive, smart man.
He told me first off the troupe was performing in the Wayne and Shuster tradition of supposing fans knew what was happening in the news.
These days that would be a false assumption as Reality TV has dumbed down most comical TV series.
Born In England, Abbott grew up in Montreal and met close friend and co-worker Don Ferguson when both were high school students.
They formed RCAF in 1973 along with Dave Broadfoot, John Morgan and Lubay Goy and continued to delight Canadians until CBC pulled the plug two seasons back --the charge was RCAF catered to an increasingly older audience base which simply was not true.
I enjoyed the several times I sat in on rehearsals --this troupe had a ball during the writing of the sketches as well as during the performances. They would regularly fill a cavernous CBC soundstage with audiences who were deeply devoted to their peculiar form of satire.
I found Abbott in person to be pleasant and introspective. He shone in his impersonations of Jean Chretien and CBC's Peter Mansbrige and was very collegial in letting other members also shine in the spotlight.
When CBC closed down its expert makeup and costuming department Abbott told me his fear that the show was finished as far as CBC management was concerned. By contrast NBC's Satur
In the final seasons Jessica Holmes, Craig Lauzon, Alan Park and Penelope Corrin were added to great effect and Abbott mentored them with care.
Like Wayne and Shuster before them RCAF decided it was all important to remain resolutely Canadian --Abbott once turned down the firm offer to join the U.S. sitcom Taxi.
In my last long interview with him I decided to ask only questions he'd never been asked before --this was for the show's 15th anniversary on TV.
Abbott was ready and for several hours regaled me and staff in nearby CBC offices with choice anecdotes.
I simply can't think of a nicer guy deserving of stardom. Roger Abbott was 64.

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