Just as my kids have never known life without The Simpsons, few Canadians have known life without Lloyd Robertson.
Canada’s Most Trusted News anchor signs off for the last time tonight on the CTV National News. He’s been a TV newsman since before CTV was on the air, on televison since the mid-’50s.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Robertson earlier this summer. We chatted briefly at the CTV upfront in June and I followed up with him on the phone a month later to get a quote for Don Ferguson and the late Roger Abbott’s upcoming book about the Air Farce (40 Years of Flying By The Seat of Our Pants, coming in October.) As one of the most well-known faces in Canadian television, Robertson was a Farce fave and was serenaded by Lloyd clones on their most recent New Year’s Eve special.
He was goofed on by me, too, plenty of times over the years. I’ve suggested he’s being called back for pyramid duty. I’ve teased him in print about his hair, which often seemed tinted a different hue every night. Hundreds were being hypnotised, tricked into watching his No. 1 national newscast, I kidded.
It’s a bit like how David Letterman will make fun of Regis or Larry King. The joke is getting thin because Dave’s old now too. Damn this tempus fugit thing.
Once, when I was still at the Toronto Sun, I suggested he and former Ottawa bureau chief Craig Oliver were turning into the Stadler and Waldorf of election coverage, a reference to those cranky old men up in the balcony from The Muppet Show. Robertson dashed off a quick email: “Watch it or I’ll sick Peter Worthington and Bob MacDonald on you!”
Worthington, of course, is older than God and still at the Sun. MacDonald has since passed away but at the time of Robertson’s remarks he was well into his seventies and as feisty and cantankerous as ever.
Bottom line, Lloyd pulled my pants down. I felt like I had won the Order of Canada.
Which, by the way, Lloyd has. Talking to him on the phone, it takes a while to get past that famous voice. At first you feel your conversation is being broadcast. “What is the view tonight in Brampton, Bill?” Everything he says sounds that much more important.
So it was nice to hang on the phone a bit and just dish with Lloyd. Yes, he laughed when Joe Flaherty used to do Floyd Robertson on SCTV. “I loved it,” says Robertson. “They were great guys, I got to know them a bit. Eugene [Levy] later asked me to come on and do a bit with him–Earl Camembert and Floyd!”
Robertson started out in 1952 as a local CJCS radio reporter in his hometown of Stratford, Ont. He was on TV a few years later, reporting from Winnipeg and Ottawa.
By 1967 he was part of CBC’s national news team. By October of 1970–right around the time of the October Crisis–he was on the CBC anchor desk.
Seven years later, CTV came calling. Robertson was involved in a CBC union dispute over writing and editing his own news copy and jumped to the private network, a gutsy (and financially rewarding) move at the time. An erroneous Globe headline that he would jump back led to what Robertson calls “a messy weekend.” He shared the CTV news desk for another seven years with Harvey Kirck and has been there ever since on his own–35 years.
Add the CBC gig and that’s 41 years as a national network news anchor (and nearly 60 as a reporter!). Nobody else comes close.
“There was a guy in St. Louis or somewhere who went longer than 35,” Robertson says, “but that was local.”
Lloyd makes guys like Dan Rather look like quitters. Rather hung in nearly 20 years and did just beat Walter Cronkite’s CBS anchor record. Rather’s final year, however, was bleak as he dodged charges of bias. “That was not the way to go out,” says Lloyd.
|Chatting with Robertson at the CTV upfront in June|
Harper Collins has asked Robertson to do a memoir, which seems about right. The veteran newsman has had a ring side seat to history, covering everything from Expo ’67 to the Vancouver Winter Games. Lloyd brought us the moon landings, the Quebec referendums, reports on dozens of presidents and prime ministers.
Coverage of the royal wedding of Charles and Diana stands out, he says, as does, of course, the terrible attacks during 9/11. Robertson was in bed when the call came from producer Dennis Macintosh. “Turn your TV on and get the hell in here!” Robertson recalls hearing at the other end of the phone. He scrambled to the anchor desk and stayed there 14 hours.
He worries his book might not have enough sizzle. “My life isn’t as exciting as some of my colleagues who’ve had six wife and been in and out of drunk tanks,” he says. Robertson and his wife Nancy have been married for 55 years. “I’ve led a straighter life because it was the only way to do the job.”
At 77, he’s not completely ready to quit. He’ll continue to host the CTV news magazine W-FIVE. “I can’t stop,” says Robertson. “After going 140K on a treadmill all these years, I can’t just jump off. I’d break both my legs.”
Tonight’s final newscast will be preceded at 10 p.m. by an hour-long salute: Lloyd Robertson–And That’s the Kind of Life It’s Been. Lisa Laflamme takes over as CTV National News anchor Tuesday at 11 (and not, as it says on Robertson’s Wikipedia site, Kent Brockman!).
Life will go on for viewers, but we’ll miss the man with the deep voice, gravitas and, yes, ever-changing hair. He always seems like who he is, a decent guy from small town Canada who cares about his country, reads the headlines, shakes his head and says, “That’s the kind of day it’s been.” Good night Lloyd, and thanks.