Got 30 seconds? A friend posted this recently on Facebook so I thought I’d share.

Many years ago, when I was a young lad working at TV Guide, I did a little work on the side making TV commercials with my buddy Andy Tough. Andy, who I met doing videos at Maclean-Hunter Cable TV, went out and hustled, produced and edited the spots. I scrambled to write and do whatever else I could so we could make them for next to nothing. I learned how to work for nothing thanks to TV Guide.

Typing stories for that magazine was the perfect gig to be moonlighting from. TV Guide had very small pages that weren’t hard to fill, and spelling didn’t count.

This was one of two ads we did for Kromer Radio, a Toronto neighbourhood audio store on Bathurst. I wrote it, storyboarded it and shot it on 16mm film using my old Bolex movie camera. I think I even marked out the chalk outline of the house at the end of the spot and made the graphic at the start of the ad. The little clip used on the TV set in the store was from a 16mm cinecolor copy of an Ub Iwerks cartoon. The ‘toon snippet dated back to the mid ’30s so I figured it was in the public domain. It was a simpler time.

The ad features high school chum and stand-up comedy team partner Pat Bullock, his wife Marylynn Bullock and their young twins Matthew and Jenny as the radio store customers. The salesman is an actual Kromer Radio salesman (again, money saved). The voice over is by the late, great Bob Durant, a familiar voice in Toronto news radio at the time and somebody whose family I had known since grade school. For two hundred bucks, Bob added a touch of much-needed professionalism to the spot.

We did a second TV ad for Kromer but I think it only aired a few times because somebody complained about it to the broadcast standards council. Who knew there were broadcast standards? These ads were made in the late ’80s, right before the fall of the Soviet Union, and this spot supposedly showed Soviet leader Gorbachev dancing with his wife Raisa to sounds emanating from a Kromer radio. They had to get rid of their old radio because “Ronnie” Reagan had given it to them and it was “rubbish.” In reality, the old console stereo used in the spot came from my parent’s basement. It’s in my son Dan’s apartment now, which is a stone’s throw from the site of Honest Ed’s.


I’m not sure what the objection was to the commercial. We did hire a woman who spoke Russian to do a voice over for the spot. Maybe she said something that made the censors go, “nyet.”

We shot it, again on 16mm, on the colourful tiled floor of downtown Toronto’s Osgood Hall. It helped having an uncle who at the time was the Deputy Sheriff of Toronto.

(l-r): Andy Tough, Ed Mirvish and guy who rented Ed’s chauffeur costume

I can’t remember how much we got paid for these ads, but it was more than the $12,000 we got around the same time for five “Honest” Ed commercials. These were made to promote Ed Mirvish’s fabled and now razed Bloor and Bathurst department store. Honest Ed ads you say? Ed never needed to advertise because his store was a Toronto landmark and he had a showman’s knack for getting his name in the paper. I guess we made him an offer he could not refuse but if you grew up in T.O. and don’t remember the ads it was because he only bought air time on Channel 47, the multicultural channel, and then only late at night. You’d pay more for a hamburger today.

We didn’t care. Mirvish was a prince, let us pretty much do everything but throw a pie in his face. Even getting paid by Ed was fun. Printed on the cheque was, “Made of genuine rubber — will not bounce!”

Later we did some more ads for Ed to promote his restaurant chain on King Street. We had a blast, but I think Andy and I took the advice Ed had painted on the side of his Bathurst Street emporium a little too literally: “If you’re going to give something away, charge a nickel!”

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