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culture

Vintage Toronto Ads: Jack of Hearts’ Flying Circus

Victor Garber as a playing card and a television classic that one angry letter-writer saw as an affront to an entire nationality.

Source: the Toronto Sun, February 28, 1974.

In brief: Jack was a musical extravaganza based on the four Jacks in a deck of cards, and it featured Victor Garber embodying hearts. Another Jack, Star TV critic Jack Miller, praised it as fun, melodic, and unpredictable, “a musical experience that flies in several directions without ever losing either itself or its pace.” We’d back up Miller’s recommendation, but we haven’t seen it.

And now for something completely different…

The first two series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuted on CBC as part of the network’s fall 1970 lineup. After 19 episodes, the show lost its place on the schedule in January 1971 to The World We Live In, an American science program whose title could have been a Python skit. Throughout the week after CBC yanked Monty Python, more than 700 people called in to complain, while 150 students staged a demonstration outside the network’s Montreal studios. CBC officials promised to air the remaining seven episodes as soon as they could find a slot—the show eventually returned, becoming a fixture on the network during the first half of the 1970s. In Toronto, the troupe’s popularity solidified during a long run of their film And Now For Something Completely Different at the Roxy on Danforth Avenue and sold-out live performances at the St. Lawrence Centre in June 1973.

One person left unimpressed by the series was a Mr. John Cameron, who wrote to the Sun in February 1974 regarding the show’s prejudicial attitude toward the Scots. As you read Mr. Cameron’s complaint, with proper Python-ese diction and a “Dear Sir” at the start, try to imagine which skit ticked him off so much that he wished to inflict the Spanish Inquisition on the national broadcaster:

How long is the CBC going to be allowed to bring into this country such racist garbage as the English BBC Monty Python show that we are forced to watch every Thursday night, if we want to watch CBC. I would advise everyone to switch channels. The English government is responsible for this anti-Scottish poison and it is their deliberate policy to try to destroy the Scottish character by ridicule, portraying Scots as mean and miserly so that we will be ashamed of our racial origin, and more easily assimilated into the English Empire…The CBC is a government of Canada body, paid for by the taxpayers of Canada and this proves that our Canadian government is nothing more than a stooge for the English government and this country takes its orders from England and is a partner in these criminal activities against the Scottish people.

Mr. Cameron went on to bellyache about the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s hypocrisy in not pursuing action against this slight to the Scots, before concluding that Monty Python was “the most sick, racist show on television, and it proves just how degenerate our Canadian and English government’s policies are. Imperialism still lives.” The Sun’s one-line response? “We think Monty Python is very subversive—as CBC brass thinks too.”

We’re surprised they didn’t say “you’re a looney.”

Additional material from the February 2, 1971, and February 28, 1974, editions of the Toronto Star, and the February 22, 1974, edition of the Toronto Sun.

Comments

  • Craig

    And co-starring with Victor Garber, a pre SNL-Gilda Radner: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0278516/

    • http://twitter.com/WanderingPeng1 Steve Craig

      I was about to comment that that looked an awful lot like Gilda Radner. Thanks for the link!

      “Jack” also starred Jeff Hyslop pre-”Today’s Special” and VERY pre-”Phantom of the Opera”.

  • Torontonian

    In February 1974, there were very few TV stations in Toronto.

    There were CBC, CTV, TVOntario and the new Global TV.
    Outside them, one could receive Hamilton and Buffalo stations.

    Mr. Cameron’s anger would have been reduced if there had
    been other stations to watch. He does not tell us if he had
    cable or a rooftop aerial.

    Cable was making its inroads into the older part of the city
    at that time but had had a quicker uptake in the newly built
    suburbs.

    Cameron proves that the mind-set of Sun readers hasn’t
    much changed over the decades.

    Monty Python became so popular that WNED -17 Buffalo
    obtained broadcast rights and aired it also–but only after
    CBC had awakened the viewing audience to the group’s
    skits and antics.

    • LaryOly

      When “Monty Python” became popular on WNED, ABC decided to cash in by buying the rights and putting together some heavily censored (and cut for commercials) episodes. The Pythons sued ABC for “impairing the integrity of the original work”, which ABC had no business doing. The Pythons lost the case, but won the Appeal, setting a legal precedent.