A television show I would have liked to see during my youth
Greetings, my reading friend. With your permission, we will momentarily put aside the remarkable library of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, to view a publication which, at first glance, had nothing to do with the fields of interest of this august institution. A review of the weekly La semaine à Radio-Canada allowed yours truly to unearth a television show I would have liked to see during my youth.
Intended for an adolescent audience, mostly male in all likelihood, Plein Ciel was a weekly program that hit the airwaves for the first time on 26 September 1958, shortly after the start of the 1958-59 school year. It could be found in the schedule of the Société Radio-Canada, at 6 pm, between Opération-mystère (5:30 pm – duration: 30 minutes) and Nouvelles sportives (6:25 pm – duration: 5 minutes). The state broadcaster presented the last episode of Plein Ciel on 19 June 1959, as the 1958-59 school year drew to a close. If you are as good as gold, my reading friend, yours truly promises that he will prepare a text on Opération-mystère, a weekly science fiction program, for our blog / bulletin / thingee, but back to our subject for this week.
I must admit I couldn’t find much about the origins of Plein Ciel. A review of La semaine à Radio-Canada, however, provided some idea, unfortunately incomplete, of the content of this program. The episode of 24 October 1958, for example, included reports on aerobatics and the latest Canadair Sabre jet fighter delivered to a member country of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This last detail offered yours truly an opportunity to pontificate that can not be ignored.
Our story began in 1956, when NATO lived memorable times: the Federal Republic of Germany re-armed, and this only a decade after the end of the Second World War. The Cold War turned an abominable enemy into a valuable ally. In September 1956, the West German air force, or Luftwaffe, came into being. Its main allies in the Atlantic alliance were committed to providing it with everything it needed. The Canadian government wanted to do its part. With the entry into service of a new version of the Sabre in Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadrons, the latter could well provide the Luftwaffe with many slightly older but almost new Sabres, if no one objected. Let’s not forget that Canadair Limited of Cartierville, Québec, a subsidiary of the American company General Dynamics Corporation, manufactured the excellent North American F-86 Sabre under license.
At a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Paris in December 1955, Canada’s minister of National Defence, Ralph Osborne Campney, sought the opinion of his American counterpart, the Secretary of Defense. Charles Erwin Wilson gave his blessing to the project. Negotiations began, behind closed doors. This was indeed a very delicate issue. Who could forget the horrors of the concentration camps? The transfer of weapons to West Germany was not favoured by all. Canadair learned this the hard way. The Québec aircraft manufacturer was strongly criticized when it stated its support to the transfer of military aircraft to the Luftwaffe. Indeed, this incident caused some turmoil at the Department of External Affairs. Despite this opposition, the federal authorities persevered. After all, NATO favoured the rearmament of West Germany more than ever. In the fall of 1956, the federal government offered 75 Sabres to its ally. Once in service, these aircraft were used to train pilots.
The federal government also hoped to win some additional contracts. The highly influential Minister of Defence Production, Clarence Decatur “C.D.” Howe, decided to intervene. The staff of his department met multiple people. They had to face a number of problems, however. Indeed, time was running out. The Luftwaffe wanted its fighter squadrons to go into service in the near future. To meet this deadline, the West German government could not buy a machine under development.
Both in this respect and in terms of performance, the most recent version of the Canadair Sabre seemed quite satisfactory. Hoping to sugar coat the pill, the RCAF agreed to provide the necessary training for the Luftwaffe pilots. Only one obstacle remained: funding. The West German government wished to pay in marks, not in dollars, as its Canadian counterpart wanted. Both parties ended up putting some water in their wine. In December 1956, Canadair won the largest export contract ever awarded until then to the Canadian aircraft industry: 75 million dollars for 225 Sabres. And yes, my thrifty reading friend, such a sum would allow you to buy just 1 or 2 new supersonic fighter aircraft in 2018. Isn’t that shocking?
In October 1958, emissaries of the West German government took possession of the last Sabre of the Luftwaffe. For Canadair, the moment was historic. This was the last Sabre to leave the Cartierville plant. Between 1951 and 1958, the aircraft manufacturer made 1 815 aircraft of this type, including 1 120 for the RCAF, but let us now return to the main subject of our article.
In the broadcast of 7 November 1958, one Omer Deschênes from Québec, Québec, talked about the Sabres used during the Korean War. La semaine à Radio-Canada provided no information on the content of the 14 and 21 November broadcasts. On 28 November, young television viewers could see miniature radio controlled airplanes in action. A modeller also told them how to assemble such aircraft.
On 5 and 12 December, Captain Marcel Everard described in simple terms the operation of various types of aircraft engines (piston engine, turbojet and turboprop). On 19 and 26 December, this technical advisor of the show participated in the proclamation of the winner of a great contest. Yours truly was unfortunately unable to find any information about Everard. He might have been a pilot flying for the RCAF or Trans-Canada Air Lines, now Air Canada.
On 2 January 1959, Everard reviewed the major aeronautical events of the previous year. The following week, he commented on a film about aerobatics. La semaine à Radio-Canada provided no information on the content of the 9 and 16 January broadcasts.
Even before the end of the month, the first commander of the North American Air Defense Command, today’s North American Aerospace Defense Command, an integrated command announced by Canada and the United States in August 1957, announced himself that he was giving certificates of appreciation to the host of Plein Ciel, Everard and two other members of the production team, Jean-Yves Bigras and Fernand Ippersiel, respectively scriptwriter and director. This United States Air Force (USAF) officer, General Earl Everard “Pat” Partridge, wished to acknowledge the excellent work of the team. Said certificates arrived in April 1959. And yes, my wide open eyed reading friend, the technical adviser of Plein Ciel was called Everard. That being said (typed?), I doubt that this person was a relative of the American officer.
Everard, seemingly present every week, and the host of Plein Ciel tackled a delicate subject during the show of 3 April. They reviewed the history of Canada’s Avro CF-105 Arrow supersonic bomber interceptor, abandoned in February, as well as that of the Boeing IM-99 Bomarc anti-aircraft missile. The two men still talked about the Bomarc during the 10 April broadcast. A trip and a mystery aircraft contest also attracted the attention of young viewers. The same contest was mentioned during the 17 April broadcast. It shared the airwaves with a review of flight theory and an overview of the most recent aeronautical events. The 24 April broadcast dealt with a trip and an American military transport aircraft used by the RCAF, the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar. And no, my eager to learn reading friend, I do not expect to pontificate on the Arrow, Bomarc or Flying Boxcar. There are only 52 weeks in a year.
For one reason or another, the schedule in La semaine à Radio-Canada did not contain any information on the content of the 1 May program. During the following broadcast, Everard, and the host of Plein Ciel presented a short film on the history of the helicopter. There were also free flight demonstrations with scale models. Young viewers could watch a short film about a visit to Harmon Air Force Base, a USAF base in Newfoundland, during the 15 May broadcast. They also received information on the winners of a mystery aircraft contest. The visit and contest were back on the air on 22 May, with a presentation on the history of the helicopter as an extra.
A visit to an aviation museum in Mountain View, Ontario, in all likelihood the RCAF’s collection of historic aircraft, was the main event of the 29 May broadcast. The show also included short segments dedicated to an aircraft from this collection, a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2, and to winners of a mystery aircraft contest. By the way, this B.E.2 is now part of the superb collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. In fact, the vast majority of aircraft in the RCAF’s historical aircraft collection are now part of the museum’s collection. You will be glad to read (or not), my reading friend, that yours truly is thinking about cogitating some text on the B.E.2 of the museum, in a relatively distant future.
On 5 and 12 June, the young viewers of Plein Ciel got information on forest survival in the event of a forced landing. The 12 June broadcast also contained a report on the assistance that aviation could provide to patients in remote areas. On 19 June, Everard, and the host of Plein Ciel gave the names of the winners of a mystery aircraft contest. They also presented a short film on aviation day and the show of the RCAF’s aerobatic team. Would you believe that one of the Canadair Sabres used by this team, the Golden Hawks, is part of the collection of the aforementioned Canada Aviation and Space Museum?
Brilliant spirit that you are, my reading friend, you have surely noted that Plein Ciel disappeared from the airwaves after 16 January 1959 before reappearing on 3 April. This absence owed its origin to a very important event, dare I say a turning point in the history of contemporary Québec. At the end of December 1958, about 75 directors of Radio-Canada went on strike in Montréal, Québec, to obtain the right to create a union affiliated to the Confédération des travailleurs catholiques du Québec, today’s Confédération des syndicats nationaux. More than 2 000 Radio-Canada employees supported them by refusing to cross picket lines.
The staff of Radio-Canada’s English-language counterpart, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for its part, preferred not to get involved in the conflict, as did the federal government, where French-speaking ministers were not among the most important. These choices surprised and disappointed somewhat the directors and their many allies in the artistic and cultural communities of Québec. These francophones realized how little the management of Radio-Canada and their English-speaking colleagues understood them, and did not really see the need to do so. This awareness affected one of the leading figures in the conflict, a journalist well-known in Québec for his public affairs program, Point de Mire.
Arrested on a picket line in early March 1959, with many strikers, when a demonstration turned violent, René Lévesque gradually became aware of the position of francophones in Québec / French-speaking Quebecers in a Canada dominated by an anglophone majority. The strike ended a few days after this demonstration, when Radio-Canada’s management agreed to recognize the directors’ union.
This victory contributed to the awakening of French-Canadian, then Québecois, nationalism, which expressed itself more and more clearly after the arrival in power of the stupendous team led by Jean Lesage, as a result of the general election of June 1960 – an event mentioned in a July 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. The Quiet Revolution of the 1960s transformed Québec in depth. Lévesque played a very important role during these years. The management of Radio-Canada having removed Point de Mire from its schedule in the summer of 1959, for one reason or another, he left the state broadcaster in April 1960. Lévesque became a member of the Assemblée législative, today’s Assemblée nationale, then a minister in the government led by Lesage. He later became head of a political party whose objective was to take Québec out of Canada. Better still, or worse still, depending on your political choices, Lévesque became Premier of Québec in November 1976, but that’s another story.
What’s this, my reading friend? You wish to know the name of the host of Plein Ciel? Yours truly feared that question and this statement is a sad one indeed. To my great shame, I must admit I had not conducted as thorough a search on this individual as I should have done. Too make a long story short, I recently came across extremely troubling information regarding this individual and his relationship with a close relative who died in July 2015. While it is true that this individual, who died in January 2018, must be considered innocent until proven otherwise, it is equally true that his accuser, a female companion of the close relative who would have been the victim of all this, many years after Plein Ciel was broadcasted, should be treated with the greatest respect. Keeping in mind the extremely troubling accusation made recently against him, I felt the need to put in this article some biographical information on the host of Plein Ciel, Jacques Languirand.
An actor, director, radio and television host, journalist, playwright, producer, teacher and writer, Languirand was an exceptional man. The career of this autodidact jack of all trades with an encyclopaedic memory spanned a period of nearly 65 years, from 1949 to 2014. He was best known as a radio host. The show Par 4 chemins remained on the air at Radio-Canada from 1971 to 2014. Many people also remembered his participation in the 50 or so episodes of the Québec television series Le rebut global, broadcasted from 2004 to 2007. Each season of this documentary reality series on ecological projects had a different title: Les artisans du rebut global, Les citadins du rebut global, Les compagnons du rebut global and Les apprentis du rebut global.
These titles found their inspiration in one of the most important texts in the history of contemporary Québec, Le refus global. This artistic manifesto, written by teacher and artist Paul-Émile Borduas, appeared in a secretly printed collection launched in August 1948. Borduas denounced the social, psychological, political, cultural and artistic norms of the Québec of that time, a society kept in ignorance and fear by narrow minded Catholic clergy and secular elite. Fifteen other artists, including 7 women, an exceptional contribution for the time, countersigned the manifesto.
The reaction of the self righteous was immediate. Borduas lost his job at the École du meuble, in Montréal. Worse still, no one wanted to hire him. It was through the sale of his paintings that Borduas tried to support his family. It did not work. His wife left with their 3 children. Borduas exiled himself to the United States in 1953. As incredible as it may seem, nothing really changed in Québec before June 1960 and Lesage’s arrival to power. Tragically, Borduas died in Paris in February 1960, barely 4 months before this historic moment. He was only 54 years old.
And that’s it for today. Take good care of yourself and don’t be afraid to denounce bad people. If I may quote Eddard Stark, the murdered patriarch of a decimated family of the television saga Game of Thrones, winter is coming.