Memories of the ‘70s in the ‘Great White North’

Hotel Vancouver
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It doesn’t take much to get me reminiscing about my couple of years as a reporter in Vancouver and the Canadian flag at the foot of page 16 in Monday’s Gazette did as much.

The flag was in design expert Guy Cookson’s weekly piece, along with his description of how it was designed in 1964, to replace the Dominion flag of Union Jack and coat of arms on a red background.

Over here, we might think a new flag was a firm step away from loyalty to the Queen.

But when I arrived there in 1968 I soon encountered large portraits of the Queen in public buildings.

The portraits in the Vancouver Magistrates’ courts were bigger than any I had seen in Blackpool and Preston courts.

So Canada was still very respectful of the Queen, although it used an unofficial national anthem, O Canada, in preference to God Save the Queen – unless it was in the presence of the Monarch.

Later that year I found myself in the presence of the Governer-General, the Rt Hon Roland Michener, and consequently his secretary, Esmond Butler.

So there I was, sipping a glass of Labatt’s in the sumptuous lounge of the Hotel Vancouver when a local politician introduced me to Butler, a former assistant press attaché to the Queen.

Momentarily gobsmacked, I bounced back with a question about a couple of British press stories from his time in London.

And he responded.

The following day I had a story in the Vancouver Sun under the byline Barry Rand (I’ve also been called Brand and Bond in my 62 years of newspaper bylines) and it reads as follows:

“The Canadian press attached at Buckingham Palace shouldn’t have said ‘off the record’ that Britain’s Shakespeare Memorial Theatre resembled a grain elevator.

“And when he said he’d like to go fishing on the River Dee, near the Queen’s Scottish home at Balmoral, he didn’t know the newspapers would report him as saying ‘Gee, I hope the Queen invites me to go fishing.’

“That was Esmond Butler’s introduction to life as assistant press attaché to the Queen.

“He revealed the story in a Vancouver interview Thursday, between duties as secretary to Gov-Gen. Roland Michener.”

The interview story continued with 46-year-old Butler saying: “Yes, those British newspapermen gave me a rough time.”

He recalled his 18 months in London as the first Commonwealth member of the Queen’s staff.

As a conservative-minded journalist working in a more open society in Canada, I was often surprised how approachable the VIPs were and how confident was “the average Joe”.

An example was people asking a reporter “call me Dave” or “call me Angie” in interviews and the papers didn’t use prefixes like Mr or Mrs.

Back in Blackpool in the 1970s, it was often difficult to get a person’s first name, as if they were ashamed of it. It took us years to loosen-up!