Arthur Black

Writer & Broadcaster


Published, EAC Communiqué, January 1986

An obvious question is “Why Fergus”?

Boy, if I get this wrong I’m dead… was either my grandfather or my great grandfather on my father’s side who grew up in Fergus. Blackburn Estate was in our family although it’s been “lawyerized” so I have no idea who owns it now. To complicate matters my mother and my sister both married Blacks from different families, so that now we have lots of half-relatives running around.

You’re originally from Toronto but associated usually with Thunder Bay.

I was born and grew up on the outskirts of Toronto and only came to Fergus for holidays, and actually went to high school in Fergus for a year

I went to Thunder Bay to work for the CBC ten years ago when I was fired by the CBC in Toronto. I went up and hated it,
stayed a year, hated it and came back to Toronto and really hated Toronto.

Something had gotten in my blood, and after freelancing for a year I went back to Thunder Bay with a whole different attitude, and stayed for nine years. I became known as “the guy from Thunder Bay” for lack of anything else to acknowledge in Thunder Bay. 

Before “Basic Black” the radio show, there was Basic Black the book. 

It’s odd, the CBC broke a precedent there. The book was a compilation of newspaper columns and radio stuff. Since nobody came up with a better title, the radio show became “Basic Black”. In terms of production, the show was a hybrid, with me broadcasting from Thunder Bay and the producers in Toronto. 

During interviews we often had three studio link-ups, which is a little like flying two airplanes at once. More often than not it worked, although the producers were delighted when I decided to move down here. 

Looking at the new programming changes I’m pleased that we’ll be hearing more of Finkleman, Farr and yourself. 

You know everybody at the CBC copies everybody else and I think in a way we’re all catching up to Danny Finkleman ten years ago. 

When you say everyone copies everyone else, it occurs to me that the absurdly ironic flavour of say David Letterman is filtering down to radio. 

It’s funny you should say that. Letterman is mainstream now and Johnny Carson is really square. I’m always being asked “Did you see last night’s show?” and I never have. Another thing I find disconcerting is that when I go for lunch with these guys, all they talk about are films. And I never have seen the ones they’re talking about. I’m always about three cars back on the old culture train. 

The recent studies commissioned by Margaret Lyons, Vice-President of English Radio seem to indicate a shift in focus from the traditional elitist image to a new “yuppie” format.  

Commission reports can be hauled out to justify whatever is going on. The CBC is like feudal China with warlords running around making personal empires. Every once in a while there’s a minor coup and a whole department is wiped out in favour of something else.

With a recent cutback of $75 million and proposed cut of $50 million, can we believe there will be no effect on programming?

It’s a complete falsehood that cuts don’t come from production, they always do. If you ever want a graphic illustration, go to CBC in Toronto; the offices in Yorkville and the studio facilities on Jarvis Street. The offices have broadloom up to your ass, are beautifully colour co-ordinated with busty secretaries walking around, whereas the studio facilities on Jarvis have been condemned by the Toronto Board of Health.

I read recently that you’ll be “unleashed” from the studio for comedy and comment on the streets of Toronto.

I suspect that’s an elaboration of the fact that I’m no longer in Thunder Bay and that I may be doing something like that. I just got a message that tomorrow I’m going to meet the pandas at 9.30 a.m.

That should be a one-way conversation!

by John Chalmers, January 1986

The CBC is like feudal China with warlords running around making personal empires

UPDATE – 1997

Amazing, what can happen in ten short years, even in the back yard of Elora. Arthur relocated in 1990 to Metropolitan downtown Fergus. In 1995, he moved west to Saltspring Island, B.C., where snow is something to top off mountains and jumper cables are as rare as Venusian Starships. Will he miss this Gorge-eous country? He says he will. And if the banana slugs of the Gulf islands prove too frightful, he and Lynn will be back if only to rent a couple of Elora swans to take back west and teach those slugs what biological selection is all about.

UPDATE – 2005

For 19 years Arthur Black was the host of CBC’s “Basic Black”, before retiring in June 2002. He is the author of a weekly humorous monologue carried by 50 newspapers across Canada and has five books published to date. Arthur has been nominated and awarded just about every award for writing, humour and journalism available in Canada, and still maintains that he wanted to be a cowboy. He is the recipient of the Stephen Leacock Award for humour.

Arthur currently resides on Saltspring Island, commuting to Vancouver to tape the TV shows he hosts, writes and produces: “Weird Homes” and “Weird Wheels”. He confides this helps him maintain an appropriate level of island utopia while keeping him on an even keel for those rare times when even his own personal weirdness becomes a little overwhelming.

IN MEMORIUM – February 2018

Black was diagnosed with Stage IV terminal pancreatic cancer on 2 January 2018 and blogged in the last weeks of his life about what he called his “final journey”.  Black died at Lady Minto Hospital on Salt Spring Island on 21 February 2018.