24 May 2007

RIP Uncle Bobby

Bobby Ash, aka Canadian TV personality "Uncle Bobby", passed away this week at the age of 82 at his home in Elliot Lake, Ontario. Those of you "of a certain age" will know who I'm talking about--anyone born after the release of "Jaws" will probably shake their heads in disbelief and thank the living heavens that they were born into the age of Nintendo, Treehouse TV, and RCA's Capacitance Electronic Disc (okay, the last one's pushing it...).

"The Uncle Bobby Show" was produced at Toronto's CFTO Studios and had a good long run from 1964 to 1979. Ash, originally from the UK, presided over a crew of colourful regulars who included "Bimbo The Birthday Clown" (a puppet), Traffic Officer John (not a puppet), "The Ventriloquist" (he had a puppet), and the national icon Elmer The Safety Elephant. The show was later retitled "Uncle Bobby and Friends" and then syndicated as "Kid's Corner" once Ash retired to write childrens' books (he didn't make much money from the show--reportedly, he drove a school bus in Scarborough at the height of the show's popularity!).

It always seemed to me that Uncle Bobby hated kids (he nicknamed them "Bobbysoxers"), but by all accounts he adored them--even so, Macleans Magazine called him "avuncular without being condescending."

In the dark ages before cable TV, the Internet, and the glory that is Rockstar Games, "Uncle Bobby" was part of my regular Saturday morning diet, and most of my initial impressions of Toronto--where I now make my overpriced home--were formed by his show. Shot-on-film tours of a donut factory, a frolic in the playground, a trip to the zoo (likely Bowmanville)--typically shot in the worst part of "Farch" (Feb/March) where the city never looks more slush-sodden, grey-brown, and ugly.

I hadn't seen "Uncle Bobby" in a good long time until my senior year at York University, where I discovered that CHCH would begin its programming day with a double-shot of "Bobby" and the immortal "Hammy Hamster Show". I'd often harness the energy to stay up all night to re-experience my misspent childhood and then turn in, classes be damned, frightened for my future.

Here's a fun photo site compiled by a loyal fan from Buffalo, NY.