The optimism, the sense of hope for social reform that followed the end of the Second World War is very hard to realize in these dedicatedly cynical and simple-minded times. The progressive forces of the West had joined those of the East and destroyed the fascist axis. Kruschev had not yet lifted the iron curtain to reveal its hidden horrors; its virtues had not yet been forgotten. The eagerness of returning veterans going to University – which few could have done in the Depression – was infectious, especially for those of us too young to have been to war. The excitement of creating the welfare state, providing for the first time a network of support below which most were not allowed to fall, is hard now to imagine. We had reason to believe that with good sense and good will, misery might be managed, even overcome; we believed this with a passion.
A pivotal experience of my childhood was the break up of our family when I was six. I was outraged and felt a victim of events entirely outside my control. Puzzling about why this hap-pened, identification with victimhood and how to gain authority for ones life led me to the study of philosophy at the University of British Columbia in the belief that if one could discover the truth, it would set one free. But after four years attending every course in the department, I dis-covered from my principal teacher, Alexander Maslow that there is no ‘truth’ except about propositions. Reality is infinitely manifold.
Along with a wish to know, I was early on absorbed by a passion for music, which led in turn to a fascination with film, film classics and the world of art. I became committed to the view that if one could capture life accurately and look at questions closely, answers and solutions would surely follow. I had not yet learned, as Austin Lee put it in Who’s in Charge? that one had also ‘to experience the experience’ and work it through with those who shared it. Idealism did not seem naïve and, in truth, for me it still doesn’t.
To better prepare myself, I took the advice of another wise professor, the poet Roy Daniels, and spent a year and a half touring Europe and visiting every one, two or three star art gallery and building in the Guide Bleu. It was an education that stood me in good stead for the rest of my life and stimulated a lifelong passion for travel and further exploration. But by the end of the tour – it was June, 1954 – I still hadn’t the foggiest idea how I would make a living. In Copenha-gen I got a note from my best friend, Stan Fox, who said that television had just opened up in Vancouver and he’d got a job at the CBC and ‘so could any damn fool – even you’ – so I should hurry on back home and I did.
What luck; I, too, got a job and film and television have paid me ever since to pursue the unfathomable complexities of feeling and fact. It has been an extraordinarily wide-ranging and re-warding experience and I began by trying to unravel the puzzle that first engaged me: it was said that my father’s drinking undid our family. No happenstance, then, that Skidrow was my first choice as a film.