By Judith van Berkom –
Many people in the area – especially those of a certain age – might already be familiar with Bill Luxton. He’s been entertaining audiences nearly his entire life, and at 89 years-of-age he’s still involved in many aspects of the Ottawa arts and culture scene.
A broadcaster, actor, singer, volunteer reader at Broadview Public School, Bill Luxton graduated from the Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto in 1950, but his broadcasting career started much earlier than that.
His father was a builder, a carpenter, who brought his family to Canada from England after World War I because there was no work for him there. Later, they returned to England and stayed throughout World War II. When he was enlisted in the army at the age of 18 there was a call for volunteers for the Forces Broadcasting Service. Officials were setting up small stations all over the world to entertain the troops.
“I volunteered and got accepted,” explains Bill. “I ended up in North Africa, in Libya for two years – my introduction to radio. My parents moved back to Canada in the meantime and when I got back, with all my radio experience, I tried all the stations in Toronto with no luck.”
But as luck would have it, Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) needed a junior announcer.
“I got hired and that’s where I started in 1948,” says Bill. “One of the staff, Bruce Marsh, who later became a very well-known CBC announcer, had been to Lorne Greene’s Academy of Radio Arts. The academy was established after the war for veterans who wanted to be in radio. With my army credits and an allowance, I was accepted and moved to Toronto for a six-month course.”
Bill’s job in Kingston with CKWS was his real beginning and he was with the station for six years. When Canadian broadcaster, Ernie Bushnell, formed his own company in 1961 and got a license for CJOH-TV, Bill got a call for an audition.
“I took the bus to Ottawa. They were opening the station the following Sunday,” recalls Bill. “I had a wife and two kids. But this was a golden opportunity to start with a brand new station. My wife said, ‘Let’s go for it’. Because the two children were still in school, I worked for six months going back and forth to Kingston, then we found this house, the kids went to Broadview Public School and I started in TV here.”
Bill was part of the local scene at CJOH-TV – now CTV Ottawa – for 27 years as an host and actor. He started in 1961, when the station operated out of a small building at 29 Bayswater Ave. Six months later operations shifted to a $2 million complex at 1500 Merivale Road.
Bill Luxton worked with many people over the years, including two famous women. Margaret Trudeau auditioned in 1981 and was Bill’s co-host for the next two years.
“Everyone said it wouldn’t last, but it did,” says Bill. Bill also worked with Charlotte Whitton, the City of Ottawa’s first female mayor from 1951 to 1956. After she lost the election, they worked together on a 15-minute show in which Bill would ask a political question and she’d spend the next 15 minutes answering it.
“[CJOH was] a production house for 10 years. Our first big show was The Galloping Gourmet [with Graham Kerr],” recalls Bill. “We taped 500 shows which went worldwide. We had a reputation for being a producer. I was the announcer for the [The Amazing Kreskin]. He was a mentalist who could read minds. He would sit down and sense something in the audience and start to tell the person things only that person could have known. I don’t know how he did it. I worked with him for three years. We spent five weeks in England taping 13 shows in the 1970s.”
When he retired, Bill read to children at Broadview Public School for ten years. He visited different classes every week. One day, he was asked to read Hans Christian Anderson’s stories to three different classes in the library.
“I came dressed up like him,” recalls Bill. “As the children were going back to class, a boy came up to me, ‘You’re not Hans Christian Anderson,’ he said. ‘Why would you say that,’ I asked. ‘You’re wearing Adidas shoes,’ he said. So much for my disguise!
“They dropped the library program, and I never did get back to it. I’d like to read in the new school.”
On stage, Bill has performed with the Ottawa Little Theatre, Orpheus, Just for Kids theatre, the Perth Academy of Musical Theatre and Upper Canada Playhouse in Morrisburg. He has played leading roles in The Sound of Music, The Music Man, The King and I, Gigi, Oliver, Annie and My Fair Lady. One of his favourite roles was Alfred Dolittle in My Fair Lady.
How is this well-known radio and TV announcer keeping busy today? He is the male vocalist with the Grey Jazz Big Band, a 16-person band who performed at the Canadian War Museum just after it opened in 1995, singing wartime favourites by Vera Lynn, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin amid surrounding tanks. They perform in retirement homes for seniors.
Bill and his wife, Toots, as he fondly calls her, have been married for 66 years. They have lived in their house in Westboro for 55 years. It’s one of those lovely old homes that Westboro is so famous for, with gardens all around and lots of space between neighbours. A cozy home where two children grew up and now have children of their own.