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The Carson Family — Fraser Valley Farm Drama Aired Daily For 25 Years on CBC

August 27, 2016

The Carsons, a weekday drama set on a farm in the Fraser Valley, was Canada’s longest running radio serial – 25 years and 38 days . Produced in the Vancouver studios of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the Carsons first went on the air in British Columbia on June 2, 1941. The last show, number 6,022, aired Thurs June 7, 1966 in the regular noon-hour time slot at 12:30.

It was a short diversion following the news to noon, 15 minutes of familiar voices in a daily rural drama that began and ended with “Country Gardens.”

Similar farm-set shows aired across Canada on the CBC. Ontario had The Craigs, Winnipeg aired The Jacksons, and in the Maritimes it was The Gillans.

David Savage was the first and last writer of the show, which he scripted continually from 1941 to 1966, missing only a couple of years while he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

Actor Bill Buckingham played the father, John Carson, and Irene Robertson first played his wife Mary Carson. Robertson was replaced by Dorothy Davies.

The hired hand — “who was sweet on Cathy Johnston—the Carson girl” — was played by Juan Root. Root went east in 1946 and was replaced by Cathy Johnston’s husband Jimmy Johnston, playing Bill Tandy. As the years went by, Johnston’s real-life baby daughter was written into the show as “Julie.”

Carson Family actors for final broadcast: Dorothy Davies, Jimmy Johnston, Cathy Johnston and Bill Buckingham

Other nationally-known Vancouver actors appearing in the show from time to time included Bernie Braden, John Drainie, Fletcher Markle and Alan Young.

“When ever they returned for a visit to Vancouver, writer Savage wrote them back into the script as a gag. They loved doing it.”

Local actor Ruby Chamberlain played “Mrs Fee” until her death and Frank Vyvyan was a regular until forced to retire due to illness.

The Carsons started out being on the air 50 weeks of the year, but this was cut back to 48 weeks so, as the story goes, the CBC would not have to give the actors two weeks paid holiday.

Filling in for script-writer David Savage during the War was Peter McDonald, who also did stints as an actor and producer on the show.

David Savage - writer of Henry Bose and The Carsons“Being born next door to a farm in Duncan was the closest Savage had ever been to the soil when he started The Carsons. The CBC remedied that. They sent him to board with Mr and Mrs H Leslie Davis on their Milner farm.”

You didn’t get rich writing for Canada’s national broadcaster on a commercial-free show. David Savage contributed humor pieces to such magazines as Reader’s Digest and the Saturday Evening Post. He was one of those contributors traditionally given credit for the great success of Playboy magazine.

In 1952 Savage co-wrote, with Doug Nixon, and music by Dolores Claman, the musical-comedy “Timber!” It was presented by the Vancouver Civic Theatre Society at “Theatre-Under-The-Stars” (TUTS) in the Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park.

In his spare time, Savage completed a Masters degree at UBC, and in the fall of 1966, following the demise of The Carsons, Savage was hired to teach in the department of English at the new Simon Fraser University.

Photographs, information and quotations in this post are from the article “Carsons Gone,” by Les Wedman, the Vancouver writer best known for his long stint as film critic for The Sun.

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