Eric Koch has posted a number of videos on YouTube.
The Golden Years: Five Stories
All writers of historical fiction are invariably asked: What is true? What is invented? I made up these stories in order to tell my truth, to show the essence, as I saw it, of five great men who helped to shape the “sixties revolution” in Canada.
Part 1 of 2: The Man Who Knew Charlie Chaplin
The theme of this novel by Eric Koch is the question why almost everybody underestimated Hitler. Had nobody read Mein Kampf? The main character of the book had read it. He is Peter Hammersmith, a fabulously rich financier born in Berlin who had struck it rich on Wall Street before WWI. A successful investor has to be prescient, and he certainly was. One of the 134 servants on his estate on Long Island had received a copy of the book in 1929 from her brother in Munich. Peter was aghast. He went to see his friend President Hoover in October 1929. Hoover said “Don’t Worry”! So Peter went back to Berlin to investigate. While he was on the high seas, the market crashed in New York.
Part 2 of 2: The Man Who Knew Charlie Chaplin
On arrival in Berlin in October 1929, just after the Crash, Peter Hammersmith, the fabulously wealthy Wall Street financier, gave a press conference. He said that he thought Hitler was a greater danger than the communists. Peter immediately received threatening letters. In Berlin, in the last phase of the Golden Twenties, he asked many eminent persons, from left to right, including Einstein, what they thought of Mein Kampf. None took it seriously. He had a love affair with a minor UFA star, who was hugely impressed when she discovered that he knew Charlie Chaplin, who happened to have been born in the same week as Adolf Hitler who looked like him. The girl’s boyfriend was a stormtrooper. He threatened Peter that if he saw her again he would not return to the U.S. alive. Peter did not – but the stormtrooper was not the murderer.
The CBC’s Ambassador to Quebec (1971–1977)
After the October Crisis in 1970, when a Quebec cabinet minister was murdered and an English trade commissioner kidnapped by the extremist wing of Quebec separatists, Eric Koch was appointed regional director of Quebec radio and television English-language broadcasts. His job was primarily diplomatic. He was appointed because he was not an Anglo-Saxon, which, it was thought, was an advantage at a time of French-English tension. And so it was. He was in Montreal when the separatist leader René Lévesque was elected premier of the province. Lévesque, a highly successful broadcaster, had been an old colleague of Koch’s in the CBC’s International Service in the 1950s. The atmosphere in the Maison Radio Canada, in which the representative of the English CBC were, so to speak, tenants, was highly political but Koch managed to survive his six years in Montreal without any major diplomatic crisis, even though his French was merely adequate. He was disappointed that there was little he could do to increase the audience of the local suppertime show and to improve the number of Quebec-produced programs on the English networks but had no regrets when he returned to Toronto in 1977. Two years later, when he became sixty, he retired from the CBC.
Part 3 of 3: This Hour Has Seven Days – Eric Koch’s Involvement
Eric Koch had administrative duties during the first season, 1964–65. He had no responsibility for the program’s editorial content. While sympathetic with its aims, and on good terms with all the participants, especially with Reeves Haggan, the head of the Department of Public Affairs, Koch became convinced that only a miracle could prevent a deadly collision. At the end of the first season, he asked to be transferred to other duties and became a producer on the daily show Take Thirty. No miracle occurred. In 1986, Koch published Inside Seven Days, a book about the rise and fall of the program.
Part 2 of 3: This Hour Has Seven Days –
The Spectacular Rise and the Shattering Fall
Right from the beginning the program was an unprecedented success. It was unique in the sense that it appealed to the educated and the less educated at the same time. Only Hockey Night in Canada achieved comparable ratings. The CBC was not accustomed to success on this scale and the management structure was not conditioned to deal with two producers who, with much of the public on their side, created a “state within the state,” making their own rules. The attempt by Management to compel them to abide by CBC policies created the greatest cultural crisis, other than a language-crisis, English Canada has lived through. Alphonse Ouimet, the CBC’s president, made a valiant but futile effort to establish control. In the end, it was he who decided that the program could continue only with different producers. It was he, not the government, who made the crucial decisions. A crisis ensued. Prime Minister Lester Pearson appointed Stuart Keate, the publisher of the Vancouver Sun, as mediator. But it was too late. In the end, all the main players lost their jobs. Under George Davidson, Alphonse Ouimet’s successor, the Department of Public Affairs, which had launched the program, was dissolved.
Part 1 of 3: This Hour Has Seven Days — The Background
In the mid-sixties, young people – and many older people who sympathized with them – challenged the Established Order. In 1964, two experienced and eloquent CBC producers, Douglas Leiterman and Patrick Watson, both in their thirties, by no means hotheads, proposed to the CBC’s Department of Public Affairs a weekly magazine program carefully designed to become “mandatory viewing” for all Canadians and that would capture the spirit of the times. The newly formed private network CTV was beginning to compete with the CBC, and Management was pleased to give its approval with high hopes.
1958–1959: Two Years of Trouble at the CBC
The long and bitter strike of television producers who wanted to form a union in Montreal in the winter 1958–59 was a crucial event in the history of Canada. It turned the Quiet Revolution into a noisy one. Management denied the producers the right on the grounds that they were part of management. The producers eventually won. Before the strike, the future separatist leader René Levesque had been a popular television personality without any strong interest in Quebec nationalism. The strike, exposing CBC’s largely English-speaking top managers as, in his view, biased and repressive, radicalized him. • In June, 1959, there was conflict in Toronto of much less importance, but dramatic nevertheless. Management had given in to the demand of prime minister John Diefenbaker, newly elected in a landslide, to take off the air the daily Preview Commentary, which displeased him. This was unacceptable to Frank Peers, head of Talks and Public Affairs, who rightly regarded it as blatant government interference. He and his staff across the country resigned, with overwhelming public approval. After a week, Management had to reverse itself.
Television — The Wave of the Future
When Koch moved to Toronto in 1953 to work in CBC radio, CBC television was one year old. Although his department, Talks and Public Affairs, had national responsibilities and CBC television was local, he soon found it possible to act as program organizer on a number of public affairs shows in television. Making TV shows was new, adventurous and exciting. The mostly young people involved developed their own style, quite different from the radio generation. They were often brash, irreverent and disdainful of their older colleagues. Most of them had no particular loyalty to the CBC as an institution. It was only a matter of time before conflict would break out between them and management.
Three Musicians Who Arrived at the Right Time: Helmut Blume, John Newmark and Franz Kraemer
We refugees were fortunate to have arrived at the beginning of a period of optimism after the war. Three musicians in particular made significant contributions to the development of music in Canada. Helmut Blume was a concert pianist from Berlin who had worked with Koch at the International Service and then moved to McGill University to teach piano and, eventually, to become dean and build the Faculty of Music into a first-class teaching facility. The pianist John Newmark, from Bremen and then Berlin, was one of the great accompanists of his time and key in launching Maureen Forrester as a world-class mezzo-soprano. Franz Kraemer had been a student of the composer Alban Berg in Vienna. He became a pioneer producer of opera on CBC television and was a friend of Glenn Gould. The culmination of his career was as music officer at the Canada Council. He was rewarded with an Order of Canada for his services in discovering and encouraging Canadian talent.
Koch Moves to the Heart of CBC Radio: Talks and Public Affairs
In 1953, Koch moved from the CBC’s International Service in Montreal to the CBC’s domestic radio service in Toronto, specifically to the Department of Talks and Public Affairs. Other than the News Department, which reported the news, Public Affairs was responsible for analysis and commentaries. Thus, it was the guardian of the corporation’s integrity and independence from outside pressures, including the government’s, always guided by the principles of fairness and balance. It also had a literary section and gave opportunities to young writers who later became well known, such as Alice Munro and Mordecai Richler. The annual Couchiching Conference in August was also one of its responsibilities. It was administered in conjunction with the Canadian Association for Adult Education.
The Cold War Begins in Ottawa
In September 1945, Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk working at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, defected. Canada had its first genuine international scandal. This had many ramifications at the International Service, where Eric Koch was working at the time. The resulting “witch hunt” threatened the organization and changed the atmosphere considerably. Of particular interest is the story of Henning Sorenson, the head of the Danish section, who had helped Norman Bethune set up blood banks in Spain.
The Voice of Canada
During 1943, the government of Mackenzie King decided that Canada should join the US and England as a shortwave broadcaster. The CBC and the Department of External Affairs set about creating the International Service (now called Radio Canada International). Eric Koch and Helmut Blume began broadcasting to Germany on late 1944. Although this was thought of as a form of “psychological warfare” in support of the war effort, it was really a promotion of democracy and information about Canada. In fact, after the war, arrangements were made with German broadcasters to provide educational programming about Canada. Additionally, visits were made to POW camps across Canada — 32,000 people until repatriation was completed in 1947.
An “Enemy Alien” Searches for a Career
After a year and a half of internment in 1940 and 1941, followed by a year of graduate studies at the University of Toronto, Eric Koch, still an “enemy alien,” has limited job opportunities. He can help bring in the Saskatchewan harvest. He can travel to Ottawa, where he meets John Grierson at the NFB and Davidson Dunton at the War Information Board. He can teach. And he can write. Hired by B.K. Sandwell at Saturday Night magazine in 1944, Koch writes profiles of the likes of Morley Callaghan and Andrew Allan, and brochures for Citizens Forum, a CBC public affairs program. These experiences set the stage for a career in public broadcasting.
Toronto in 1942
Toronto in 1942 – In War Time at University. Toronto was drab, especially in winter, but nonetheless a very interesting place to be a student. Professors who became well-known Canadian figures. Concerts conducted by Sir Ernest MacMillan…
In a set of five, Koch explains the nature of the Weimar Republic, a particularly rich cultural time that established the roots of Germany’s post-war success. He identifies the central characters in his new novel, The Weimar Republic, and describes the world in which they move. And he explores three factors that explain Hitler’s “success,” and expands on surprising historical themes that have been woven into the novel.
In another set of videos, Koch describes his internment in England and subsequent arrival in Canada on the HMS Ettrick (pictured above), an experience that became the basis of his book, Deemed Suspect: A Wartime Blunder, published in 1980.