This biography of Gordon Sinclair is drawn from an account by J. Lyman Potts published by the Canadian Communications Foundation, an entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia penned by Bob Hesketh and an obituary published in the Toronto Star on May 18, 1984.
Gordon Sinclair was a legendary journalist, author, radio commentator and television panelist on CBC’s Front Page Challenge who until his death in 1984 was one of Canada’s most enduring celebrities. The obituary published by the Toronto Star – for which he worked he worked on and off for several decades – called him “soft-hearted, irascible, generous, rude, impulsive, sensitive, boorish, colourful, egotistical, irritating, explosive, warm and irreverent all rolled into one. He owned a Rolls Royce and a large home on the Kingsway but somehow he was always the common man.”
Born in Toronto in 1900, he began a long and often controversial journalistic career when he joined the Toronto Star in 1922. After four uneventful years, he became Women’s Editor until a series of articles on hoboes made him famous. The Star then sent him around the world (four times, no less) as a wandering reporter on a series of assignments in the late 1920s and 1930s that covered hundreds of thousands of miles, virtually all continents and all oceans except the Antarctic.
These adventures inspired four books: Footloose in India, Cannibal Quest, Loose Among the Devils and Khyber Caravan. Other Gordon Sinclair books included Bright Paths to Adventure, (1950), Signpost to Adventure (1952), Will The Real Gordon Sinclair Please Stand Up? (1966) and Will The Real Gordon Sinclair Please Sit Down? (1975).
During World War II his career took a turn on August 19, 1942, through an event that brought him into radio – the disastrous raid on Dieppe. The following day, he was asked to come up with some hurried biographical sketches of leaders in that raid – five of which were fed to a network. The result was a mid-day personality series – Let’s Be Personal – on Canada’s leading radio station, CFRB Toronto. The program continued to the time of his death. The following January, he was told by the Toronto Star that he must quit radio or the paper. After 21 years as a newspaper man, he opted for radio and became a freelancer.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Sinclair joined CFRB’s news department with a 10-minute newscast at 11:50 am, following his Let’s Be Personal. Three years later, he also took on the 5:50 p.m. news and subsequently preceded it with another five-minute feature – Showbusiness. His four daily features on CFRB pulled huge audiences and drew listeners away from other stations in its coverage area during periods when he was on the air.
Granted a leave from CFRB in 1948, Gordon took a fifth trip around the world by way of Japan, China and Malaysia and on to Europe. He witnessed the Communist takeover of China and the lifting of the Berlin blockade by the Russians. He returned to CFRB in 1949 on a day-to-day basis.
In 1957 Sinclair became a charter member of CBC-TV’s weekly panel show Front Page Challenge, which developed into Canada’s longest-running television program.
Perhaps Sinclair’s greatest achievement was his CFRB Let’s Be Personal broadcast of June 5, 1973, a broadcast which echoed around the world and which history will record as one of the most respected tributes from Canada to the people of the United States of America.
The Vietnam War had divided the American people and at home and abroad it seemed everyone was lambasting the United States. Outraged by what he saw and heard that morning, Sinclair used his noon-hour broadcast to rise to the defence of the American people and his voice was heard around the world. For weeks afterwards the broadcast that would come to be known as The Americans was repeated over and over again from thousands of radio stations, read into the U. S. Congressional Records several times and, at the insistence of the American people, recorded for their keeping for posterity. Indeed, the broadcast enjoyed a revival after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
On his 70th birthday the Gordon Sinclair Award was inaugurated by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television for “outspoken opinions and integrity in broadcasting.” In 1972, he was named to Canada’s News Hall of Fame. In 1974, he received the Gordon Love News Trophy. Also in 1974 he was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award of the Radio/Television News Directors’ Association “for Challenging and Courageous Commentary.” In 1979 Sinclair was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Gordon Sinclair died of a heart attack on May 17, 1984. Later that year he was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.
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