Lamont Tilden covered history as it happened

By Willa Wick in People
Brothers Lamont (left) and Bill Tilden

Brothers Lamont (left) and Bill Tilden

 

Millions of Canadians watched as CTV’s Lloyd Robertson bid farewell on September 1 to a national public he had addressed for nearly 35 years. Meanwhile, less than a month earlier, CBC’s legendary icon, Lamont Tilden, had quietly slipped away.

Although Robertson was just coming into his prime about the time Tilden was taking leave from the air waves, there were similarities. Both came from, and got their start, announcing in small town radio studios. Robertson was from Stratford and joined that town’s CJCS station. Tilden, born near London, moved to a farm just outside Harriston in 1917 when he was three years old.

Both gentlemen went to work after high school, entered the public media, and climbed the ladder to achieve national television news anchorman status.

Lamont Tilden, educated at S.S. #11 Minto, and Harriston High School, had a beautiful singing voice, and, as a young man, would welcome any opportunity to grab his guitar and entertain. He was also interested in drama, and along with singing in the United Church choir, he acted in, and produced, many church, high school and amateur plays, and took part in theatrical clubs wherever life took him.

He had ambitions of being a radio announcer since age 14 when he would visit, talk, sing, and play from a small 75-watt AM radio transmitter operated for fun by Nelson Morrison in Harriston. This station only broadcast on Saturdays and all the locals would tune in.

During a 1946 interview, Jack Selinger for Radio World News, wrote, “Monty is very fond of poetry, particularly Shakespeare which he can recite at a moment’s notice. As a youngster on his father’s farm he used to sing and recite poetry to the team of horses dragging the plough. That may have had some influence on his voice, but what the horses thought about it nobody knows”

He was also a fine catcher for the local baseball team

Tilden graduated from high school at age 17 but stayed on the farm with his parents utill he was 22. At that point, his older brother Bill, recognizing his sibling’s talents and potential, returned to the farm so that Lamont would be free to follow his dreams… and follow them he did.

During the mid-1930s he worked at the two Hamilton radio stations and from there was picked up by the CBC. For many years he was assigned to the Montreal region. Throughout his radio tenure, he was involved in everything from commercials to daily news, and covered notable events from royal tours to announcing the outbreak of the Second World War. His was the steady, informative CBC voice following events through those dreaded years.

He also hosted radio cooking shows and major talk and music programs.

Lamont Tilden joined the CBC in an era when poise and presentation were paramount to perfection. According to Lyman Potts, retired vice president of the Standard Broadcasting Corporation, “there was an era that gave us the classic broadcasters Elwood Glover, Earl Cameron, and Lamont Tilden – men who were skilled in articulation, men with modulated quiet, dramatic voices that enabled listeners to hear every word.”.

But not all broadcasts were restricted by formality. Lamont’s newphew, Bill Tilden, of North Bay indicates “as a boy in the ‘40s, my dad would let me stay up late to hear his broadcast in front of the large Rogers Majestic floor model radio. Afterwards he would sing Brahm’s Lullaby in that beautiful voice of his …… ‘Lullaby, and Good Night….’ I also remember him announcing in the School Broadcasts. It was a big thrill to know the whole class was listening to my uncle”.

After 10 years with the CBC he was chosen as the first Canadian announcer to travel to Britain to spend three months with the BBC to ensure that its standard was instilled in CBC’s presenters, and strengthen ties between the Dominion of Canada and the United Kingdom.

In 1946 Tilden was awarded the LaFleche Trophy – bestowed in recognition of extraordinary merit for important contribution to Canadian radio. This is the kind of honour typically recognized by knighthood in Great Britain, an acknowledgement which has since been replaced here by the Order of Canada.

Both on and off radio he carried his love of music with his rich baritone voice. In 1952, at his brother Bill’s Wellington County Warden’s Banquet, he provided entertainment by singing four songs:

When I was a Bachelor, Cool Water, On Top of Old Smokey and a composition of his own, A Crushed Red Rose and a Faded Blue Ribbon.
In 1958, Folkway Records produced an album

Occasionally, even the best will make a faux-pas on the air. The farm news broadcasts were delivered each day at noon. One particular day Lamont failed to get his tongue around the words “busy dairy farmer” and instead blurted out “dizzy farmer.” The rural community has a sense of humor and chuckled. Lamont apologized immediately of course, but as the story goes, the next day’s city newspaper carried the farm report heading “Tut, tut Mr. Tilden”.

The natural progressive step was from radio to television in the ’60 and 70’s where, in addition to regular news broadcasting, Tilden’s was the voice on many cut-away commercials on programs originating in the U.S. Numerous historical clips may be viewed on-line from the CBC and National Film Board archives. One notable one is the lengthy live broadcast just hours after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Following his retirement as national news anchorman in the mid-1970s Tilden remained with the CBC as a Language Counsellor. His assignments took him to northern CBC locations instructing on the proper use of the English language and breathing exercises. His terminology for that was “appropriate colloquial.” One of his students was Adrienne Clarkson, who went on to renown as a broadcaster in her own right, and later became Canada’s Governor General.

Surprisingly enough, many of the condolences received by the family following Tilden’s death were not from fellow CBC employees (for indeed, he has outlived most of them) but from people to whom he gave lessons following his retirement from broadcasting.

However veteran CBC newsman Peter McCluskey offered these recollections, along with his condolences, in an e-mail.

Folk Songs of Ontario on which Lamont provided the label with his rendition of The Murder of F.C. Benwell (according to legend, J.R. Birchell killed F.C. Benwell in the swamp near Blenheim, and wrote an account of his own execution. No date is set for the story which Tilden sings as a ballad.)
“My dad and I used to watch Lamont read the news together every night when I was a kid. (I was the youngest of six so when I was pre-Grade 1 my dad let me stay up with him and watch the news). I’m sure that Lamont, along with Stanley Burke and Earl Cameron, (they were famous names in our house) influenced my decision to turn to journalism – unfortunately I didn’t get to CBC until after Lamont had retired.”

Lamont’s last visit to hometown Harriston was to attend the 100

Surviving are his wife and son in Toronto, and three daughters in Waterloo, England and New Zealand.

New signs recognizing the recently established Harriston Historical Society have been fastened to the town’s welcome billboards. These have been donated by the family in memory of Lamont Tilden who passed away August 8th, 2011 at age 98.

 

Lamont Tilden (Robert Ragsdale CBC Still Photo Archives)

Lamont Tilden (Robert Ragsdale CBC Still Photo Archives)