One morning, many years ago, I found myself at work, in the offices of this great newspaper, at an unholy hour of the morning. About 8 a.m., in other words. The reasons for this are now lost in the mists of time.
Shortly after arriving I answered the phone and suddenly I was talking to a rather flustered Lloyd Robertson. He had, with good reason, expected to be talking to the voice-mail thingamajig. It being an unholy hour and all.
A few days before, I’d written something about a CTV special called Lloyd Robertson in Great Britain. In it, Robertson had offered a snapshot of a changing Britain. In my review I’d said that the matter of class distinction in Britain had been poorly handled. Robertson begged to differ and had a reasonable response to my remarks. He was polite and chatty on the matter, acknowledged that some things in the special hadn’t been perfect, but defended the segment I had criticized. It was just that he hadn’t expected to be debating it with me on the phone. He laughed at his own presumption about that and said, yes, he was flustered when I actually answered. That was probably one of the very few occasion in his long career when Robertson was actually flustered.
That brief phone encounter encapsulated much about Lloyd Robertson’s appeal and the reasons for his longevity in his job – he was self-effacing and lacking in the watch-me swagger of most news anchors. Believe me, some of them swagger.
His last newscast is tonight ( CTV National News with Lloyd Robertson, 11 p.m.). It is preceded by a one-hour special about Robertson’s life and career, Lloyd Robertson – And That's the Kind of Life It's Been (CTV, 10 p.m.).
The special is revealing about his early life, family background and early career. There are some surprises and Robertson is admirably candid about his youth and background. But it is characteristic of Robertson that viewers only get the information now, when he is stepping down as news anchor. Over the years – 35 years this month since he moved to CTV and began co-anchoring with Harvey Kirck – it was never about Lloyd Robertson. It was about delivering the day’s news in an authoritative manner.
It is to CTV’s and Robertson’s credit that his farewell has been done with class and a lack of hyperbole. It was a year ago that the announcement of his departure was made. His replacement, Lisa LaFlamme, began appearing regularly and Robertson less often. It has been seamless and smart. Robertson will not disappear entirely now. He’ll be on W5 sometimes and he’s writing a book about his career.
Lloyd Robertson has had longevity and viewer loyalty over the years because he represents a particular kind of Canadian middle-class integrity. He's been able to give the impression that he’s intuitively in touch with a sensibility that's more suburban than urban, more middle-aged and middle-class than young and hip. He's Rotary Club-respectable, more likely to be admired at the Tim Hortons than the trendy Toronto bar.
This is not to denigrate his skills. A certain kind of calm authority is an absolute necessity for a news anchor to appeal to the widest possible audience.
Of course, Robertson has always been a perfect fit for the kind of nightly news round-up that CTV presents – straightforward about events of the day and always adding in something about your health, your home or your family that might be of use to you. The no-fuss approach has served CTV News well, both in terms of Robertson’s style and the news content. I’ve found it odd that while the Conservative Party has long obsessed about CBC News and finger-pointed about alleged bias, what’s delivered in CTV’s package of news is often far more deleterious to a Conservative Party message simply by presenting unvarnished news reporting.
Not that Lloyd Robertson has ever betrayed a political stance on anything. His defining strength has been his ability to deliver the day’s events simply as events that are noteworthy.
The other day I looked at the “From the Desk of Lloyd Robertson” message that appears on CTV’s website. A couple of paragraphs into his reflections, Robertson writes this about his arrival at the network: “While bringing a wide range of TV experience to the CTV desk, my journalism skills were not what they should have been; my writing for the crisp style of daily news was underdeveloped and my judgments on stories were not finely honed.”
Typical. Admitting he needed to work on things and refine his skills. No bluster and no fluster. That’s been Lloyd Robertson’s secret.
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