“He taught us to relax and warm up our commentary, to make it more viewer-friendly and to appreciate that while the Queen was our head of state, she was, after all, a human being,” said Mr. Robertson.
“We would still speak in respectful tones, but the Queen and the Duke and other Royals should be seen as members of the Canadian family. The result was electrifying, both for the audience and for those of us behind the microphones and in front of the cameras. It also helped the Royals in making them more authentic for the average Canadian. To me, this is Wilf’s legacy to the broadcast industry and to his country.”
He helped usher in a new era in Canadian television in other ways.
Robert F. Smith worked as Mr. Fielding’s production assistant in that landmark year of 1967. He remembers covering the Quebec Winter Carnival with Mr. Fielding in 1967 and using colour cameras for the first time – in -15 C weather. Faced with the challenges of this new technology that would forever change the television experience, Mr. Smith remembers Mr. Fielding putting blankets on the cameras to keep the revolutionary colour tubes warm enough to do their job.
But despite his cool, calm and friendly down-home demeanour, Mr. Fielding was a tough taskmaster. He read newspapers voraciously and expected his commentators to master their subject matter in order to speak knowingly.
Mr. Robertson remembers that when Mr. Fielding came into the studio before they went on air, everyone would put their heads down, studiously looking at their script. No one dared look up to have him say, “Aren’t you focused on what you are supposed to be doing?”
Stanley Burke, Laurier LaPierre, Barbara Frum, Adrienne Clarkson, Lloyd Robertson: they all performed with aplomb, knowing Mr. Fielding would be supporting them, whispering into their earphone from the control room, telling them when to stretch and when to trim.
Mr. Fielding himself knew when to stretch and trim.
His knack was to have cameras live at just the right time to capture the moment in history. That’s why he defied his bosses during the Mexico City Olympic Games in 1968 and continued live coverage beyond the allotted time slot. He sensed that the unlikely group of Canadian equestrians could go the distance. He kept his cameras live, kept the satellite feed, and stayed on the air as Canada’s equestrian team grabbed gold for the first time.
A year earlier, in July, 1967, he raced from Ottawa with a camera crew to be at Montreal’s Dorval Airport for a live report as French president Charles de Gaulle made a hurried exit from Canada after being publicly rebuked by prime minister Lester B. Pearson on the heels of de Gaulle’s infamous “Vive le Québec libre” speech.
Even Americans wanted Mr. Fielding.
For years, for CBS, he produced live coverage of the Rose Bowl parades and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, for which he was nominated for an Emmy in 1977. For senior CBS producer Michael Gargiulo, “Wilf was my right arm – and my left arm.”
It will remain for TV historians to determine Mr. Fielding’s place in Canadian broadcasting history. But there is no doubt as to the place he holds in the hearts and minds of his peers and protégés. He was known for his mentoring and the unstinting way he shared his expertise. Retired producer Don Dixon recalls his first professional encounter with Mr. Fielding:
“I first worked with Wilf when I was a young producer based in Ottawa, handling my first big event – the state funeral of former governor-general Vincent Massey. I was very, very nervous. Wilf was in my left ear the entire time – guiding, encouraging, soothing and cajoling. Over the years, we worked together – and played together – on many different projects: royal visits, constitutional conferences, leadership conventions, Pope John Paul II’s visit. You name it, we were together. At every event, I learned a little more from Wilfie, the ultimate pro. We had a lot of laughs – and a few arguments – but we came out of every shoot better friends.”
Adds former CBC producer Robert F. Smith: “I was a young production assistant when I first worked with Wilf. He was my mentor and I never had another mentor like him. I’ve learned other things from other people, but never what I learned from Wilf. Throughout my career, I would often ask myself ‘What would Wilf do in this situation?’
Wilf Fielding died in Toronto April 19 and was buried in his beloved Annapolis Royal. Predeceased by his wife, Nora, and sister Pauline, he leaves behind his life partner of 30 years, Anita Gordon and his devoted friend Heather Pollard.