One of B.C.’s most influential broadcast journalists of the 1970s and 1980s has passed away in St Leonards-on-Sea, England, after suffering from throat cancer.
Tony Wade was the fiery and iconoclastic executive producer of CBC TV’s Pacific Report, a pioneering newsmagazine program that wasn’t afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. He was 68.
In 1980, he and Pacific Report journalist Wendy Strazdine created a 16-minute documentary called “Apprehensions”, which shone a light on the seizure of indigenous children and their placement with white families.
It led to new laws around the fostering of First Nations kids and won the B’nai Brith Media Human Rights Award.
In 1987 Wade produced a landmark 25-minute documentary for Pacific Report on Michael J. Fox, then a major television star on Family Ties.
He took viewers behind the scenes with Fox, showing him driving to work in his black Ferrari, interacting with his costars on set, and speaking frankly about his life as an actor. Much of the program was filmed in Los Angeles as Fox was working days on Family Ties and at night filming Back to the Future.
Wade’s style was to let the subjects reveal their stories rather than having journalists intrude too heavily in the storytelling.
This process was on display in another of his memorable Pacific Report documentaries, “The Crusoe of Lonesome Lake”, which told the story of B.C. homesteader and environmentalist Ralph Edwards, as well as another program on the punk band D.O.A.
In 1996, Wade created a pilot for CBC TV called The Criminal Mind, which focused on psychopaths in prison. The show was ahead of its time but wasn’t picked up by the network.
Former Pacific Report executive producer Peter McNelly described Wade as “charming, talented, tough, and sweet” in a tribute that appeared in a newsletter shared by current and former CBC staffers.
Another former CBC colleague, Dan Noon called Wade a “great producer, director, and writer”.
“He always connected with people with his unique sense of humour and his genuine interest in what people had to say, both in front and behind the camera,” Noon added. “He enriched all of our lives and I am very proud to say he was my friend.”
Yet another former colleague, film editor David Banigan, said Wade made him laugh. Banigan cited one of Wade’s restaurant reviews in which he declared: “It was really expensive but the food was terrible.”
Although Wade was admired for his eye for creating compelling current-affairs programming, he was also a great mentor, helping many peers learn the principles of long-form journalism on television.
He also chronicled the evolution of the Georgia Straight in three different documentaries.
In the first, on Pacific Report in 1982, the youthful-looking publisher, Dan McLeod, declared that he was no longer interested in confronting the authorities and didn’t intend on returning to court.
This was in reference to the late 1960s, when the Straight was repeatedly harassed by police and politicians.
For a six-week period in its first year, the paper was kept off the streets after the city revoked its business licence.
The second documentary appeared on Pacific Report in 1987 to coincide with the Straight’s 20th anniversary and publication of its 1,000th issue. It revealed how the paper’s switch to arts and entertainment helped it survive financially in the 1980s and included file footage from the paper’s controversial early days.
“The Straight has outlasted [combative former Vancouver mayor] Tom Campbell and the hippies and is soon to outlast Ronald Reagan and the yuppies,” McLeod said in the documentary.
Wade’s third documentary about the Straight was far more ambitious. Coproduced and written by Straight alumnus Tom Crighton, The Last Streetfighter: The History of the Georgia Straight was a 47-minute look at the newspaper on its 30th anniversary. It included an interview with humanitarian Bob Geldof, who was the paper’s music editor in the mid-1970s, and it highlighted the connections between the Straight and the founders and early members of Greenpeace.
The Last Streetfighter won two CANPRO Canadian television awards as well as a certificate of merit from the Jack Webster Foundation.
Wade also won two Anik Awards, a New York Film and Television Festival bronze medal, and an AMTEC Award of Merit for documentaries about artist Bill Reid, children’s entertainer Charlotte Diamond, and writer and historian Barry Broadfoot, respectively.
McLeod said that Wade and Crighton finished a treatment to do a one-hour documentary on the Straight’s 50th anniversary this year but, sadly, Crighton suffered a relapse of his own throat cancer and was unable to continue.
“I think, one way or another, Tony would have gotten the project done even without Tom’s help if not for his own cancer recurring,” McLeod said. “In August, he wrote me that the lymph nodes in his neck were swollen and cancerous. Soon he had the diagnosis: ‘small-cell lung cancer’.”
Wade is survived by his wife, Sidonie, his children Markus, Adam, Christopher, and Hayley, his stepdaughter Sara, and his grandchildren Sadie and Mason.