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Bob Wakeham: Proud moments in the spotlight

“Come From Away,” in performance on Broadway on opening night, Saturday, in New York.
“Come From Away,” in performance on Broadway on opening night, Saturday, in New York.

A couple of decades ago — an eternity, a lifetime it seems, especially as the number of birthdays under my belt enters the upper 60s range — I would sometimes find myself in CBC boardrooms in Toronto gleefully attempting to explain for my fellow executive producers why it was that “Here and Now,” and documentary programs like “Land and Sea,” “On Camera” and “Soundings” attracted such huge audiences.

Bob Wakeham column

Not being a modest type, I thoroughly enjoyed sharing with the other regional producers — most of whom were responsible for programs that may have been editorially sound, but had viewership on a par with a security video at Sobeys — my very biased view that we, in Newfoundland, were just so damn good at our jobs.

When I decided, though, that my self-aggrandizing head had swollen to the size of a boulder on the beach at Gander Lake, I conceded that one of the great advantages of being a journalist where I lived and worked was that Newfoundlanders had an incredibly insatiable appetite for news, significant or otherwise, about themselves. And that this myopic parochialism had always been there, at least as long as I had patrolled Newfoundland newsrooms, and that it begged to be exploited, day in and day out.

Newfoundlander wins a marbles contest in China? We’re all over it. Newfoundlander robs a bank in Calgary? Our lead story.

We would sometimes joke, in that black humour way associated with most newsrooms of my generation, that if there was ever a plane crash somewhere on the mainland that killed 100 people, we wouldn’t react with, “God, how tragic,” but with, “Any Newfoundlanders on board?”

Unabashedly local was our mantra: give the audience what it wants.

I thought about Newfoundlanders’ near obsession with navel-gazing this past week while watching that championship Brier game last Sunday night and, by coincidence, rushing to read the reviews of the opening that same Sunday night of the Broadway play, “Come From Away,” that, as everybody and their dogs know by now, is a theatrical take on the response of Gander residents to the “plane people” who landed in their community on 9/11.

First to the Brad Gushue love-in: I’ve never, ever been a curling fan; the game was just too civilized for me, I guess, and many of us back in the day thought, perhaps in a narrow-minded way, that the guys and girls with the brooms were mostly snobs, as were their fans, the opposite of our favourites, the “bleacher creatures” at the St. John’s stadium.

(A slice of comic relief here: I heard a great story a few weeks back about a female fan in the bleacher creature section at the stadium years ago who was forced to wander under the stands in search of an earring that had fallen off when she had jumped enthusiastically to celebrate a Caps goal; a fellow bleacher creature, half-shot, spotted the woman on all fours, and wondered loudly: “What’s the matter, my love, lost your gum?”)

Nevertheless, there I was last Sunday, screaming like a banshee as the Gushue foursome squeezed out a victory in a tension-filled game, while the fans showed the rest of Canada that it’s not a sin to cheer when the “other” crowd from upalong blows a shot, or to go half nuts when the “local” crowd does well (perhaps there was a scattered member of the bleacher creatures down at Mile One, happily oblivious to the etiquette of fan behaviour at these events).

Like many non-curling fans, I think, I didn’t understand much of the strategy of the game, the nuances of the shots. I knew the object of the exercise, and that was more than enough. Besides, it was a Newfoundland team. Nothing else mattered. It could have been competition for the national tiddlywinks championship.

And Premier Dwight Ball and the floundering Liberals were the happiest of all, able to grab some public relations bonus points with a glad-handing reception at Confederation Building, happy to distract attention, for at least an hour or so from that pathetic cap-in-hand fisheries agreement with Ottawa — a “stole the shop” debacle, to plagiarize Brian Peckford from a past era.

Then, there were the mostly impressive reviews for “Come From Away,” especially from the New York Times which, we’re told, can make or break a play on Broadway, and decide whether the production is a flop or a possible Tony winner with a chance of a long run in the city that never sleeps.   

Being a Ganderite, I’m obviously proud that my hometown was being celebrated in the Big Apple, and, thus, by extension, the entire world.

I do wish there had been more Newfoundlanders involved, especially given the enormous talent base here (although Petrina Bromley, the lone performer from this place in “Come From Away,” did a masterful job promoting the play in interviews from the U.S.)

But, hey, I’m quibbling.

It was a grand week to be a Newfoundlander, luxuriating in all this four-star publicity.

And it was pig-out time for local journalists.

Made me almost wish I was back in the reportorial trenches.


Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at

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