Monday, February 18, 2013

Montreal Suffragists, British Suffragettes and BBC Radio 4

I wrote hourly ID's for CFQR in the 1980s' heard in elevators everywhere.

One afternoon, back in 1983, when I was working as a copywriter at a radio station, writing mostly 30 and 60 second advertisements for Greek Restaurants and other small businesses, an account exec came up to me with an unusual request.

Would I like to write a pilot episode for a radio soap opera? On spec. For free of course. She didn't explain any more than that.

It was a strange request: Commercial English radio stations in Montreal were in full free-fall, with sports, talk and easy listening being all these stations produced.

Perhaps the CBC still did some radio drama, but nothing like in their heyday.

Unlike most of my fellow copywriters, who all aspired to finer things like TV and film and theatre, I had no experience as a scriptwriter.

 And I was tired out of my mind, because my job was stressful with everyone worried for their jobs and with so many 'small' contracts coming in, which meant I had to write many, many more ads per day under tighter and tighter deadlines.

But I wrote the soap opera pitch anyway.

I handed it over to the Account Executive and that's the last I heard.

I think my premise was a bit wild, not quite a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but still. I had the story set in an luxury apartment building and the drama was created by the tenants' interaction.

Of course, I had heard no radio plays in my life at the time so it probably was not very good, although I did  major in theatre and classics in Jr. College.

Today I am a huge BBC Radio 4 fan because that brilliant station came online a few years ago in 2006. Since that time, I've heard hundreds of their delicious plays (classic and experimental) performed by top notch talent.

Despite the economic downturn radio thrives in the U.K, although lately BBC Radio 4 has reduced its production considerably.

I probably should have quit my job back then in 1982 and moved to the UK.

Everybody knew there was no future in English Quebec Radio and it was generally believed that UK radio stations liked Canadian talent and I had a grandfather clause permit to work there. (A co-worker on the technical side did just that, move to the UK.)

But it never occurred to me to go and try my luck in British Radio. There was no Internet then. No way to research how to go about things and my meager 15,000 a year copywriter's salary at the radio station hardly made it easy to save money.

Lost Opportunities.

The minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association show they decided not to get DIRECTLY involved with the elections except where suffrage was concerned. They polled candidates about their views on married women getting the vote in municipal elections. Their mission statement was simple: to promote suffrage... but during the war they made resolutions aimed at keeping prostitutes and booze from soldiers, putting the cart before the horse a bit. You see, the main reason these Montreal suffragists wanted women to get the vote is so that these newly enfranchised women could then vote in favour of social reforms, which were really about promoting traditional evangelical Protestant values in a changing world.

And here I am much too old to be ambitious, still writing.

I wonder if the BBC would be interested in a play about the Montreal Suffragists and how militant suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst's Dec 1911 visit 'inspired' the Local Council of Women, an umbrella group of advocacy organizations, to 'spin off' the non-militant Montreal Suffrage Association in 1913, quite against their own by-laws and to us this new organization as a kind of rogue arm of the original umbrella organization?

Here's a case in point. The Montreal Council of Women, despite the fact they were 'non-partisan' and 'non-political' always got involved in the Montreal municipal elections, getting the spinster vote out in order to get their reform candidates elected. Municipal elections were not about politics the  Montreal Council said, just about 'good governance'.

Their efforts paid off in the 1910 election, but in only that one election, it seems.

During the War, the Montreal Suffrage Association wanted to get involved in the municipal elections as well.  "Should we promote candidates who promote suffrage or candidates who promote reform?" they wondered in the executive meeting splitting hairs as these candidates were usually one and the same, because 'woman suffrage' in Canada was all about Protestant Reform.

They decided to leave the efforts to the Montreal Council of Women which really made no difference at all since the two organizations shared many of the same Executives. They even admit that fact in the minutes.

All very iffy I think.

This Conscription Crisis Era  is where my two stories Threshold Girl (about a college girl in 1910) and Milk and Water (about Montreal City Hall in 1927)come together.

Threshold Girl is about the Nicholson women, Presbyterian suffragists and suffragette sympathizers and Milk and Water is about my grandfather, Jules, Crepeau, the Director of City Services in Montreal in 1921-30.

In 1913 Jules was set up  by Edward Beck former of the Montreal Herald in a bribery sting. Edward Beck also published a Suffrage Special in his newspaper in 1913. He fiercely despised Montreal City Hall.

Crepeaus in around 1923.