Biography

Pioneer

Benson, Thomas Frederick

(1915-2002)

Thom Benson (he pronounced it Tom, but always insisted on the 'h' in the written version) was born in the Manitoba village of Old England, near Selkirk, on December 27th 1915, and was educated at St. John's College, Winnipeg, and at the University of Pittsburgh.

Thom started his broadcasting career with the Manitoba Telephone Systems radio station CKY Winnipeg in early 1939, to which station he returned in 1945 after wartime service in the navy. In 1947 he joined CBC's International Service as producer for the Prairie Region, and in 1949 he was seconded to the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa. A year later the International Service transferred him to Toronto. After being asked by CBC's domestic service to be one of the chief reporters for the 1951 Royal Tour, Thom was appointed to the newly-formed Special Events department as provincial supervisor, in which capacity he organized coverage of the Olympic Games, the British Empire Games, world hockey tournaments and further royal tours.

When CBC-TV began broadcasting in 1952, Thom assumed similar responsibilities with the new medium, both in front of and behind the camera, as well as becoming an award-winning documentary producer. He switched to Outside Broadcasts in 1954, and in 1965 was named Head of TV Features and Special Events. In this capacity he masterminded the Corporation's coverage of many major events, including Sir Winston Churchill's Funeral, Expo '67 and spectacles held to celebrate the nation's Centennial.

In October 1969 he was named Acting Director of Entertainment Programs and was confirmed as Director in January 1970. For the next five years he was responsible for all the Canadian entertainment elements in the CBC schedule, as well as for the acquisition of foreign (mostly U.S) programming.

In 1975 he moved back to being Head of Features, and in 1976 became head of a special unit that CBC set up to produce programs marking their 25th anniversary. Then in 1977 he undertook a key study on the role of U.S.programming in the CBC schedule, after which he moved to head up a division responsible for independent production.

Thom Benson retired from the CBC in 1983, and died on October 19th 2002. On hearing news of his death, CBC Television Executive Vice-President Harold Redekopp said of him: "We will remember Thom always for his sharp wit, his colourful personality, his innate charisma and sartorial flair. He was a gifted broadcaster and a passionate Canadian, who held in highest regard the values and principles of public broadcasting and public service."

Written by Pip Wedge - October, 2002

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