Biography

Pioneer

Ferguson, Max

(1924-2013)

For more than 50 years, Max Ferguson afflicted the comfortable as one of Canada's best-loved satirists. None of it might have happened had he not been directed to host a Saturday morning show of country music, which he loathed.

Max was born in Durham, England, of Irish stock, came to Canada aged three, and lived most of his life in London, Ont., where he graduated from the University of Western Ontario in 1946 in English and French. He joined CFPL London as an announcer. A few months later he joined the CBC and went to Halifax. There he was horrified when he reported for duty one Saturday to learn he had been scheduled to host After Breakfast Breakdown, a half-hour of what was then called cowboy music. On the spur of the moment he invented Rawhide, a character with a "low, aged, hard, flat, sloppily sibilant voice that surprised even myself" as he wrote in his memoirs And Now…Here's Max, which won a Leacock award for humour. "I then proceeded for the next half hour to introduce each cowboy record in the most insulting fashion I could devise."

The character Rawhide drew an unprecedented 3,000 fan letters and a few days later station manager S.(Syd) R. Kennedy delegated the reluctant Max Ferguson to do a six-mornings-a-week show for the Maritime network of the CBC. The show ran for 17 years out of Halifax and Toronto, starring Rawhide and as many as 14 other demented (his word) characters, all voiced by Max.

In 1949, Max's first Rawhide performance out of Toronto earned a scolding from MP Douglas Gooderham Ross, who called the program meaningless ravings and tripe disguised in the poorest possible English and an insult to the intelligence of thinking Canadians. Robert Thompson, leader of the Social Credit Party, asked for action against Max Ferguson on the grounds that his radio show was "undermining our national morals" and threatened the security of the social order. The show survived, although Ferguson continued to be paid just a regular announcer's salary until he resigned and the CBC agreed to bump up his pay by four times to continue the Rawhide show alone.

Rawhide was probably his best-known character but, in his 52 years with CBC radio and TV, Max starred in many shows: The Max Ferguson Show; a series of five-minute radio sketches; as a regular on Inside From The Outside; in a 90-minute interview and talk show which he co-hosted with Allan McFee; a weekday afternoon TV program called 55 North Maple, billed as an informal conversation show; Telescope, and others. He retired from the CBC in 1998.

In 1968 Max  received the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.  In 1970 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. Other awards include Canada's Medal of Service, the Governor General's performing arts award, the John Drainie Award for significant contribution to Canadian broadcasting, the Gordon Sinclair Award for outspoken opinions and integrity in broadcasting, honorary degrees from Dalhousie and Brock Universities and the Universities of Waterloo, Western Ontario and Saskatchewan, and three ACTRA awards. In 2001 he was the recipient of the Governor-General's Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.

 On March 7th 2013 it was announced that Max Ferguson had died that day of a heart attack, at the age of 89. His last words were reported to be: "And so ends our broadcast for this day."

Written by Jerry Fairbridge - August, 2002

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