Chapter One

I’ve encountered them in all their shapes and sizes most of my life. The first I had to confront was enormous: a shiny metallic monster almost the size of my twelve-year-old head.
It hung from a boom some five feet over the section of Radio Station CKY’s ‘Studio A’ reserved for the boy members of the Eaton’s Good Deed Radio Club Choir.
The giant mike’s threatening presence was almost enough in itself to silence the thirty or more pre-pubescent squirmers cowering beneath it every Saturday morning in the autumn of 1941. Almost, but not enough.

“Five minutes! Five minutes to airtime! Quiet down there! Quiet!”

The disembodied warning came to us from on high: all we could see of the Control Room was its window set in the far wall of the studio at a height of at least fifty feet.

We fell silent and our eyes went to the studio clock. A final sweep of its second hand brought our announcer into action:

“From Studio ‘A’ at CKY, Winnipeg, the Eaton’s Good Deed Radio Club is on the air!”

And that was our cue: from either side of the studio more than sixty voices combined to sing:
“Do a goo-ood deed ev’ry day, obey the Golden Rule. Scatter seeds of happ-i-ness at home, at play, at school . . .”
It was the only time our listeners heard the full Good Deed Radio Club choir. Boys and girls in unison, we must have sounded decidedly effeminate because, to our shame, most of the boys’ section was ‘goldfishing’: making enough of the appropriate moues to satisfy our director without emitting much in the way of actual sound. We all knew that it was the girls’ section that saved the Good Deed Radio Club Choir broadcast after broadcast.

Singing on their own, the girls brought forth one crystalline rendition after another. I remember “The Skye Boat Song”,”Molly Malone”, and a particularly spirited “Dashing Away With The Smoothing Iron” – all offered in compensation for the mumbled mutilations of “Blow The Man Down” or “Church In The Wildwood” the boys’ section offered from our side of the studio.

But the boys’ section had one overpowering advantage over the girls: our boy soprano, Larry Pemberton. While the rest of us boys huddled together hoping that our individual inadequacy blended into something approaching music, Larry stood apart, erect and proud in his tidy dark-blue suit and matching tie, cutting through our pitiful clamor with every thrilling note.

Larry Pemberton was the perfect choirboy. He even looked the part with his periwinkle-blue eyes that always appeared to be on the brink of tears and his wind-blown blonde curls. There was a hint of Dresden figurine to his pimple-free complexion, and his upper lip protruded slightly with an endearing quiver.

This would be the time to inject an historical note:

All of the above transpired while World War II was at its height in Europe and Asia. Canada’s vast interior – untouched, serene and almost perfectly flat – had become a magnet for waves of air force recruits from every part of the British Empire. Training stations sprang up in profusion within CKY’s broadcasting radius – and little Larry Pemberton was the toast of every one of them.

It all began on one of the early Good Deed Radio Club broadcasts when our director gave Larry Pemberton a particularly cloying song to sing. Check out the lyric:

England, our island home,
Land of the free.

England, unconquered yet,

O’er land and sea.

Lord of the heav’ns above

Answer our prayer.

God keep Britannia’s sons

Lords of the air.

Enough to have the flintiest RCAF drill sergeant snuffling into his regulation tie, wouldn’t you agree?

Requests were soon flooding in for an encore from “the little lad who sang so beautifully about our gallant boys in blue.” And “Lords Of The Air” had Pemberton and what is called today a ‘backup group’ on a constant circuit of drafty mess halls all over Manitoba. What’s more, ‘Little Larry’ proved to be just as popular with civilians as he was with servicemen, topping the bill for countless amateur events designed to whip up support for the war effort.

It was more than enough to turn any kid into a pint-sized egomaniac and – you might imagine – ostracize him from the other members of the choir. But Larry had soon gathered a swarm of ardent followers from our ranks. It wasn’t his voice; it was the wartime shortage of chocolate bars.

About the only place that such candy treats were freely available in wartime Canada was at a service canteen – the forerunner of the PX – to be found on most military outposts. And one of Larry’s duties as the pride of the Eaton’s Good Deed Radio Club Choir, Boys’ Section, was to choose those of us to accompany him on tour.

The word soon spread that backing up Larry’s solos brought a shower of goodies from grateful servicemen and an invitation to tap the base canteen for Neilson and Cadbury chocolate bars, Macintosh Toffee and other rarities of the wartime years – the stuff of dreams for us kids.

I can’t provide a date, but the time had to have come when Larry Pemberton’s voice ‘broke’. It must have been traumatic for poor Larry and only slightly less of a shock for the eager sycophants who cultivated the little twerp during those Eaton’s Good Deed Radio Club days, hoping to be among the chosen few to share in his harvest of Coffee Crisps, Rosebuds, Cherry Blossoms, etc.

I was never able to elbow my way into that crowd and, besides, I had found a more lucrative way to spend my weekend afternoons. And it even put me within reach of some of that candy.


10 Responses to “Chapter One”

  1. Dick Barnes Says:

    Came across your reference to the Eaton’s Good Deed Radio Club. I’ve searched periodically over years for a recording of the Club song. I listened to this program for years, and also after moving into the city, sang it and watched the program from the stage of the Metropolitan Theatre, I think is was (although another entry on the web refers to the Lyceum).

    Got any suggestions about where I may find a copy?

    Dick Barnes (born 1936, moved into Wpg 1946)
    Adams Lake BC

  2. garry moir Says:

    Would like to chat more about the Good Deed Club and Winnipeg Radio

  3. Margaret E. Russell Says:

    the words to the song that was sung were:

    ” Do a good deed every day, obey the Golden Rule,
    Never say an unkind word, or be unkind or cruel
    Scatter seeds of happiness, at home at school at play
    And you’ll find there’s sunshine everywhere
    Obey the Golden Rule.”

    • Cornelia (Gayowsky) Kuchmy Says:

      Re theT.Eaton Good Deed Club on Saturday mornings.

      I was a member of the choir, in Winnipeg, and the second line of the song
      was “Never say an angry word, or be unkind or cruel”

      Being a member of the choir, as a child, was a great pleasure (I sang alto) and loved the National songs that we were taught.
      I had no idea that I would end my life in the British Isles but am grateful that I learned the Scottish, Welsh and Irish songs.

      I became a professional musician who has lived in England since 1951 and recently took the trouble to write the score out, to test my memory because I will be 84 on February 29th!

      If you start on C above middle C the tune goes…in 3/4 time..
      All Capitals are 2 beats and lower case are 1 beat each except where stated

      C b a b c B a g g# A g f e F(hold 6 beats)
      E d D a A g G a B b c b a G (hold 6 beats)
      C b a b c B a G g#
      A a A#a D (hold for 4 beats)
      b c D c B aG aC
      a C e D cC (hold for 5 beats)

      I hope this helps

  4. Linda Strange nee Kerr Says:

    HI there: I still have my Good Deed pin received in about 1949. The choir in Winnipeg lasted until after 1959, when I was 16. Conductors were Cora Doig James, and Olga Irwin, with Kerr Wilson for the boys Choir. You’ve likely figured by now Cornelia is correct; and the next line is: ” Scatter seeds of happiness at home, at play, at school”. I, too earned my living as a singer, though of much less status than many others who went on to life-long careers in music. Theatre Parties during my time were at the Metropolitan Theatre which has been elegantly reborn as an entertainment centre. Wonderful memories!

  5. Diane Rutkair Says:

    I sang on the Good Deed Saturday morning show when I was 3-1/2 and still have my gold star pin. Thanks Cornelia and Linda for the words and the music for the theme song, I have been wracking my brains and waking up nights trying to piece all the stanzas together but finding blank pages in my mind’s filing cabinet. Hopefully I can sleep now. I worked at CJOB in Winnipeg on the switchboard and then in the library my first year after graduating. I also did some on air work on Club 1340 with Gord Ross as “Wee Dee” meeting some interesting Celebs. Knew George McCloy, Irv Stein, Ray Isley, Red Alex, Dudley Patterson, George Dawes (CKRC) and Dave Mostoway (CKY), etc. Involved with music all my life, I sang and danced in musical theatre productions in Calgary and Edmonton, and sang for years with a trio in Edmonton along with doing some commercial work and recording. I always love to hear about my first love, radio, and specially from Winnipeg. Love your book Pat and what I have read. Giggled a lot, you write like people talk and I can almost hear you speaking.

  6. Arlene Horn Says:

    I sang with the Good Deed choir and as a soloist at the Lyceum Theatre parties. I sang Susie Snowflake. A wonderful experience for young people. I remember a drummer (very young that became famous) can anyone supply his name. I still have my Gold Star Pin.
    Arlene Lester ( I remeber Cora James and one of the members (male) became a star on broadway and is now in a tv series.

    • debunko Says:

      Hi, Arlene . . .
      I’m deep into retirement and keep returning to my memoirs which begin with a reference to the Good Deed Radio Club choirs.
      Did anyone ever reply to your request for the names of people your refer to? I can’t imagine who it was who fits your description of a ‘male’ member who became “a star on Broadway”. The closest I can come is Johnny Frosk – but Johnny is a trumpet player of exceptional talent who is probably now in retirement in one of those posh suburbs close to New York City.
      How good was Johnny in his prime? Well, Frank Sinatra used to insist that Johnny be included in any backup group for a Sinatra recording – even if it meant dragging Johnny across the continent for a session.

      • Arlene Horn Says:

        The person I remember is now on Blue Bloods, will pay more attention and try and supply his name.. You are the only reply I have had.

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