Opinion

Orillia's Vic Hedges as much a character as SCTV namesake

PETE MCGARVEY

We set down in Dublin one September afternoon in 1978 -- my Uncle J. J., Aunt Dorothy Drennan and Eileen and I.

For J. J. and I, it was a first and only journey to a homeland our ancestors had left 153 years earlier to become the first settlers in present-day Cookstown.

There was time before dinner to sample a dollop of Irish whiskey and switch on the TV. The usual fare poured forth: news delivered in a warm Dublin baritone; several American soap operas; a sports roundup that made sense if you understand the subtleties and strategies of cricket, soccer and darts; and two channels on which only ancient Irish was spoken, one of them focusing on collies outsmarting sheep.

For the uninitiated, spoken Irish consists of a low monotone of gasps, gargles and gurgles not unlike the effect you get playing a record backwards.

Then a switch of channels and there it was -- the pride of Canadian comedy: "Don't touch that dial. SCTV is on the air," came the familiar salutation, followed by a list of headliners -- John Candy, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Flaherty, Harold Ramis, Dave Thomas, et al.

The background visual was a shower of TV sets tossed from the top of an apartment building, shattering on the walkway below. (Back in Toronto the year before, it had taken just moments to realize the apartment building was only two doors away from our own on Roehampton Avenue.)

Then the zanies were off and running, dramatizing the blunders of a dumpy TV station in mythical Mellonville.

Each star played a variety of roles. Candy was the bullying Johnny Larue, and Dr. Tongue; Martin was the wisecracking program director, Edith Prickley; Flaherty played sleazy station owner Guy Cabellero, as well as Count Floyd, who emerged from a coffin every week as the howling vampire host of a cheapo kids show, Floyd Roberston, co-anchor of a screwed-up newscast, and Vic Hedges, a handsome young hero forever rescuing women and children in distress.

Vic Hedges? Surely no kin to the Vic Hedges we knew in Orillia more than half a century ago?

Well, yes, in a way. Here's the story.

Our friendship began in 1951 with the Y's Men, the liveliest and most irreverent service club in town. In time, Vic moved on to Toronto and I to Chatham. We reconnected in 1973 with my move to CKEY -- picking up where we had left off.

Vic was a dapper dresser and very much the social animal. He often accompanied me to press parties, fitting in perfectly.

One time, asked to identify his radio station, he told them CMHC and was issued a badge immediately. CMHC stood for Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation! Nobody caught on; he had a ball.

Vic was going from one sales job to another in those days. In the spring of 1974, just after we bought a cottage at Joyland Beach, he was between employers. We invited him up and he accepted on one condition -- that he be allowed to paint the cottage and boat house in exchange for room and board.

Fair enough. Within a fortnight, what had been a shabby green and white structure was transformed to a butterfly-yellow and chocolate-brown showplace, and Vic had an invitation to visit anytime.

Returning to Toronto, he landed a job as a Wackenhutt security agent, assigned to go undercover at the Firehall, where management suspected an employee was sort-changing the barroom till. The Firehall was the Canadian venue of Second City, the famous Chicago Improv Company. The Toronto troupe, though, was almost completely Canadian (Candy, Levy, Flaherty, etc.), which packed the house every night and resulted in a TV production that went on for a decade.

As the bogus barkeep, Vic got to know them all. Flaherty was a mid-afternoon beer drinker who studied Vic's appearance and manners day by day, planning (as we now know) to transform him into the derring-do hero of future TV episodes.

Meantime, Vic had discovered no one was rifling the till. It was simply sloppy management, which he duly reported to the Second City proprietors.



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