#127 Eric Nicol
February 22nd, 2016
LOCATION: Walk of Fame, North Plaza, Library Square, 350 West Georgia Street, Vancouver
In 1995, humourist Eric Nicol fittingly became the first writer to have a plaque of B.C. marble installed in the Walk of Fame at Vancouver Public Library to commemorate winners of the annual George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in B.C. A Province columnist for five decades, Nicol received three Stephen Leacock Medals for Humour for his books; he became the first living Canadian writer to be included in The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose; and he was the first Vancouver playwright to have his work produced by the Vancouver Playhouse, as well as on Broadway. A rare wit, he lived for more than fifty years in the same house on 36th Avenue, near UBC.
Under the pen name Jabez, the indefatigable Eric Nicol first co-published Says We (1943), a collection of Vancouver News-Herald columns with legendary Vancouver journalist Jack Scott. Some 67 years later, with his literary talents still in evidence even though he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the veteran newspaper columnist and playwright released his final collection of whimsical musings, Script Tease (2010). Along the way, Nicol received three Stephen Leacock Medals for Humour, he became the first living Canadian writer to be included in The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose and the first Vancouver playwright to have his work produced by the Vancouver Playhouse. In 1995, he received the first George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an exemplary literary career in British Columbia.
Born in 1919 in Kingston, Ontario, Eric Nicol “almost immediately persuaded his parents to flee a fierce winter in favour of a farmhouse on Kingsway.” He later described B.C. as “a body of land surrounded by envy.”
Nicol started his literary career with the Ubyssey newspaper, at the University of British Columbia, where he adopted his pen name of Jabez. Nicol served for three years with the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII and returned to UBC for his M.A. in French Studies in 1948. He spent one year in doctoral studies at the Sorbonne, then moved to London, England, to write radio comedy for the BBC. He returned to Vancouver in 1951 to become a regular columnist with the Province, producing some 6,000 newspaper columns, several stage plays and numerous scripts for radio and television.
Nicol’s best-known play, Like Father, Like Fun, first staged in 1966, concerns a crass lumber baron’s attempt to contrive his son’s initiation to sex. It was unsuccessfully staged on Broadway in 1967 under the title A Minor Adjustment. The Fourth Monkey, produced in 1968, is about a failed playwright who takes refuge on the Gulf Islands (where Nicol had a cottage).
For most of his life, Eric Nicol lived in the same house he purchased in 1957, near UBC, at 3993 West 36th (at Crown Street). He liked to say he did not smoke, drink, play cards or run around with women—but he hoped to do so if royalties came pouring in. Terribly shy, he avoided parties. He was always afraid to take holidays in case he could not retain his job at The Province. After more than forty years of service, he was unceremoniously let go by Pacific Press.
An unstoppable punster, Nicol nonetheless did not wish to be pegged as simply a humorist. One of his Province columns against capital punishment resulted in a citation for contempt and a trial that attracted national interest.
Noteworthy titles among Nicol’s 42 books include an excellent history, Vancouver (1970), Dickens of the Mounted: The Astounding Long-Lost Letters of Inspector F. Dickens NWMP 1874–1886 (1989) and Anything for a Laugh: Memoirs (1998).
At age 91, he died at 9:19 a.m. on Wednesday, February 2, 2011, at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital in Vancouver.
Eric Nicol continuously wrote professionally in Vancouver for seven decades, since the early 1940s. In 1995, he fittingly became the first recipient of the annual George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an exemplary literary career in British Columbia. He is the first Canadian to have won three Stephen Leacock Medals for Humour and earned a criminal record for contempt of court. He received the Order of Canada in 2001.
Eric Patrick Nicol was born December 28, 1919 in Kingston, Ontario, the son of William Nicol and Amelia Mannock Nicol. In 1921 he “almost immediately persuaded his parents to flee a fierce winter in favour of farmhouse on Kingsway.” After a brief period in Nelson, the family relocated to Point Grey. Nicol began writing stories at Lord Byng High School. Nicol received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia in 1941. Nicol started his literary career with the Ubyssey newspaper under the pen name of ‘Jabez’. As a French Honours student masquerading as ‘Jabez’, Nicol co-wrote his first book, a collection of Vancouver News-Herald columns, with legendary Vancouver journalist Jack Scott. That first collection of humour, Says We, appeared in 1943. A Vancouver chauvinist, Nicol only left the West Coast to serve with the RCAF during W.W. II (1942-1945), to attend the Sorbonne as a post-graduate student and to live briefly in London. Nicol had started to write occasional columns for the Vancouver News Herald and the Vancouver Province during the war. While he was in the RCAF he wrote many comedy skits that were performed to entertain the armed forces. After the war, Nicol returned to UBC for his M.A. in French Studies (’48) and spent one year in doctoral studies at Sorbonne. He then moved to London, England to write radio comedy series for Bernard Braden and Barbara Kelly of the BBC from 1950-51.
He returned to Vancouver in 1951 to become a regular columnist with the Province, eventually producing some six thousand newspaper columns, several stage plays, more scripts for radio and television and more than 30 books. Nicol had seven stageplays produced; contributed magazine articles to many publications such as Saturday Night and Macleans; had numerous radio plays broadcast by CBC; wrote two successful radio series for the BBC; and he’s the first living Canadian writer to be included in The Oxford Book of Humourous Prose.
Despite his reputation as a comic writer, Nicol prefers not to be pegged as a humourist. One of his Province columns against capital punishment resulted in a citation for contempt and a trial that attracted national interest. His column on the assassination of John F. Kennedy was read into The Congressional Record. A self-avowed commercial writer, Nicol frequently describes his politics as ‘anarchist in theory, liberal in practice.’ In 1962, Nicol said he did not smoke, drink, play cards or run around with women — but he hoped to do so if royalties came pouring in. To this day he avoids parties. “I’m either sitting there like a frog full of shot,” he told the Georgia Straight in 1989, “Or I run off at the neck and then hate myself the next morning.”
Nicol was the first Vancouver playwright to have his work successfully produced by the Vancouver Playhouse. His best-known play, Like Father, Like Fun (1966), concerned a crass lumber baron’s attempt to contrive his son’s initiation to sex. After it was unsuccessfully staged in New York under the title A Minor Adjustment (1967), Nicol rebounded with The Fourth Monkey (1968) about a failed playwright who takes refuge on the Gulf Islands. Nicol’s play for the National Theatre in Ottawa, Pillar of Sand (1973), was set in fifth century Constantinople and examined civilization’s decline. “The reviews were mixed,” he said, “bad and terrible.” Other plays are Regulus; Beware the Quickly Who; The Clam Made a Face; a Joy Coghill vehicle, Ma! (1981), about B.C. newspaperwoman Margaret ‘Ma’ Murray; and his cryptic Free At Last.
Eric Nicol had three children by his first marriage to Myrl Mary Helen Heselton. In 1986 he married author Mary Razzell, with whom he lived in the Point Grey home he had purchased in 1957. Although he described himself as “pretty well retired from everything except breathing”, Nicol teamed with cartoonist Peter Whalley for Canadian Politics Unplugged in 2003 and released a “palsied opus” about aging in 2005. His final work, Scriptease: A Wordsmith’s Waxings on Life and Writing (2010), was written after the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. His wife Mary remained a steadfast supporter.
[For other B.C. authors pertaining to humour, see abcbookworld entries for Adams, Victoria; Bartlett, Rex; Bierman, Bob; Black, Arthur; Boswell, David; Collins, Bob; Coyote, Ivan E.; Daacon, George; Duffie, John; Filbrandt, Rod; Freir, Pam; Gabereau, Vicki; Glave, James; Grayson, Steven; Gudgeon, Chris; Harrop, Graham; Hou, Charles; Hunter, Don; Juby, Susan; Julian, Terry; Kirkland, Gordon; Klunder, Barbara Wyn; Knighton, Ryan; Koshevoy, Himie; Krieger, Robert; Leiren-Young, Mark; Maartman, Ben; MacDonald, Kyle; McCardell, Mike; Mitchell, Howard; Morton, James; Mythen, John; O’Hara, Jane; Palmer, H.S.; Palmer, Hugh; Partridge, Colin; Peterson, Roy; Raeside, Adrian; Richardson, Bill; Rowe, Dwayne; Sager, Dorianne; Schroeder, Andreas; Shave, Barbara J.; Sisson, Hal; St. Ives, Dan; Struthers, Andrew; Thompson, Robert H.; Verchere, Ian; Whalen, Len; White, Howard.]
Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:
1943: Says We. With Jack Scott. [Nicol uses pen name Jabez]
1947: Sense and Nonsense (Ryerson)
1950: The Roving I (Ryerson)
1953: Twice Over Lightly, illustrator James Simpkins (Ryerson)
1955: Shall We Join the Ladies?, illustrator James Simpkins (Ryerson)
1957: Girdle Me a Globe, illustrator James Simpkins (Ryerson)
1959: In Darkest Domestica, illustrator James Simpkins (Ryerson)
1961: with Peter Whalley, Say, Uncle: A Completely Uncalled-for History of the U.S. (Harper)
1962: compilation, A Herd of Yaks: The Best of Eric Nicol (Ryerson)
1963: with Peter Whalley, Russia, Anyone?: A Completely Uncalled-for History of the USSR (Harper and Row)
1963: Twice Over Lightly (Ryerson)
1964: Space Age Go Home! (Ryerson)
1965: (An Uninhibited) History of Canada, illustrator Peter Whalley (Musson)
o 1968 reissue (Musson)
1966: with Peter Whalley, 100 Years of What? (Ryerson)
1968: A Scar is Born (Ryerson)
1970: Vancouver (Doubleday)
o 1978 reissue: Vancouver (Doubleday) ISBN 0-385-14329-X
1971: Don’t Move: Renovate Your House and Make Social Contacts (M&S)
1972: The Clam Made a Face (Firebrand)
1972: compilation edited by Alan Walker, Still a Nicol: the Best of Eric Nicol (McGraw-Hill Ryerson) ISBN 0-07-092773-1
1973: Beware the Quickly Who (Playwrights Co-op)
1973: One Man’s Media and How to Write for Them (Holt, Rinehart and Winston) ISBN 0-03-929991-0
1974: Letters to my Son, illustrator Roy Peterson (Macmillan) ISBN 0-7705-1216-X
1975: with Peter Whalley, There’s a Lot of it Going Around (Doubleday)
1975: Three Plays: Like Father Like Fun, Pillar of Sand, The Fourth Monkey (Talonbooks)
1977: with Peter Whalley, Canada, Cancelled Because of Lack of Interest (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-139-1
1978: with Dave More, The Joy of Hockey (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-156-1
1980: with Dave More, The Joy of Football (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-183-9
1982: with Dave More, Golf, the Agony and the Ecstasy (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-218-5
1983: Canadide: A Patriotic Satire (Macmillan) ISBN 0-7715-9783-5
1984: with Dave More, Tennis It Serves You Right (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-266-5
1985: How to– ! : How to be Smarter, Slimmer, Happier, Richer, Sexier—and so Successful that You’ll Never Need Another How-To Book (Macmillan) ISBN 0-7715-9694-4
1986: with Dave More, The U.S. or Us: What’s the Difference, eh? (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-296-7
1989: Dickens of the Mounted: The Astounding Lost-Long Letters of Inspector F. Dickens, NWMP, 1874–1886 (McClelland and Stewart) ISBN 0-7710-6807-7
1992: Back Talk: A Book for Bad Back Sufferers and Those Who Love (Put Up With) Them, illustrator Graham Pilsworth (McClelland and Stewart) ISBN 0-7710-6809-3
1996: Skiing is Believing (Johnson Gorman) ISBN 0-921835-23-X
1998: Anything for a Laugh: Memoirs, autobiography (Harbour) ISBN 1-55017-187-9
1999: When Nature Calls: Life at a Gulf Island Cottage (Harbour) ISBN 1-55017-210-7
2001: The Casanova Sexicon: A Manual for Liberated Men (Ronsdale) ISBN 0-921870-88-4
2003: with Peter Whalley, Canadian Politics Unplugged (Hounslow) ISBN 1-55002-466-3
2005: Old Is In: A Guide for Aging Boomers (Dundurn Group) ISBN 1-55002-524-4
2010: Script Tease – A Wordsmith’s Waxings on Life and Writing (Dundurn Press) ISBN 978-1-55488-707-1
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015]
Pierre Berton, that prolific guy who used to wear a bow tie, is less famous in the ’90s. Allan Fotheringham will soon be approaching fuddy-duddy status. Jack Webster is no longer heard from. And BCTV has dumped longtime sportscaster Bernie Pascall in favour of wisecracking youth. Old guys, the ones who fought wars, cut down trees and supposedly under-estimated women, are old news. No wonder Peter Newman always wears a cap. “There aren’t many icons left,” says Eric Nicol, who arrived in Vancouver in 1921. “We’ve got the Spice Girls and then what?”
After serving with the RCAF, enduring one year at the Sorbonne and writing BBC comedies for two years, Nicol joined The Province as a columist in 1951, initially writing five times per week. After winning more Leacock Medals for Humour than anyone else, Nicol began to fall from fashion in the permissive early Seventies. “Who wants to read stuff written by a person who has never smoked anything, who has spurned both beer and booze, has been faithful to his spouse, has never been arrested for crime…”
Beset by family troubles, Nicol shocked his readership by producing something serious, Letters to My Son, a book based on Lord Chesterfield’s famous tome to his wayward son. “Although life is a box of chocolates according to Forrest Gump,” Nicol recalls, “what they expected to get from me was a soft centre. Instead they bit into a sourball. “I felt badly about this. I had violated one of the first rules of surviving as a writer: continue to give your readers what they have learned to expect from you. If you are Stephen King, you give them horror, book after book. Margaret Atwood, feminist turmoil. Farley Mowat, a torrid love affair with wolves, whales, whatever the Maritimers are slaughtering as a surrogate for having a team in the National Hockey League.”
During his 40 years of writing for The Province, Nicol never had a contract, he never took a holiday and he never missed a deadline. But as a self-avowed ‘devout determinist’, an agnostic ‘hooked on antique principles’, Nicol was determined not to change with the times. After 35 years, the droll punster was retired by Pacific Press at 65. After that he wrote one column per week, reduced to one column per month, then zilch. “The print humorist is an endangered species. Every year I expect to receive a Canadian Wildlife Federation calendar with my picture on it.” Self-deprecating to a fault (“In the feast of life, I have been a digestive biscuit”) and theatrically prudish, Nicol has accumulated the wisdom of the fool, the jester. It shows throughout his new collection of memoirs called Anything for a Laugh (Harbour $28.95)
As Nicol looks back in humour, his quips about his parents, his two marriages, raising children and the importance of financial security reveal someone who is deeply sensitive, often to the point of excruciating shyness, apolitical and always wary of authority.
Faced with any duress or unpleasantness, he is self-protectively philosophical, a trait that might prove irritating except for the fact that Nicol’s viewpoints are witty, unfailingly original and occasionally downright odd. “I can take pride in nothing,” he writes. “It’s a sort of low-grade humility.” Anything for a Laugh isn’t destined to knock Margaret Atwood off her perch, but it’s an amusing, often shrewd book—one worthy of some pride. Having written more than 30 books, dozens of plays, countless BBC radio skits and thousands of newspaper columns, Nicol is no longer a household name, but the old guy is still funny. 1-55017-187-9
[Alan Twigg / BCBW WINTER 1998]
“All that remains for us to do is choose a name for the cottage,” writes Eric Nicol in When Nature Calls: Life at a Gulf Island Cottage (Harbour $28.95). “This, I feel strongly, is the responsibility of the cottage owner. It is his or her chance to add the final creative touch to this precious asylum from the manic metropolis. In town your address is simply a number on the house or apartment. That won’t do for our cottage, which has an identity beyond the prosaic numerals. The driveway begs for notice of distinction. Nameplates such as Bide-a-Wee and Dun Roamin symptomize an imagination that was stunted at birth. The island expects the cottager to do better. Wit’s End and Paradise Leased and their cute like cheapen the investment and are likely copyrighted somewhere in the United States. The safest sign is the cottager’s name: The Smiths. Or, if identification isn’t desirable, for reasons known to Revenue Canada, A.N. Other is presentable, if carved on a nice cedar plaque with a sprig of pine cones. Whichever, the cottage sign is one job that owners really should do themselves. Contempt is easy to come by among the island’s tradesmen. It pays to show that the cottager isn’t entirely helpless. Money can’t buy respect. It can buy everything else, of course, but the pioneer spirit still lives on the island, though it doesn’t get into town much. This is why, when I sense that these true islanders are in the vicinity of our cottage, I make a display of simple industry. It may only be my chopping wood, or at least swinging an axe at something hard enough to make a pioneer sound. Or I lug rocks away from the driveway, lugging them back again after dark.
“And any visiting islander will likely find me at the outdoor worktable, labouring over the slab of cedar that will eventually be chiselled with The Nicols. I don’t expect this project to be completed in my lifetime. No matter. I’m sure that my children will carry on with the work, much as King Cheops’s kids kept puttering away at his pyramid. We all hope to leave something to posterity.” 1-55017-210-7
[BCBW WINTER 1999]
Eric Nicol and cartoonist Peter Whalley collaborate on their 5th book together, this time they take on our democracy in Canadian Politics Unplugged (Hounslow $19.99). 1-55002-466-3
[BCBW Winter 2003]
Getting Eric Nicol, 79, to critique Casanova is like getting Queen Victoria to review a Madonna concert. Or so you would think. After more than 40 books, Eric Nicol appreciates Casanova as a role model in The Casanova Sexicon: A Manual for Liberated Men (Ronsdale $18.95). Nicol claims Casanova was not cavalier; he was a genuine lover who ravished women. And they (apparently) liked it. Nicol feels sorry for the post-Greer, pre-nuptial agreement generation who are struggling for simultaneous orgasms, equality and gender blendered romance. Nicol’s A-to-Z directory is a treatise on sex written in the guise of a manual for would-be Casanovas. Here’s an excerpt.
Unless you plan to die young – and it is an option worth offering to the gods – you really need to have some occupation besides bedding women and betting on cards. We all die alone, but it is the wretched years while we teeter ere hopping the twig that may make the Casanovan question the wisdom of his never having learned a trade.. .married a nice girl.. or at least invested in sound real estate.
He who sows wild oats only, reaps a thin crop. With his swashbuckling lifestyle-fighting duels, making love to married women, eating out to excess – Casanova was lucky to live as long as he did. Or was he? He had no way of knowing that his massive memoirs would qualify as one of the classics of eighteenth century literature. Grown old, he might have been happier had he had a good-natured missus to bring him a cup of tea, and rub the back that he compromised with too much indoor sport…
This is particularly true if – unlike the Casanova – his disciple has missed the point: women are to be loved. He who has intercourse merely to relieve sexual tension is like him whose only interest in food is to satisfy hunger. Both are a bit gross. Women are fascinating creatures, usually seeking more than sex. They are the gourmets of copulation, whereas–most men are into fast food.
The wolf misses all the nuances of romance that made every love affair memorable for Casanova, because he wasn’t trying to squeeze it in between soccer practices. Lord Byron – no mean libertine himself – wrote: “Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart, /’Tis woman’s whole existence.” Today’s woman has narrowed the gap of need for a man’s love, thanks to the resurrection of Sappho, plus the technological breakthrough of the vibrator, and golf links for ladies.
Another new reality to make the Casanovan’s sex life more complicated than that of the average fruit fly: a new generation of women – to the consternation of the vintage feminists – is reported to be making waves in the Sea of Discord: The neo-feminist.
This brash young thing has taken a long look at her older sisters in emancipation from the patriarchal family, and noticed that the even playing field has proved to be crabgrass. Having it all – career. ..kids. ..a male helpmate eager and happy to forego the hockey game in favour of vacuuming the dog – has been found to be a flawed concept.
Total gender equality has been no guarantee of happiness for either sex. Especially if the hired nanny fashions a kid who views his or her parents as home furnishing, readily replaced by a computer play station.
As bonding, it’s been Crazy Glue. So, now the younger woman is seeking to restore her role as a homemaker, perhaps postponing another career in order to enjoy the satisfaction of being a full-time Mom. What is the Casanovan to make of this? Every hour that this woman spends with her children means less time that she will be sitting in a bar, or schussing down the slope, or taking her rightful place at a pool table, where the Casanovan has the opportunity to catch her eye and take a cue. Instead, she is ensconced in her home office, flirting with the Internet, a rival more formidable than Casanova ever had to deal with.
Thus the would-be Casanovan faces different criteria for seducing a 19 year-old university freshette, her 40 year-old unwed mother, and her understandably alcoholic grannie.
This frightening development has occurred in the time it has taken to write this book. Which makes it difficult to assess the Casanovan’s chances of finding sexual fulfillment by helping Moms push swings in playgrounds. Or by becoming a PC repairman, in order to get noticed by cyberwoman.
However, this rapidly-evolving confusion of gender roles does not necessarily invalidate the preceding pages’ gospel according to Casanova. A woman is ever a woman. And still susceptible to the advances of the man who truly loves women preferably one at a time-but with a mind open to exceptional occasions. Good hunting! 0-921870-88-4
[BCBW Spring 2002]
FRANK DICKENS, FIFTH CHILD OF NOVELIST Charles Dickens, was a North West Mounted Police inspector whose career from 1874 to 1886 was marked by recklessness, laziness and heavy drinking. He was, in other words, a born writer.
Esteemed Sorbonne scholar Eric Nicol has finally published the truth about this hitherto misunderstood frontier genius in The Astounding Long-Lost Letters of Dickens of the Mounted (M&S 1989 $24.95). By a stroke of luck, Nicol–known to dabble in humour columns for The Province, but strictly as a break from his scrupulous research–was able to uncover the hitherto overlooked Frank Dickens papers in the bowels of the UBC Special Collections Library. “Eric Nicol’s discovery is hot stuff,” says National Geographic’s chief adjudicator of amazing stuff found lying around, Emmett Q. Smith, “It’ll rank right up there with the Ogopogo video.”
The Canadian Encylopedia claims Francis Dickens should be blamed for “worsening relations between the Blackfoot and the NWMP,” and that he was singularly responsible “for the growing antipathy of the officer cadre toward Englishmen.” Nicol’s research, however, throws out the window this long-accepted belief that Dickens Jr. was a hopeless failure who eventually quit the Mounted Police due to deafness. “He drank too heavily in response to rejection slips,” Nicol says, “His was clearly a literary ailment.”
It was asinine Canadian publishers who led to the downfall of the sensitive Frank Dickens. Dickens’ letters back to England reveal that nobody wanted to publish his insightful literary portraits of such prairie luminaries as Sitting Bull, Louis Riel and Col. Harry Flashman. Meanwhile a few dusty copies of Diary of Francis Dickens–edited by Vernon laChance and published in 1930 by The Jackson Press, Kingston, Ontario–can still be found in Canadian university libraries. This previous Dickens diary–clearly a fake–cannot be trusted now that Eric Nicol has so diligently uncovered the truth with his publication of The Astounding Long-Lost Letters of Dickens of the Mounted.
[Alan Twigg / BCBW Winter 1989] (written in jest)
[Reprinted with permission of Jack Knox]
When the TV sportscaster jams his microphone in the player’s face before today’s Super Bowl and asks “Has the team improved?” here’s the appropriate reply: “Not only that, but I’d say it’s improved for the better.”
The line is Eric Nicol’s. He wrote it in the Vancouver Province close to 50 years ago in a piece poking fun at football commentators. I stumbled across it in Space Age, Go Home, a book of Nicol columns that my dad bought in 1965. “Improved for the better” isn’t the wittiest of Nicolisms, but it’s one that’s been rattling around in my head ever since, popping out of my mouth every time some sideline Einstein poses the question.
Nicol died in Vancouver this week at age 91-which is about 90 years after I first vowed to send him a letter to say thanks for the memories and sorry about the plagiarism. When I write the occasional (attempted) humour column today, it’s because two of the best – first Nicol, then Jim Taylor – showed how it’s done. (“It doesn’t bug me that you’re always late,” one of my paper route customers once told me, “so much as it bugs me to look out the window and see you sitting in the snowbank, reading Eric Nicol and laughing.”)
Nicol wasn’t just good. He was good for a long time, like Gordie Howe (as opposed to being along for a good time, like Dave Obee). He not only cranked out 6,000 columns for the Province between 1951 and 1986, but also wrote stage plays, radio scripts, magazine articles and close to 40 books, including three that won the Stephen Leacock Medal For Humour and one, Script Tease, that was published just months ago.
He was a smart writer with an everyman quality, finding humour in mundane life. Witty without being mean, he always seemed to have a cheerful sense of the absurd. (In the 1940s, while working on the Island as a spark-chaser for Port Renfrew Logging, he turned away a pair of black bears by singing O Canada and God Save The King.)
Nicol’s disarming, self-deprecating satire is echoed today by the likes of Rick Mercer and fellow Leacock winners Will and Ian Ferguson. “Eric kind of invented a particular Canadian style of humour writing and was a huge influence on myself and Will and other funny writers like Mark Leiren-Young and Drew Hayden Taylor,” says Ian, who now lives in Victoria. “Pick up any of his writing -I’m partial to Shall We Join The Ladies? and Anything For A Laugh -and you will enjoy the read. And laugh. A lot.”
They say Nicol was never the life of the party, though, not in real life. “He was so shy,” says Taylor, who will speak at Nicol’s memorial service in Vancouver today. Taylor, the Vic High grad who worked at the Colonist for 10 years before gaining fame as a Vancouver sports columnist, got to know Nicol not in the newspaper but beside the soccer fields where their eight-year-old sons played on the same team. Taylor would pick the older man’s brain. “I would go to school,” he said Friday. “He taught me that it was OK to be funny.
“That’s my complaint with newspapers now: Nobody laughs anymore.”
Apparently, Nicol felt the same way. Two years ago he did an interview with The Province’s Marc Weber, told him today’s newspapers are too homogeneous, too careful not to offend: “Back in the day, columnists were allowed to be wild and woolly. They’re all tamed down now. They all seem to be coming out of the same mould -politically correct and stylistically pretty humdrum. I have a feeling they’d rather die than split an infinitive.”
Yeah, well, you can say that of dulled-down newsrooms in general. People used to drink gin at their desks, now they feel like drug mules if they smuggle in a peanut butter sandwich. I don’t think there’s anyone left in the entire Times Colonist building who was ever caught having sex on company property, unless you count the delivery vans (the cars are too small). But I digress.
The best writing-for-deadline advice I ever got was from Taylor, who got it from Nicol on that rainsoaked soccer field: “Sometimes all you’ve got in you is garbage. Just give them the best garbage you’ve got.” Never give less than your best, even if it ain’t that great. Keep trying to improve for the better.
Eric Nicol, gone at 91. RIP. LOL.
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist
by Rick Salutin
It’s the mid-1950s. I’m about twelve, home sick with the flu. There are few books in our house, but I find one somebody gave my dad when he was in hospital with appendicitis. It’s called Twice Over Lightly, by a guy named Eric Nicol. I open it. The dedication reads, “This book was written for the money.” I crack up. It’s the first time I realize you can be funny in print.
It contains columns he wrote for the Vancouver Province, and continued to write for decades. They crack me up, too. There’s one about cops in unmarked cars pulling each other over and another on Columbus reaching America, sighting Indians, and telling the ships to form a circle with the women and children in the middle, who, of course, splash around and drown.
I try it out on a school assignment: review Cecil B. De Mille’s The Ten Commandments. I say Edward G. Robinson played the biblical character, “good old reliable Dathan,” with “a built-in sneer.” The teacher writes on my essay, “Talk about built-in sneers.” It worked! She even gets in the spirit, noting beside a chocolaty smudge on the page: “Food for thought?”
When I begin writing, in the 1970s, my first regular work is for a CBC radio show of topical satire. The credits at the end of each show go, “And written by … Eric Nicol and Rick Salutin.” One day in Vancouver, I go into the Province newsroom and introduce myself to my colleague!
In February, Eric Nicol received the Order of Canada. It’s a little late, but I wanted to add my congratulations.
An addendum on globalization: I’m particularly happy to give these testimonials about journalism since I consider it the least globalizable form of writing. But, you say, what about CNN? Exactly. CNN hasn’t created a global form of journalism; it’s transformed the worldwide audience for news into a faux suburb of Atlanta. Who else do you think Bobbie Batista and Flip Spicer picture as they do Talkback and the weather? Speaking of globalization, for those not sated with Quebec City, my own experience of that inimitable event appears in the Focus section of tomorrow’s Globe.
Originally published by The Globe and Mail. April 27, 2001.
Visit UBC Special Collections website for better, complete version.
Box – Folder
Correspondence series 1 – 1-19 1949-1954 1 – 20-37, 2-1 1954-1962 2 – 2-27 1962-1970
Province column series Notebooks 3 1952-1958 4 1958-1964 5 1965-1973 6 1974-1979 7 1980-1988 Typescripts 8 – 1 Oct.3, 1983-Nov.4, 1984 8 – 2 Oct.15, 1982-Sept.30, 1983 8 – 3 Jan.1, 1982-Oct. 13, 1982 8 – 4 Feb.27, 1981-Dec.30, 1981 8 – 5 Jun.2, 1980-Feb.25,1981 8 – 6 Oct.22, 1974-Apr.22, 1975 8 – 7 Apr.25, 1974-Oct. 19, 1974 8 – 8 Nov.1, 1973-Apr.23,1974 8 – 9 Apr.19,1973-Oct.30,1973 9 – 1 Nov.23, 1972-Apr. 17, 1973 9 – 2 Sept.23, 1953 (retyped)
Clippings 9 – 3 1952-1953 9 – 4 1954 9 – 5 Aug. 1966-Dec. 1966 9 – 6 Jan. 1967-Jun. 1967 9 – 7 Jul. 1967-Dec.1967 9 – 8 Jan. 1968-May 1968 9 – 9 Jun. 1968-Aug. 1968 9 – 10 Sept. 1968-Dec. 1968 1
Box – Folder
Clippings (continued) 10- 1 Jan. 1969-Jun.1969 10 – 2 Jul. 1969-Dec. 1969 10 – 3 Jan. 1970-Jun. 1970 10 – 4 Jul. 1970-Dec. 1970 10 – 5 Jan. 1971-May 1971 10 – 6 May 1971-Dec.1971 10 – 7 Jan. 1972-Dec.1972 10 – 8 Jan. 1973-Dec. 1973 10 – 9 Jan. 1976-Dec. 1976 11 – 1 Jan. 1977-Dec.1977 11 – 2 Jan. 1978-Nov. 1978 11 – 3 Jan. 1979-Dec. 1979 11 – 4 Jan. 1980-Dec. 1980 11 – 5 Jan. 1981-Dec. 1981 11 – 6 Jan. 1982-Dec. 1982 11 – 7 Jan. 1983-Dec. 1983 11 – 8 Jan. 1984-Oct.1984 11 – 9 Nov. 1984-Dec. 1986
Radio Series Radio Plays (finished scripts unless otherwise noted) 12 – 1 The Addict (1952) Includes typescript. 12 – 2 The Awkward Manna (1948) 12 – 3 Baker’s Dozen (1942) 12 – 4 Bonds for Bombs! (1944) 12 – 5 Canadian Party (n.d.) 12 – 6 C.B.C. Christmas Day Show (1950) 12 – 7 The Common Touch (1962) 12 – 8 The Crabapple Queen (n.d.) Typescript. 12 – 9 The Fifteen Men (1947,1948,1952) 12 – 10 The Giant Beyond the Rockies (1966) Includes typescript. 12 – 11 The Gift (n.d.) Typescript. 12 – 12 Hail Fellow, Well Met (1946,1953,1956) 12 – 13 Hair of the Dog (1954) Includes typescript. 12 – 14 Hamburgers and Heraldry (1951) 12 – 15 Hell’s Angel (1987) Draft for CBC radio literary competition. 12 – 16 I’m Just Wild About Hare Krishna (1974) Includes typescript, outline. 12 – 17 The Last Great Benefit Rock Concert (1978) Draft for CBC radio literary competition. 12 – 18 The Last Ride of S.Claus (1951) 12 – 19 Love is a Wanton (1952)
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Radio play (continued) 12 – 20 Mac and the Atom (1949) 12 – 21 The Machine (1952) Includes typescript. 12 – 22 The Miser (n.d.) Typescript 12 – 23 The Naked Audio (1970) Includes typescript, revisions. 12 – 24 A Nicol Makes Five (1969) (Includes: Rings on her Finger, A Tale Told by a Vidiot, Hail Fellow, Well Met, Some Birds Don’t Fly, and The Common Touch) 12 – 25 Once More, From the Top (n.d.) 13 – 1 Once Upon a Moon (1947, 1961) Includes revised draft. 13 – 2 Ours is the Future (1958) 13 – 3 Ratzlaff vs. the Creator (1985) Includes reviews. 13 – 4 Rings on her Finger (1953, 1954) Includes typescript. 13 – 5 Single Gentlemen Preferred (1946) 13 – 6 Some Birds Don’t Fly (1962) Includes typescript. (Not boxed) State of the Arts (1986) Recording of the broadcast. (Cassette tape call #: Sp 66:1) 13 – 7 Strictly from Hunger (1952) Includes draft. 13 – 8 A Tale Told by a Vidiot (1962) Includes typescript. 13 – 9 Three Weeks at Wit’s End (1969) 13 – 10 A Time to Speak (1958) Includes typescript. 13 – 11 Two Weeks at Wit’s End (1969) Includes typescript. 13 – 12 Uncle Lush (1952) Includes typescript. 13 – 13 Your Placebo or Mine (1989) Draft for CBC literary competition. 13 – 14 Walk by Night (n.d.)
Radio Revue (typescripts unless otherwise noted)
14 – 1 CBC Pacific (n.d.) 14 – 2 CBC School Broadcast (n.d.) 13 – 15 Hotel Downbeat (n.d.) 14 – 3-8 Inside from the Outside (1970-1976) 14 – 9 P.R. Show (n.d.) 13 – 16 Third Victory Loan (n.d.) 13 – 17 Why Canadians Leave Home (1955) Includes finished script. 14 – 10 Worst of ‘63 (1963) 13 – 18 Others (1970,1971)
Box – Folder Radio Talk (typescripts) 18 – 1 Authors’ Choice (1989) 18 – 2 CBC International (n.d.) 18 – 3 CBC International Service (1977-1980) 18 – 4 CBC Talk (1948,1954) 18 – 5 Critically Speaking (1952,1953) 18 – 6 Dominion Magazine (n.d.) 18 – 7 The Frozen Smile (1970) 18 – 8 Miscellany (n.d.) 18 – 9 Public Affairs (n.d.) 18 – 10 Trans-Canada Matinee (1954-1965) 18 – 11 Others (show title unknown) (1963,1977)
Radio Variety Show 14 – 11 The Barney Potts Show (n.d.) Typescripts. 13 – 19 CBC Showcase (1953) Typescript, finished script. 14 – 12 Behind the Headlines (1954) Typescript. 14 – 13 Canadian Weekly Newspaper Assn. Show (1971) Typescript. 14 – 14 Comedy Cafe (1969) Typescript, outlines. 13 – 20-21 Command Performance (1943, 1944) Finished scripts. 13 – 22 Jubilee (1946) Finished scripts. 14 – 15 Music I Like (1962) Typescript. 13 – 23 Songs for the Boys (1945) Typescript, finished script. 13 – 24 Stag Party (1942) Finished script. 13 – 25 Stopwatch and Listen (1951) Finished script.
Radio – BBC (finished scripts unless otherwise noted) 15 – 1-9 Bedtime with Braden [co-scripted with Denis Norden and Frank Muir] (1950-1953) 15 – 10 Between Times with Braden [co-scripted with Denis Norden and Frank Muir] (1954) 15 – 11, Breakfast with Braden [co-scripted with Denis Norden and Frank 16 – 1-2 Muir] (1950) Includes typescripts. 16 – 3 Britain on Show (1951) 16 – 4 Ca C’est Paris (1951) 16 – 5 Canada Calling (1950) 16 – 6 Land of the Young Son (1951) Includes typescript. 16 – 7-10 Leave Your Name and Number (n.d.) 16 – 11 Return to Paris (n.d.) Typescript. 4 4
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Television Series Television Play 16 – 12 The Bathroom (1963) Typescript, finished script. 16 – 13 A Beginner’s History of Canada (n.d.) Typescript. 16 – 14-15 Borderline (1968) Typescript, revisions, handwritten notes. 16 – 16 Christmas Show (1988) Includes a letter from a production company, comments on the script, the script, and design drafts. 16 – 17 The Good Canadian (1958) Finished script, typescript. 16 – 18 Hell of a Lover (1964) Typescript. 17 – 1 Instant Ivy (1966) Typescript, finished script. 17 – 2 The Island (1967) Outline. 17 – 3 Ma! (1982) Finished script, revisions, rehearsal schedule, and reference material (newspaper). 17 – 4-5 The Man From Inner Space (1973) Finished script, photocopy of publication, typescript. 17 – 6 Maple Leaf (1966, 1967) Typescript, finished script. 17 – 7 Moon Girl (n.d.) Typescript. 17 – 8 Scope for New Years (n.d.) Typescript. 17 – 9 Spud Murphy’s Hill (1967) Outline, typescript, finished script. 17 – 10 Strictly from Hunger (1952) Finished script. 17 – 11 Take to the Woods (1955) Finished script. 17 – 12 This Other Eden (n.d.) Typescript. 17 – 13-14 To the Bastille (1988) Outline, typescript, reference materials, handwritten draft.
Television Revue (typescripts unless otherwise noted) 18 – 12 The Big Show (n.d.) 18 – 13 CBUT Revue (n.d.) 18 – 14 Comedy Crackers (1970) 18 – 15 The Don Harron Show (1984-85) Includes handwritten notes. 18 – 16 Emerson & Co. (1955) 18 – 17 If I’m A Milligan… (1972) 18 – 18 Item (1958) 18 – 19 The Little Show (1969) 18 – 20 Lotto Night (1987) Includes handwritten notes, a letter from the B.C. Lottery Corporation, and reference materials. 18 – 21 Market Place (1973) 18 – 22 The Mike Neun Show (1970) 5
Box – Folder Television Revue (continued)
18 – 23 A Mirror Up (n.d.) Finished script. 18 – 14 Parade (n.d.) 18 – 25-29, Piffle & Co. (1971) Includes finished scripts. 19 – 1 19 – 2 Revue X (n.d.) 19 – 3 A Second Look (1968-1969) 19 – 4 What’s a Nice Show (1979) 19 – 5 Others (1972,1984) (show titles unknown)
Television Monologue 19 – 6 Here & There (1956) Typescript, finished script. 19 – 7 Others (n.d.) Typescripts.
Television Music Show 19 – 8 Canada Sings (1979) Finished script, typescript, pamphlet. 17 – 15 Carols Anyone (1964) Finished script. 17 – 16-17 Chorus Anyone (n.d.) Finished script.
Television Variety Show 19 – 9 51 Skidoo (1968) Typescript. 19 – 10 Diary of a Funnyman (n.d.) Typescript. 19 – 11 Others (n.d.) Typescripts.
Television – BBC 19 – 12 Braden’s Week (1971) Typescript, finished script. 17 – 18 Kaleidoscope (1950) Typescript, finished script.
Stage Series Stage Play (date refers to materials, not production date) (typescripts unless otherwise noted) 19 – 14 24 Tadpoles (1970) Includes finished script. 6
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Stage Play (continued)
19 – 15 The Atom and Eve (1982) Includes publication of Theatre B.C. 23 – 1 Brass Tacks (n.d.) 23 – 2,3 Beware the Quickly Who (1967, 1971) Includes finished script. 23 – 4 The Big Dig (1961) Includes finished script. 19 – 16,17 The Centennial Play (1967) Includes finished script. 19 – 18, The Citizens of Calais (1973,1974) Includes handwritten drafts. 20 – 21 23 – 5 The Clam Made a Face (1967) Includes a letter dated 1971. 20 – 2 Comedy of Eros (1957) 20 – 3 CrAzIeS (1985) Includes handwritten drafts. 20 – 4 Creation 11(1990) 20 – 5 Eau Canada (1969) 20 – 6 The Fourth Monkey (n.d.) 20 – 7-10 Free At Last (1978,1980) 20 – 11 Got It Made (1989) 20 – 12 Hell of a Lover (1969) 23 – 6 Her Scienceman Lover (or) The Birth of a Nation (n.d.) 20 – 13, Home to Roost (1983,1984) 21 – 1 21 – 2-6 Like Father, Like Fun (1966-1968) (Title for Broadway “Minor Adjustment”) 21 – 7-8 Ma! (1981) 21 – 9, Making the Point (1986). Includes handwritten drafts. 22 – 1 22 – 2 Man From Glad (1976) (Tentative title “An Almost Natural Death”) 22 – 3 Mask Island (1991) 22 – 4 Mixed Doubles (1986,1988) (Tentative title “As the Worm Turns”) 23 – 7-8 Mr. Swim (1985,1987) Includes handwritten drafts, a letter from the Arts Club Theatre, photocopies of articles and newspaper articles for reference. 22 – 5-6 Pilar of Sand (1971,1972) 22 – 7-10 Regulus (n.d.) 22 – 11 Salute to Theatre Under the Stars (1977) Includes press clippings for references. 22 – 12 The Test Match (n.d.) 22 – 13 That’s Fer Damshur (Ma! the Musical) (1982)
Stage Revue (typescripts) 23 – 9 Made in Canada (1984) 7
Box – Folder Stage Revue (continued)
23 – 10 Norm Young & Co. (1966) 23 – 11 Oh! Gastown! (1971) 23 – 12 Spring Thaw (1963) 23 – 13 UBC Revue (1965) 23 – 14 Others (1968,1975) (Titles of the shows are unknown)
Stage Monologue 23 – 15 The Bag Lady (1983) Typescript.
23 – 16, Canada Cancelled Because of Lack of Interest (1975,76,77) 24 – 1-2 Includes: typescript, promotional material, design draft of the cover, draft for promotional material, notebooks (handwritten draft), correspondence and handwritten notes. 24 – 3-7 Canadide (1981,1983) Handwritten notes, typescripts. 23 – 17-20, Dickens of the Mounted (1988-1989) Handwritten notebooks, 24 – 8-13, typescript, reference materials. 25 – 1-13 (Photograph call #: BC 1947/131-133) 25 – 14-15 Don’t Move! (1969-197 1) Handwritten draft, typescript, reference materials. 25 – 16 Golf – The Agony and the Ecstasy (1981) Typescript, reference materials. 25 – 17 How to… (1984) Typescripts, correspondence. 25 – 18 In Darkest Domestica (1959) Typescripts. 25 – 19 The Joy of Football (1980) Typescripts. 26 – 1-2 The Joy of Hockey (1978) Design drafts, typescripts, handwritten notes. 26 – 3-4 Letters to My Son (1974,1971) Correspondence, notebooks, typescripts, handwritten notes. 26 – 5-6 One Man’s Media (1972,1973) Edited drafts, typescripts, notebooks. 26 – 7 Politics in Canada (1987) Typescript, newspaper clippings 26 – 8 Russia, Anyone? (n.d.) Typescript. 26 – 9-10 Sam’s Cove (1989) Typescript. 26 – 11 Say, Uncle (1960) Typescript. 26 – 12 Tennis – It Serves You Right! (1983) Typescript, handwritten notes, reference materials, design draft. 27 – 1-2 There’s a Lot of It Going Around (1975) Typescript, edited draft, design draft. 8
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Books Series (continuted)
27 – 3 An Uninhibited History of Canada (1966) Typescript of the introduction 27 – 4 The U.S. or Us? (1985) Typescript, reference materials, publishers’ catalogue. 23 – 21-22, Vancouver (?-1973) Typescript, notes, reference materials. 27 – 5-14, (Photograph call # BC 1947/55-114) 28 – 1-4
Short Story Series (typescripts)
28 – 5 Come What May (n.d.) 28 – 6 Flunkies and Females (n.d.) 28 – 7 Franklin (1988) 28 – 8 Friday’s Granma (1991) 28 – 9 The Genesis of George (n.d.) 28 – 10 The Kitten (n.d.) 28 – 11 The Mink (n.d.) 28 – 12 A Name to be Called (n.d.) 28 – 13 Whoa, Pete! (n.d.)
Article Series 28 – 14-47, Draft sub-series 29 – 18 29 – 19-25 Printed article sub-series
Other Writings Series 30 – 1-9 Other writings (1967-1979) Typescripts, printed materials.
Miscellaneous Notebook Series 31 1953-1969 32 1970-1983 33 1984-1992 (Includes 8 undated notebooks)
Box – Folder
Reviews (newspaper clippings unless otherwise noted) 30 – 10 100 Years of What? (1966) 30 – 11 Back Talk (1992-1993) 34 – 1 Canada Cancelled (1977) 30 – 12 Canadide (1983) Includes magazine clippings. 30 – 13 Dickens of the Mounted (1989-1992) Includes letters. 30 – 14 Don’t Move (1971) 34 – 2 Free at Last (1979-1980) 30 – 15 Girdle Me a Globe, etc (1957-1963) 30 – 16 Golf: The Agony and the Ecstacy (1982) 30 – 17 How To…! (1985-1986) 30 – 18 The Joy of Football (1980-198 1) 30 – 19 The Joy of Hockey (1978) 30 – 20 Letters to My Son (1974-1975) 30 – 21 Ma! (1981-1983) 30 – 22 Like Father, Like Fun (1966-1976) Includes letter. 30 – 23 Pillar of Sand (1972) Includes pamphlets of the theatre. 30 – 24 A Scar is Born (1968-1969) 30 – 25 Space Age, Go Home! (1964) 30 – 26 Still a Nicol (1972-1973) 30 – 27 Tennis – It Serves You Right! (1984) 30 – 28 There’s a Lot of It Going Around (1975-1976) 30 – 29 The U.S. or US (1986-1987) 30 – 30 Vancouver (1970-1971) Includes radio script. 30 – 31 Various (1956-1987)
Subject File Series 35 – 1 Capital Punishment (1959) Typescripts for articles, correspondence. 35 – 2 Genesis of the Society for Population Control (1960-1979) Transcript of an interview, newsletters, and correspondence. 34 – 3 Income Tax returns (1953-1972) 35 – 3 Lecture notes (n.d.) Notes for unidentified courses. 35 – 4 Letters from readers (1956-1963) Letters of suggestions for Nicol’s writings 35 – 5 Memorabilia (1964-1984) Clippings, correspondence, publications. 34 – 4 Miscellany – Theatre odds & ends (1963-1982) Newspaper clippings, publications of theatres. 34 – 5,6 Okanagan Summer School of the Arts (1970,1971) Lecture notes, related material, correspondence. 35 – 6 Progressive Education (1952,1954) Letters and related materials sent by readers. 10
Box – Folder
35 – 7 Reginerazione (1987) Photocopies of an italian novel and its translation. 34 – 7 Royal Visit to Fiji (1953) Correspondence, reference materials. 35 – 8 UBC Memorabilia (1956-1979) Newspaper clippings, publications of UBC. 35 – 9 UBC research materials (1986) Notes concerning events at UBC. 35 – 10 Vancouver Flouridation Battle (1963-1969) Correspondence, clippings, reference materials. 35 – 11 West Coast Writers (1970) Newspaper clippings.
Scrapbook Series 36
Photograph series: Photographic prints available through the call #s BC 1947/1- 54, BC 1947/115-126 (Negatives: BC 1947/127-130)
The Vancouver Sun sub-group 35 – 12
Eric Nicol Fonds
An inventory of his fonds
The Library of University of British Columbia
Rare Books and Special Collections
Dates of Creation: 1944-2005
Physical Description: 1.19 m of textual records, 7 photographs and 1 audio cassette Scope and Content: Accession consists mainly of manuscripts for books, short stories, articles, stage plays and radio plays which were written by Nicol but never published. It also includes some early drafts of books that were eventually published. The accession also includes Nicol’s business correspondence from 1971 to 1978.
Arrangement: Correspondence was kept by Nicol alphabetically in file folders by groups of years. This arrangement has been respected. His manuscripts were not kept in any particular order, so the categories of the first accession have been followed here. Restrictions: There are no restrictions.
Immediate Source of Acquisition: Accession was donated by Eric Nicol on November 14, 2007.
Correspondence Series Correspondence was kept in file folders, arranged alphabetically within a range of years. Unfiled correspondence also contains a marked up copy of Nicol’s play A Scar is Born. Series contains 2 col. photographs at 37 – 25, 2 slides at 38 – 10, and 2 col. photographs at 38 – 22.
Radio Series Series consists of typescripts of plays intended for radio. These are arranged alphabetically by title. It also contains a cassette recording of the CBC recording of the History of Canada.
Television Series Series consists of two television show scripts, arranged alphabetically by title.
Stage Play Series Series consists of manuscripts and drafts of stage plays, arranged alphabetically by title. The play “Re Generation,” was an adaptation of the Italian work by Italo Svevo “La Rigenerazione” requested by Malcolm Black at Theatre Plus, and had the alternate titles of “Regenerator,” “Twice Upon A Time,” “Old Is Someone Else,” “Off With the New,” “His Old Self” and “Youth is a Local.” One black and white photograph is included at 39-15.
Books Series Series consists of drafts and manuscripts of books, arranged alphabetically by title.
Short Story Series Series consists of typescripts of short stories, arranged alphabetically by title.
Article Series Series includes typescripts of articles written for miscellaneous publications, arranged alphabetically by title. It also contains notebooks consisting of articles written for The Vancouver Sun and The Province and photocopies of published articles from 1944-1948, some of which are written under Nicol’s pen name, Jabez.
Other Writings Series Series consists of poems, book reviews written by Nicol, and other uncategorized writing, arranged alphabetically by title.
Miscellaneous Notebooks Series Series consists of Nicol’s notebooks from 1989-1994, arranged chronologically.
Box – Folder Dates
37 – 1-18 1971-1976 37 – 19-28 1977-1982 (includes 2 col. photographs at 37-25) 38 – 1-17 1983-1987 (includes 2 slides at 38-10) 38 – 18-19 1988-1991 38 – 20-33 1996-2003 (includes 2 col. photographs at 38-22) 38 – 34 miscellaneous unfiled correspondence 1978-2006 38 – 35 1995-1998
Radio series (typescripts)
39 – 1-4 The Growing of Adam Green first draft September 1989 39 – 2 Older Persons n.d. 39 – 3 The Painted Lady July 1992 39 – 4 The Weather Guy January 29, 1998 [Not boxed] Recording of History of Canada Cassette tape call #Sp 106:1 September 14, 2003
39 – 5 Cars and Effects (synopsis) January 27, 1992 39 – 6 The Hanging Judge (outline, reference material, notes) (n.d.)
Stage Play Series
39 – 7 Fables For Fun (typescript, handwritten draft) 1995 39 – 8 Into the Blender (typescript) (n.d.) 39 – 9 Ma! A Celebration of Margaret Murray (typescript of production draft) May 1981 39 – 10 Only Male Birds Sing (typescript) August 21, 1992 39 – 11 Re Generation (typescript of revised draft) November 1994 39 – 12 Regenerator (typescript draft) December 1991 39 – 13 Theatre Plus correspondence n.d. 39 – 14 Twice Upon A Time (typescript of third draft) January 1988 39 – 15 Re Generation (typescript of draft) c. 1988 (includes one b&w photograph) 39 – 16 Twice Upon A Time (typescript of second draft) September 1987 39 – 17 Twice Upon A Time (marked up typescript of second draft) September 1987
Box – Folder Dates
39 – 18 Old Is Someone Else (typescript of first draft) July 1987 39 – 19 Regulus (marked up production copy) n.d. 40 – 1 Walking Mr. Mac (revised typescript) 1994
Books Series 40 – 2-5 Anything For a Laugh handwritten draft, notes, research material, addenda 1988, 1989, 1996 40 – 6 Audie the Ostrinaut typewritten draft January 1990 40 – 7 Doughnut Danny and The Flying Sorcerer typescript 40 – 8 Felix the Brat typescript, handwriting notes n.d. 40 – 9-11, For Men’s Eyes Only (originally titled “Are 41 – 1 You Decent? A Gentleman’s Survival Guide to Women”) research material, handwritten draft, typescript 1994 41 – 2 Freddy the Geek outline n.d. 41 – 3-4 Jesse James Slept Here typescript June 2000 41 – 5 Ginger’s Magic Mouse typescript n.d. 41 – 6 Friday’s Grandma March 1991 41 – 7-8 So What’s Old?: A Guide for Aging Boomers (later published as “Old is In” handwritten draft, typescript n.d. 41 – 9 Sam’s Cove typescript c. 1995 41 – 10-11 Skiing is Believing (later published as Skiing) research material, typescript, correspondence c. 1995 42 – 1-2 When Nature Calls (originally titled Cottage Essays) handwritten draft 1997 42 – 3-4 The Write Stuff: An Author’s Handbook typescripts c. 2005
Short Story Series (typescripts)
42 – 5 Aesop and the Fabulous Stone n.d. 42 – 6 First Date c. 1998 42 – 7 Louie, the Dog Who Played Right Field January 2000 42 – 8 My Dad, the Monster November 1991 42 – 9 The Mystery of Mars n.d. 42 – 10 Vera’s Ghost n.d.
42 – 11-31 Articles filed by title, typescripts and handwritten drafts 1991-1991 42 – 32 Untitled articles, typescripts 1995
Box – Folder Dates
43 – 1 Articles Notebook April 1995 43 – 2 Photocopies of published articles 1944-1949 43 – 3-4 Notebooks of articles for the Vancouver Sun and The Province 1989, 1992
Other Writings Series (typescripts)
43 – 5 Intro, “A Certain Age November 1998 [for Almanac] May 1992 Don’t Ask! n.d. Growing Up Green October 1993 Book reviews April 1993 The Market Investor’s Soliloquy n.d. Red is For Road Rage n.d. Tyrannosaurus Wrecks September 1990 O Ye Gods June 1992
Miscellaneous Notebooks Series
43 – 6-18 December 1989-December 1994
The turnout for a memorial mass in honour of Eric Nicol on February 6, just four days after his death at age 91, was embarrassingly small for someone who had significant stature as a writer for six decades.
It was held in a modest Catholic church in the Dunbar neighbourhood of Vancouver, presided over by a Franciscan who deemed that anyone who is a writer is necessarily a contemplative, and all contemplatives are within the realm of God.
Nicol was a self-avowed agnostic. Precious little in the service referred to Nicol as a person and the importance of his literary career was barely mentioned beyond a letter from his Alberta-based illustrator.
Laymen who knew Eric were only invited to speak at a tea ’n’ sandwiches reception afterwards.
Despite severe back pain, veteran sportswriter Jim Taylor attended from West Vancouver to give some appreciation of Eric as a writer, and Norman Young (a retired UBC professor) was also present as someone who knew the bigger picture, but by then the humourless mass had unintentionally served as a sobering reminder of how fleeting “literary fame” can be.
Jack Knox’s column in the Times Colonist on February 6 was a welcome antidote. “Nicol wasn’t just good,” he wrote. “He was good for a long time, like Gordie Howe… He was a smart writer with an Everyman quality, finding humour in mundane life. Witty without being mean, he always seemed to have a cheerful sense of the absurd.”
In short, Eric Nicol cranked out 6,000 columns for The Province between 1951 and 1986; as well as 39 books, countless radio scripts, stageplays and magazine articles. One of his plays was produced on Broadway. He wrote two successful radio series for the BBC and he became the first living Canadian writer to be included in The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose.
He won the Leacock Medal for Humour three times. In 1995, he became the first recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize an outstanding literary career in British Columbia.
Eric Nicol wrote prodigiously and chronically. His last book, Scriptease (2010), was written while he had Alzheimer’s.
He was good for a long time.
According to Eric Patrick Nicol—born on December 28, 1919 in Kingston, Ontario, the son of William Nicol and Amelia Mannock Nicol—in 1921 he “almost immediately persuaded his parents to flee a fierce winter in favour of a farmhouse on Kingsway,” in British Columbia. He would later describe the province as “a body of land surrounded by envy.”
After a brief period in Nelson, the family relocated to Point Grey where Nicol began writing stories at Lord Byng High School. While pursuing an arts degree at UBC in 1941, Nicol wrote for the The Ubyssey newspaper under the pen name of Jabez.
Nicol served with the RCAF in W.W. II, during which he started writing occasional columns for the Vancouver News Herald and The Province. As Jabez, he published his first book, Says We (1943), a collection of columns by himself and the once-legendary Vancouver journalist Jack Scott.
While he was in the RCAF, Nicol wrote comedy skits that were performed to entertain the armed forces. At war’s end, he returned to UBC for his M.A. in French Studies (’48), then spent one year in doctoral studies at the Sorbonne. He moved to London, England, to write a radio comedy series for Bernard Braden and Barbara Kelly of the BBC from 1950-51.
During this period, while writing alongside Frank Muir and Denis Norden, Nicol bought a car and lived it up a little, renting a swanky apartment. Naively, he had not understood that he must pay taxes on his earnings.
And so he skedaddled back to Vancouver, where he became a regular columnist with The Province in 1951.
During 40 years of writing for The Province, Nicol claimed he never had a contract, he never took a holiday and he never missed a deadline. He feared that if he went on vacation, he might lose his job.
For most of his life, Nicol lived in the same house he purchased in 1957, near UBC. After being at any gathering for about fifteen or twenty minutes, he invariably whispered to his companion, “Let’s get out of here.”
Avoidance of parties was akin to avoidance of embarrassment. “I’m either sitting there like a frog full of shot,” he told the Georgia Straight in 1989, “or I run off at the neck and then hate myself the next morning.”
It was easier to let his characters speak. Nicol was the first Vancouver playwright to have his work successfully produced by the Vancouver Playhouse. His best-known play, Like Father, Like Fun (1966), concerned a crass lumber baron’s attempt to contrive his son’s initiation to sex. After it was unsuccessfully staged in New York under the title A Minor Adjustment (1967), Nicol rebounded with The Fourth Monkey (1968) about a failed playwright who takes refuge on the Gulf Islands.
Nicol’s play for the National Theatre in Ottawa, Pillar of Sand (1973), was set in fifth century Constantinople and examined civilization’s decline. “The reviews were mixed,” he said, “bad and terrible.” Other plays are Regulus; Beware the Quickly Who; The Clam Made a Face; a Joy Coghill vehicle, Ma! (1981), about once-legendary B.C. newspaperwoman Margaret ‘Ma’ Murray; and his cryptic Free At Last.
One of Nicol’s more audacious works was Dickens of the Mounted: The Astounding Long-Lost Letters of Inspector F. Dickens NWMP 1874–1886 (1989), in which he devilishly invented correspondence from the son of Charles Dickens.This fictional work was taken for fact by many readers and some media outlets.
In his amusing but shrewd memoir Anything for a Laugh (1998), Nicol’s viewpoints are invariably witty, unfailingly original and occasionally downright odd. “I can take pride in nothing,” he writes. “It’s a sort of low-grade humility.”
Although he was an inveterate punster, Eric Nicol did not wish to be pegged as simply a humourist. Seldom cited among Nicol’s best books is the still-serviceable history of his city, Vancouver (1970).
Apolitical but wary of authority, he was proud that his column on the assassination of John F. Kennedy was read into The Congressional Record. If prodded, he liked to recall that one of his Province columns against capital punishment resulted in a citation for contempt and a trial that attracted national interest.
Beset by family troubles, Nicol shocked his readership by producing something serious, Letters to My Son, a book based on Lord Chesterfield’s famous tome to his wayward son. “Although life is a box of chocolates according to Forrest Gump,” Nicol wrote, “what they expected to get from me was a soft centre. Instead they bit into a sourball. I felt badly about this. I had violated one of the first rules of surviving as a writer: continue to give your readers what they have learned to expect from you. If you are Stephen King, you give them horror, book after book. Margaret Atwood, feminist turmoil. Farley Mowat, a torrid love affair with wolves, whales, whatever the Maritimers are slaughtering as a surrogate for having a team in the National Hockey League.”
A self-avowed commercial writer, Nicol frequently described his politics as “anarchist in theory, liberal in practice.” In public, he seemed downright conservative, even prudish. In 1962, Nicol quipped that he did not smoke, drink, play cards or run around with women—but he hoped to do so if royalties came pouring in.
As a self-avowed ‘devout determinist,’ an agnostic ‘hooked on antique principles,’ Nicol was determined not to change with the times. After 35 years, the droll punster was retired by Pacific Press at age 65. After that he wrote one column per week, reduced to one column per month, then zilch.
“The print humourist is an endangered species,” he wrote. “Every year I expect to receive a Canadian Wildlife Federation calendar with my picture on it.”
Eric Nicol had three children from his first wife Myrl Mary Helen Heselton. In 1986 he married author Mary Razzell, with whom he lived in the same Point Grey home he had purchased in 1957. Although he once described himself as “pretty well retired from everything except breathing,” Nicol teamed with cartoonist Peter Whalley for Canadian Politics Unplugged in 2003 and released a “palsied opus” about aging in 2005. But he couldn’t stop joking.
Self-deprecating to a fault (“In the feast of life, I have been a digestive biscuit”) and not prone to self-mythololgizing, Nicol accumulated the wisdom of the jester.
Just before he died, he joked once more to Mary, his steadfast supporter, “Let’s get out of here.”
Eric Nicol died at 9:19 a.m. on February 2, 2011, at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital in Vancouver.
Somewhere near the middle of Frank Davey’s new book on the origins of the TISH writing movement at UBC, When TISH Happens (ECW), Davey states that when he was growing up in Abbotsford in the 1950s, there were only three living B.C. writers that anyone knew existed: Roderick Haig-Brown, Earle Birney and Eric Nicol. That held true for the early sixties, too.
But from the Age of Pun to the Age of Rap, tastes in humour radically changed. Nicol’s gentlemanly wit began to seem anachronistic.
By the time Nicol was forced into retirement from the newspaper game, he was given a laptop computer as a present from Pacific Press.
Nicol, according to Jim Taylor, always wrote using a pencil.
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