February 15, 2012

The Beachcombers 40th Anniversary

The greatest show in the history of Canadian television is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The Beachcombers first aired on October 1, 1972, on CBC, airing for an unprecedented 18 years, making it the longest running show in English Canadian television history.

I grew up with The Beachcombers, watching it every Sunday night at 7pm, immediately following the Wonderful World of Disney, which started at 6pm. Then, the unmistakable theme song of The Beachcombers would start up, with the iconic imagery of the massive cedar log rolling down into the water, which pretty much summed up the concept for the show.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall the day this show was pitched.

Idea man: “Here’s the concept: A Greek guy and his First Nations buddy drive around in their shitty boat collecting logs. Every week. For twenty years”.
CBC Executive: “Gold. Done deal”.

My entire family loved the show. My sister and I loved it for the adventure and sometimes admittedly lame sit-com style set ups, Dad loved it for its spot-on warts-and-all depiction of life on the West Coast, the final frontier, with its scallywag multicultural characters like Bruno, Relic, and Pat, on bashed up boats that could do jumps, adults and kids alike wearing no life jackets ever, scavenging logs for a living, all in front of a backdrop of thick forests and majestic mountain peaks. It was like Dukes of Hazzard on water and 100% Canadian. Mom liked it because it brought all of us together in one room as a family.

When I was in grade two, my elementary school went on a field day downtown to CBC Vancouver. As we were crossing the lobby, our class came upon the towering Jackson Davies, one of the stars of The Beachcombers. He stopped to chat with the class. “Can anyone tell me which role I play on The Beachcombers?” he asked the class. My tiny hand shot up at the back of the class, my glasses fogging with excitement as I yelled out “you’re Constable Constable!” Jackson Davies smiled and said “That’s right, kid. You may have a future at this place”. Years later, as a adult and working at CBC, I met Jackson Davies on a BC Ferry and was able to tell him the story.

Like most once-great TV shows, The Beachcombers sputtered in its later years, suffering from ever-worsening, gimmicky, desperate scripts. Eventually the show was cancelled in 1990. By then, the show was pure nostalgia to me, as my friends and I constantly referenced it, making fun and roasting it but loving our memories of it at the same time.

Decades later when it came to writing my book Adventures in Solitude, The Beachcombers was a major influence in more ways than one. Dad had always compared the real life scallywags of Desolation Sound to those we saw each Sunday night on CBC, something I remembered as I typed out my tribute to the coast.

When I was having great difficulty getting any publisher to even look at the book, everyone telling me it was “too regional”, I kept thinking back to The Beachcombers, and how hugely successful that show was. Not only did Canadians love to see these raggamuffin characters face off against each other and Mother Nature on the wild west coast, but so too did viewers from around the world, making The Beachcombers one of the most exported Canadian TV shows ever. The Beachcombers soaring transcendence, like Relic’s boat over a sandbar, inspired me to keep trying.

This year, the Sunshine Coast Museum has an exhibit chronicling the 40th anniversary of this truly Canadian landmark show. I’ll definitely be stopping into Gibson’s to pay my respects to Bruno, Relic, Pat, Constable, Molly, and the rest.

Watch an entire classic episode of The Beachcombers.

Thanks to Jo-Ann Roberts from All Points West for showing me the awesome video above by Duane Burnett.

(32) Comments

  1. Have you spun the Gerussi’s Medallion yet?

  2. Grant Lawrence says:

    Not for years! The lead singer Tom Harrison has been the music critic at the Vancouver Province for decades.

  3. Robert Dayton says:

    I’ve been spinning Bruno Gerussi and Tommy Ambrose’s Fuzzy Love album as part of my one man show (and will again March 8th) as it is a key ‘ac-tor as singer’ LP…The sleeve is ridiculous, him and Tommy with a big sheep dog. I’d also love to see his cooking show again…(which was recreated in the movie AutoFocus)

  4. Many thanks for sharing the youtube video Grant in your great article. Well done! I added your article link to the video description. Many thanks to the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives, Gibsons, BC, Canada. Other photos are taken by me as a child, as a fan over the years, and attending the 35th Anniversary Celebrations.

  5. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hey Duane – that’s so great! Did you grow up in Gibson’s?

  6. Jeff Radford says:

    Thanks so much for writing and sharing this Grant – any chance you can convince someone at the CBC to release dvds?? I am sure there are scores of coastal kids who would snatch them up.

    Last summer while working in Desolation Sound doing some biological sampling, we had stopped in at Squirrel Cove. The woman running the store asked ‘Are you guys beachcombers or something?’ – never had I felt so happy to suffer from mistaken identity!

  7. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hey Jeff! thanks for the comment. I’ll double check with Jackson Davies but I don’t think CBC owns the rights to the Beachcombers! I think it was an outside production that was sold to CBC so I have no idea what the status is for DVDs.

    Awesome that you were up in D-Sound… and for receiving the ultimate West Coast compliment!


  8. Kimberly says:

    I was so happy to be reminded of The Beachcombers! Great post. We used to like watching this show together too. I don’t remember too much from each episode but I do remember when they locked Relic in a shed to cure him from drinking. ha! Then I loved it when later Bruno Gerussi played The Widow Twankey in “The Magic of Aladdin” with Karen Kain, Ross Petty & Jeff Hyslop. He was hilarious!!

  9. Mark says:

    “The Beachcombers” was a great hit in Australia during the early ’70’s. Aussies & Canadians always seem to appreciate the others’ cultures. We still do terrific co-productions with Canada.

  10. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hey Mark – I had no idea The Beachcombers was a hit in Australia, but somehow I’m not surprised. I think its biggest foreign market was Germany…

  11. louie wagner says:

    Where can I get the complete series on dvd or blu ray please. Cult classic must not fade into history

  12. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hi Louie – unfortunately the series isn’t available on DVD or Blu Ray but there is a new Beachcombers book… it’s available from Harbour Publishing.

  13. Danuta Zwierciadlowski says:

    Hi Grant, I’m a librarian at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and remember back in 1988 when an episode called Changing Course was filmed on campus. I never had a chance to see the episode and would love to get a copy of it for our archives at Emily Carr! I remember running into Bruno Gerussi in the hallway as I came around a corner and that was pretty exciting. Here are the details of the episode I found on TVArchive.ca Changing Course – 16×22 – May 1, 1988 – Sara must deal with Jesse’s stubborn refusal to see her as an adult when he objects to her leaving Gibsons to attend the Emily Carr College of Art and Design. Guests: Allan Zinyk; P. Lynn Johnson; Paul Stanley as Floyd.

    I like your story about going on a field trip to the CBC in grade 2 and now you work there!

    I started watching the Beachcombers while living in the prairies – Winnipeg to be exact. Now I live on a small island on the west coast.

  14. Melody says:

    I so much with they would release the series on DVD or Blueray. Even Amazon Instant video or something. Every so often I look for it hoping that eventually they will do that. I grew up in Southeast Alaska watching the show. Most of the channels we had back then were Canadian. It would be such a shame if it were never put out there.

  15. Melody says:

    Wish (of course), not “with”.

  16. brian clearwater says:

    We would really love to see it come out in dvd.As it was also a must see in our younger years and still watch it when we can whenever we see it on any channel

  17. Chris says:

    What I can’t understand is why the 1972-84 episodes can’t be aired. Showcase didn’t have them and APTN only has the package Showcase had. The show was syndicated in over 40 countries around the world, SOMEONE has to have them!

  18. Larry says:

    Someone does have them, Chris and it appears that the show will NOT be released to dvd, ever! Copyright laws being what they are in Canada it will probably be 100 years before it will be in the public domain when the rights have run out. I am so disgusted with the owners that if I had the bucks I would offer them such a ridiculous amount of money that they would be fools to refuse. Then I would sell a full boxset for such a ridiculous low amount to ensure all who wanted to see it would get to.

  19. Miriam says:

    I’m trying to find an old episode of the Beachcombers in which Cst. Constable got married. My husband, Doug, was on the episode as an usher. He died suddenly and the only copy I have is VHS and it’s not working. I would love to be able to get this one episode.

  20. C. Mimms says:

    Beachcombers is listed on Crave TV and You tube. November 2016.

  21. C. Mimms says:

    to moderator;
    are these legal broadcast things?
    i just found them today, but am viewing on APTN and one of the regular Canadian channels during days.

  22. Dan Kyle says:

    I have looked into the DVD issue, and the consensus is that the rights are owned by the creator, Marc Strange, who – for some reason – does not want the episodes released to video. Other than seeing some episodes from the post-1984 era on APTN currently, there is not much else for fans to view. I would think that CBC could rebroadcast them during daytime hours if there was a petition to do so, perhaps set one up on Facebook. 10,000 signatures would get noticed.

  23. Dan Kyle says:

    Further: it appears that Marc Strange died in 2012, but his estate would then hold the rights (his daughter is actress Sarah Strange). There IS a petition underway already, but less than 3,000 signatures thus far:

  24. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hi Dan… Hmmm I had no idea about that petition! Maybe we could do something about that…

  25. Dan Kyle says:

    There are bootlegs out there of just a few seasons, probably copied off TV, and I don’t approve of unlicensed products anyway (example: https://www.dvdplanetstore.pk/shop/drama/the-beachcombers/ ) as well as many episodes individually on YouTube, which do look good.
    Great article, btw, and – as I am a bookseller up in Comox – let me say that your books, esp. “…Solitude” are always in demand. Best Wishes!
    p.s. That petition I mentioned has gone nowhere and has less than 2,500 confirmed signatures. The Facebook Page “Friends of the Beachcombers” is interesting and Jackson Davies contributes.

  26. Grant Lawrence says:

    amazing, thanks so much for this Dan! The Beachcombers was a huge inspiration on my book “Adventures in Solitude”. What is your bookstore called?

  27. Dan Kyle says:

    Nearly New Books, and we happen to have 2 of your books at the moment: Solitude, and the Lonely End of the Rink. If you are ever in the Comox Valley, my wife and I are there almost every day – no vacation for 10 yrs! – so please pop in, as we love celebrities (this summer we had Ian Hanomansing stop by), but most especially our favorites are esteemed writers!

  28. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hi Dan – I love Comox so I hope to visit you in your store soon. Thank you!

  29. Dan says:

    Just read your Twitter about your wife being away on tour – well, at least you are both successful at doing what you love. And hopefully you are able to travel a bit to see her. Cheers!

  30. Grant Lawrence says:

    thank you! I would *love* to travel and see her but with two little kids at home it’s a challenge to get away!

  31. Mary says:

    Are any of the beachcomber people who were on the show still living? How old would they be now?

  32. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hi Mary – Of the core cast members, Jackson Davies, who played Constable Constable, is alive and well, and is Pat John, who played Jesse, and the woman who played Sarah. Thanks! Grant

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