TORONTO – Knowlton Nash, a veteran CBC broadcaster best known as long-time anchor of The National, is dead. He was 86.
The CBC reported Saturday that Nash had been battling Parkinson’s for some years.
Nash, who had a 37-year career with Canada’s public broadcaster, including spending a decade behind the anchor desk of The National, CBC’s flagship news program before the creation of Prime Time News.
It was there that the broadcaster whose warm eyes appeared magnified behind his oversized glasses earned the unofficial title Uncle Knowlty. It was a reflection of his steady, easy-going style and earnest, scholarly delivery.
Ironically, his dedication to the craft led Nash to walk away from perhaps the most influential spot in Canadian television news in April of 1988.
It was the strongest enticement Nash could offer Peter Mansbridge, then a national correspondent for CBC-TV, to stay in Canada.
Mansbridge had reportedly been offered a $1-million salary to co-anchor a morning show on the U.S. network CBS.
But he agreed to stay over a late-night cup of hot chocolate after Nash volunteered to move to The National’s weekend desk.
His departure – marked by a telephone call by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney – marked the end of one of the most important decades in the history of the CBC’s television news division.
Nash had been a key player in transforming an ailing news show into a major ratings success. From 1969 when he retired his correspondent’s trenchcoat to 1978 when he took over anchoring The National, Nash was director of news and current affairs for the English network of the CBC.
It was under his steady guidance that The National moved to a then-unheard-of 10 p.m. time and was paired with his risky creation, The Journal.
The National/Journal hour became an unassailable jewel in the network’s crown until anchor Barbara Frum’s death in 1992 brought the Journal to a halt and CBC executives took another gamble with the creation of a 9 p.m. news show, Prime Time News.
Born Nov. 18, 1927, Nash was the son of a promotions manager. His mother, 20 years his father’s junior, was the first woman to fly over Hamilton, he once bragged in an interview.
Except for a brief spell when Nash wanted to be a jockey, he always said he would be a newsman.
As a lad of less than 10, he put out several editions of his own weekly newspaper – six laboriously typed pages – which he sold for less than a nickel. He understood the business well enough to sell ad space in exchange for bubble gum and chocolate to local merchants.
By the Second World War, Nash was hawking the Toronto Star and Telegram on a Toronto street corner.
And before leaving his Forest Hill high school he was selling stories about collegiate football to the Globe and Mail.
After attending the University of Toronto, Nash was hired in 1947 for $18-a-week by the wire service British United Press. But before that he tried his hand writing for the magazine True Confessions and edited prisoners’ letters for True Crime.
In 1951, he began a handful of years in Washington as head of public relations for the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, representing about 35 million farmers in some 40 countries.
Later, during a lengthy stint as a freelancer for the CBC, MacLeans magazine and anyone else who would pay him, Nash covered everything from police courts to presidents. He followed John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and got the last lengthy interview given by Robert Kennedy before he was assassinated.
He has written books about his career: History on the Run in 1984 and Prime Time At Ten in 1987. He is also the author of Kennedy and Deifenbaker (1990), Visions of Canada (1991).
© 2014 The Canadian Press