The meeting was simple, straightforward, and to the point.
We knocked on her office door.
She said, “come in.”
I was introduced to her – “Barbara, this is George Froehlich, a new producer.”
That was my first encounter with the legendary broadcaster, Barbara Frum, host of the CBC’s flagship public affairs program, The Journal.
My meeting was the first of many, leading to a warm, engaging and amazing working relationship, lasting three years.
I had just moved to Toronto from Vancouver after 15 years, to take this new job as a producer at The Journal.
My job as a chase producer was to get people to come on the show for Barbara to interview. These interviews, called double enders could take place anywhere in the world.
For the most part they always were about the major news stories of the day. But every once in a while they were background pieces, trying to explain the, why, what, and how, of a news event.
The choice of whom to interview was a collaborative effort.
Barbara could suggest one, I could and other producers. Once a decision had been made as to “who” I was tasked with tracking the person down, talking to them by phone; a pre-interview.
Then another decision was needed – would the person make a great interview? If so, I placed a request with a “satellite” producer, tasked with coordinating the interview, ensuring a camera crew was available for shooting the interview, or arranging for the person to go to a television studio for the interview, and then arrange for satellite time so the completed interview could be recorded and transmitted back to Toronto. All of this had to be done with various time constraints and availability of various facilities, often all over the world, to make it happen.
But before that Barbara and I would go over my briefing notes and map out the interview(s).
It was during this time that we got to know each other well.
Barbara was a gem, a consummate professional. Her news knowledge amazing.
These mapping out sessions involved a lot of to and fro between us.
After a while her mannerisms became apparent – a glance over her horn-rimmed glasses and words such as, are you sure, how good a talker are they (a reference to the fact that interviewees had to be articulate when expressing themselves. Many world experts were rejected because they were not articulate), what do you think of this question, I’m not sure this is going work, were some examples.
But there was more. Often she would confide in me, making remarks of a personal nature, about staff, about the CBC, ask my opinion what I thought of such and such a person, even about herself.
It was a bond, always professional, always courteous.
It all made me realize quickly that not only was she an amazing broadcaster, but also a great human being.
To wit, whenever I complimented her on an interview and even taking that to the next level by telling what a great person she was, she quickly would say, words to the effect that I was too kind and move on to another subject.
After three years I resigned.
A great opportunity awaited me in Vancouver – to join CKVU TV, owned by the legendary Izzy Asper.
Fourteen months later, I picked up the phone, it was Barbara.
She got to the point immediately – “George, it’s Barbara Frum we would like you to come back to The Journal, we need you,”I was shocked, and said, “I have to think about that Barbara. I will get back to you in a few days.”
I did, and told her, I would love to but I had hired too many new people and I could not leave them in a lurch.
Ever gracious she said she understood and wished me good luck.
That was the last I heard from her.
About six months later she passed away from cancer, something that had plagued her for years.
And, not once during the three years we worked together was there ever mention of that.
What a class act.
She was unique and special.
And what a privilege and honour it was for me to have worked with such, a hell of, a classy lady.