Boyce Richardson

Boyce Richardson

Boyce Richardson, C.M. (born in 1928 in Wyndham, Southland, New Zealand) is a Canadian journalist, author and filmmaker. While he was just a boy his family moved to Invercargill, a city noted for its feisty, independent characters like Burt Munro, "The World's Fastest Indian" and its current Mayor Tim Shadbolt.

It was here that Richardson began his career in journalism at the "Southland Times" and later the "Southland Daily News". After a brief stint as a reporter in Australia, and influenced by Nehru he went to India to live and work at Nilokheri, a utopian community north of New Delhi. In 1951 he moved to Britain, where in the depressed still rationed postwar economy, he had great difficulty finding any kind of employment. Of this period in his life he subsequently wrote in his autobiography:

"I suppose this experience of unemployment was valuable for me. I discovered that it is almost the most debilitating experience a person can have in life, totally sapping one's self-esteem, and plunging one into a maelstrom of depressive thoughts and feelings from which, eventually, one despairs of ever emerging. It certainly gave me a respect for the problems of laid-off workers, so airily dismissed by the media and their consulting economists, during times of what they nowadays call 'economic downturn'. Full employment should be the first social good of any decent government."

Serendipitously he answered an ad in the New Statesman that landed him at Newbattle Abbey College where he studied writing under the great Scottish poet, Edwin Muir. In 1954 Richardson emigrated to Canada, first joining the "Winnipeg Free Press" then the "Montreal Star" . From 1960 to 1968 he was the newspaper's correspondent in London. Here he took a liberal interpretation of his mandate and fell in love with the vibrant sixties London theatre, blossoming with works by playwrights like John Osborne and Harold Pinter. He was particularly influenced by the work of director Joan Littlewood, then active with the Theatre Workshop in East London producing both classic Shakespeare and innovative works such as the musical satire "Oh! What a Lovely War" which Richardson attended.

He returned to Montreal but as noted in his "Memoirs":

"I had also come to some conclusions about my profession. I had a strong distaste for the myths that most journalists seemed to believe about their importance. I had found journalists motivated more by vanity than by a lust for public service, and they tended to be childishly susceptible to flattery from men of power. So far as they believed they were free to write what they wanted, and that they were the first line among defenders of freedom of expression, I thought they were suffering from a massive occupational delusion. I had concluded that freedom lies only with the rich men who own the media, who hire sycophants to do their bidding.
The idea of journalists being better informed than your average citizen is a big part of the myth. A daily newspaper, written by these supposedly super-informed people, gives at best a sketchy view of what is really happening; and that view is fatally deformed by the interests of the media owners, and by the intimate relationship that journalists maintain with men of power. In addition, I knew that journalists do not have the influence they pretend to have. The media at large do have a huge influence in setting the political and social agenda, and they form one of the main barriers to improvements in the quality of human life. But individual workers within the media have limited influence on anything, in my experience. My opinion of the profession I practiced had become, then, slightly anarchistic."

His "cheerful insouciance" is well-illustrated by an amusing anecdote recounted in "Memoirs":

"When asked by [editor] George Ferguson, not long after my return, to prepare an obituary of [owner] John McConnell's mother, Lillian, against the day that she might die, I slipped the following into his tray:

Mrs. John Wilson McConnell, known as Lil, is dead. Mrs. McConnell lived for eighty years and did singularly little with them. She spent a lot of money. She had four children, and they had children who had children.Mrs. McConnell became the friend of the highest in the land. Indeed, she didn't have any friends except Lords, Ladies, Earls, Princes, Dukes, Marquises or millionaires.Mrs. McConnell entertained Royalty. Surrounded by her pompous tapestries, expensive plates, and tasteless furniture, Royalty felt right at home. Mrs. McConnell gave away a lot of her husband's money to Good Causes. No one, including Mrs. McConnell, knew how much she gave, or quite whom she gave it to.Mrs. McConnell did no one any harm, and no discernible good.Let that be her epitaph."
Needless to say, this was "not" published.

His outrage at the "Star"'s failure to support civil liberties and journalists harassed and arrested during the October Crisis; as well as his increasing disenchantment with corporate media in general eventually caused him to resign and become a freelancer in 1971.

His acute social conscience and progressive views led Richardson to support aboriginal peoples seeking justice in their struggle against the massive James Bay Project. In films made with the National Film Board of Canada ("Cree Hunters of Mistassini", 1974) and books ("Strangers Devour the Land", 1976) he created "a chronicle of the assault upon the last coherent hunting culture in North America, the Cree Indians of Quebec, and their vast primeval homelands" that are today regarded as Canadian classics. His inherent respect for complex native cultures which had yet to be run over by European civilization was later enhanced by his appreciation of the insights of renowned Canadian anthropologist Bruce Trigger. In this concern for aboriginal issues, as with his early interest in urban issues which he wrote about extensively, Richardson led the way, as he did with prescient work on anti-globalization like the NFB documentary "Super-Companies" in 1987. This explored the role of multinational corporations such as Alcan; scooping films like The Corporation by more than a decade.

In company with Walter Stewart, Linda McQuaig, Greg Palast and John Pilger he is an outstanding exemplar of advocacy journalism, albeit one who has adopted unconventional means to publish his views when conventional outlets closed their doors. When an article he wrote: "Corporations: How Do We Curb Their Obscene Power?" was rejected by a "progressive" periodical he posted it to the Internet in 1996, to world-wide interest. It was an early instance of distributing writing which might not otherwise see the light of day in mass media. Indeed, in that same year Richardson began what he described as his "sounding off pages": "Boyce'sPaper" as an alternative means of publishing his views - years later it may be one of the oldest continuing examples of what has become the ubiquitous Blog.

In the words of Catherine Dunphy, journalist and author:

"Before there was a Naomi Klein and before there was an international anti-globalization movement, filmmaker and journalist Boyce Richardson was taking on the multinationals, his own bosses in the media, and the culture of greed and hypocrisy. He still is..."

Today he resides in Ottawa, his wife of 56 years, Shirley (née Norton) teacher and [ poet] who "kept the home fires burning and the wolf from the door" passed away in 2007. His "Memoirs" are dedicated to her. He is the father of three grown boys and a girl. His son 'Big' Ben plays bass with the country rock band [ 'Grady'] . An avid athlete in his youth, he still enjoys cycling and is a fan of Cricket and a life-long supporter of his homeland's Rugby union world champion New Zealand All Blacks (He has been known to do a [ Haka] , after a coupla Guinness!). He is also a big fan of Trailer Park Boys.

His work has won a number of awards, including co-winning a 1961 National Newspaper Award for a series of articles on Canada and the European Economic Community, published by the "Montreal Star". "Cree Hunters of Mistassini" won the Flaherty Award for 1974, from the British Society for Film and Television Arts, for the best documentary in the tradition of Robert Flaherty, and a special Award from the Melbourne Film Festival, 1975. "Super-Companies" won the Golden Apple Award at the 1990 National Educational Film and Video festival in the US; and the Red Ribbon Award at the American Film and Video Festival in 1990.

Boyce Richardson was invested a Member of the Order of Canada in 2002, his country's highest honour.

From "Memoirs of a Media Maverick", his 2003 autobiography:

""I am with the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy (the finest polemicist in the English language), who wrote recently: "What we need to search for and find... is the politics of resistance. The politics of opposition. The politics of forcing accountability. The politics of slowing things down. The politics of joining hands across the world and preventing certain destruction. In the present circumstances, I'd say that the only thing worth globalizing is dissent!"

I guess that's something like what Shirley and I have been trying to do these fifty years."

External links

* [ Boyce'sPaper] (provocative progressive Weblog: see 'Who am I?' link for biography, bibliography and filmography.)

* [ "Memoirs of a Media Maverick"] (Autobiography)

* [ National Film Board of Canada] (NFB filmography)

* [ Internet Movie Database] (Complete filmography)

* [ Interview at 'Between the Lines'] (Interesting viewpoint on 'objective' journalism.)

* [ "Corporations: How Do We Curb Their Obscene Power?"] (A classic of Internet Samizdat!)

* [ "Trailer Park Boys"] (An appreciation of Bubbles & The Boys.)

* [ Official Citation: Order of Canada] (Governor General of Canada)

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