Syd Banks (1917-2006)

Year Born: 
1917
Year Died: 
2006

Pioneer

Banks, Syd (1917-2006)

Canadian content has always been a key element in the programming of broadcasters who are awarded television licences, and in the early days of Canadian television, many such licensees had cause to be grateful to Syd Banks, whose Canadian music programs provided not only much-needed content but also most attractive programming for their schedules.

Syd was born in Toronto on January 6th 1917. His parents were English, and Syd and his mother returned to England in 1919, to Cumbria, but they returned to Canada in the late 1920s. After spending a brief time in Chatham, they moved to Toronto, where they lived in Cabbagetown.  Syd went first to Our Lady of Lourdes, and then to Danforth Tech, but he left school when he was only 14. 

While in England, Syd had done stage work as a child actor, and he did some radio work for CFRB, as well as getting involved in the Toronto theatre scene.  From 1936 to 1941, Syd also acted in many roles with the Theatre of Action, a left-wing drama company, which produced several others who would go on to fame, including Wayne and Shuster, Lou Applebaum, Lou Jacobi, Ben Lennick, Sydney Newman and Lorne Green.  Syd directed the Theatre of Action’s final production, of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, in Toronto in 1940. He was also a co-founder of the Red Barn Theatre on Lake Simcoe.

In 1941, during World War II, Syd joined the army as a captain in the Canadian Army Film Unit, and after D-Day he spent time in Holland, Belgium and Germany.  After demobilization, he became Executive Producer of International Productions, and in 1955 he joined S. W. Caldwell Ltd as Executive Producer, and ran the Rank Organisation’s Queensway Studios.  He then moved to Foster Advertising, where he started their Television Advertising Department.  This involved frequent travel to the States, where he produced commercials for Carling Brewery.

In 1962, after working with Jerry Solway of Astral Films on several major television projects,  Syd went out on his own, forming his own company S. Banks (In Television) Ltd., and began producing music series for television. He had shows on both CBC and CTV, including Cross Canada Barndance, A Singin’, Let’s Sing Out, Brand New Scene and Country Music Hall. One of his earliest shows for CTV was To Tell the Truth, a Canadian version of the U.S. panel show; the chairman was Don Cameron, and the panel included Dorothy Cameron, Toby Tarnow, Stan Helleur and lawyer Bob Hall (brother of gameshow host Monty). In 1961 Syd became the first President of the Directors’ Guild of Canada, and returned to the Presidential chair twenty years later.  He received a Distinguished Service Award from the Directors’ Guild in 2003.  He also served for a time as a director of the Association of Motion Picture Producers and Laboratories.

Also in the ‘sixties, Syd started booking shows and tours for a wide range of artists from country to early rock, including bringing Jerry Lee Lewis and Eric Clapton to Canada.  He was at one time producer of the Mariposa Folk Festival, and was still on the Mariposa Board of Advisors at the time of his death.

In 1970 he partnered with Al Bruner in appearing before the CRTC to apply for a licence for Global Television, of which he became co-founder and executive producer.  On leaving Global, he became a founder and director of the Toronto cable firm CUC, which became one of the largest cable systems in the Greater Toronto area, and whose sale to Shaw Cable was approved by the CRTC in 1995.

While in the eighties and nineties Syd cut back on his business activities to look after his ailing wife Shirley, he remained in close touch with the business, and after Shirley’s passing in 1995 he resumed fulltime activities in film and television , and in 1998 he was executive producer of the Canadian film Heart of the Sun, whose cast included Christianne Hirt, Michael Riley and Graham Greene, and which was produced by his company Ennerdale Productions.

Syd Banks died in Toronto on November 14th 2006 at the age of 89.

 

 

Written by Pip Wedge - January, 2007

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