Esse Willem Ljungh (1904-1991)

Esse Willem Ljungh

Year Born: 


Year Died: 



Ljungh, Esse Willem (1904-1991)

Swedish-born Esse Ljungh studied law in Uppsala. The Great Depression and chance led to him becoming a famous Canadian radio producer and director.

Ljungh migrated to Canada in 1927, worked on the land, then bought a farm in Saskatchewan. He lost the farm in the Depression and moved with his wife to Winnipeg to edit a Swedish-language newspaper. He had worked around the stage in Sweden and he acted in his spare time for the Winnipeg Little Theatre which, under the directorship of John Craig, had become a drama leader. Esse also directed and worked in productions for Winnipeg’s European communities and for radio stations.

In the late 1930s the CBC hired him as a freelance producer and in 1942 as a staff producer. He was transferred to Toronto in 1946, where Andrew Allan was the CBC’s national drama supervisor. Esse became one of the CBC’s leading radio producers during the 10 Golden Years of radio which followed the Second World War.

Canada could more than hold its own against other nations in radio drama, with its cost-effective production. By 1948, almost all the CBC’s radio drama was written by Canadians. The boom in radio drama and the money it paid had a ripple effect – Canada developed some of the best actors in the world, and innovative writers, directors and producers for the stage as well as broadcasting.

It was a highbrow period. One of Esse’s shows was Author Meets the Critic, which discussed Canada’s literature and theatre.

Andrew Allan’s famous Stage series ran on Sunday nights and an almost equally famous literate series ran in the middle of the week, starting in 1947. CBC Wednesday Night was a mix of original plays, classics, opera and some documentaries. It was produced by Andrew Allan, Rupert Caplan, Esse Ljungh and J. Frank Willis. Esse also directed the Jake and the Kid programs adapted from W.O. Mitchell’s book, the long-running soap opera series Brave Voyage and the musical General Electric Hour.

CBC-TV started in 1952. In 1958 Esse tried to make the switch, succeeding Sydney Newman as supervising producer of television drama. However, he returned to radio after one season. He was national supervisor of radio drama when he retired in 1969.

After retirement, he taught at Calgary’s Mount Royal College, then at the University of Victoria.

He was awarded the Diplome d’honneur by the Canadian Conference of the Arts, and ACTRA’s 1968 John Drainie award for distinguished contribution to Canadian broadcasting. In 1981 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

Esse Ljungh died in Kingston in 1991.

Written by Jerry Fairbridge – April, 2003