Leslie Ernest Lye was born in Toronto on November 18th 1924, and attended Withrow Public School and Riverdale Collegiate. In 1944 he joined the RCAF, only to be transferred to the army a year later. He was discharged in 1946, and went first to the University of Toronto before joining Lorne Greene’s Academy of Radio Arts. After graduating, he began working at CFRA-AM radio in Ottawa.
After moving in 1953 to work briefly in radio in Toronto on CKEY-AM, during which time he created an alter ego personality named Abercrombie on his late-night show, Les returned to CFRA and rapidly became one of the station’s most popular personalities. It was at this time that he met Rich Little, with whom he was to write several comedy scripts, and with whom he would later write and perform on Little’s first comedy record album, My Fellow Canadians.
And Les always resisted Little’s frequent offers to get him work in the States.
While still in radio, Les made his first tentative steps into television in 1958 as host of the CBC-TV program, Contact, which he did for three years. But it was with CJOH-TV, the Ottawa private station that went on the air in 1961 as part of the new CTV Network, that Les was to make his major mark on the small screen. He hosted CJOH’s first live audience show, the ShorGas Barn Dance, with Joe Brown and the Happy Wanderers.
At CJOH-TV, Les found he had a great affinity with another freelance performer at the station, Bill Luxton. They found that they worked very well together, and together created two characters, Uncle Willy (Bill) and Floyd (Les), who would introduce and link a Saturday morning cartoon block on the station. These characters later became so popular in their own right that Bill and Les created the Uncle Willy and Floyd Show, which began on CJOH in 1966 and ran for twenty years in syndication across Canada. The show welcomed as guests such names as Alanis Morissette, Bruno Gerussi and Margaret Trudeau.
In 1965 CTV had began producing a daytime strip game show, Fractured Phrases, with Jim Perry as the host. After the first season, CTV had other plans for Perry, and it was Les Lye who got the call to host the second (and last year) of this series, 1966-67. This gave Les his first national exposure on CTV.
The Willy and Floyd show was still running in 1978, when American producer Roger Price arrived in Ottawa, planning to produce an irreverent show, ostensibly for children but which was destined to establish an adult cult following, called You Can’t Do That on Television. Roger saw Les working on a local telethon, and immediately approached him to play a leading role in the planned series. One journalist described the show as a “Laugh-In Rip-Off for Kids”. Whatever its influences, You Can’t Do That ran live on Saturday mornings on CJOH-TV Ottawa, starting in 1979. Les Lye played all the adult male roles in the series, and Abbe Hagyard was the other regularly featured adult. Scores of actors both young and old guested on the series, and Alanis Morrissette made one of her earliest television appearances on YCDTOT, and got slimed more than once (see below).
Many adults found the show more than slightly seditious, but kids loved it: a regular feature of the series was the dumping of buckets of green slime on anyone who said “I don’t know”, and a “Slime Society” webpage was among the many commemorative sites that could be found on the internet.
After three years on CJOH, the series moved to the CTV Network, where it alternated with other programming on Saturday mornings from early 1982 until September 1985. The series was also seen on Nickelodeon in the U.S., and Les thereby gained international recognition. In the movie Fatal Attraction, Michael Douglas’s children were seen watching the show on television. The show was also seen in England, Australia, Spain and Finland.
Roger Price then produced a prime time series based on You Can’t Do That on Television, titled Whatever Turns You On. Les Lye also starred in this series, but it only lasted for one season on CTV, 1979-80.
Les also made several appearances in television dramas, including Quentin Durgens, The National Dream and Family Court. On stage, Les and his pal Bill Luxton capitalized on their high local profiles by co-starring in The Sunshine Boys at Ottawa’s Little Theatre. The two also played in a production of the comedy Boeing Boeing.
In 1984, Les was heard voicing characters in the first two episodes of the Care Bears television specials. In 1985 Les was heard voicing the character Quellor in five episodes of the U.S. animated series The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin. And his talent for providing a wide range of character voices had him appearing in many other animated programs, including The Legend of Hiawatha (1983), Rumpelstiltskin, Turkey Television, The Raccoons, (all 1985), and Babar and Father Christmas (1986.)
For a time, Les taught speech and diction in the broadcasting diploma program at Algonquin College.
In 2003, Les Lye and Bill Luxton were honoured with lifetime achievement awards from the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), for their work on “Willy & Floyd.”
Les Lye was an active member and staunch supporter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and was always ready to volunteer his services for this and many other deserving charitable causes.
Les Lye died in Ottawa on July 21st 2009.
Written by Pip Wedge – August, 2009