Year Born: 1906
Year Died: 1974
McGregor, Art (1906-1974)
In the early 30s, Art McGregor and Frank Deaville worked in a hardware store in Calgary. In the course of serving their customers, they sometimes slipped into the dialects of a couple of “characters” that greatly amused their customers and which they had developed into an “act”.
To supplement their depression-era wages they occasionally performed at banquets and other functions. One of their regular customers was the manager of The Albertan newspaper’s radio station CJCJ to whom they used to regularly complain about his programs. One day, he challenged them to demonstrate to him that they could offer something that they could do better.
Art and Frank came to the station with a 15-minute scripted show and auditioned it for the manager. Not only did he like it, but he found a local advertiser that would sponsor the program once-a-week for 13 weeks. Having written only chapter one, Art and Frank had to get busy writing new ones. The setting was a modest apartment building called “Nitwit Court”. Art played a tenant – “Mr. Woodhouse” and Frank was the janitor “Hawkins”. Thereafter, in the 12 years that followed, Art McGregor and Frank Deaville became known across Canada as “Wood’ouse and ‘awkins” as famous in the their own country as another pioneering multi-voiced team – “Amos ‘n Andy” – in the USA.
Ultimate national recognition followed the establishment of the network of private and government-owned radio stations set up in 1933 by the CRBC, The Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission. Horace Stovin, the CRBC’s Program Director for the west, in his search for talent, listened to Nitwit Court on CJCJ and hired Art and Frank to put their show on the western network (Winnipeg to Vancouver) on Friday nights. By this time, Art and Frank who had been earning $5.00 a show (and with no money for extra actors) had developed a set of characters which one or the other would voice. There was “The Major” who had recently arrived from England and his son “Lord Percy”; also, a Scotsman, another long-time tenant – “Uncle Andrew”. Later, they introduced a “Mortimer Snerd” -type character called “Egbert” – and that was before Snerd came along with Charlie McCarthy. Once on the network, the talent fee was a little better – around fifty or sixty dollars a week -.-not too bad considering the “hard times”.
In 1936, the CRBC was taken over by the CBC and Horace Stovin moved his headquarters to Winnipeg. He brought Woodhouse and Hawkins there, gave them a thirty-minute prime-time slot on the national network – with a sound effects man and a 20-piece orchestra conducted by Isaac Mamott. The show originated in front of a live audience on the stage of the old Walker Theatre, which was packed for each performance. Art and Frank were as well-served as was Jack Benny and his troupe in the States, except that they didn’t have a staff of comedy writers. They were “it”.
By 1940, the show had been moved to Toronto where it completed its 12-year run and where Art and Frank had determined the city would serve their destiny. They carried on during WW II and also did some work for the BBC and U.S. networks.
After leaving the CBC, they produced a variety show on CFRB. They also created their own advertising agency and until television arrived in the 50s, produced for Maher Shoes two 30-minute audience-participation quiz shows, which ran on Monday nights at 8.30 immediately ahead of “Lux Radio Theatre” on CFRB Toronto, CKOC Hamilton and CFOS Owen Sound. Faithful listeners would fondly recall “Double or Nothing” and “Spin to Win”, mc-ed by Stu Kenney, assisted by pianist Wally Amour – collectively identified with Art and Frank as “the Fearless Foursome”.
Art and Frank continued their careers in advertising until their retirement, leaving behind a legacy of scripts of “Woodhouse and Hawkins in Nitwit Court” .
Art McGregor passed away in 1974. Frank Deaville died in 1992.
Written by J. Lyman Potts CM – November, 2003