Friday 28 October 2011

John Downing

Memories of the Toronto Sun - John Downing

Read Dunf's remarks like I was drinking cognac. What a wonderful thinker! No wonder he didn't survive against the Barbarians.

He mentions five or six of us taking Liz Braun to the House of Lancaster for lunch. It is burned into my memory. Liz sat there, stared at the strippers, and muttered "what am I doing here? I have five sisters." And I sunk low in the seat since this was the south end of my own neighbourhood.

Then we headed across the street to one of Doug Creighton's favourite restaurants, Latina's, had an enormous drunken lunch, and everyone stuck me (and the Sun) with the $200 bill.

Which reminds me of Barney Danson, who just died. Danson, a great veteran and defence minister, was Canada's guy in Boston. Then Creighton phoned me and said the Tories had fired him. I was to go to Boston and get the story.

I was too busy (stupid thinking on my part) playing editor, so I phoned Danson and arranged for him to dine with me at the Sun's cafeteria, called Winston's, the next time he was in town.

So Mary and I joined Barney and his bride there a few days later. He seemed to take a great interest in the wine list so I passed it to him and told him to order something nice. We ate modestly, no desserts etc., but the bill was over $400. I winced and paid without question.

The next day, I was there with Creighton in his place of honour, table number one, and said to the waiter who had served me earlier with the Dansons that I was surprised at the bill. He said Danson had ordered wine costing more than $200 a bottle. When I put in my expense account, I wrote a note opposite this dinner and said "you should never let Danson order the wine."

I was sitting in Paul Godfrey's office while he was yelling at me and signing a stack of expense accounts. He signed mine without reading it. I said I wished I had known years before that he didn't read my expense accounts before authorizing them. And I pointed out the Danson listing. Paul, who has never drank, was shocked. 

I doubt that would happen today, either the Braun lunch or the Danson dinner.  

One thing that we all slide by in our memories of the early days of fun, glory and heartache is that we were carrying on in the grand tradition of the Tely. Almost everyone of the Day Oners had also been at the Tely, where Creighton was one of the leaders in the final days.

It was almost as wacky as the Sun. I remember two Day Oners, Andy Donato and Glen Woodock, in the final Tely days cooking up a scheme to mortify me. They descended on my office when I was city editor and looking after entertainment and other departments in my spare time and said I had to decide on a huge portrait Donato had done of some entertainer.

It really was tired. Donato said he would quit if Woodcock didn't run it. Glen said it was terrible and ripped the drawing in two. Donato and Woodcock left my office, cursing each other. I didn't know wotinhell to do. As I leaned back in my chair and stared out the door, I could see Donato at his drawing board laughing like a maniac. Those bastards had set me up. So I Scotch-taped the drawing together, marched past Donato and told Woodcock to run it. So you figured it out, Glen said.

So for the survivors of the Tely, the Sun was an arduous extension of our newspaper lives. All of us were capable of doing a number of different tasks. And, believe it or not, even when the toilet paper was rationed by Art Holland, the pay wasn't. Ed Monteith looked at every penny on every expense account, so Paul Rimstead made sure that Ed never saw his expense account.

And there was a revolt, now forgotten, by 99% of the Day Oners, against Creighton's spending. Doug survived because he made the case, and it was the right one, that by dining with the elite in the Sun's cafeteria, Winston's, then one of the best and most famous restaurants in the land, Doug showed that his paper was not just a tabloid or a shopper's that was going to blow away, but we were here to stay to play with the big boys. 

Which we did for many glorious wacky years that were the highlight of every Day Oner. 

John Downing

If you are a Toronto Sun Day Oner and have a bio or memories to share, please email with a photo before Nov. 1.

If you are one of the hundreds of men and women in all departments who followed The 62 and want to share your memories of the Toronto Sun, email TSF.

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