03 May 2010

Baseball in Panties, of Course

The Chartered Libertine
Ralph Allen
Toronto: Macmillan, 1954

As a young man I placed Ralph Allen with Thomas B. Costain and Thomas H. Raddall; Canadian writers whose book club editions choked church bazaars, thrift stores and library sales. Raddall, I would learn, was a perfectly fine writer; The Nymph and the Lamp was one of the more enjoyable novels read during my undistinguished university years. And Costain? Well, I could never get through more than a few pages. I didn't touch Allen, which is a pity because The Chartered Libertine is one of the cleverest satirical novels to have come out of this country

Timely and timeless, it concerns attacks on the CBC and its struggle for survival. At the centre is businessman Garfield Smith, "sole owner and president of radio station CNOTE, part owner and business manager of the Toronto Daily Guardian, chief debentures holder and Editor Emeritus of True Blue Revelations Magazine, and non-stockholding past chairman of the board of the rather disappointing Drive-in Dentistry Inc." Smith's newest acquisition is a failing women's softball franchise called the Swansea Lady Slugerettes. He brings the team to Toronto, renames it the Queens d'Amour and clothes the players in new uniforms consisting of "scarlet bodices and long opalescent pantaloons".

No fan of public broadcasting, Smith has been content to limit his attacks to station identification: "This is CNOTE, a station that is listened to and makes money." The trouble begins after the CBC refuses his cash offer to air Queens d'Amour games in place of cultural programming. Working under cover of anonymity he sets out to destroy the broadcaster through the League for the Incorporation of Godly and Humanistic Training (LIGHT), folks who don't much care for Shaw and take great objection to mention of unwed mothers on the radio.

The Globe and Mail, 29 May 1954

There's a good deal of noise, but no culture war. With an eye on the polls, the Conservative-Liberal PM orders the crown corporation sold, thus outmaneuvering the Liberal-Conservative leader who had always hoped to do just that... not that he'd ever let on.

You see, he had a hidden agenda.

Trivia: Robert Fulford, amongst others, has identified the model for Garfield Smith as Jack Kent Cooke.

Object: A nicely bound hardcover, it belonged to my father, a CBC employee.

Access: Easy enough to find in our university libraries. As far as I've been able to determine, there was just one Macmillan printing, and no paperback edition. The book was also published in the United States by St. Martin's – one wonders what American readers made of all that stuff about the CBC and Canadian party poltics. No surprise, I suppose, that one Yankee bookseller is selling the book as a "different kind of baseball novel". There are a few Very Good copies currently listed online in the C$15 to C$20 range. Of these, the real gem is one signed by blurb contributor Northrop Frye. And at only US$19.95! Then we have the sad example of an Ottawa bookseller who asks US$100 – four times more than anyone else – for a jacket-less copy with previous owner's signature. Priced fairly only if that previous owner was Jack Kent Cooke... and features his annotations.


  1. A good review. I've also wondered about those used book sellers who price in the sky. I've seen hundred dollar prices on books listed on amazone, still in print, for cents.

  2. I share your wonder. While the internet has spoiled the thrill of the chase somewhat, it's served to better reflect the scarcity of any given title. Just last year I listen to a Toronto bookseller bemoan the fact that so many of his "rare books" proved to be uncomfortably common. The internet was to blame, of course, not his faulty knowledge. And yet this same man still has the highest prices in the city.