Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Leigh Chapple was more than hair and teeth

The first time I met Leigh Chapple she came breezing into the newsroom at CJOH wearing a pair of white sweat pants. That was 1977 and she was only 22 or so, hardly chunky with a honey voice and pretty face. She announced to the newsroom that she was joining a gym. Even back then, she was worried about her weight.

I was there as a Carleton University "intern," something that the newly branded CTV Ottawa stopped doing after Max Keeping left the station. For me, a committed print person even back then, the internship was a fascinating glimpse into the face of broadcast news in Ottawa.

Every night, somebody would be dispatched to get a bottle of rum and boutonnieres for the gentlemen. After the broadcast, Max would sit down with the crew and have a belt or three and conduct a relaxed post-mortem. It was clear from this experience that I was too nervous for the television game. The one piece I managed to put on the air sucked the big one and I didn't do television again for another twenty-five years.

Leigh was only one of two women in the newsroom. The diminutive Gayle Morris was the other one, the classic blonde who walked around the newsroom like she owned the joint. Not Leigh, Leigh was the quiet one who simply went about her business -- she was a producer at the time, I think -- in a determined fashion. Soon after, Leigh would take that determination and good nature to the airwaves and become the permanent night time anchor, a job she performed for nearly four decades.

It must have been difficult that job, and perhaps a bit lonely particularly in the latter years when CJOH stopped using live camera operators and directed the night time show from Toronto. She ran the operation with a skeleton staff but it was always just as professional as the six o'clock news if only a bit quieter, a newscast full of reports from city hall and school board along with car crashes and other police business.

Most people who work the night shift understand that it presents different stressors. Sleep is never easy. There's always the temptation of booze to take the edge off. You miss out on everything. And of course, the pounds start piling on.

Over the years, Leigh struggled with her weight and was the butt of many jokes in homes and taverns, It must have been a dark place for Leigh. When an anchor comes into your bedroom or living room, she's an easy target particularly if she's a woman who's not a blonde stick in false eye lashes. There have been many, many stories over the years in the U.S. about women anchors getting turfed off the air for much less but it's gratifying that, here in Ottawa at least, Leigh's weight wasn't a factor and she wasn't replaced. For this, the community should be grateful to Max Keeping who believed in promoting women and recognized that television journalism should be about more than just hair and teeth. The stuff in between the ears was much more important.

I didn't know Leigh well, but like most Ottawans, I went to bed with her a few times a week usually when I had insomnia. I liked her style. She was warm, friendly and quietly competent and she kept the ship on an even keel. The night news is not the same without her. CTV Ottawa has gone with the proven model, the night anchor with the extensions and false eyelashes on top of the size two body.

I find this a sad fact for imperfect women going into broadcast who will live forever in the cubicles in the corner producing the news instead of presenting it. Fat girls need not apply.

Goodnight Leigh, stay classy Ottawa.



 

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