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Concordia alumna goes behind the scenes with veteran CBC cameraman

New biography explores the world of sportscasting — and what working with Don Cherry was like
January 22, 2020
By Richard Burnett, BA 88

Roxanne Davies and Michael Varga Roxanne Davies, BA 76, and Michael Varga

Vancouver writer and marketing consultant Roxanne Davies, BA 76, has a knack for writing popular biographies: Olga: The O.K. Way to a Healthy, Happy Life, about senior track and field star Olga Kotelko, and the family memoir Orchards, Crossroads and Dreams, were both critically lauded.

Davies’s new book, Inside View: The Eye Behind The Lens, co-authored with legendary CBC cameraman Michael Varga, chronicles anecdotes compiled by Varga over the course of multiple Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, FIFA World Cups, Grey Cup games, countless NHL games and more.

Varga also worked closely with Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner for many years. All told, Inside View is a candid and fascinating read about the rarefied world of sports broadcasting.

How did this book come about?

Roxanne Davies: I told Michael, ‘You have had this front-row seat to the world of sports, including travelling around the world with ski champion Ken Read. You were so busy living your life but after retiring, now is a good time to look back and reflect on it all.’ So he agreed to collaborate on his memoir.

Roxanne, you’re no stranger to writing memoirs. What makes a compelling one?

RD: People want to know that these exceptional events really happened to another human being! If we see how somebody else deals with a problem, it can help us deal with the problems in our own lives.

Michael, what was it like to be an NHL cameraman back in the 1970s?

Michael Varga: The equipment was bulkier and heavier back then. It was also harder to do because you had fewer cameras and had to cover more. We had six cameras when I started doing Hockey Night in Canada, but now they’re up to about 15. The technology is so much better now.

How hard is it to follow a puck?

MV: That’s just a skill thing. None of us found it that hard to do. The play camera is actually the easiest to do. I was a handheld cameraman and that’s a bit more difficult because you’re holding a camera on your shoulder for three hours and cameras were heavier in those days.

You wrote a chapter on Don Cherry.

There is nothing nice to say about Don Cherry, believe me. We all knew who he was.

What people don’t realize is that when we did Coach’s Corner, there was only one person in the studio, and that was the cameraman. You had to put the camera as low as possible because you had to shoot up to make him look bigger. And I was not allowed to move. You stand there, don’t move, don’t do anything, just listen. If you did do something out of the ordinary — and it did happen a few times, I had to move the camera, or I laughed or something — it could throw him off a little bit.

Don was Don. We all loved and hated him. But you could never become friends with Don Cherry. I don’t even think Ron MacLean is that close to him.

Inside View: The Eye Behind The Lens - book cover Inside View: The Eye Behind The Lens

There are so many great stories in this memoir. How did you guys choose the best?

RD: I just wanted it to be a good read. We have stories about O. J. Simpson, Princess Diana, 9/11, Bill Gates and so many others. Like I said, Michael had a front-row seat to so many interesting events.

MV: We got it down to 28 very focused, short and readable chapters.

Michael, what is your personal career highlight?

MV: I was always on the road, 100 days per year for many years. I think the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in South Korea was bigger than the Olympics. I was there for seven weeks!

I also got to travel the world, especially with World Cup alpine ski racer Ken Read for 12 years because I could ski with a camera, and not too many [camera] guys in those days were skiing. More guys do it today, but when I started out, I was the only guy who could ski with all that equipment!

Today I could do all of that with an iPhone, but back then I had 60 pounds of equipment on me and I had to ski without poles. I skied down glaciers and mountains all over the world.

Roxanne, how did your time and studies at Concordia help shape you and your career?

RD: I gravitated towards history and really enjoyed my classes with professors Graeme Decarie and Geoff Adams. They made history come alive. I went on to work as a journalist for almost 10 years. Journalism is like the first draft of history. This all came to fruition when writing biographies. My time at Concordia was very positive and helped lay the groundwork for my career as a writer.

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