One on One: Favourite Conversations and the Stories Behind Them

Winter 2009 CSANews Issue 73  |  Posted date : Dec 12, 2009.Back to list

One on One is a wonderful journey through the key events and key players of the past 10 years. Our guide is award-winning CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge. In September 1999, Peter launched Mansbridge: One on One, a half-hour interview program for CBC Newsworld.  His first guest was Conrad Black.  From the many interviews conducted since, Peter has selected his favourites, with introductions to each and end notes to put them in context. The last interview in the book, President Barack Obama, was conducted in February 2009.

Mansbridge writes with self-deprecating, wry humour. His recollection of his encounter with a prickly Lady Margaret Thatcher is hilarious. It was a train wreck! When it staggered to its conclusion with her commenting on a "silly question" and accusing Peter of not reading the whole book, Lady Thatcher then asked if Peter would like her to sign his copy of her book. "What could I say? I was actually thinking of something else she could do with the book!!"

Mansbridge first joined the CBC Northern Service after a local producer heard him announcing Transair flights at the airport in Churchill, Manitoba, and thought that he had a great voice. His broadcast training was a one-hour course and a quick tour through the station's selection of 45s and LPs. It was a real Hollywood discovery story – Canadian style. Peter says that when he tells this story to journalism students, they are not amused, but he maintains that it was all about being in the right place at the right time.

Peter learned the "art of the interview" by spending hours on short-wave radio listening to other broadcasters in North America and paying close attention to who he calls the best interviewers in the business…Barbara Frum, Peter Gzowski and Pamela Wallin. Mansbridge has developed his own interviewing style for One on One. On the National, it's usually somewhat confrontational, but it's conversational on One on One. "One of the ways I force myself to listen is to do most interviews without notes." This book would be an invaluable resource for the journalism student.

This extraordinary selection includes conversations with leaders, thinkers, politicians, musicians, astronauts and sports figures. Mansbridge has talked to every living Canadian prime minister, to Presidents Clinton and Obama and to philanthropist Bill Gates. To me, two of the most poignant interviews were ones that touched Mansbridge viscerally. One was with Dr. Devra Davis about her book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer. Peter tells of the loss of his mother to cancer with moving vulnerability when talking about her packing for the hospital for the last time.

The other was with Canadian businessman Brian Clark, who was in the World Trade Center in New York on 9-11. Clark's decision was whether to go up or go down. Peter gives behind-the-scenes insights on anchoring 44 hours of coverage on the 9-11 disaster.

Another favourite was the interview with actor Colm Feore. In the introduction to this piece, Peter tells of a wonderful dinner in Rome with Colm while he was on his honeymoon with actress Cynthia Dale. Speaking of Cynthia, in his acknowledgement, Peter thanks her and their son Will for "allowing him the time to write what I needed to write."

This One on One journey was a delight.

Willa McLean is a freelance writer who lives in Kitchener.