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The Wonderful World of Les Lye

During his 44 years in show business, Les has done almost everything on TV, radio and the stage. He is one of Ottawa's most versatile performers, and one of the best liked members of the entertainment fraternity.

For a local personality, who occasionally worked outside the National Capital area, Les became an instant celebrity across North America with the launch in 1979 of Roger Price's revolutionary comedy program. Produced in the studios of Ottawa's CJOH-TV, it was quickly picked up by stations from coast-to-coast, and within a brief period of time was distributed internationally by the American cable network, Nickelodeon.

While adults may have been mystified by the success of "You Can't Do That on Television", the kids were on its wave length from the very beginning, and turned out in droves to greet Les during his publicity tours. He has many happy memories of meeting his young fans and their families. Two exceptional gatherings took place during events organized by Nickelodeon, the first at Florida's Disney World, and the second in Washington, D.C., for the annual Easter egg hunt on the grounds of the White House.

Born and raised in Toronto, Les is a graduate of both Riverdale Collegiate and the University of Toronto's Victoria College. In 1944 he volunteered for service in the RCAF, only to be transferred a year later to the army, when the war effort had a great need for more troops. Following his military discharge in 1946, he resumed his education, and eventually became a member of Lorne Greene's famous Academy of Radio Arts, where he was a "Graduate of Distinction".

Les began his broadcasting career in 1948 at Frank Ryan's new radio station CFRA. By 1953 he had moved back to Toronto, where he hosted a late night comedy show on Jack Kent Cooke's CKEY Radio.

When I left CHUM, Toronto, in the early 1950s for a career move to Ottawa and CFRA, we had never met, however, I soon became acquainted with the impact Les had on the capital. Everywhere I went throughout the Ottawa Valley I met his fans, who regaled me with anecdotes about his morning broadcasts and his comedy exchanges with his alter ego. "Abercrombie". It was evident that as one of the pioneers of CFRA Les was the capital's radio kingpin!

Four years later he returned to the Frank Ryan fold, where he repeated his earlier Ottawa success with a mid-morning program. We finally became co-workers and close friends. Like everyone else on the station at that time, l was often the butt of jokes by his imaginary co-host, the infamous, Abercrombie, who was as "real" to radio listeners as Edgar Bergen's Charlie McCarthy. Sharing an office with Les, I took great pleasure in being privy to his comedy writing. It was during that time that a youthful Rich Little honed his skills working with Les. The idea for Rich's first comedy album was conceived and written by Les and Rich, the hilarious spoof of the Diefenbaker years, "My Fellow Canadians".

In 1958 Les began his long and varied career on television as one of the hosts of the CBOT program, "Contact". Meanwhile, his radio days continued, and along the way took him to both CKOY and CKBY-FM. As one of the earliest contributors to CJOH-TV he was the MC of the first live audience show at their Merivale Road studios, in 1961, with Joe Brown and the Happy Wanderers. It was the beginning of a 30-year association that featured him in a variety of assignments with Channel 13, interviewer, comic, sportscaster, movie reviewer and featured performer on both late night and early morning shows hosted by his pal, Bill Luxton. He was also a quizmaster on CTVs "Fractured Phrases" and a writer-performer on Global's satirical news program "Shh! It's the News!" with Don Harron.

The chemistry of the team of Lye and Luxton gave birth to two of our most enduring characters, and one of our longest running TV series, "The Will & Floyd Show". It was a top rated children's program, that also had a large adult following, with its mix of sight gags and topical humor. Playing a variety of parts the two multi-talented entertainers were a team for 20 years. They still appear at various functions and special events as their old friends, Willy & Floyd.

As an actor, Les appeared on network TV dramas and documentaries, including "Quentin Durgens", "'The National Dream" and "Family Court". With opening night jitters he made his stage debut opposite Bill and Elsa Pickthome in the comedy, "Boing, Boing". The night before his first opening, he laughingly told me that he was so uptight, that he was considering bowing out of the play on the pretense that he was "suffering from a sudden and extremely rare disease". His "malady" was quickly cured, however, once he stepped on stage and heard the sounds of laughter and applause. His most memorable theatrical credit was co-starring with Bill Luxton in Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys" on the stage of the Ottawa Little Theatre.

Les and his wife, Jonni, who are proud parents and grandparents, were among the founding members in 1981 of the Ottawa branch of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. They have remained active members of JDF. and work tirelessly for this outstanding organization.

Les is always among the first volunteers to lend a helping hand for needy causes and charitable fund raising events. His love of show business and his dedication to the community is acknowledged by those in and out of the entertainment world, when they refer to him in flattering Vaudeville parlance as a "Sunshine Boy".