The Happy Gang was organized by the singer-pianist Bert Pearl (b Winnipeg 2 Feb 1913, d Los Angeles 17 Jun 1986), who had played in CBC orchestras under Jack Arthur, Percy Faith, and Geoffrey Waddington. For the first broadcasts Pearl brought together the trumpeter Robert Farnon, the violinist Blain Mathé, the theatre organist Kathleen Stokes (b Thorold, Ont, 22 Mar 1894, d Toronto 14 Dec 1979), and the announcer Herb May. In 1938 the singer-accordionist Eddie Allen (b Toronto 1920) was added. While Mathé, Stokes, and Allen remained with the troupe throughout its history, Farnon left in 1943 and Pearl moved to California in 1955.
Other instrumentalists were members for varying periods: the trumpeter Bobby Gimby 1943-April 1959; the saxophonist-clarinetist Cliff McKay 1943-52, returning in April 1959 to replace Gimby; the keyboardist Jimmy Namaro 1943-59; the bassist Joe Niosi 1945-59; the organist Lou Snider 1948-57; the pianist Lloyd Edwards 1950-9; the saxophonist-clarinetist Bert Niosi 1952-9. The accordionist Les Foster was added when Allen succeeded Pearl as the show's host in 1955. Announcers were Herb May until 1938, Hugh Bartlett 1938-52, and Barry Wood 1952-9; producers were George Temple 1937-56 and Ken Dalziel 1956-9.
The show adhered to a rigid formula, beginning with the sound of knocking on a door, followed in turn by Pearl's question 'Who's there?,' the collective response 'It's the Happy Gang!' and Pearl's invitation 'Well, come on in!' The group then sang the theme 'Keep Happy with the Happy Gang,' written by Pearl. The format included skits, comedy routines, and a variety of musical items, from violin arrangements of classical and traditional melodies played by Mathé, to pieces from the theatre-organ repertoire played by Stokes, as well as ballads or light songs sung by Allen or Pearl and patriotic or farcical songs performed by the troupe. The prevailing temper was a kind of hectic, zany cheerfulness, unpretentious to a fault, and seldom solemn except occasionally during the classical solo or a particularly earnest patriotic number. Among the songs most familiar to Happy Gang audiences were 'Shut the Door' and 'You'll Get Used to It'. 'There'll Always Be an England' was sung daily during World War II.
The Happy Gang performed mostly before studio audiences in Toronto but toured Canada in 1947 and 1951. It made its TV debut 9 May 1956 on the CBC's 'Cross-Canada Hit Parade' but did not continue in that medium. RCA Victor released several recordings by the troupe, and Gordon V. Thompson published two folios, one of war songs, the other of comic songs. Sixteen years after the last regular broadcast, 5 Jun 1959, Billy O'Connor reunited the Happy Gang for two concerts, 28 Aug 1975, at the CNE. Each concert drew an estimated 15,000 people and was broadcast by the CBC. O'Connor reunited the troupe a second time for a short tour of western Canada in the summer of 1978.
Frayne, Trent. 'Liberty profile: Bert Pearl,' Liberty, 13 Oct 1945
Brown, Bill. 'The Happy Gang steps out,' Montreal Standard, Sep 1949
Callwood, June. 'The not-so-Happy Gang,' Maclean's, 1 Feb 1950
'The Happy Gang: will its first reunion become an annual event?' CanComp, 104, Oct 1975
Links to Other Sites
The History of Canadian Broadcasting
This site is dedicated to the visionary pioneers who created Canada’s broadcasting industry. Features profiles of members of the CAB Hall of Fame and much more. From the Canadian Communications Foundation.
Canadian Television Programming In English
A historical overview of Canadian television production and broadcasting. Focuses on news, current affairs, drama, comedy, children’s shows, sports, and more. Includes some comparisons with the US television industry. From the Museum of Broadcasting Communications in Chicago.
Happy Gang's Eddie Allen dead at 82
A CBC obituary for Eddie Allen, longtim member of the beloved “Happy Gang” program.