Eric Nicol 1995
Eric Nicol continuously wrote professionally in Vancouver for seven decades, since the early 1940s. In 1995, he fittingly became the first recipient of the annual $5,000 George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an exemplary literary career in British Columbia.
Eric Patrick Nicol was born December 28, 1919, in Kingston, Ontario, the son of William Nicol and Amelia Mannock Nicol. In 1921 he “almost immediately persuaded his parents to flee a fierce winter in favour of farmhouse on Kingsway”. After a brief period in Nelson, the family relocated to Point Grey. Nicol began writing stories at Lord Byng High School.
Nicol received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia in 1941. Nicol started his literary career with the Ubyssey newspaper under the pen name of ‘Jabez’.
As a French Honours student masquerading as ‘Jabez’, Nicol co-wrote his first book, a collection of Vancouver News-Herald columns, with legendary Vancouver journalist Jack Scott. That first collection of humour, Says We, appeared in 1943. A Vancouver chauvinist, Nicol only left the West Coast to serve with the RCAF during W.W. II (1942-1945), to attend the Sorbonne as a post-graduate student and to live briefly in London.
Nicol had started to write occasional columns for the Vancouver News Herald and the Vancouver Province during the war. While he was in the RCAF he wrote many comedy skits that were performed to entertain the armed forces. After the war, Nicol returned to UBC for his M.A. in French Studies (’48) and spent one year in doctoral studies at Sorbonne. He then moved to London, England, to write radio comedy series for Bernard Braden and Barbara Kelly of the BBC from 1950-51.
He returned to Vancouver in 1951 to become a regular columnist with the Province, eventually producing some six thousand newspaper columns, several stage plays, more scripts for radio and television and more than 30 books, three of which were winners of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.
Nicol had seven stage plays produced; contributed magazine articles to many publications such as Saturday Night and Macleans; had numerous radio plays broadcast by CBC; wrote two successful radio series for the BBC; and is the first living Canadian writer to be included in The Oxford Book of Humourous Prose.
Despite his reputation as a comic writer, Nicol preferred not to be pegged as a humourist. One of his Province columns against capital punishment resulted in a citation for contempt and a trial that attracted national interest. His column on the assassination of John F. Kennedy was read into The Congressional Record. A self-avowed commercial writer, Nicol frequently described his politics as ‘anarchist in theory, liberal in practice.’
In 1962, Nicol said he did not smoke, drink, play cards or run around with women—but he hoped to do so if royalties came pouring in. For his entire life he avoided parties. “I’m either sitting there like a frog full of shot,” he told the Georgia Straight in 1989, “Or I run off at the neck and then hate myself the next morning.”
Nicol was the first Vancouver playwright to have his work successfully produced by the Vancouver Playhouse. His best-known play, Like Father, Like Fun (1966), concerns a crass lumber baron’s attempt to contrive his son’s initiation to sex. After it was unsuccessfully staged in New York under the title A Minor Adjustment (1967), Nicol rebounded with The Fourth Monkey (1968) about a failed playwright who takes refuge on the Gulf Islands.
Nicol’s play for the National Theatre in Ottawa, Pillar of Sand (1973), is set in fifth century Constantinople and examines civilization’s decline. “The reviews were mixed,” he said, “bad and terrible.” Other plays are Regulus; Beware the Quickly Who; The Clam Made a Face; a Joy Coghill vehicle, Ma! (1981), about B.C. newspaperwoman Margaret ‘Ma’ Murray; and his cryptic Free At Last.
Eric Nicol had three children by his first marriage to Myrl Mary Helen Heselton. In 1986 he married author Mary Razzell, with whom he lived in the Point Grey home he purchased in 1957.
Although he described himself as “pretty well retired from everything except breathing”, Nicol teamed up with cartoonist Peter Whalley for Canadian Politics Unplugged in 2003. In a 2008 interview he said, “Writers never retire, they just die.” Eric Nicol died on February 2, 2011, at the age of 91 and is survived by his three children.
Says We (1943)
Sense and Nonsense (1947)
The Roving I (1950)
Twice Over Lightly (1953)
Shall We Join The Ladies? (1955)
Girdle Me A Globe (1957)
In Darkest Domestica (1959)
An Unhibited History of Canada (1959)
Say, Uncle (1961)
A Herd of Yaks (1962)
Russia , Anyone? 1963)
Space Age, Go Home! (1964)
100 Years of What? (1966)
A Scar Is Born 1968)
Don’t Move (1971)
The Clam Made A Face (1972)
Still A Nicol (1972)
One Man’s Media (1973)
Letters To My Son (1974)
There’s A Lot Of It Going Around (1975)
Three Plays (1975)
Canada Cancelled Because of Lack of Interest (1977)
The Joy of Hockey (1978)
The Joy of Football (1980)
Golf, the Agony and the Ecstasy (1982)
The Man from Inner Space (1983)
Tennis: It Serves You Right! (1984)
How to …! (1985)
The U.S. or US: What’s the Difference, Eh? (1986)
Dickens of The Mounted (1990)
Back Talk (1992)
Anything for a Laugh: Memoirs (1998)
When Nature Calls: Life at a Gulf Island Cottage (1999)
The Casanova Sexicon: A Manual for Liberated Men (2001)
Canadian Politics Unplugged (2003) Illustrated by Peter Whalley