LITERARY LOCATION: Walk of Fame, North Plaza, Library Square, 350 West Georgia Street, Vancouver

In 1995, humourist Eric Nicol fittingly became the first writer to have a plaque of B.C. marble installed in the Walk of Fame to commemorate winners of the annual George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in B.C. A Province columnist for five decades, Nicol received three Stephen Leacock Medals for Humour for his books; he became the first living Canadian writer to be included in The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose; and he was the first Vancouver playwright to have his work produced by the Vancouver Playhouse, as well as on Broadway. A rare wit, he lived for more than fifty years in the same house on 36th Avenue, near UBC.

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Under the pen name Jabez, the indefatigable Eric Nicol first co-published Says We (1943), a collection of Vancouver News-Herald columns with legendary Vancouver journalist Jack Scott. Some 67 years later, with his literary talents still in evidence even though he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the veteran newspaper columnist and playwright released his final collection of whimsical musings, Script Tease (2010). Along the way, Nicol received three Stephen Leacock Medals for Humour, he became the first living Canadian writer to be included in The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose and the first Vancouver playwright to have his work produced by the Vancouver Playhouse. In 1995, he received the first George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an exemplary literary career in British Columbia.

Born in 1919 in Kingston, Ontario, Eric Nicol “almost immediately persuaded his parents to flee a fierce winter in favour of a farmhouse on Kingsway.” He later described B.C. as “a body of land surrounded by envy.”

Nicol started his literary career with the Ubyssey newspaper, at the University of British Columbia, where he adopted his pen name of Jabez. Nicol served for three years with the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII and returned to UBC for his M.A. in French Studies in 1948. He spent one year in doctoral studies at the Sorbonne, then moved to London, England, to write radio comedy for the BBC. He returned to Vancouver in 1951 to become a regular columnist with the Province, producing some 6,000 newspaper columns, several stage plays and numerous scripts for radio and television.

Nicol’s best-known play, Like Father, Like Fun, first staged in 1966, concerns a crass lumber baron’s attempt to contrive his son’s initiation to sex. It was unsuccessfully staged on Broadway in 1967 under the title A Minor Adjustment. The Fourth Monkey, produced in 1968, is about a failed playwright who takes refuge on the Gulf Islands (where Nicol had a cottage).

For most of his life, Eric Nicol lived in the same house he purchased in 1957, near UBC, at 3993 West 36th (at Crown Street). He liked to say he did not smoke, drink, play cards or run around with women—but he hoped to do so if royalties came pouring in. Terribly shy, he avoided parties. He was always afraid to take holidays in case he could not retain his job at The Province. After more than forty years of service, he was unceremoniously let go by Pacific Press.

An unstoppable punster, Nicol nonetheless did not wish to be pegged as simply a humorist. One of his Province columns against capital punishment resulted in a citation for contempt and a trial that attracted national interest.

Noteworthy titles among Nicol’s 42 books include an excellent history, Vancouver (1970), Dickens of the Mounted: The Astounding Long-Lost Letters of Inspector F. Dickens NWMP 1874–1886 (1989) and Anything for a Laugh: Memoirs (1998).

At age 91, he died at 9:19 a.m. on Wednesday, February 2, 2011, at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital in Vancouver.

FULL ENTRY:

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 George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an exemplary literary career in British Columbia. He is the first Canadian to have won three Stephen Leacock Medals for Humour and earned a criminal record for contempt of court. He received the Order of Canada in 2001.

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. Nicol had seven stageplays 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 he's the first living Canadian writer to be included in The Oxford Book of Humourous Prose.

Despite his reputation as a comic writer, Nicol prefers 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 describes 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. To this day he avoids 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), concerned 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), was set in fifth century Constantinople and examined 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 had purchased in 1957. Although he described himself as “pretty well retired from everything except breathing”, Nicol teamed with cartoonist Peter Whalley for Canadian Politics Unplugged in 2003 and released a "palsied opus" about aging in 2005. His final work, Scriptease: A Wordsmith's Waxings on Life and Writing (2010), was written after the onset of Alzheimer's disease. His wife Mary remained a steadfast supporter.

[For other B.C. authors pertaining to humour, see abcbookworld entries for Adams, Victoria; Bartlett, Rex; Bierman, Bob; Black, Arthur; Boswell, David; Collins, Bob; Coyote, Ivan E.; Daacon, George; Duffie, John; Filbrandt, Rod; Freir, Pam; Gabereau, Vicki; Glave, James; Grayson, Steven; Gudgeon, Chris; Harrop, Graham; Hou, Charles; Hunter, Don; Juby, Susan; Julian, Terry; Kirkland, Gordon; Klunder, Barbara Wyn; Knighton, Ryan; Koshevoy, Himie; Krieger, Robert; Leiren-Young, Mark; Maartman, Ben; MacDonald, Kyle; McCardell, Mike; Mitchell, Howard; Morton, James; Mythen, John; O’Hara, Jane; Palmer, H.S.; Palmer, Hugh; Partridge, Colin; Peterson, Roy; Raeside, Adrian; Richardson, Bill; Rowe, Dwayne; Sager, Dorianne; Schroeder, Andreas; Shave, Barbara J.; Sisson, Hal; St. Ives, Dan; Struthers, Andrew; Thompson, Robert H.; Verchere, Ian; Whalen, Len; White, Howard.]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Vancouver

Selected Bibliography / BOOKS:

1943: Says We. With Jack Scott. [Nicol uses pen name Jabez]
1947: Sense and Nonsense (Ryerson)
1950: The Roving I (Ryerson)
1953: Twice Over Lightly, illustrator James Simpkins (Ryerson)
1955: Shall We Join the Ladies?, illustrator James Simpkins (Ryerson)
1957: Girdle Me a Globe, illustrator James Simpkins (Ryerson)
1959: In Darkest Domestica, illustrator James Simpkins (Ryerson)
1961: with Peter Whalley, Say, Uncle: A Completely Uncalled-for History of the U.S. (Harper)
1962: compilation, A Herd of Yaks: The Best of Eric Nicol (Ryerson)
1963: with Peter Whalley, Russia, Anyone?: A Completely Uncalled-for History of the USSR (Harper and Row)
1963: Twice Over Lightly (Ryerson)
1964: Space Age Go Home! (Ryerson)
1965: (An Uninhibited) History of Canada, illustrator Peter Whalley (Musson)
o 1968 reissue (Musson)
1966: with Peter Whalley, 100 Years of What? (Ryerson)
1968: A Scar is Born (Ryerson)
1970: Vancouver (Doubleday)
o 1978 reissue: Vancouver (Doubleday) ISBN 0-385-14329-X
1971: Don't Move: Renovate Your House and Make Social Contacts (M&S)
1972: The Clam Made a Face (Firebrand)
1972: compilation edited by Alan Walker, Still a Nicol: the Best of Eric Nicol (McGraw-Hill Ryerson) ISBN 0-07-092773-1
1973: Beware the Quickly Who (Playwrights Co-op)
1973: One Man's Media and How to Write for Them (Holt, Rinehart and Winston) ISBN 0-03-929991-0
1974: Letters to my Son, illustrator Roy Peterson (Macmillan) ISBN 0-7705-1216-X
1975: with Peter Whalley, There's a Lot of it Going Around (Doubleday)
1975: Three Plays: Like Father Like Fun, Pillar of Sand, The Fourth Monkey (Talonbooks)
1977: with Peter Whalley, Canada, Cancelled Because of Lack of Interest (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-139-1
1978: with Dave More, The Joy of Hockey (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-156-1
1980: with Dave More, The Joy of Football (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-183-9
1982: with Dave More, Golf, the Agony and the Ecstasy (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-218-5
1983: Canadide: A Patriotic Satire (Macmillan) ISBN 0-7715-9783-5
1984: with Dave More, Tennis It Serves You Right (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-266-5
1985: How to-- ! : How to be Smarter, Slimmer, Happier, Richer, Sexier—and so Successful that You'll Never Need Another How-To Book (Macmillan) ISBN 0-7715-9694-4
1986: with Dave More, The U.S. or Us: What's the Difference, eh? (Hurtig) ISBN 0-88830-296-7
1989: Dickens of the Mounted: The Astounding Lost-Long Letters of Inspector F. Dickens, NWMP, 1874–1886 (McClelland and Stewart) ISBN 0-7710-6807-7
1992: Back Talk: A Book for Bad Back Sufferers and Those Who Love (Put Up With) Them, illustrator Graham Pilsworth (McClelland and Stewart) ISBN 0-7710-6809-3
1996: Skiing is Believing (Johnson Gorman) ISBN 0-921835-23-X
1998: Anything for a Laugh: Memoirs, autobiography (Harbour) ISBN 1-55017-187-9
1999: When Nature Calls: Life at a Gulf Island Cottage (Harbour) ISBN 1-55017-210-7
2001: The Casanova Sexicon: A Manual for Liberated Men (Ronsdale) ISBN 0-921870-88-4
2003: with Peter Whalley, Canadian Politics Unplugged (Hounslow) ISBN 1-55002-466-3
2005: Old Is In: A Guide for Aging Boomers (Dundurn Group) ISBN 1-55002-524-4
2010: Script Tease - A Wordsmith's Waxings on Life and Writing (Dundurn Press) ISBN 978-1-55488-707-1

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015]