QUENTIN DURGENS, M.P.

Canadian Drama Series

One of the first hour-long Canadian drama series produced by the CBC, Quentin Durgens, M.P. began as six half-hour episodes entitled Mr. Member of Parliament in the summer of 1965 as part of the drama series The Serial, a common vehicle for Canadian dramas. The program starred a young Gordon Pinsent as a naive rookie member of Parliament who arrives in Ottawa and quickly learns that the realities behind public service can at times be humorous, overwhelming and frustrating.

Consciously designed to be an absolutely distinctive Canadian drama series, Quentin Durgens, M.P. contrasted the private struggles and controversies faced by politicians with the more sedate, pompous image presented by Parliament. Many of its plots were inspired by real-life issues and situations. Pornography, violence in minor-league hockey, gender discrimination, and questions of religious tolerance were topics addressed among its episodes. In all of them, however, the inner workings of power, with its back room deals and interpersonal struggles, remained the backbone of the series.

The regular series of Quentin Durgens, M.P. began in 1966 as a winter season replacement, and followed the popular series Wojeck in a Tuesday 9:00 P.M. time slot. And like Wojeck, Durgens has been hailed as an example of Canadian television, distinct and set apart from Hollywood drama. The show still carried its imprint as a serial with open narratives, unresolved psychological conflicts, and the anthologies freedom to construct stories around topical issues. Frequent allusions to actual social events and a great deal of subtext were interwoven in plots that juxtaposed rational and emotional behaviours. The result made for what director/producer David Gardner called an "ironic drama". Documentary techniques grounded in the tradition of the National Film Board of Canada also added to the "behind-the-scene" feel of the series and reflected, according to Canadian television critic, Morris Wolfe, a Canadian tradition of "telling it like it is." Despite these claims other Canadian television critics and historians such as Paul Rutherford have questioned the uniqueness of these "made-in-Canada" dramas, arguing instead that many of the characteristics attributed to Canadian drama series such as Wojeck, Quentin Durgens, M.P. and Cariboo Country were already to be found in some American and, especially, British dramas.

Though Quentin Durgens, M.P. was part of a formidable line-up, it was never popular with Canadian viewers. With fewer funds and resources than Wojeck it had to be videotaped (on location and in the studio) for its first two seasons. The flattened taped images and sometimes awkward edits detracted from the documentary feel. Nor were its scripts consistently strong. Despite the increased support in its third season (after the end of Wojeck) when all 17 episodes were filmed and in colour, it failed to hold the large audiences which Wojeck had won for the evening. Canadian viewers, it seemed, did not share the CBC's and producers' interest in developing a distinctive Canadian perspective. Parliamentary intrigues were not fascinating enough to attract a large following and Quentin Durgens, M.P. simply lacked the excitement of cop shows.

-Manon Lamontagne

 


Quentin Durgens, M.P.
Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Canada

CAST

Quentin Durgens, M.P. ...........................Gordon Pinsent His Secretary.................................... Suzanne Levesque Other Members of Parliament...................... Ovila Legere Franz Russell.......................................... Chris Wiggins

PRODUCERS   David Gardner, Ron Weyman, John Trent, Kirk Jones

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

Summer 1965 (The Serial)                          Six Episodes December 1966-January 1967                  Eight Episodes Tuesdays 9:00-10:00 February 1967-April 1967
                                                                Ten Episodes
Tuesdays 9:00-10:00 September 1968-January 1969                                                       Seventeen Episodes
                                                     Tuesdays 9:00-10:00

FURTHER READING

Miller, Mary Jane. Turn Up the Contrast: CBC Drama Since 1952. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987.

Rutherford, Paul. When Television Was Young: Primetime Canada 1952-1967. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.

Wolfe, Morris. Jolts: The TV Wasteland and the Canadian Oasis. Toronto: James Lorimer, 1985.

 

See also Canadian Programming in English