LAC Norm Pringle was there… Redux

While I was searching for more information about Paulson, Manitoba, I found this article about Norm Pringle…

When Elvis addressed him, it was as ‘sir’

Special to The Globe and Mail

VICTORIA — Norm Pringle, who introduced rock ‘n’ roll to Victoria radio listeners, gained an audience with the genre’s king when Elvis Presley came to Vancouver to perform.

Pringle was one of three disc jockeys to question Presley at an informal press conference before the 1957 concert, an inquisition that found a new audience in recent years on the Internet.

The session was one of the highlights of a long broadcasting and recording career during which Pringle hired the actor Leslie Nielsen and made possible the radio debut of an unknown teenaged singer named Tommy Hunter.

Pringle, who died in California at 88, spun rock records for a teen audience as rock broke upon the culture, yet he was always by his own admission a big-band man.

Norman Ronald Pringle was born in Calgary on Dec. 9, 1923. His father worked as a pipefitter for the city. In 1941, Pringle abandoned his high school studies to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was just 17.

He was assigned to the No. 13 Radio Unit at Amphitrite Point, near Ucluelet, one of a chain of radar stations along the isolated and sea-battered west coast of Vancouver Island. He and his comrades were to be vigilant for an invasion from the Japanese, although the greater enemy turned out to be boredom. Young Pringle got his first experience as an entertainer when the brass put him in charge of the unit’s movie projector, as well as the canteen, which was stocked with cold beer.

After the war, he returned to Calgary, and took a course in radio operations offered to veterans. The instruction was in the studios of CJCJ, where he was soon hired as host of the morning wake-up show before being promoted to chief announcer and program director.

One day, a tall man entered the studio after missing a streetcar. He had 20 minutes to kill, and asked for an audition. Pringle had him read an old newscast. “He sounded pretty good, so we hired him,” Pringle said. The recruit did not stay long, as he had aspirations of becoming a serious actor and, soon after, Leslie Nielsen left the station for acting school in Toronto.

Pringle hit the road himself, landing a job with CKMO in Vancouver in 1950 before joining CKDA in Victoria two years later. During a performance of a play at the Royal Theatre, he was impressed by a youth who sang the folk standard Barbara Allen. He went backstage to invite the 15-year-old to visit the station the next day. The singer showed up and was surprised to discover he was expected to perform live on air. He delivered a spontaneous 30-minute show, which launched the broadcast career of Tommy Hunter, Canada’s Country Gentleman, who announced his retirement from touring this year.

Pringle hosted radio programs from CKDA’s studios in the basement of the downtown Douglas Hotel (now the Hotel Rialto). He filled his playlist with the swinging sounds of Tommy Dorsey, Tex Beneke and Freddy Martin. One day, a record arrived from a new artist whose sound baffled the DJ. “When we first got his records, we didn’t know where to play him,” Pringle said. “I had a country show and a pop show. He played a guitar, so I put him on my country show.” That’s how the listening audience in Victoria got its introduction to Elvis Presley.

In July, 1957, Pringle booked the Capitol Theatre for the premiere of the Presley movie Loving You. Only girls were invited. The promotion was a smash.

Pringle escorted two busloads of excited Presley fans to Vancouver for a show at Empire Stadium on Aug. 31. On the day of the show, Pringle dressed in a suit jacket with thin lapels. He sported a sprightly bowtie and slicked back his hair. His wife, the former Elsie Morrell, made sure to wear her good jewellery.

Before the show, the singer submitted to a lengthy press conference, most of the questions posed by a trio of disc jockeys – Pringle, Red Robinson, the boyish announcer who would emcee the show, and Marke Raines, who later was elected as a member of Parliament. Presley politely answered every question, addressing his interrogators as “sir,” asking “beg your pardon?” when he didn’t hear. He also posed for photographs.

“He was a real charming guy,” Pringle said. “Pretty smart, too. He knew what to say. He had an answer for everything.”

The concert was pandemonium. Fans rushed the stage. The screaming from 22,000 in attendance drowned out the singer. The local press was harsh. A Vancouver Sun headline read, “Presley fans demented.” The Province newspaper’s music critic described the singer as dancing like “a frog injected with strychnine, with its legs shivering and jittering.” The Victoria Daily Times dismissed the teen sensation as “a sensuous slob.”

In Victoria, Pringle also hosted a weekly television show called House Party, during which local teenagers would lip-synch to the latest hits. One of the regulars, a 16-year-old named Jim Smith, could bump and grind in the Presley style, so Pringle had him hold a guitar while he mouthed the words to songs familiar to every teen. The newspapers dubbed the boy “Victoria’s EP” and the teen is regarded as the first of what would become an army of Elvis impersonators and tribute artists. Since Smith could neither sing nor play the guitar, his rock ‘n’ roll career was short-lived and he became a bus driver. He died in 2009.

Pringle moved to Hollywood in 1958, working as a sound mixer and audio engineer. Among the performers he recorded were Frank Sinatra, Eddie Cantor, the Beach Boys, the Tijuana Brass, and Sonny and Cher. He also worked on sound for such movies as All the President’s Men and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

He enjoyed a regional hit on Vancouver Island with a Christmas novelty tune he wrote, Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney. All royalties went to charity. He never stopped writing songs.

In 2008, he returned to British Columbia for an induction ceremony at the Victoria Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He was cited as the city’s most influential broadcaster of his era.

Pringle died on March 17 at the Motion Picture Retirement Home at Calabasas, Calif. He leaves a son, a daughter and two grandchildren. He was predeceased by Elsie, his wife of 55 years, who died in 2009.

Pringle liked to tell a story about his wife and the snapshot of the couple flanking Elvis. She wanted to carry a print in her wallet, but the original was too large. Her solution was to trim the photo, leaving only her and Elvis.


Original post

I got an e-mail from Norm Pringle.

Norm Pringle was a LAC at No.7 Bombing and Gunnery School.

It took him 67 years to hear from someone who knew something about No. 7 B&G in Paulson, Manitoba.

I have been only waiting since 2010 to meet someone who had met Eugene Gagnon when he was a staff pilot over there.

Flight Sergeant Eugene Gagnon

He most certainly met Eugene Gagnon when he was a dispatcher.

LAC Norm Pringle

This was on  Norm Pringle’s Website…


As told to: Hobart K. Kistler, Sept. 2010 – (69 years later)
By: Norm “Crash” Pringle

A native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Mr. Pringle was born there on December 9, 1923. “I flunked out of the first grade of high school,” he says, “and the chance to get a job was rare. Well, my dad had been in World War I, and he always said I’d be in the next one to come around.”

With the Dominion of Canada involved in the Second World War since 1939, Mr. Pringle was well aware that there was a war on. American ‘bush pilots’, eager to get in on the fighting, were a common sight at airfields along the Canadian border; many Canadian men had already joined up as well. As such, in the summer of 1941, Mr. Pringle determined to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. “It was more to get paid and get three squares a day than out of patriotism,” he remarks of his decision to enlist.

Mr. Pringle was first ordered to report to #2 Manning Depot, Winnipeg, Manitoba. The 1,000-mile journey from Alberta was quite an adventure for a seventeen-year-old who had never strayed far from home. For a week, “they sorted things out,” Mr. Pringle remembers. “It was basic training in a sense, but nothing really serious. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was just getting underway, and they needed people to man the training facilities. Since I had no established trade, they asked me if I knew how to work with Railroad Time. I said ‘yes’, and so they made me a dispatcher.”

Mr. Pringle was assigned to duty at #7 Bombing and Gunnery School, at Paulson, Manitoba. The airfield serviced about 25 aircraft which were used by pilots and airmen to acquire the skills necessary for combat. “A plane would be sent up, flying a sort of drogue 600 yards behind, and the practicing gunners tried to shoot that target.” Mr. Pringle’s work involved mainly “assigning the pilots and gunners to planes, and getting the necessary signatures to see that the towing had been serviced. It was a big responsibility for a kid without a high school diploma.” He remained at #7 for nearly three years, facilitating the training of numerous pilots and gunners, perhaps half of whom were Americans. “It was all very much like the motion picture Captains of the Clouds,” he observes. (The movie referenced was a 1942 film starring James Cagney as a middle aged ‘bush pilot’ training at a BCATP base.)

“It was a good assignment,” Mr. Pringle says of his time at #7. “We didn’t have much to do, except go into this little town (Dauphin) and go to dances and get drunk. The men often sang songs, such as the British servicemen’s favorite, Bless ‘Em All, into which Mr. Pringle admits he and his cohorts often substituted a more colorful verb for ‘bless’! The chorus went:

Bless ’em all, bless ’em all
The long and the short and the tall
Bless all the sergeants and W.O. Ones
Bless all the corp’rals and their blinking sons
For we’re saying good-bye to them all
As back to their billets they crawl
You’ll get no promotion this side of the ocean
So cheer up my lads Bless ’em all!

One day an aviator accidentally walked into a spinning propeller directly in front of Mr. Pringle’s office. The man was killed instantly, reminding the men that although not on the front lines, no one was guaranteed to come out of the war alive. For Mr. Pringle, another accident nearly cost him his life.

“We had a kid with appendicitis who needed to be flown down to Winnipeg for surgery,” he relates. “Since I had to dispatch the plane, I thought, ‘I’ll take a ride myself.’ In the end there were about seven or eight people jammed into that little Cessna; it was a terrible day, snowing very hard.” Things didn’t really start to go sour until the plane was in transit to Winnipeg. Mr. Pringle remembers exactly what transpired that day: “The pilot lost his way; he couldn’t find the airport in all that snow. To make matters worse, we were running out of gas just flying around in circles trying to find the airport. Finally, he saw it, but as we were getting ready to land, the engine conked out. The pilot said, ‘Hang on boys; we’re gonna make a rough landing!’. We crashed on a roadway near the airport, and the plane ended up upside down. We got out of the wreck ran like hell to get away before the fuel caught on fire and it exploded. Just then, we realized that the patient, who had been the only one wearing a seatbelt, was still in the plane. We ran back and found him hanging upside down inside. When we unhooked him he fell to the bottom of the plane, and we got him out. Amazingly, no one was hurt except one guy who had gotten the hook on his parachute jammed into his head; it was bleeding all over, bud he didn’t die. Fortunately the ground crew from the airport had seen us go down, and they were there to help us.” Resultant from his surviving the wreck, Mr. Pringle was given the nickname ‘Crash’ Pringle, an appellation that has stuck with him for over 65 years.

Mr. Pringle returned to duty at #7 for a time, before being ordered to “a secret new radar station being established at Spring Cove on Vancouver Island. It was in the middle of nowhere, and I didn’t even know what radar was, but I thought it was rather like going on a vacation to the seashore!

“I don’t know why they sent me, a dispatcher, to a base with no planes,” he continues, “and they wouldn’t tell us anything about the radar, so I had to get creative to find a job for myself. The base had no PX (Post Exchange) or even anything where the 100 guys there could buy cokes or cigarettes, so I started a canteen. I sold beer, cigarettes, coke—whatever they wanted, and since I knew how to run a 16mm movie projector, I made up a little theater and showed one movie a week.

“There wasn’t much else to do on that rugged coast,” Mr. Pringle explains. “Sometimes we went on hikes, but it rained a lot, and there was only one boat a week to the fishing village of Ucluelet, where we got supplies. Oh, and they had a motor transport garage on the post, but seeing as there were no roads and they only had one truck, there wasn’t much reason for it. That just goes to show how the military wastes a lot of resources!”
Adjacent to the outpost was a group of abandoned houses that had been inhabited by Japanese fishermen before the war; however, as in America, they were quickly removed to internment camps following Pearl Harbor. The extra housing allowed for the wives of several of the soldiers to travel to Vancouver and stay near their husbands.

In the war’s final year, Mr. Pringle was sent up to Port Hardy, on the island’s northern end, where he was stationed for two months before the imminent conclusion of hostilities precipitated another transfer to #2 Wireless School in his hometown of Calgary. There, as at Spring Cove, he showed movies at the base’s PX.

Just prior to VJ Day, Cpl. Pringle was discharged and allowed to return home, which he did. Of his activities after the war, he says, “In those days you were allowed to wear your uniform for a year after you were discharged, so I put mine back on and hitchhiked to Hollywood. It was so easy, being in uniform; everybody treated me very well. The Hollywood USO Canteen put me up for a month, while I hobnobbed with all kinds of famous people. Among others, I met (then-Lt. Col.) Jack Warner, of WarnerBrothers, who later became my boss.

Mr. Pringle returned to Calgary to work as a radio announcer for station CJCJ. One day a man walked in and asked if there was an opening for an announcer. Mr. Pringle interviewed the man and gave him a job. The man’s name was Leslie Nielsen, and he was very glad to have been given a start in the entertainment business by a fellow RCAF veteran. Mr. Pringle later worked as an audio engineer in Hollywood, on movies and television shows such as The Waltons. He retired in 1983. As to his days in the RCAF, he remarks that “I can’t say I won the war; it was just one big party really (running the canteen at Spring Cove). I never wanted a rifle in my hands, so I guess you might call me ‘chicken’, but I feel that I did my part.”

67 years later, Norm is doing his part in paying homage to these brave men.



4 thoughts on “LAC Norm Pringle was there… Redux

  1. For you, this was a long post, but well worth reading. It was the perfect part of the 20th century to be a DJ, the service record, etc. nothing could be left out – terrific job! Once again, Pierre – I tip my hat to you.

    1. Norm was a humble man. I said he was a hero because he served his country during WW II.

      He replied he was not in harm’s way like all the other student pilots and instructors.

      I was looking for pictures of Fairey Battles and found the article.

      Norm was a good man and deserved recognition on my blog.

  2. And he deserves it!! The actions that draw public attention and medals are often results of a trauma. Even Audie Murphy – the most decorated didn’t remember climbing on that tank, people told him he did. He saw his fellow soldiers die and he went into shock. Pringle had a quiet courage that put that uniform on despite a war!

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