Art for our sake

A tribute to the inimitable Art Fidler on his birthday (December 15)

I was only 15 years old when a teacher changed my life. His name is Art Fidler.

I have always experienced life as a series of random events, a sort of punctuated equilibrium characterized by a chain of chance encounters that can mutate and define. My time with Art was just such an encounter.

In the fall of 1967, I found myself in a grade 11 class called “Enriched English,” a description reminiscent of chemically-enhanced bread. The principal of Oakridge Secondary School in London Ontario had shunted me into the course out of desperation mixed with pity: I had been so mercilessly bullied in the regular program that he needed to find somewhere to park me, like a junkyard jalopy with no warranty. Besides, my father was threatening to sue him if no protective measures were taken to stem the relentless hazing.

So one early September morning, I stumbled into a classroom unlike any other. The teacher had a fairly youthful look, as many of our instructors did in that era, when adolescent baby boomers were streaming into the high school like hopped-up minnows, and institutions of higher learning  were seeking fresh pedagogical recruits to  stem the tide. (Of course, we students always found our teachers to be relative oldsters, or at least of indeterminate age.) This offbeat pedagogue, a Fidler come down from the roof, began his first class by urging us to challenge authority; to venture beyond the established curriculum; to seek fresh experiences in realms where we had previously feared to tread.

Specifically, he exhorted us to attend unconventional plays and “restricted” movies, even providing tips on how to get past the guardians of morality that controlled access to the city’s fortress cinemas. So it was that in my last years of high school I slithered into local movie theatres to savour “The Graduate”, “A Man and a Woman”, and later “Goodbye Columbus”, all of them rated R (18 and over), even though these works may seem tame and perhaps even wooden to us today.

Art also insisted that we students take out a subscription to London Little Theatre, so as to attend plays that caused scandal and uproar in a homogenous community that in those days girded itself in a tightly buckled chastity belt.

The most striking example of untethered bedlam, which we students witnessed at the behest of Art, occurred during a production of the play Marat/ Sade (The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade). The play was – and often still is – tagged as a work of “utter filth and depravity,” but is also considered a masterpiece of innovative theatrical technique in many circles.

At any rate, the explicit exploration of sexuality in the production offended a large number of London Little Theatre subscribers, who began pouring to the exits in droves, looking for all the world like a flood of molten lava, shouting heated imprecations toward the stage and becoming another theatrical dimension of what was already a play within a play about what constitutes “madness.”

Through his paeans of praise for all things theatrical, Art turned me into a thespian for life. And he convinced me that education needed to be pursued outside the classroom. As such, he organized outings to Toronto (to see Man of La Mancha) and to Stratford, where we attended Shakespearian tragedy, returning home by train or by school bus, late in the evening, in a state of intellectual and hormonal effervescence.

In his classes, we acted out all sorts of plays. In those days, Art was a particular fan of George Bernard Shaw, and we spent hours doing readings from works such as Saint Joan and Caesar and Cleopatra. “When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty,” we budding young actors declaimed, chuckling wildly. We loved the character of Cleopatra’s chief nurse and servant  Ftatateeta, reveling in the nonsense pronunciation of her name: “Nobody can pronounce it, Tota, except yourself. Where is your mistress?”

Never before in my academic trajectory had I so looked forward to attending a class.

The students in Art’s Enriched English course were a collection of erstwhile misfits. So many of them were witty, rebellious, cynical, and  brilliant. No longer did I have to pretend that I was a moderately stupid guy so as to avoid hazing. I was no longer a Clark Kent without a phone booth! I wasn’t alone in enjoying books – Art had us reading Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, and Scott Fitzgerald, none of whose works appeared in the regular curriculum –  or in hating pep rallies. Our class was chock full of kids who shared my secret proclivities, many who had skipped a grade like I had, a fate worse than death from a social standpoint up until Art’s class. And many of the guys in the class were nearly as horrible in phys. ed. as I was, a belated balm to say the least.

I made friends with whom I could act out and who wanted to talk about ideas, about religion, about love and death.

About the vast universe in which we were floating like cognizant motes.

About our fears and hopes for the future.

Art Fidler inspired me to become an English teacher, a performer, and a writer. He was and still remains the ultimate role model.

I am so glad to have had the opportunity to tell this story and to thank him at long last.

Happy birthday Art!


Robert McBryde Author: IndieReader Approved, nostalgia, hippies, pop music, 1960s, 1970s, psychedelic, blogging, social media,  CBC radio, literary non-fiction, tales, short stories, vignettes, immigrant experience, Quebec anglos, living in France,  childhood and animal stories, creative memoirs, satire, autobiography, family relations, fathers, raising children, aging, facing death, travel, social commentary, love and marriage, translation: English-French; French-English

Publisher’s Note:  Funny, manic, and wistful… self-deprecating creative nonfiction…The author, Robert McBryde, a professional translator, has been compared to David Sedaris for the sometimes-snarky autobiographical satire characterizing his literary sketches. Many of the stories in his new book, titled My Time with You Has Been Short but Very Funny, have been featured on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio network.


Author’s Note:

I’ve written a new book of creative non-fiction titled My Time with You Has Been Short but Very Funny, recently published and now on the market. The book is based on stories that I told over the years as a writer/ broadcaster and host on CBC radio based in Quebec City, Canada.

The book is available via my website. The purchase links are at the bottom of the home page.

Normally I will post at least two morning blogs per week. Stay tuned!

If you purchase a book via the platform of your choice, please leave a review!

Here is an excerpt from my IndieReader review:

“[This] memoir is… an enjoyable and touching read. Radio listeners in Quebec are already familiar with the wit and wisdom of Robert McBryde. The non-fiction collection, MY TIME WITH YOU HAS BEEN SHORT BUT VERY FUNNY, gives the rest of the world access to the author’s inimitable style.”

“Please note that [this] book received a rating of 4 stars or above, making it “IndieReader Approved”, a designation we created to make it easier for readers and booksellers to identify quality indie titles. Post the sticker proudly, knowing that your title was judged by top industry professionals—not as merely a great indie book—but as great book, period.”

Here is a link to a cool group book review blog:

My Time With You Has Been Short But Very Funny, a review by Di


And this is a link to Goodreads. A great place to learn about new books and to read reviews.

Di’s review of My Time with You Has Been Short but Very Funny


And, finally, a review from Amazon…


A Spirited Dive into Life’s Laughter and Tears (


You can follow me on Instagram:

Happy reading! 😊

Your friend,