Hector Willoughby Charlesworth, writer, editor, critic, memoirist (born 28 September 1872 in Hamilton, ON; died 30 December 1945 in Toronto, ON). Hector Charlesworth was a Toronto-based journalist and arts commentator, particularly on music and drama. He was editor of Saturday Night magazine (1926–32) and the first head of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (1932–36), precursor of the CBC. His autobiography, in three volumes, is a splendid source of literary, political, journalistic and theatrical anecdotes. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Edward VII, and was perhaps best known for viciously criticising the Group of Seven.
In his teens, he studied piano and theory (with Arthur E. Fisher), and submitted poems and articles to Saturday Night using the pseudonym “Touchstone.” In 1891, he joined the staff of Saturday Night for a year. His interest in music and theatre was reinforced by his marriage in 1897 to the singer and pianist Katherine Ryan.
He worked as a reporter for various Toronto papers (1892–1904), and as city editor and music critic for the Mail and Empire (1904–10). He then became assistant managing editor (1910–26) and editor (1926–32) of Saturday Night, English Canada's most influential weekly in the first half of the 20th century. Most of his music criticism was published in Saturday Night. In 1922, as art critic for the magazine, he accused the National Gallery of promoting the Group of Seven to the detriment of other artists.
His writings also appeared in Musical Canada, the Conservatory Monthly, the Canadian Journal of Music, the Conservatory Quarterly Review and the Yearbook of Canadian Art, among others. He also adjudicated many performance and composition competitions. His memoirs, Candid Chronicles (1925), More Candid Chronicles (1928) and I’m Telling You (1937), include anecdotes of musical interest; the latter details his controversial term as chairman of the CRBC. He returned in 1936 to Saturday Night as music critic, and also contributed music and drama reviews to the Globe and Mail until his death.
McGill University English professor Denis Salter called Charlesworth “a cultural monument in his own right,” and said that he “not only helped enhance Saturday Night’s highbrow intellectual and cultural tone, but he also managed, at the same time, to construct a public image for himself as a well-connected, well-informed literary gentleman.” Concordia University professor Mary Vipond has said that, “While the CRBC failed institutionally by 1936, Charlesworth was successful enough in defining the national and social goals of public service broadcasting that the project was not abandoned but refined and reorganized under the aegis of a new cultural authority, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.”
A portrait of Charlesworth drawn by Arthur Lismer sometime between 1931 and 1933, and depicting Charlesworth with a gleaming halo above his head, is held at the National Gallery.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
Candid Chronicles; Leaves from the Note Book of a Canadian Journalist (MacMillan, 1925).
The Canadian Scene; Sketches: Political and Historical (MacMillan, 1927).
More Candid Chronicles: Further Leaves from the Note Book of a Canadian Journalist (MacMillan, 1928).
I’m Telling You; Being the Further Candid Chronicles of Hector Charlesworth (MacMillan, 1937).