Tales of a Washington TV Reporter: “I’m Very Offended by Your Letter.”

By Arch Campbell

TV pals Arch Campbell and Bob Ryan having fun at DC's Palm restaurant.

TV pals Arch Campbell and Bob Ryan having fun at DC’s Palm restaurant.

I worked in television news for more than 40 years and had the most fun in the 1980s and ’90s doing the late news at WRC-TV in Washington. Monday through Friday, right before the Tonight Show, I reviewed new movies and theater performances. Some nights I brought back footage of a premiere or celebrity event. It was designed to be the light ending of the day’s news.

That was before everything became “Breaking News.” The late news then was more of a summary of the day’s events rather than live coverage of something of the moment. Live shots were complicated and requiring planning and several engineers in the field. So most of the stories we covered took place during the day.

Many days my first assignment was at 10 in the morning. I then was expected to appear live with a story on the 5 or 6 p.m. news and then appear live with a review at the end of the 11 o’clock news.

The station’s weatherman Bob Ryan and I became the best of pals. Back then the weather didn’t come from a “Storm Center” and each puff of wind or drop of rain didn’t require analysis. Barring something biblical, the weather bureau made a forecast early in the evening and usually it didn’t change. That gave Bob and me and a few others some time for mischief.

One year we set up an indoor golf course. It started in the newsroom and went out into the hallways. This lasted until the night I hit down on a ball, causing it to fly up and shatter a glass “Exit” sign. The station then didn’t have security cameras so we went back into the newsroom and pretended nothing happened. Some nights we took a nine iron and Bob and I made chip shots into a trash can. When not playing games we gossiped about the usual—office romances or who was about to be fired.
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In the mid 1980s my then-wife scheduled a business trip to Brussels. We planned to add time for a European vacation, including Germany and the Alps.

I mentioned our trip to Bob. He and his wife Olga loved to travel and he recommended the Brenners Park Hotel and Spa in Baden-Baden, Germany. Olga had an aunt in Baden-Baden and she and Bob had stayed at Brenners Park, which Bob described as a world-class European hotel and spa.

So we went. Brenners Park was as Bob described: An old world European hotel, spa, and medical clinic. Legend has it the Brenners Park staff notes every detail of your stay and what you enjoy. If you return, everyone greets you by name.

Baden-Baden is home to one of Germany’s most famous sights: the Neuschwanstein castle. Situated on a mountain top overlooking Baden-Baden it reminds tourists of the castle Walt Disney designed to represent “Fantasyland.” We took a tour and then decided to get some exercise by walking down the steep one-mile path to the hotel.

That night my ankle hurt. The next morning I couldn’t put weight on it. The hotel sent up a very serious doctor and nurse. Neither spoke English. The nurse pulled out a hypodermic and gave me a shot. As I began to go under the doctor wrapped my ankle. The hotel’s clinic sent up crutches and I hobbled around Brenners Park for the rest of my stay. When I got back to Washington my doctor told me I’d sprained a tendon and put me in a cast for six weeks.

Three months later a letter arrived on Brenners Park stationery with a Baden-Baden postmark, addressed to Herr and Frau Campbell. I opened it up and read in large print: “PLEASE RETURN THE TOWELS!”

I showed the letter to my wife. Furious, she sat down at her typewriter and wrote:

Dear Sir:

I am very offended by your letter accusing us of taking towels from the hotel. I can’t imagine how you would think we are the kind of people who would do that.

We went to the Brenners Park because we’d always heard about your warm welcome and very personal service. This is obviously not true. WE DID NOT TAKE YOUR TOWELS!

Sincerely,
Mrs. S. Campbell
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Back at the Channel 4 newsroom, Bob and I resumed our laughing, trading jokes, and sharing gossip. About a year after the trip to Germany, Bob looked at me with a little smirk and asked, “Did you ever get my letter?”

That’s when it hit me.

Bob’s wife had an Aunt in Baden-Baden. Bob went to a family wedding in Germany that summer. He got some Brenners Park stationery and sent the please-return-the-towels letter. We laughed for fifteen minutes and continued giggling during the news that night.

If you’re ever in Germany, I do recommend staying at the Brenners Park Hotel. Enjoy the warm welcome from the staff that remembers everything about you.

Let me know how you like it because—thanks to my dear friend Bob Ryan—I can never return.
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Arch Campbell was an entertainment reporter for WRC-TV in Washington from 1974 to 2006. He then was at WJLA-TV, the ABC station in Washington, from 2007 to 2014. He says, “More than 50 years ago I started following my dream of working in broadcasting. That led me to Washington D.C. and the NBC-owned station WRC-TV where I worked my way into the now quaint role of movie and theater reviewer and cultural reporter. Times have changed and that’s okay. But we sure had a lot of fun in those earlier days.”

 

Comments

  1. Wonderful story about the towels. I well remember Arch’s nightly spots and looked forward to them. “Breaking news” 24/7 gets tiresome.

  2. Great story Arch, but I remember playing golf with you not that long ago. You skulled one of your patented hallway nine irons deep into the woods, landing in a puddle.

    “Wow,”, that’s a “bad one, BAD one,” I said.

    You must have heard me wrong, because after you kicked your ball out of the woods, I remember you said “Speaking of Baden-Baden,” I’m using a towel from a great hotel there to clean my spikes.” Different trip?

    Truth is, I can attest as a friend and competitor with Arch, he had IT, whatever IT is, that makes a great broadcaster. Funny guy,and a terrific critic to boot.

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