This Is Your Life (British TV series)

This Is Your Life is a British biographical television documentary, based on the 1952 American show of the same title. It was hosted by Eamonn Andrews from 1955 until 1964, and then from 1969 until his death in 1987 aged 64. Michael Aspel then took up the role of host until the show ended in 2003. It returned in 2007 as a one-off special presented by Trevor McDonald, which to date was its most recent airing.

This Is Your Life
Title card of 2007 revival.
GenreDocumentary
Biography
Presented byEamonn Andrews (1955–1964, 1969–1987)
Michael Aspel (1987–2003)
Trevor McDonald (2007)
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series43
No. of episodes1,130
Production
Running time30–60 minutes
Production company(s)BBC Productions (1955–1964)
Thames Television (1969–2003)
Click TV (2007)
Ralph Edwards Productions (2007)
STV Productions (2007)
ITV Productions (2007)
TIYL Productions (2007)
DistributorFremantle
ITV Studios
STV Group plc
Release
Original networkBBC One (29 July 1955 – 30 April 1964, 2 November 1994 – 8 August 2003)
ITV (19 November 1969 – 20 July 1994, 2 June 2007)
Original release1955–1964, 1969–2003, 2007
Chronology
Related showsAmerican version
New Zealand version
Australian version

In the show the host surprises a special guest, before taking them through their life with the assistance of the 'big red book'. Both celebrities and non-celebrities have been 'victims' of the show. The show was originally broadcast live, and over its run it has alternated between being broadcast on the BBC and on ITV.

The surprise element was a very important part of the show; if the guest heard about the project beforehand, it would be cancelled.

History

The British version of the show was launched in 1955 on the BBC and was first presented by Ralph Edwards to the first "victim", Eamonn Andrews, who was the presenter from the second show[1]. The scriptwriter for the first 35 episodes was Gale Pedrick.[2] In 1958 it was the most popular regular show on the BBC with audiences between 8.75 and 10.5 million.[3] It ended in 1964 when Andrews moved to Associated British Corporation, but it was revived on ITV (produced by Thames Television) in 1969.

The only other occasion during Andrews' presentational run where he was not the presenter was in 1974 when he was the subject a second time, and the show was presented by David Nixon. Michael Aspel (himself, a "victim" in 1980) became presenter after Andrews died in 1987. The show returned to the BBC in 1994 but was still produced independently by Thames Television. The programme was discontinued again in 2003.

At first, the show was always broadcast live; later, programmes were sometimes pre-recorded. Live broadcasts ended in 1983 when boxer Alan Minter could not stop swearing during his appearance; also newspapers were able to find out which star was to be featured and ratings dropped as people no longer watched it just to see who was on that week.

The show returned in June 2007 on ITV for a one-off-special programme hosted by Sir Trevor McDonald with guest Simon Cowell.[4] The new edition was co-produced by ITV Productions, STV Productions, TIYL Productions, Click TV and Ralph Edwards Productions.

Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway featured a return of This Is Your Life to celebrate Ant & Dec's 25 years together, quizzing them on their 25 years as part of "Ant vs Dec" in episode 6 of Series 11. Michael Aspel returned as host alongside Ashley Roberts.

Guests

Lynn Redgrave, in December 1996, was caught while taking her bow in her one-woman show on stage at the Haymarket Theatre, the only time the Redgrave clan was seen together on stage at the same time. Bob Hope and Dudley Moore have been the only subjects of two-part editions of the programme, in 1970 and 1987 respectively. Both were broadcast over two weeks. Clive Mantle's profile included a post-credits sequence where he thanked the audience for coming.

Footballer Danny Blanchflower turned down the "red book" in February 1961. Author Richard Gordon (of Doctor in the House fame) was asked in 1974 and, like Bill Oddie (of The Goodies) in 2001, he initially turned it down, but changed his mind and appeared on the show. Actor Richard Beckinsale was a feature on the show shortly after his 31st birthday, eight months before his death.

Hattie Jacques appeared in 1963 and featured her husband John Le Mesurier who had helped set up the surprise. However, much to her extreme discomfort, she was at the time living separately from Le Mesurier with her younger lover John Schofield.[5]

In 1996, the Sunday Mirror reported that a planned show for Cockney comedy actor Arthur Mullard was pulled after researchers contacted his eldest son. The same report featured claims that Mullard had terrorised his family and had sexually abused his daughter for many years.[6]

The series originally included non-celebrities who had done extraordinary things in their lives. In later years, following a persistent criticism of only deeming celebrities worthy of being featured on the show, non-celebrities were featured again. These included businesspeople, military personnel, the clergy and those that had performed outstanding community or charity service but who were not well known to the general public. Examples include: paramedic Allan Norman; Group Captain Leonard Cheshire; Cromer lifeboatman Henry "Shrimp" Davies; Colonel Tod Sweeney; Mary Ward, community nurse to the boat people of the canals; Chay Blyth; Sir Nicholas Winton; Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader; and Sir Fitzroy Maclean. The series never profiled serving politicians, although retired politicians were occasionally featured, e.g. Lord Brabourne.

Forty-two celebrities have appeared on the show twice — including Honor Blackman, Dora Bryan, Bob Monkhouse and Eamonn Andrews himself.

David Butler was 17 when he became the youngest ever subject of This Is Your Life (episode aired 5 March 1962).[7] He was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in the headmaster's study of Hemel Hempstead Grammar School. David lost both his legs and a hand when, aged 11, he found an unexploded bomb on Ivinghoe Beacon.

When snooker player Stephen Hendry was surprised with the red book in 1990, aged 21, he remarked that he had "hardly had a life".

Theme music

The theme tune used from 1969 was called 'Gala Performance' and was composed by Laurie Johnson for KPM.

Transmissions

BBC1

SeriesStart dateEnd dateEpisodes
129 July 19556 May 195615
21 October 195627 May 195719
330 September 19575 May 195831
429 September 195811 May 195933
531 August 195928 March 196031
619 September 19608 May 196134
72 October 19617 May 196232
82 October 196214 May 196331
93 October 196330 April 196430

ITV

SeriesStart dateEnd dateEpisodes
1019 November 196927 May 197026
1118 November 197012 May 197126
1217 November 197110 May 197226
1315 November 19729 May 197326
1421 November 197315 May 197427
1510 October 19747 May 197527
1612 November 19755 May 197626
1727 October 197627 April 197727
1823 November 197731 May 197827
1925 October 19783 May 197927
2028 November 197921 May 198026
2115 October 198015 April 198126
2213 October 198131 March 198226
2320 October 198213 April 198326
2426 October 198318 April 198426
257 November 19848 May 198527
2616 October 198530 April 198626
2715 October 19868 April 198726
2814 October 198720 January 19887
2919 October 19881 March 198920
3025 October 19897 May 199027
3117 October 199017 April 199126
3216 October 199115 April 199226
3330 September 199221 April 199330
3412 January 199420 July 199426

BBC1

SeriesStart dateEnd dateEpisodes
352 November 199417 May 199528
366 September 19956 March 199627
3720 September 199624 March 199726
381 September 199723 February 199826
397 September 19981 March 199926
401 November 199929 May 200028
419 November 20007 June 200126
4217 October 200123 May 200226
432 January 20038 August 200325

Special

  • 2 June 2007 (ITV)

References

  1. This was a departure from the American series in which Edwards expressly forbade the show from ever featuring him as a "victim."
  2. "Mr Gale Pedrick". The Times. 24 February 1970. p. 10. Retrieved 29 August 2014. (subscription required)
  3. "'This Is Your Life' BBC-TV's Top Aud". Variety. 11 February 1959. p. 43. Retrieved 6 July 2019 via Archive.org.
  4. "This Is Your Life (2007)". BFI. Retrieved 6 October 2019.
  5. "Hattie Jacques". www.bigredbook.info.
  6. Woodward, Ian (12 May 1996). "ARTHUR MULLARD WAS THE COCKNEY COMIC MILLIONS LOVED ...AND A MONSTER WHO RAPED HIS DAUGHTER AT 13; 'Behind his TV smile lurked an evil pervert who made me his sex slave, drove my mum to suicide and destroyed my life'". www.thefreelibrary.com. Sunday Mirror. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  7. Butler, David. "David Butler's Website". Retrieved 6 October 2019.
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