A Life Refused
Big Red Book

related pages...

Danny Blanchflower

Press reaction to the footballer's refusal to participate in This Is Your Life


It’s the show that balances on a tightrope

Interview with footballer Danny Blanchflower, who famously refused the ‘book’


Not on your life

Press coverage of Richard Gordon's 'on air' refusal of the big red book


Gordon Ostlere

Presenter Eamonn Andrews wrote that in show business it is necessary to regard the unexpected as the expected. This adage no doubt derived from his own fear of the unknown, particularly working on live television, and no moment had more fear for Eamonn than the 'pick-up' - the carefully planned moment when that week's subject was stopped in their tracks and presented with the Big Red Book.


Notably, over the 50 years of This Is Your Life, only two names have refused to accept the honour, although on the second such occasion the person concerned - surprised live on air - was eventually persuaded to go ahead with the tribute.


Here is a collection of book extracts, articles and interviews which tell the story of Eamonn's worst nightmares...

Danny Blanchflower...


PRESS AGENCIES: "THIS IS YOUR LIFE"


6 February 1961


FROM THE BBC: In tonight's edition of "This Is Your Life" the BBC hoped to tell the story of the Irish and Tottenham Hotspur footballer, Danny Blanchflower. Unfortunately, he felt unable to take part in the programme and, as a result, the BBC transmitted a programme which told the story of Doctor Robert Fawcus of Chard in Somerset. In the history of "This Is Your Life", which has now been transmitted regularly since July 1955, this is the only occasion when the subject has felt unable to take part.'






Eamonn Andrews recalls the incident in his autobiography, This Is My Life, published in 1963...


It is necessary in show business to regard the unexpected as the expected. Otherwise you would die before your time or go through life a nervous wreck.


One of the most unexpected moments that confronted me was the night Danny Blanchflower walked out on “This Is Your Life”. It was one of the few occasions when I wasn’t worried at the beginning of a programme. I knew Danny, not only as the star footballer he is, but as a radio and television performer. He had written about himself, and by no stretch of the imagination could I imagine him as adverse to publicity. So I relaxed – for the last time – as we prepared to spring our surprise on him.


What happened was this. We knew we had no hope of getting Danny to the theatre without his suspecting something. So we set up a preliminary taping session at another venue half an hour before the programme was due to start, so that the opening would be taped. We would have a fast car to get him to the theatre, where we would show the opening all over again to the theatre audience and the viewing millions and then carry on with the programme and the surprises we had in store for him.


I had done several broadcasts with Danny on football and nothing was more natural than that Angus Mackay, the BBC's Sports Editor, should arrange a discussion for yet another. Danny agreed. The date was set up. The place was just opposite Broadcasting House, in the little news studio at the back of the church. The set-up was perfect. There was an automatic camera (something I hadn't seen before) that was controlled not from the floor, but from the gallery, by some invisible operator. We were all set. Danny first of all went to Angus's office, and when they left on the way to the studio, we were tipped off by telephone.


The camera started operating. Microphones down the passage away from us relayed the oncoming footsteps. I opened a newspaper and pretended to read. The book was hidden under a table. Danny walked straight in, completely unaware of what was in store. In fact, there was a beautifully casual shot of him combing his hair, and his opening remark was: "Hello, Eamonn. Tell me have you read the latest book by Patrick Campbell? It's very good."


There were a few moments of casual conversation like this, when I pointed at the camera and said: "Do you see that camera, Danny?"


To my astonishment, he said: "Yes, that's an automatic camera. It's not controlled from here. It's controlled from upstairs. I've worked with it before."


I said "Yes, but the red light means it's on."


Danny nodded, looking at the picture on the monitor. He still hadn't tumbled, so I added: "It's not just on in the studio. It's on in the real sense. We're now being photographed for a special reason."


By now Danny was standing at my right-hand side. I bent down to pick up the book, saying as I did so: "The reason is because, tonight, Danny Blanchflower, this is your ---"


As I straightened up and turned to present him with the book, there was no Danny. He had headed for the door of that studio like a greyhound from a trap. Angus lunged forward to try to stop him, caught hold of his coat and Danny wriggled out of it went through the door in his shirt sleeves and I could hear him pounding down the stone steps, shouting: "Let me out. Let me out."


I think the Cup Final was due in a week or two and I had awful visions of Danny slipping on those stone steps and breaking one of the most expensive legs in football. However, when he got to the bottom of the steps – and by now, I was in hot pursuit – the door was locked and he couldn't open it. He was white and taut. I told him there were no cameras there now, and he could relax. He demanded his coat back and the door opened. Outside, I tried to persuade him. But once Danny's mind is made up, it's made up. I told him there was a theatre full of people, and back stage many of his friends waiting to greet him. He told me that was our concern. He hadn't invited them.


He left with Angus and went over to the BBC Club. I went upstairs, not knowing what to do, and telephoned producer Leslie Jackson at the theatre to tell him he had no programme that night. It was a great, great disappointment. If only Danny had changed his mind, you can imagine what an impact the opening piece of film would have had.


With fifteen minutes to go, I took another chance and went across to the club and tried to persuade Danny again. But it was no go. I then told him we had a car standing by anyhow, which we had intended to use to take him to the theatre, and he could have it to take him home. Danny said no thank you. He'd go by tube. He was taking no chances. Weeks of preparation had gone by the board; hundreds of pounds in fares and a theatre full of people had to be told they could go home. It has never happened since; but never again have I relaxed until our guest of honour has sat on the stage, and the programme is rolling.






Eamonn Andrews biography

And again in his later book, Forever And Ever, Eamonn, which he sadly never finished but was completed by his wife Grainne, and published in 1989...


The month’s trial of This Is Your Life was successful. And the show was on its way to becoming one of the most popular on British television. For the production team involved, it was always a nerve-wracking experience keeping the identity of the subject secret and never a week went by without one drama or another. But the Danny Blanchflower episode takes some beating. It taught me that if I was not to go through life a nervous wreck I should regard the unexpected as the expected.


When we decided to make the famous Irish International footballer a subject for the ‘Life’, I was convinced nothing would go wrong. Danny was a radio and TV performer as well as a soccer star and by no stretch of the imagination could I imagine him being adverse to publicity. So, when I prepared to spring the surprise on him, I was quite relaxed.


Knowing we had no hope of getting the shrewd Irishman to the Television Theatre without him suspecting something, we arranged for him to go to a different venue, thinking he was doing yet another football broadcast. Without his knowledge, everything would be taped, to be played to the theatre audience and viewing millions half an hour later. A fast car would be waiting to take Danny to the theatre to watch the opening sequence and enjoy all that was to follow.


Danny turned up at the little news studio opposite Broadcasting House all right. And, as a secret camera whirred, I got as far as saying: 'Tonight, Danny Blanchflower, this is your …’ But as I was about to present him with The Book, Danny fled like a greyhound from a trap. Angus McKay, the BBC’s Sports Editor, lunged forward to try to stop him and caught hold of his coat. But Danny wriggled out of it and rushed through a door and down the stone steps, shouting: ‘Let me out. Let me out.’


He was due to play in the Cup Final in a week or two and as I chased after him, I had this dreadful vision of him slipping and breaking a leg. He reached the main exit door safely, thankfully. It was locked. Danny was white and taut. I told him to relax; there were no cameras on him. He didn’t want to know, just demanding his coat back. Outside, I tried to persuade him, but his mind was made up: he wasn’t doing the programme and that was that. The theatre was full, I said; backstage , many of his friends were waiting to greet him. That was our concern, he said. He hadn’t invited them.


I went upstairs and phoned Leslie Jackson to tell him he had no programme. It was a great, great disappointment; weeks of preparation had gone by the board; hundreds of pounds in fares had been wasted – and a theatre full of people now had to be told they could go home.


I couldn’t let it go at that without a fight. With just fifteen minutes to go, I went back to the BBC Club where Danny had gone with Angus McKay. Again, I pleaded. Again, Danny refused. Resigned now, I told Danny that a car had been standing by to take him to the theatre; he might as well use it to take him home. But, again, Danny turned down the offer. He was taking no chances, he said. He’d take the tube.


After that, I always expected the unexpected, and never relaxed until the guest of honour was sitting on stage and the programme rolling.






The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his book This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...


In its early BBC days, Life took quite a lot of criticism from the press. 'Intrusion' was a favourite word; even 'unfair' and torture'. But viewers watched, and the subjects didn't complain. Well, apart from Danny Blanchflower.


Eamonn knew the footballer also as a radio colleague, and was totally relaxed before the pick-up. ('For the last time,' he recalled later.)


Blanchflower was booked for a soccer discussion with Eamonn at Broadcasting House. The book hidden under a table, Eamonn opened a newspaper to make the scene look casual as Blanchflower walked into the news studio. He even stopped to comb his hair. Said Eamonn, 'Do you see that camera, Danny?'


Danny said he knew it to be an automatic camera, controlled from upstairs. He'd worked with it before. Eamonn told him it was on - and for a special reason. Eamonn reached down for the book... 'because tonight, Danny Blanchflower, This Is …’


But there was no Danny; the boy had bolted. Sports Editor Angus Mackay grabbed him by the jacket, but Blanchflower wriggled out of it and exited in shirt sleeves, bellowing, ‘Let me out! Let me out!’


Eamonn hared after him, and told him there was a packed theatre and friends waiting to greet him. Said Blanchflower: ‘You invited them, not me.'


As Eamonn said later, 'Danny was completely within his rights in refusing to go on and owed no explanation to anyone.’






Eamonn Andrews biography

Writer Gus Smith recalls this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his biography, Eamonn Andrews His Life...


DANNY BLANCHFLOWER sat alone in a couch in the ornate foyer of a Dublin hotel. At the age of 62, he looked fit enough to play a game of football, except that on his own admission arthritis had set in in his right knee. The fair-haired celebrity had arrived that January afternoon in Dublin to receive a Hall of Fame Award to mark his outstanding contribution to football.


It was nearly 27 years since he had walked out on the This Is Your Life programme and greatly embarrassed his fellow Irishman, Eamonn Andrews.


Monday evening, 6 February 1961, was a date, Danny said, he could not easily forget. 'I'm sometimes reminded of it, and I can recall every moment of the episode because it was so personal to me. I suppose I'll never forget it.’


He spoke calmly and without any hint of rancour in his voice. Although his performance at the time created a sensation, it did not leave Eamonn with any bitter memories. As he explained, ‘Danny Blanchflower was completely within his rights in refusing to go on with the programme and owed no explanation to anyone.' Television viewers, who imagined that both men had fallen out over the episode, were wrong. ‘I met Eamonn afterwards and there were no hard feelings between us,’ Danny says. 'Once, he laughed as he said to me, "Maybe you'll oblige us the next time".’


He said that his reasons for not accepting the famous red book from Eamonn were, in his own view, perfectly valid. ‘First of all, I never cared for the This Is Your Life programme and felt that if anyone wanted to say no he was entitled to do so. I suppose I resented the air of secrecy around it, the way I had been lured to the studio under false pretences and taken through a back door to meet certain people. I wasn't dressed for the occasion and felt I was being imposed upon. Anyway, I wasn't interested in seeing my life reconstructed in these circumstances, and there were, I realised at that moment, one or two people I didn't want to meet. Not that I had anything to hide. I had nothing whatsoever to hide from anybody. I would do exactly the same thing again if I was approached by a This Is Your Life presenter. I've no regrets."


To Eamonn Andrews, Danny was a natural choice for a Life show. He was Captain of Tottenham Hotspur, the renowned London club. Among his fellow professionals, he was regarded as a brilliant half-back, at once stylish and disciplined. He had won most of the top honours in the game. As a Belfast-born footballer, he was colourful and an international player of distinction. A long time before Eamonn had pencilled his name into his notebook as a potential Life subject, and when the team checked with his relatives in Belfast there seemed to be no particular obstacle in the way of an exciting sporting Life.


Eamonn came to know Danny when he interviewed him on the BBC's Sports Report. He considered him very articulate, intelligent and blessed with a typical Belfast sense of humour. Furthermore, he was a fluent conversationalist and could analyse a football game as a professor would a new thesis. They got on well together and it was one of the reasons why he wasn't unduly worried about the forthcoming This Is Your Life. 'I knew Danny, not only as the star footballer he was,’ Eamonn remembered, ‘but as a radio and television performer. He had written about himself, and by no stretch of the imagination could I imagine him as being adverse to publicity. So I relaxed as we prepared to spring our surprise on him.’


To Danny, Eamonn was a thorough professional – and a nice, friendly Irishman. ‘I found no difficulty working with him. His radio interviews with me were sharp and to the point. He was a man who enjoyed what he was doing. We didn’t mix socially or sportingly, but I admired him as an outstanding broadcaster and boxing commentator.'


Eamonn's plan to surprise the footballer was a simple one. Danny would be invited by Angus McKay, the BBC's Sports Editor, to discuss players' wages with Matt Busby, manager of Manchester United, and Denis Law, a famous United player. This was scheduled to take place in a news studio opposite Broadcasting House, and here Eamonn was waiting to do the pick-up.


As Eamonn recalled, ‘It was intended to tape the opening sequence. We had meanwhile a fast car standing by to get him to the theatre where we'd show the opening all over again to the audience and the viewing millions and then carry on with the programme and the surprises we had in store for him.’


Now, as the camera started operating, Eamonn pretended to be reading a newspaper. The Life book was hidden under a table. When Danny sauntered into the studio, Eamonn said, ‘Do you see that camera?' Danny casually replied, ‘Yes, that’s an automatic camera. It's not controlled from here; it’s controlled from upstairs. I've seen it work before.’


Eamonn's face showed surprise, his smile faded. 'Yes,’ he said to the footballer, 'but the red light means it's on.'


Danny nodded, looking at the picture on the monitor. He still suspected nothing unusual. Eamonn said, 'It's not just on in the studio. It's on in the real sense. We're now being photographed for a special reason.’


Danny at that moment was standing beside him. Eamonn bent down to pick up the large book, saying as he did so, ‘The reason is, because tonight Danny Blanchflower, this is your –‘


Before he could utter another word, Eamonn watched in dismay as Danny, showing the speed of a footballer, headed for the door. It was the last thing Eamonn expected to happen. For a moment, he looked bewildered, hardly knowing what to do next.


Angus McKay tried to stop Danny by hastily reaching out to grab his coat but in his haste nearly tumbled down the stone steps. Danny was heard to exclaim, ‘Let me out of here!' By now, Eamonn, looking perplexed, caught up with the star footballer and appealed to him, 'Come on, Danny, be a sport will you?’ He pointed out to him that there was a theatre full of people waiting to greet him. But Danny turned to him and snapped, 'It's not my concern. I didn't invite these people, did I?'


Among the guests at the theatre was the whole Spurs team, including goalkeeper Bill Brown who had let his wife into the secret so that she was now sitting at home with neighbours and friends expecting to see her husband greet Danny Blanchflower on the show.


'There was still fifteen minutes to go. In desperation, Eamonn went across to the BBC Club and telephoned his producer Leslie Jackson at the theatre to tell him of his dilemma. He warned him of the stark possibility of no programme because of the unprecedented behaviour of Danny Blanchflower. Jackson, a cool customer in a crisis, was stunned by the news. ‘I couldn't think of any good reason why Danny should walk out on us,' he says today. 'The production team were confident that Eamonn would experience no trouble picking him up. I begged Eamonn to go back to Danny and make a final appeal to him.'


Eamonn was shattered. He found it hard to accept that one of the country's greatest footballers would say no to publicity. He hated to think also that so much preparation had gone by the board. Later, when he was asked about the cause celebre, he said philosophically, ‘I feel uncomfortable when people ask me didn’t I think Danny Blanchflower was a bad sport not to have gone on the show. Whatever my opinion may be, it doesn't matter. When we throw the book at someone on This Is Your Life, we do so in the knowledge that this person has the right to come back with "Do you mind if I don’t” or any words he cares to choose to that effect.




The audience at Shepherd's Bush Theatre was disappointed that the show was cancelled. Among them was Danny Blanchflower's wife, Betty, who appeared cross that her husband had refused to go on the show. The frustration of the Spurs team was reflected by their rather glum faces, and Bill Brown knew that his wife would be furious at Danny’s decision. But it was decided to carry on with the after-show party. The millions of viewers had not seen the 'walk-off’ by Danny at the BBC's news studio. Another programme had been put on in place of This Is Your Life.


Next morning the newspapers headlined the history-making Life incident. Some of them felt that Danny Blanchflower should have been sport enough to accept the red book; others tried to speculate on the footballer's real reasons for his refusal, which weren't at all clear. Eamonn admitted that he had been disappointed by Danny's 'unexpected performance’ and hoped it would not be repeated by others in the future.


Danny meanwhile was unrepentant. In the subsequent days and weeks he received numerous letters from ordinary people as well as footballers and football fans, most of whom seemed to agree that he was entitled to take the action he did, although some people regretted the hurt it obviously caused to Eamonn. As Danny recalls, ‘I realised that my decision was a controversial one. Everyone I suppose expected me as Captain of Spurs to go on the show, but I had my own reasons for not doing so. I talked to my team-mates and they agreed with my decision, even my friend Bill Brown who had to face his wife and friends after the no-show. The team had after all given up their evening to be at the theatre. I appreciated their frustration and was sorry for them.’


The top brass at the BBC appeared even more concerned than Eamonn Andrews. They considered Danny Blanchflower’s action as a direct slight on the Corporation. They insisted that henceforth every This Is Your Life show must be pre-recorded. Their decision, taken rather hastily, upset Eamonn. The live aspect of the programme appealed to him because it generated excitement; now, he worried about the future. Leslie Jackson agreed that the show would not have the same powerful impact as before and he discussed with Eamonn how they might surmount the problem.


‘We decided to record the show a week before transmission,’ he recalls, 'then a day before, then an hour before.’ He was cross with Danny Blanchflower for walking off because he felt it gave BBC chiefs a reason for pre-recording the show. Even today, Leslie Jackson can find no good reason for the footballer's decision and prefers to attribute it to the 'stubbornness inherent in Irishmen'.






Richard Gordon...


This Is My Life

Producer Malcolm Morris recalls the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his book This Is My Life...


…at the beginning of a live programme that I was directing, Richard Gordon, of the ‘Doctor’ books and films fame, came into Thames Television reception in London. Suddenly Eamonn Andrews appeared beside him.


As he saw Eamonn, Richard also spotted two cameras in the corridor.


‘Hello,’ said Eamonn. ‘Tonight, Richard Gordon, this is your life.’


Richard looked at Eamonn. ‘Are we on now?’ he asked.


‘Yes,’ said Eamonn, ‘this is live.’


‘Balls,’ said Richard. He then turned to dash out of the building.


‘We’ve got a lot of guests waiting to see you,’ said Eamonn rather anxiously.


‘I didn’t invite them,’ replied Richard.


By this time I had faded the picture out and started a stand-by programme on actor Sam Kydd, due to have gone out the following week.


Richard Gordon was now halfway out of the studio door.


‘Oh, come on,’ said Eamonn.


Richard paused. ‘Oh, all right,’ he said.


He went back into the studio with Eamonn and we recorded the programme for the following week.


I don’t know why Richard Gordon said no in the first place, but what I do know is that he made the front page of nearly every newspaper in the country on the following day.






Eamonn Andrews biography

This Is Your Life scriptwriter Tom Brennand recalls Gordon's initial refusal to take part in the show in his biography of Eamonn Andrews...


Richard Gordon the author of the ‘Doctor’ books was the second to ‘do a Blanchflower.’ He said no or, more precisely, ‘Oh balls!’ when Eamonn confronted him not long after Thames Television had started producing the programme.


But Gordon could not run as fast as Blanchflower. Eamonn caught him as he tried to open a studio door which also happened to be locked but this time those same exhortations, which by then Eamonn had fashioned into a plea that would soften the hardest of hearts, or most embarrassed of souls, persuaded him to change his mind.


That widely headlined encounter nearly did not happen however. The programme’s original plan was for the confrontation to be pre-recorded at an outside location (in which case the company would have been obliged to cut the offending word). But because of a demarcation dispute it had to be scrapped at the last minute and in a desperate bid to save the show from being junked, too, the production team managed to lure Gordon into the studio almost on the dot of transmission time.


So, by a stroke of sheer good fortune – which had at first promised disaster for the programme – Gordon’s anatomical answer to Eamonn’s invitation was transmitted live and so, accidentally, gave its viewing figures one of the best boosts ever.






Eamonn Andrews biography

Writer Gus Smith recalls this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his biography, Eamonn Andrews His Life...


Eamonn still found the pick-up moment nerve-racking. He never knew when a potential subject would say no and walk away.


The Danny Blanchflower affair was still fresh in his memory. Yet, subsequently, when Richard Gordon, best-selling creator of the famous ‘Doctor’ books and television series, refused to appear on This Is Your Life, Eamonn admitted that he experienced the same kind of agony as when Danny Blanchflower walked off. ‘I really don’t know why he refused. Perhaps he just didn’t want to face the cameras.’


More than twenty million saw the author walk off the set at Thames Television, with Eamonn following him close behind in a desperate bid to persuade him to stay. After a few moments confusion, the screen went blank. Then a recorded version of a standby programme, featuring the actor Sam Kydd, was shown.


Richard Gordon had been brought on as a mock ‘Doctor’ sketch was being played by members of the Doctor In The House cast from London Weekend Television. Eamonn held up the large Life book and told him, ‘You won’t need a script tonight because, Richard Gordon Ostlere this is your life!’ It was at that moment that he decided to snub Eamonn. He later returned to the studio however and explained to the audience of 200 that he was ‘pathologically shy’. He then went ahead with a recording of the programme.


After the incident Thames Television was inundated with telephone calls from viewers wanting to know what had happened. A spokesman for Thames explained that sometimes the show was recorded and sometimes put on live. ‘As luck would have it tonight’s show was live. But live or recorded, it is always a surprise to the subject. Tonight was a surprise to us. We hope to show the Richard Gordon Life at a future date.'


At the point of the author’s refusal to cooperate, Eamonn had looked shaken and pale. It was obvious that some programmes were proving more nerve-racking than even he cared to admit. But he was prepared to endure the pain for the sake, as he would say, of the thrill of a live programme.