Backstage Life
Backstage Life

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The theatre – a world of drama, comedy, passion, excitement and surprise – a world not so dissimilar to that of This Is Your Life production office perhaps?


Here we look at the subjects more used to being backstage than onstage, from impresario to stage door keeper, whose hard work - which enables the show to go on - was rewarded with the Big Red Book* treatment…

Ben Fuller Ben Fuller Ben FULLER
13 November 1962
The stage door keeper of London’s Windmill Theatre was surprised by Eamonn at his place of work!
The Windmill was a variety and revue theatre located in London's Great Windmill Street - famous for its nude tableaux vivants - where many prominent British comedians and comedy acts of the 1950s and '60s started their careers.
Ralph Reader Ralph Reader Ralph READER CBE
21 November 1963
Ralph - best known for staging the original Gang Show, a variety entertainment presented by members of the Scouting movement - was surprised by Eamonn outside the BBC Television Theatre.
Among those on the guest list are comedian Dick Emery and the widow of the Chief Scout, Lady Baden-Powell.
Ray Cooney Ray Cooney Ray COONEY
15 January 1975
Eamonn surprised the actor and playwright - famous for his West End farces, such as Not Now Darling - at London's Savoy Hotel.
Paying tribute to Ray - who at that time had seven different productions playing in London's West End, are his fellow farcer Brian Rix and celebrated actress Anna Neagle.
Michael Croft Michael Croft Michael CROFT OBE
15 February 1978
The actor, writer and former schoolteacher who founded the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain was surprised by Eamonn outside the Shaw Theatre on London’s Euston Road.
Michael’s tribute includes messages from actors Ralph Richardson and Albert Finney, and concludes with a gathering of some of his students
WendyToye WendyToye Wendy TOYE
29 January 1992
The dancer, choreographer, actress and film and theatre director, was surprised by Michael onstage at the Wimbledon Theatre following a performance of her production of The Sound Of Music.
Wendy is greeted by, among others, singer Cleo Laine and former ballet dancer Dame Alicia Markova.
Peter Saunders Peter Saunders Sir Peter SAUNDERS
25 November 1992
The theatre impresario, notable for his production of the long-running Agatha Christie murder mystery, The Mousetrap, was surprised by Michael on stage at London’s St Martin’s Theatre, on the occasion of the play’s 40th anniversary.
Among the show’s guests are actors Richard Attenborough and Moira Lister.
Bill Kenwright Bill Kenwright Bill KENWRIGHT
23 February 1994
One of the UK’s most successful theatre producers, Bill was surprised by Michael at Everton FC’s Goodison Park, where he is Chairman. Perhaps his biggest success is the musical Blood Brothers, and Bill’s guests include the show’s writer, Willy Russell, and two actresses who have played the lead role, Kiki Dee and Petula Clark.
Ned Sherrin Ned Sherrin Ned SHERRIN
8 February 1995
The broadcaster, author and stage director was surprised by Michael at the BBC’s Broadcasting House. Ned produced and directed numerous theatre productions in London's West End, including Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell and the landmark musical Side By Side By Sondheim. Ned’s final guest is American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
Mary Ward Mary Ward Mary WARD MBE
29 December 1997
The Co-Founder of Chickenshed, an inclusive theatre company in North London, open to everyone of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, was surprised by Michael at the company’s venue, where the show was then recorded. The tribute includes guests Bob Hoskins and Trevor Nunn, and a performance from some of the theatre’s students.
Sylvia Young Sylvia Young Sylvia YOUNG
21 December 1998
The founder and principal of the Theatre School that bears her name was surprised by Michael at her School in London’s Marylebone.
Many of her former pupils are among the guests including Spice Girl Emma Bunton and singers and actresses Billie Piper and Samantha Janus.

*obviously the pre-1970 subjects were surprised by a different coloured book - see the Big Red Book feature for full details