Bob HOPE (1903-2003)

Bob Hope
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THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Bob Hope, actor, comedian and entertainer, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at Thames Television’s Euston Road Studios.

Born in London, Bob moved to the United States as a child when his family emigrated there in 1908. His early show business career included appearances on stage in Vaudeville shows and Broadway productions.

He began performing on radio in 1934 and switched to television when that medium became popular in the 1950s. Overlapping with this was his Hollywood movie career, which also began in 1934, and his many United Service Organisations tours - entertaining American military personnel abroad - which he did from 1942.

Bob was honoured by This Is Your Life a second time in 1995 in a joint tribute with his wife Dolores.

“Come on… You’re kidding!”

Screenshots of Bob Hope This Is Your Life

Surprise of your Life book

Eamonn Andrews and producer Jack Crawshaw recall the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in their book Surprise Of Your Life...

I was in my dressing room, just a few yards along a narrow corridor from the This Is Your Life studio, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of my script when a call came through, telling me Bob Hope was going to be delayed.

It was the first of a succession of calls that filled the next hour with suspense.

Sixty minutes seemed like sixty long days as we waited for Bob to walk unsuspectingly into our trap.

Months before, when we had heard that he was to fly from his Hollywood home to London for a charity concert, we had moved in quickly to book him for “an interview”. It had all been done officially and efficiently. A call from a producer at Thames to Bob’s London agent. A call from the agent to Bob to check his availability. Then written confirmation.

What Bob didn’t know, of course, was that his wife, Dolores, had already received another telephone call from Thames Television – to discuss Bob’s life. And when the couple boarded the jet to fly to England together only Dolores knew how the interview was going to turn out.

But now, as we anxiously waited, Dolores Hope began to lose her nerve. And she wasn’t the only one. She joined me in my dressing room for a chat and a steadying drink before the next phone call came through telling us that Bob was still involved … at, of all places, the BBC.

To fit our plan of surprise, he had been asked to come to Thames one hour before the scheduled interview. Being the seasoned pro he was, and being so experienced at this sort of thing, he would know that it would be possible in fact to arrive only a minute or two beforehand.

But what he certainly did not know and what no one could tell him was that we had elaborate plans that were geared to a very tight schedule. Among these plans was a live link from our studio to a palatial house in Regent’s Park. Bob had been voted by the American Congress “America’s most prized ambassador of goodwill” and was a good friend of the American Ambassador to Britain Mr Walter Annenberg. So we had approached Mr Annenberg to make a personal contribution to the programme.

He agreed without hesitation. But then we discovered a snag. The night of our programme was the night the Ambassador to the Court of St James, to give him his official title, was hosting a huge banquet at home for a guest list that included members of the Royal Family.

Disappointed that he couldn’t come to the studio he agreed to allow us to put cameras in his home so that he could talk to Bob via a live link during the programme. But there was one condition. The cameras, cables and their attendant technicians would have to have finished before his first guests arrived for dinner.

In fact, they almost did better than that. During a break in the preparations, John Sanders, our floor manager, took the weight off his feet, sat back on one of the ambassadorial chairs and stretched himself. All Hell broke loose! His head had gently tapped a valuable painting behind him and triggered off a security alarm.

I gather that gentlemen with bulges in their pockets seemed to come out of the woodwork before peace was finally restored. The crew waited for the countdown to the programme – standing.

Back at the studios, the next call came through, this time from a radio car we had hired to tail Bob as he left the BBC studios en route for us. The driver told us that Bob was on his way, more than half an hour behind schedule and in very heavy traffic.

While Dolores and I chatted, another comedian, Denny Piercey, was working overtime in the studio. Denny regularly helps us out as audience warm-up man. The comic whose job it is to make sure that the audience, most of whom have never been in a television studio in their lives, feel at home.

And he does his job in the most expert way. A joke here, a joke there, an introduction to the studio crew, an explanation of the way we work. All aimed at keeping everybody in a happy mood for the programme.

Normally he’s up there on his feet for about ten to fifteen minutes before we start. Fortunately, like all good comedians, he has a never-ending list of gags. And I think that that night the audience heard most of them.

Up above him in the control box the studio director, Margery Baker, relayed a running commentary, using information gleaned from the car radio phone to explain the delay to Mr Annenberg and his staff over the live link.

Downstairs in the “Green Room” other members of the team were busy doing what I was doing, steadying the nerves of the guests. The Green Room is the room we have set aside from the studio to welcome the guests and offer them controlled measures of “hospitality” – tea, coffee or sometimes even stronger. While one of Bob’s English-born realtives from Bristol sipped tea, I seem to remember singer Tony Bennett settling for the something stronger served up by the Green Room “mine host”, Reg.

All the guests were locked in to avoid being spotted before the show. It’s all part of a pre-show security routine that would do credit to the Bank of England or, in this case, Fort Knox. A routine that results in guests sometimes being accompanied even to the loo, so that they don’t turn a wrong corner and risk bumping into the wrong person.

On one occasion, one of the team’s new secretaries spotted a face she didn’t recognise peeping around the Green Room door. She quickly accosted him and asked if he was a guest. When he said he wasn’t she politely banned him from the room. We were all glad she had been polite, for the stranger turned out to be none other than Mr Howard Thomas, the managing director, now chairman, of Thames Television. Fortunately, being a former producer who knows television inside out, Howard was most impressed.

Perhaps one of the most soothing places during a waiting crisis is a room just around the corner from mine. It’s the make-up department and though I would never have thought it in my days as a boxer, a dab of powder on the nose and forehead, skilfully applied by our own Mimi or Jeannie, can do wonders to relax you in those tense moments before you face the cameras.

In there was Bob’s daughter, Linda, who the day before, was involved in an amazing double coincidence that nearly lost us the show. After we had secretly flown her from Los Angeles to surprise her Dad she made a swift sortie from her hotel to visit a hairdressing salon in the West End.

Coincidence number one came the moment she walked in through the door to spot Tina, Frank Sinatra’s daughter.

Coincidence number two followed only minutes later when the famous twosome were recognised by a sharp-eyed Fleet Street photographer, quick to realise that he had a nice little scoop in his lens. Snap, and he was on his way back to his office. Click, and Linda realised the danger.

If the picture was published and seen by Bob he would want to know what Linda was doing in London when he thought she was at home in the United States. There was only one thing to do: take the newspaper totally into our confidence by telling them the secret we had been sitting on for so long. Sportingly, they agreed not to publish the pictures and risk spoiling the pleasure for millions of viewers.

When Bob did eventually arrive an hour late there was another picture I was glad he didn’t see. After I had surprised him in the foyer I took him straight into the studio, sat him down and, before the audience applause had died down, I had opened the story. I knew that, among many pressing problems now upon us, we not only had to get the cameras out of the Ambassador’s dining room but one of our guests now hiding behind the set was also one of Mr Annenberg’s guests of honour. Making his first appearance on This Is Your Life it was no less that Lord Louis Mountbatten.

Having met him before I knew him as a man who knew his own mind, didn’t have to raise his voice but made you know damned well what he wanted when he said so. He is also a man who prides himself on his punctuality. And now, through no fault of his own, he was in danger of being late for an important engagement.

I pressed on with the show introducing an array of star guests, friends and relatives. There was even a filmed message from the President of the United States. As we neared the climax, on came Bob’s youngest son Kelly who had cut short an educational cruise aboard a ship to fly in from Dubrovnik in Yugoslavia to complete the family.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Lord Mountbatten waiting in the wings. I could also see our stage manager, Roy Fewins, almost struggling with him. I could visualise the conversation. In fact I felt that I could almost hear Lord Louis saying that he was so late that if he didn’t get on now he would have to leave. And at that very moment I saw Lord Louis actually pop his head around the door at the back of the set.

Fortunately, Bob wasn’t so well placed and missed the picture which, on reflection, I suppose was quite amusing. Moments later, of course, Bob was delighted when he shook hands with Lord Louis and thanked him wholeheartedly for joining in the tribute.

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...

A telephone call wiped the smiles from our faces as we prepared to pounce on the legendary British-born comedian, Bob Hope.

It was from his wife, Dolores. We had flown her in, with their four children. And daughter Linda was the subject of the call.

She had visited a West End hairdressing salon where she had bumped into, of all people, a Hollywood friend – Frank Sinatra’s daughter, Tina. A newspaper photographer was there to picture Tina. Now, right out of the blue, he had the chance to photograph the daughters of the two international stars together. Only after he had gone did it dawn on Linda that if her father saw that picture published he would know she was in London, and would want to know why.

No wonder we weren’t smiling. We decided there was only one thing to do – take the newspaper into our confidence, with the promise of exclusive coverage on the night in return for publication of the photo being delayed until after the programme.

Another argument was simply why spoil the surprise for millions of viewers – and newspaper readers – for the sake of a headline? I have always thought that counter-productive.

The paper agreed, so we were able to go ahead with our surprise, but not without more behind-the-scene jitters. The great comedian had been booked for a non-existent interview on the Today programme at the Euston Road studios of Thames Television, where we planned to surprise him, on 17 November 1970. But he was detained at, of all places, the BBC. He was not aware, of course, that we were running to a very tight schedule because we had outside broadcast cameras in Regents Park, at the residence of the American Ambassador to Britain, Walter Annenberg.

The idea was for the ambassador to make a live contribution to our programme, congratulating Bob Hope on being voted ‘America’s most prized ambassador of goodwill’ by the American Congress.

Mr Annenberg was about to host a banquet, with guests including members of the Royal Family, so by running late at our end we were sorely trying his goodwill.

The situation was not helped by a member of the outside broadcast team accidentally leaning his chair against an extremely valuable painting, setting off the alarm system: the resultant security alert just added to our problems.

What is more, we were detaining one of Mr Annenberg’s VIP guests – Lord Louis Mountbatten. He kept consulting his watch as I made small talk with him in the Green Room. It was clear if something did not happen soon the Admiral of the Fleet would be full steam out of the place.

At last, Bob sauntered into the studio foyer with that familiar casual air. Eamonn shed the panic of the last hour and feigned a similarly casual air as he approached to tell Bob it wasn’t going to be an interview at all, but This Is Your Life.

Back in the Green Room Lord Louis, a stickler for military punctuality was by this time champing at the bit. Quickly, he was taken backstage for his surprise walk-on. So keen was he to get on – and off - that he popped his head around the door at the back of the set. The audience spotted him, but Bob did not. The stage manager had to restrain him. Then on he came to thank Bob Hope for his ceaseless charity work, and one legend was clearly much flattered by the presence of another.

Quite a few more legendary faces were on that programme, including Dorothy Lamour and Bing Crosby, Gregory Peck, Arnold Palmer, Sammy Davis Junior and John Wayne.

Mr Annenberg said his few words and the outside broadcast team cleared their lights, cameras and cables away in the nick of time, just as the banquet guests were arriving – including Lord Louis, punctual to the second.

Eamonn Andrews biography

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

Once he used Today as a means to trap one of his favourite comedians, Bob Hope. Eamonn gave the impression to the comedian's Hollywood agent that he wanted to interview the star on the magazine programme when, in fact, he hoped to surprise him for This Is Your Life. To Eamonn, Hope was one of the all-time great comics; he loved his spontaneous one-liners; he happened also to like the man himself, which in Eamonn's case was always important. They had already met in Hollywood and privately Eamonn had vowed that one day he would hand him the red book.

Now, as he waited in his dressing room he was told that Hope was delayed. 'Sixty minutes seemed like sixty long days as we waited for Bob to walk unsuspectingly into our trap,' he recalled. Months before he had 'booked' him for the Today 'interview', and Bob Hope's wife, Dolores, had agreed to be an accomplice in the plot. Now she was in danger of losing her nerve. Eamonn offered her a drink and they chatted anxiously as the minutes ticked away. Another phone call came through to say that the comedian was held up in heavy traffic. Eamonn sighed and looked at his watch - there was only half an hour remaining to the start of the Life programme. Meanwhile, a warm-up comic was keeping the audience in happy mood. All the guests were locked in to avoid being spotted before the show. In there was Hope’s daughter, Linda, who the previous day had met Frank Sinatra’s daughter Tina at a hair-dressing salon in the West End and a short time afterwards they were spotted by a Fleet Street photographer who snapped them for an evening newspaper. As Eamonn recalled ‘If the picture was published and seen by Bob Hope he would want to know what Linda was doing in London when he thought she was at home in the States. There was only one thing to do: take the newspaper totally into our confidence by telling them the secret we had been setting up for so long. Sportingly they agreed not to publish the picture and risk spoiling the pleasure of millions of viewers.’

When Hope did eventually arrive an hour late he was immediately surprised in the foyer by Eamonn and guided directly into the studio. Although obviously amazed to be met by the applause of an enthusiastic audience, the famous comic took it all rather philosophically, smiling as Eamonn introduced a galaxy of stars, among them Tony Bennett and Dorothy Lamour.

Waiting in the wings was Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was eager to get on with the show as he had an urgent dinner engagement. Eamonn could almost hear him say that it was so late that if he wasn't soon called in to pay his tribute he would have to leave. It was his first time on the Life programme.

It would not be his last.

Bob Hope's biography

In his biography of Bob Hope - Hope: Entertainer of the Century - writer Richard Zoglin briefly mentions this particular edition of This Is Your Life...

He spent a week in London in November 1970, but got only a brief respite from the political fire. He hosted two benefits for the royal family, including a cabaret show for the World Wildlife Fund that attracted a galaxy of European royalty. (“I’m the only one here who doesn’t have his own army,” quipped Hope.)

He was the guest of honour for a segment of the British This Is Your Life, with all four Hope children and other relatives and old friends flown in to pay tribute.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 283 / 284
  • Subject No: 285
  • Broadcast date: Wed 18 Nov 1970
  • Broadcast date: Wed 25 Nov 1970
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Tue 17 Nov 1970
  • Venue: Euston Road Studios
  • Series: 11
  • Editions: 1 - 2

on the guest list...

  • Walter Allenburg – live link
  • Tony Bennett
  • Frank Simons - cousin
  • Kathleen Simons
  • Jean Nixon
  • Maurice Nixon
  • Mrs Tom Simons
  • Philip Briers
  • Mrs Philip Briers
  • Rev James Butterworth
  • Mildred Rosequist
  • Dolores Hope
  • David Frost - radio telephone
  • Tommy Trinder
  • Ted Ray
  • Ray Milland
  • Gen Emmett ‘Rosie’ O’Donnell Jr
  • Joan Rhodes
  • Denis Goodwin
  • Nora - daughter
  • Linda - daughter
  • Tony - son
  • Kelly - son
  • Lord Mountbatten
  • Filmed tributes:
  • President Richard Nixon
  • Jack Benny
  • Dorothy Lamour
  • Bing Crosby

external links...

production team...

  • Researcher: Alan Haire
  • Writer: John Sandilands
  • Director: Margery Baker
  • Producer: Robert Tyrrell
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 11 subjects: Bob Hope > Vidal Sassoon > Talbot Rothwell > Mike and Bernie Winters > Joe Brown > Patrick Campbell > Bobby Moore > Robert Soutter > Graham Hill > Sandy Powell > Edward Woodward > Moira Lister > Dickie Henderson > Wilfred Pickles > Kenny Ball > Marjorie Proops > Basil D'Olivera > Clive Dunn > Peter Noone > Monica Dickens > Jon Pertwee > Lionel Jeffries > Adam Faith > Googie Withers > Matt Busby