Jeremy BEADLE (1948-2008)

Jeremy Beadle
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Presenting Life

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Matthew Kelly

THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Jeremy Beadle, TV presenter, was surprised by Michael Aspel during a school carol concert at a church in Hampstead, North London.


Jeremy was probably Britain’s best-known practical joker. His television shows, such as Game For A Laugh and Beadle’s About were staples of Saturday night television throughout the 1980s.


“Now I know how they feel!”

Screenshots of Jeremy Beadle This Is Your Life (click images to enlarge)

June Whitfield's autobiography

Jeremy recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography Watch Out...


I was caught on the hop by somebody else wearing a red coat in December 1993. That moment will linger longer in my memory. I was coming to the end of a very busy day.


I’d had a late finish the previous night, and I was up and down the country doing various bits and pieces. I’d been to Birmingham earlier, then popped into Swindon, then had to rush back to my children’s school carol concert, which was being held in a church in Hampstead in North London, before doing a personal appearance in the evening, about which I was terribly anxious.


Throughout the day, I kept ringing my manager Michael Cohen. I kept asking him, ‘Michael what is this gig tonight?’ He replied, ‘Don’t worry. All you have to do is go on and be funny for a few minutes. Just go and enjoy yourself.’ But I kept asking him for more details. ‘You just have to present a couple of awards, that’s all,’ he insisted. It was very unlike Michael to be so vague, as he is normally very precise and detailed in his briefings.


I turned up for the concert at the church feeling tired and wound up. The place was full. All I really wanted to do was to go home and snatch a couple of hours sleep before I went out again in the evening. I met Sue, who explained that some of the parents had organised to video recording of the carol concert and the school nativity play before. So we sat down near the front as the headmistress came up and asked me if I would mind introducing Father Christmas. This came as a complete surprise to me but I said, ‘No problem, give me a signal and I’ll stand up and bring on Father Christmas for you.’


I sat back down again and noticed something strange. The lights were really professional and very expensive. I turned to Sue, ‘Do you know, these lights are amazing. Who’s actually making this video?’ She replied, ‘Oh, just a couple of parents, I think. I hear they are quite rich.’ Then, while we were waiting, I noticed that the cameras looked really very expensive too. Somebody in the business, like me, always knows that a very thick television cable is always an outside-broadcast cable, which meant there had to be a TV studio nearby. I found myself looking down these wires on the floor and began to wonder where they led. They had to be connected to a generator or something…


I sat there slightly bewildered until the headteacher called me up to introduce Father Christmas. I climbed up on stage, in front of all the parents and all the kids, to say a few lines.


Now, there is a basic rule in showbusiness called ‘short on, long off’, which means that whenever you are introduced you always take the shortest route to make your entrance in case the applause doesn’t last until you hit your mark. Then you have a ‘long off’ to milk the applause. I assumed that out Father Christmas was going to do a ‘short on’, followed by a ‘long off’.


I said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Father Christmas.’ But instead of coming in from the side of the stage, Santa made his entrance from right down the back of the church. At this point, all I thought was, ‘Blimey, these bloody amateurs don’t know what they’re up to! What on earth am I doing here? I wish they’d take some advice and let me show them how to produce these events.’


Father Christmas came among the audience going ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ tapping people on the back, smiling and waving. Then he climbed on stage and said, ‘Well, Jeremy, have you been a good boy this year?’ and I replied, ‘No!’ And I said to myself, ‘Oh get on with it, man!’ Then Father Christmas, who was wearing the full gear – the bushy white wig, the big red coat and the ample hood – reached into his sack and said, ‘Well, I do have a few things in here for you.’


He pulled out a hand-held microphone. I took one look at this piece of equipment and what went through my mind at this point was, ‘How can they let this bloody amateur play with this expensive equipment? I bet this old boy doesn’t even know how to use it!’ So, I sort of turned away…


And then Father Christmas pulled out from his sack of presents a gift I shall never forget. It was a very famous red book. And, as he handed it to me, Father Christmas pulled down his hood and said seven terrifying words: ‘Jeremy Beadle, tonight, This Is Your Life’. And I was absolutely dumbstruck. Of all the people who should have been cute to TV surprise, it should have been Beadle! There I stood, confronted with all the clues – the professional cameras, the lights, the cables, the microphone – but I never had the slightest notion that mischief was afoot. It was an absolutely wonderful moment. I was in deep shock and I couldn’t work it all out. I kept thinking, ‘Why me? I haven’t done anything special.’ Of course, Father Christmas was Michael Aspel, with whom I had worked in the past. I had been a regular guest on his Capital Radio show – and still I didn’t recognise him! So anybody who thinks they’ll never be caught out shouldn’t believe it for a single moment.


For the first time in my life, I knew precisely what it felt like to be surprised on television. Malcolm Morris, the producer of This Is Your Life, approached me as we were leaving the church. He laughed, ‘There we are, Beadle! I told you, one day I’d get you.’ I was so knackered and confused that poor Sue thought I was going to have a heart attack! I was still absolutely dumbfounded.


I was suddenly swept away back home and then whisked on to the studio. On This Is Your Life, they have what they call ‘red star seats’ where certain guests sit on the stage after they tell their stories. Then you have other guests who don’t make the stage but who sit in the audience. I was told that my show in the studio prompted one of the largest numbers of guests ever in the history of This Is Your Life. There were more wonderful people under that roof that night collected together that I could have ever imagined. There was so much talent and warm-hearted kindness and generosity among all my friends. It really was a wonderful occasion.


Normally the This Is Your Life team treat their surprises and guests as top secret until the show is broadcast. Rather than call each show ‘the Jeremy Beadle show’ or the ‘Les Dennis show’, they give each target a special secret code-word. I later found out that the code name for my show was ‘Framed’. But somebody there leaked the story that I had been caught by Michael Aspel to The Sun and the whole of the front page next day read, ‘Watch Out, Aspel’s About: Santa Michael Traps Beadle.’

programme details...

  • Edition No: 869
  • Subject No: 858
  • Broadcast date: Wed 26 Jan 1994
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Wed 8 Dec 1993
  • Venue: Teddington Studios
  • Series: 34
  • Edition: 3
  • Code Name: Frame

on the guest list...

  • Sue – wife
  • Leo – step-son
  • Clare – step-daughter
  • Michael Cohen
  • Danny Baker
  • Alan Boyd
  • Henry Kelly
  • Marjorie – mother
  • Eve - aunt
  • Vandra - cousin
  • Cheryl - cousin
  • David Wallechinsky
  • Clive Doig
  • Julia Doig
  • Harry Rogers
  • Arthur Hollins
  • Ray Cornhill
  • George Layton
  • Cliff O’Gorman
  • Susan George
  • Gerry Cottell
  • Cassie – daughter
  • Bonnie - daughter
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Matthew Kelly
  • Sarah Kennedy
  • Bob Monkhouse

external link...

production team...

  • Researcher: Elizabeth Ross
  • Writer: Simon Booker
  • Director: Brian Klein
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
  • Associate Producer: John Graham
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 34 subjects: Little & Large > Michael Graydon > Jeremy Beadle > Jill Summers > Phyllis Maycock > David Hasselhoff > Bill Kenwright > Richard Briers > Edward Hardwicke > David Cassidy > Frankie Vaughan > Coral Atkins > Charlton Heston > Joe Longthorne > Francis Lee > Edmundo Ros > Ron Moody > Reg Gutteridge > Bob Carolgees > Allan Border > Sydney Samuelson > Dean Bell > Michael Craig > Virginia Elliot > Richard Thorp > Pat Kirkwood