Sir John BARBIROLLI (1899-1970)

Sir John Barbirolli
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Stories Behind This Is Your Life

A review of the show’s second series

Classical Life

A symphony of subjects from the world of classical music

This Is Your Life by Eamonn Andrews

Here for the first time – the secrets of the famous TV programme

THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Sir John Barbirolli, cellist and conductor of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC’s Dickenson Road Studios in Manchester.

This edition was the first ‘outside broadcast’ for the show.

“intense pleasure to me and particularly my dear mother,..... a memory I shall treasure for many years to come”

Sir John Barbirolli briefly recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in the show’s Flashback programme broadcast in June 1957

Eamonn Andrews presents Sir John Barbirolli with his This Is Your Life book and Sir John Barbirolli on This Is Your Life - from Lady Barbirolli’s collection, courtesy of The Barbirolli Society (click images to enlarge)

Newspaper article

The Manchester Guardian 22 January 1957


“This is Your Life” by our Television Critic

In “This Is Your Life” the BBC chooses a man or woman, and the friends and relatives of the unsuspecting subject all join in the conspiracy until the moment when he finds himself before the television cameras, an ordeal which some face with more composure than others. Last night, for the first time, “This Is Your Life” came to Manchester because the subject could not be lured to London without the game being given away.

The “Life” was that of Sir John Barbirolli, taken completely by surprise in the Manchester television studios, where he had gone, as he thought, to pay a tribute to the violinist Fritz Kreisler. The tables were turned and the conclusion of the programme was an affecting tribute in the recorded voice of Kreisler (in New York) to Sir John.

One of the sensations enjoyed by connoisseurs of this programme is watching the surprise and bewilderment on the face of the chosen subject. Sir John was certainly surprised, but never lacked composure. His reception of the tributes and the greetings from old friends was quiet and full of feeling: the close-up in which he was often held showed a thoughtful indeed sometimes almost a sad expression.

The first friend to greet him was Yvonne Arnaud, who had first heard him as a cellist, then there were recollections of his school days of the trio in which he first played, of the Music Society Quartet (the founder, Andre Mangeot, came to Manchester for the broadcast) and of days with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.

Lady Barbirolli came in and sat beside Sir John as the programme continued: a famous American musician, who had flown from New York, brought a cigar and a greeting from Arthur Rubenstein, and there was also 85-year-old Mrs McNab, in whose house Sir John and Lady Barbirolli stay when they are in Edinburgh. Finally a glimpse of Sir John’s mother watching the programme on the screen in London.

Nobody who has been made the central figure in “This Is Your Life” has come through it with such charm and ease as Sir John.

Newspaper article

The Manchester Guardian 25 January 1957


“This is Your Life” by our Television Critic

Our London Correspondence note yesterday about Abram Chasins, who was brought over from New York by the BBC to greet Sir John Barbirolli in “This Is Your Life” on Monday, asked whether some day the victim of one of these programmes may walk out on the viewers and leave Eamonn Andrews with a problem. This is what some television critics have been wondering for a long time; they have also been wondering just what it is that makes people suffer surprise, bewilderment, and occasionally annoyance without protest.

First, it is obviously that they do not like to upset a whole programme and refuse to play, because the thing has started before they realise. So except for some few who really do not mind, the programme is mainly carried through on the good manners of the victim, however much he dislikes it. One can feel very well, sometimes, the amount of nervous strain that is in the air, while Mr Andrews is exerting the kind of soothing control that a good nannie applies to a nervous or awkward child. Then again, it must be remembered that the close relations and friends of the victim are in the plot and that if they did not co-operate, the subject could never be brought to the cameras.

That the BBC is finding it increasingly difficult to trap people into “This is Your Life” is shown by the devices they use; obviously no one will now go into the theatre or studio where the programme is done, lest they should be picked out of the audience. Whatever the entertainment value, the deceptions involved are unpleasant and questionable.

One would not go so far as Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who said in the House of Lords on Wednesday that “almost all“ television programmes were deplorable. The BBC does some good things, especially in drama and in “documentaries.” But it is in programmes like “This is Your Life” and “Is this your problem?” that it tries to compete with independent television, and in doing so drops its usual standards. Of the two “Is this your Problem?” is the more discreditable, for here, under the excuse of helping people is an unashamed exploitation of private lives and emotions for mass entertainment.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 25
  • Subject No: 25
  • Broadcast live: Mon 21 Jan 1957
  • Broadcast time: 7.15-7.45pm
  • Venue: BBC Manchester
  • Series: 2
  • Edition: 10

on the guest list...

  • Yvonne Arnaud
  • Walter Pepper
  • Winifred Small
  • Lady Barbirolli (Evelyn Rothwell) - wife
  • Andre Mangeot
  • Cynolwyn Pugh
  • Abram Chasins
  • Mrs McNab
  • Kenneth Crickmore
  • Fred Roberts
  • Messages from:
  • Arthur Rubenstein
  • Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Fritz Kreisler
  • Mrs Barbirolli - mother

external links...

production team...

  • Researchers: Peter Moore, Nigel Ward
  • Writer: Gale Pedrick
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
with special thanks to Paul Brooks of the Barbirolli Society for his contribution to this page
Series 2 subjects: Peter Scott > Ada Reeve > Peter Methven > Susan Ryder > Harry S Pepper > Compton Mackenzie > Maud Fairman > Billy Smart > Brian Hession > John Barbirolli > Duncan Guthrie > Esmond Knight > Sammy McCarthy > Edwin Madron > Diana Dors > Parry Jones > Percy Flood > G H Elliott > Stuart Hibberd