John THAW (1942-2002)

John Thaw
related pages...

An Actor's Life For Me

Spotlight on the stars of stage and screen


Family Life

Keeping it in the family


Betty Driver


Sheila Hancock


Ian Hendry


George Sewell

THIS IS YOUR LIFE - John Thaw, actor, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in the foyer of London's National Theatre.


After training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, John made his formal stage début in A Shred of Evidence at the Liverpool Playhouse. He later appeared in several episodes of the BBC police series Z Cars, before securing a starring role as a hard-nosed policeman in the ITV series Redcap.


John became a highly popular television actor through his role as the hard-bitten, tough talking Flying Squad detective Jack Regan in the successful ITV series The Sweeney.

Screenshots of John Thaw This Is Your Life

John Thaw's biography

In their biography of John Thaw, writers Stafford Hildred and Tim Ewbank recall this edition of This Is Your Life...


John Thaw simply couldn’t bear the front-of-house area at London’s National Theatre. It’s nothing to do with any of the fine work he had done in the thriving centre of Britain’s stage world. It’s just that this is where he was surprised in 1981 by Eamonn Andrews and the big red book of This Is Your Life. For the shy star, the sentimental show was a deeply embarrassing experience.


He could hardly duck out of it as he had taken part enthusiastically in his wife Sheila’s own television trip down memory lane some five years before. As the time for the surprise approached Sheila was terrified that her husband would refuse to take part in the programme. For the most part, he sat and squirmed his way through the recording, except when first his father arrived and then, from Australia, his brother Raymond. At that point John Thaw’s smile lit up the screen as the two men closet to him were briefly reunited for the watching viewers.


John was grabbed by Eamonn on his way out of a back-stage meeting about his starring role in Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance. He thought he was on his way out to the car park when he was suddenly confronted by a waiting crowd of close friends singing round the piano. Well, not quite all close friends. The actor John Bluthal just happened to be going to a show that night and was dragged in by some of the others for the booze-up. On the show Eamonn announced: ‘And here are all your very good friends – Tony Selby, Dennis Waterman, Ian Hendry, James Ellis…’ Sheila laughed afterwards that ‘on the video recording we have, John Bluthal – whom John had never met in his life – is clearly heard to mutter as he shakes John’s hand, “Sorry about this mate.”’


The screening was one of the most popular This Is Your Life programmes ever made and at his home in Poynton on the outskirts of Manchester, Harvey Bryant raised a glass of champagne to his old friend’s prediction ‘One day I’ll be on This Is Your Life’ coming true. Ironically, when it happened, the evening was one of the most excruciating of Thaw’s life.

Sheila Hancock's autobiography

John's wife, Sheila Hancock, briefly recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in her autobiography, Ramblings of an Actress...


My husband John … cannot bear the front-of-house at the National because it was here that he was cornered for his This Is Your Life.


Thinking he was coming through a pass door to the car park lift after a meeting back stage, he was confronted by a waiting crowd of close friends and Eamonn with the red book.


Well, not all close friends. The actor John Bluthal just happened to be going to a show that night and was dragged in by some of the others for the booze-up. On the show Eamonn announced, ‘And here are all your very good friends – Tony Selby, Dennis Waterman, Ian Hendry, James Ellis, etc.’ On the video recording we have, John Bluthal (whom John had never met in his life) is clearly heard to mutter as he shakes John’s hand, ‘Sorry about this, mate.’

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...


The beer-loving Inspector Morse was still the scotch-drinking Inspector Regan (who had a first name, Jack) of The Sweeney when Eamonn Andrews collared John Thaw on 12 March 1981.


He had gone to the National Theatre on the South Bank for a meeting about his appearance in a production there. When he walked into the foyer, gathered round the piano were his wife Sheila Hancock, and a whole gang of friends, including Jack Smethurst, Kenny Lynch, Tony Selby, Ian Hendry, George Sewell, Diane Keen, Carol Drinkwater, James Ellis, writer Ian Kennedy Martin and Sweeney producer Ted Childs (later executive producer on Morse).


At the television studios that day, his Sweeney sergeant, Dennis Waterman, was waiting, fresh from location. And we learned how Jimmy 'Schnozzle' Durante's number 'The Song has got to come from the Heart' got into an episode of The Sweeney.


Manchester-born John Thaw told jokes and did impressions in the interval at Saturday morning cinema clubs, so he and his brother could get in for free. Down south, Dennis Waterman did the same sort of thing. So they decided to feature as a comedy duo in The Sweeney.


It was John's former headteacher who encouraged his acting, and to attend an audition at RADA at the age of just sixteen, he was driven overnight in his Uncle Charlie's van. He got a place and left home with a neat, brown paper parcel under his arm - they didnt have a suitcase.


Fellow former student Nicol Williamson greeted from Broadway, and the student he shared digs with, Tom Courtenay, was there, as was Diana Rigg, his co-star in the West End hit Night and Day.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 570
  • Subject No: 566
  • Broadcast live: Wed 18 Mar 1981
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Thu 12 Mar 1981
  • Venue: Royalty Theatre
  • Series: 21
  • Edition: 23
  • Code Name: Warm

on the guest list...

  • John Burgess
  • Ian Kennedy Martin
  • Ted Childs
  • Diane Keen
  • Carol Drinkwater
  • Jack Smethurst
  • James Ellis
  • Kenny Lynch
  • John Bluthal
  • Tony Selby
  • George Sewell
  • Ian Hendry
  • Sheila Hancock - wife
  • Melanie - daughter
  • Abigail - daughter
  • Joanne - daughter
  • Dennis Waterman
  • John - father
  • Mildred - step-mother
  • Auntie Beattie
  • Uncle Charlie
  • Auntie Doris
  • Auntie Mary
  • Uncle Harold
  • John Lee
  • Sam Hughes
  • Tom Courtenay
  • Richard Briers
  • Diana Rigg
  • Raymond - brother
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Johnny Briggs
  • Betty Driver
  • Nicol Williamson

external links...

production team...

  • Researcher: John Graham
  • Writers: Tom Brennand, Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Stuart Hall, Terry Yarwood
  • Producer: Jack Crawshaw
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 21 subjects: Joe Loss > Julie Goodyear > Lawrie McMenemy > Peter Bowles > Mike Yarwood > John Schlesinger > Andrew Lloyd Webber > Janet Brown > Rodney Bewes > Russell Harty > Joan Wells > Billy Connolly > Bill Owen > Jeffery Archer > Brian Jacks > Melvin Hayes > Fred Housego > Alex Higgins > Tim Brooke-Taylor > Bernard Cribbins > Gemma Craven > Jim Watt > John Thaw > Jonjo O'Neill > Judith Chalmers > Margaret Price