Nicholas PARSONS (1923-)

Nicholas Parsons
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THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Nicholas Parsons, television presenter and actor, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in the bar of London’s White House Hotel.


After education at St Paul's School in London, Nicholas began his career as an actor while training as an engineering apprentice at Drysdales on Clydebank near Glasgow, when he was discovered by Canadian impresario Carroll Levis, and appeared in his radio show.


He made his film debut in 1947 and played many supporting roles in British films of the 1950s and 1960s, while maintaining a stage career in West End theatre, starring in the show Boeing-Boeing for 15 months and later, other West End productions throughout the 1970s.


Nicholas became well known to television audiences during the 1960s as the straight man to comedians Arthur Haynes and Benny Hill. As well as acting Nicholas developed a career as a presenter, firstly as the host of the BBC Radio 4 comedy panel game Just a Minute, since it was first broadcast in December 1967, and on television in the long-running Anglia Television quiz show Sale of the Century, broadcast weekly from 1971.


“I'm very embarrassed!”

Nicholas Parsons recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in an exclusive interview recorded in October 2015

Screenshots of Nicholas Parsons This Is Your Life

Nicholas Parson's autobiography

Nicholas recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography The Straight Man, My Life In Comedy...


My association with cricket and the Lord’s Taverners played a significant part in what was one of the most memorable events in my professional life, when in June 1977 (Feb 1978) I was chosen to be the ‘subject’ of This Is Your Life. (The term is used by the production team at all times during their planning, for fear the real name slips out accidentally in their research and the secrecy is destroyed.) The priority is that the ‘subject’ remain unsuspecting, and such emphasis is placed on secrecy that the subject’s friends are only invited to take part two weeks before the recording.


The producers make such efforts to eliminate the possibility of the subject becoming suspicious during the ‘pick-up’ that they almost trip over themselves in their conscientiousness. This certainly happened to me. My press agent, Margo Lovell, had arranged for me to give an interview to Woman magazine for an article they were putting together about cricket teas. I had to have some photographs taken for this at the Oval. About a week before this was due to happen, I was told that it was not going to be me alone as originally planned, but that a number of other well-known names in the entertainment and cricket world were also going to be at the Oval to be photographed for the article. The fact that they were all personal friends did not make me in the least suspicious.


Thames Television had decided to send a crew to film the others talking in my absence about my love of cricket and involvement with the Lord’s Taverners, after the magazine’s photographer had finished. I heard afterwards that Margo Lovell had suggested that the Oval would be an ideal venue for the pick-up but Thames vetoed the idea since I might see the television recording van and become suspicious. So it was decided that the pick-up should take place at the White House hotel and Anne Knight, from my agent’s office, agreed to be involved. She told me on the phone that an American impresario was interested in talking to me about a job on television in the States. She said she would accompany me to the meeting.


This is where things started to go slightly wrong for Thames. I placed so much importance on the outcome of this meeting with the American producer that I rang Margo and asked her to get me out of the photo session at the Oval. The lines between her and the production team of This Is Your Life must have been buzzing. When she came back on the phone and said that this was going to be difficult, I pointed out that they had a lot of people for the photograph, so they would not miss me. It was very important that I was not late for the appointment at the White House hotel. The phone lines buzzed again, and the producer of This Is Your Life thought up another ploy. Margo was soon back on the phone to me saying that Thames had decided to cover the photo session and would actually interview me for a sports programme, talking about cricket. I was still worried, however, that I would not make my appointment with the American. Again, lines buzzed. Again, Margo was back on the phone to me: ‘Thames Television,’ she assured me, ‘are so keen for you to do this interview that they’ll supply a car to take you from home to the Oval, wait there and be available to take you to your appointment at the hotel, and will guarantee that you’re not late.’ The situation had been salvaged, but all the plans nearly foundered again.


On the day of the Oval interviews and my meeting with the American, it so happened that a researcher from BBC Television came to my house to discuss my appearance in a series they were producing and was still asking questions when the car from Thames Television arrived to take me to the Oval. I asked the driver to wait while I finished the interview. He seemed rather agitated and the longer I kept him waiting, the more anxious he became. I thought this a little unusual – of course he was in on the plot – but I still was not suspicious. When we did finally leave, he drove me breakneck speed from north London, south of the river to the Oval. On arrival, I quickly changed into my cricket clothes as requested and joined the others, who were already in their whites, standing around a large table magnificently laid out with the most sumptuous cricket tea I had ever seen. The photographs were taken. The magazine was delighted, then the producer of the television film unit arranged for me to be ‘interviewed’ by a Thames sports commentator. In no time the cameras were rolling … but all the technicians were acting, and nothing was being recorded. As soon as it was over they suggested I should hurry upstairs and change so as not to be late for my next appointment. This I did, but once again the whole secret was nearly blown.


After I went to change, they began the genuine filming of comments from others about me. In packing up my cricket things, I discovered that I had left my sweater in the room where the filming was taking place. On my way downstairs to the waiting car, I walked into this room to collect it. As I went in, there was an instant silence in which you could almost have heard a bail drop. They had been in the middle of filming and someone had just recorded a remark about me. Everyone assumed that I had heard it. Not having heard anything, I thought I had walked in while the camera was running and that I had ruined the take. I was extremely embarrassed, so I mimed to everyone that I had forgotten something, tiptoed across the room, picked up my sweater and tiptoed out, waving my goodbyes. The secret was still intact. I hurried out to the waiting car and we set out for the hotel.


Anne Knight greeted me as soon as I arrived and suggested that we might go to the bar for a drink. This was to be the spot where the actual pick-up was to take place. Anne was going to call for the barman, and Eamonn Andrews was going to pop up from behind the bar with his famous red book. As we walked in, I noticed two of the girls who had appeared with me on Sale of the Century, who should have been out of sight. They were, of course, to be part of the programme. When people who are naturally honest tell lies to keep a secret, they feel very guilty, and think they have given themselves away. If you are on the receiving end you do not suspect anything, so any situation, however odd, seems normal. As I had not seen either of the girls for a while, I said to Anne that we should go over and say hello. Anne, who is by nature very gentle, then did something utterly uncharacteristic, which at the time I did not understand. She grabbed me aggressively by the arm and said, ‘Oh, no you’re not. You’re going to have a drink with me,’ and forcibly propelled me to the bar. Before I had time to think, Eamonn had appeared and all was made clear. It was one of the most exciting and memorable evenings of my life. In what other circumstances could you have such a marvellous surprise party, with so many relatives and friends all brought together at someone’s else’s expense!

programme details...

  • Edition No: 482
  • Subject No: 480
  • Broadcast date: Wed 1 Mar 1978
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Wed 8 Feb 1978
  • Venue: Euston Road Studios
  • Series: 18
  • Edition: 15
  • Code: Clergy

on the guest list...

  • Sneh Gupta
  • Caroline Villiers
  • Carol Dee
  • Linda Hooks
  • Tina Robinson
  • Denise - wife
  • Justin - son
  • Suzy - daughter
  • Nell - mother
  • Paul - father
  • Patricia - sister
  • Clement Freud MP
  • Jim Blair
  • John Shaw
  • Gordon Jackson
  • Eric Barker
  • Pearl Hackney
  • Rita Webb
  • Dermot Kelly
  • Patricia Hayes
  • Barry Cryer
  • Bob Todd
  • Ed Stewart
  • Pete Murray
  • Jim Laker
  • Brian Rix
  • Neil Durden-Smith
  • Jean Finlay (Mrs Trotter)
  • Filmed tributes:
  • John - brother
  • Nanny Cox
  • Leslie Crowther

external links...

production team...

  • Researchers: Tony Lee, John Viner
  • Writer: John Sandilands
  • Directors: Royston Mayoh, Terry Yarwood
  • Producer: Jack Crawshaw
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 18 subjects: Richard Beckinsale > Peter Ustinov > Virginia Wade > Robert Arnott > Lin Berwick > Bob Paisley > The Bachelors > David Broome > Arthur English > Barry Sheene > Margot Turner > Pat Coombs > Michael Croft > Max Boyce > Nicholas Parsons > Richard Goolden > Ian Hendry > Marti Caine > Ian Wallace > Dennis Waterman > Anton Dolin > Terry Wogan > William Franklyn > Richard Murdoch > Harry Patterson > Jule Styne > Mike Yarwood