Sacha DISTEL (1933-2004)

Sacha Distel
related pages...

A Song For Life

It's the singer not the song

Petula Clark

Des O'Connor

THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Sacha Distel, French singer and guitarist, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the London cabaret club, Talk of the Town.

Sacha began his career as a professional jazz guitarist, working alongside Dizzy Gillespie and Tony Bennett. He later appeared on US television’s The Ed Sullivan Show in the late 1950s after establishing himself as a French crooner.

In the 1960s, he composed "La Belle Vie", a tune that made its way across the Atlantic as "The Good Life", most famously performed by Tony Bennett. French lyrics were added in the 1970s and it became Sacha’s signature tune.

Sacha became internationally famous with hits which included a cover version of the Academy Award winning “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, “Scoubidou” and “The Good Life”.

Screenshots of Sacha Distel 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...

Among the thousands of addresses in the This Is Your Life contacts book is one in Dover Street, London, W1. It’s the cornerstone of an intelligence network that in a printed information sheet called “Celebrity Bulletin”, tells of the comings and goings of some of the most famous people in the world.

It is essential reading for newspaper columnists and their photographers, always anxious to know which international name is due to fly into Britain next. A famous actor flying into Heathrow to prepare for a West End film premiere, a top musician sailing into Southampton aboard the QE2 to begin a nationwide tour … they are all listed against their destinations.

And late in 1971 we were delighted to see the same Sacha Distel appear in their ranks, though not for the first time by any means. Sacha would be flying in from his home in Paris to top the bill at the Talk of the Town.

We had already been looking into his story. And what a fascinating story it was. Sacha was born in Paris, the son of Russian emigrants. When war broke out his father joined the French Resistance but his mother was captured and sent to a concentration camp. Sacha was evacuated from Paris and hidden away in a monastery where he was baptised. And in our secret talks with Sacha’s wife Francine we learned that Sacha had told her of a priest at the monastery who had risked his life trying to save him and many Jewish children from the enemy.

Because of this, the priest had been sent to the notorious Dachau concentration camp and Sacha had not seen him for at least thirty years. We felt compelled to track him down.

With only a day to go before the show, we had failed to find the priest. By now we had begun to set up our cameras at the Talk of the Town. Sacha was told that it was merely preparation for another show two days hence. Then he got a fright. We learned that on the very day of the show Sacha had telephoned his wife Francine at their home in Paris and had been told she had gone to the airport.

Fortunately, the modest Sacha did not put two and two together. But I can tell you that the shock was noted as something to guard against in the future by all in the team. And that reminds me of another little story, if I might be permitted to digress for a moment. A few years ago, the team actually turned the tables on me by getting my pal David Nixon to invite me on what I thought was his show, but what turned out to be a cover for him to spring the surprise on me.

Knowing that I often call my wife from the studios, and remembering the near miss with Sacha, they actually re-routed one of my calls. When I put through a call from my dressing room at Euston to Grainne at home we had a short and pleasant conversation alright. But what I didn’t know was that she was taking the call in a dressing room at our Teddington studios where they were all waiting for me to arrive.

But back to Sacha, and another husband’s call home that put us on the trail of the elusive priest.

Frustrated by having made no headway, Malcolm Morris decided to let his French-born wife, Anna, in on the secret in the million-to-one chance that she might be able to help. The longshot paid off. Anna, using her native French and summoning the help of her own friends and relatives in France, tracked down the priest, Pere Domaigne, to the Institution Conception, Laval in Layenne.

Using all her natural charm, she asked if he remembered the little boy called Sacha. Would he join in our tribute? Would he take the next plane to England? We were delighted when we heard the news that he was on his way. But as I prepared to leave for the Talk of the Town he had still not arrived.

I had been smuggled in to the London nightspot and was only a few yards from Sacha when I eventually got the confirmation that Pere Domaigne would definitely be with us. It brought a boost of adrenalin during the agonising wait in the wings while Sacha wooed the audience with his songs. Even though I knew there was little chance of Sacha coming off stage during the middle of his act, the little voice that always nags away at one’s mind on these occasions kept saying that it was just possible that he might get – if you’ll pardon the expression – a frog in his French throat, and come off stage for a glass of water and spot me.

The moment I heard the surge of his closing applause I was on my way out there to join him, to offer The Book and tell the surprised Sacha – and the amazed audience – that we were going to tell his story right there and then.

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...

...he knew what the show was all about because we had surprised him back in 1971 when he flew in from Paris to top the bill at the Talk of the Town.

Sacha’s parents were Russian immigrants: his father had fought with the French Resistance and his mother was sent to a concentration camp. At a monastery in wartime Paris Sacha’s life, and the lives of many Jewish children, had been saved by a French priest. Discovered, the priest had been sent to the notorious Dachau concentration camp.

Pere Domaigne was his name. We found him, and brought the two together for the first time in thirty years.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 313
  • Subject No: 314
  • Broadcast live: Wed 15 Dec 1971
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Venue: Talk of the Town
  • Series: 12
  • Edition: 5

on the guest list...

  • Francine - wife
  • Des O'Connor
  • Ray Ventura
  • Claude Deffe
  • Maurice Tézé
  • Britt Ekland
  • Mike and Bernie Winters
  • Petula Clark
  • Pere Domaigne
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Julien - son
  • Laurent - son
  • Henri Salvador

external links...

production team...

  • Researchers: Ian Black, David McFarlane
  • Writer: Ian Black
  • Director: Margery Baker
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 12 subjects: George Best > Alfred Marks > Rolf Harris > Don Whillans > Sacha Distel > Les Dawson > Doris Hare > Keith Michell > David Frost > Barry John > Michael Flanders > Charlie Williams > Ginette Spanier > Hughie Green > Tom Courtenay > Hylda Baker > Gordon Banks > Alan Rudkin > Michael Wood > Graham Kerr > Pauline Collins > Ray Illingworth > Patricia Hayes > Fred "Nosher" Powell > Richard Briers > Lulu