Susan RYDER (1923-2000)

Susan Ryder
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This is Leslie Jackson’s Life

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This Is Your Life by Eamonn Andrews

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

Leonard Cheshire

THIS IS YOUR LIFE – Susan Ryder, wartime volunteer with the Special Operations Executive, and later a prolific charity worker, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith.

Assigned to the Polish section of the SOE during World War II, Ryder’s job was to drive agents to the airfield where they would take off for their assignments in Europe. She was later posted to Tunisia and Italy.

After the war Ryder volunteered to do relief work, including some in Poland. In 1953 she established the Sue Ryder Foundation, a charity which provided homes for concentration camp survivors and nursing care for the elderly and disabled.

The charity still operates today as Sue Ryder.

Susan Ryder briefly recalls her experience of This Is Your Life in the show’s Flashback programme broadcast in June 1957

Susan Ryder briefly recalls This Is Your Life on Desert Island Discs with Michael Parkinson.

Susan Ryder's autobiography

Susan Ryder briefly recalls This Is Your Life in her biography Child Of My Love...

The national press took a great interest, and later, in 1956, much to my embarrassment and surprise, I was confronted by the television programme This Is Your Life, of which I had never heard. Although I have a personal dislike of publicity, it is, however, most useful to focus attention upon the needs of large sections of the community, both here and abroad. Thousands of letters, accompanied by donations, came in. Here are two:

I send you £10 for having nearly walked off Eamonn Andrews' show. I know you remained for your people’s sake. I am like la mule du pape, late but sure! You shall have more (as a little boy told me) when I got summink I’ll give you summink. L.D.

Once upon a time, many years ago, when you were one of the first people to appear on This Is Your Life I drove over to the Sue Ryder Home in Suffolk to find little candles burning in the windows, waiting to welcome those who were coming. This sight touched me deeply and the atmosphere was special, living, warm and good. You were away and for so many years have travelled very far indeed and, if I may say so, achieved a lot.

The sight of those candles with the Christmas spirit will remain in my memory. R.E.

Eamonn Andrews biography

Writer Gus Smith interviewed Susan Ryder about her experience of This Is Your Life for his book, Eamonn Andrews His Life...

When producer Leslie Jackson and the This Is Your Life team checked out Sue’s mother as the key contact for the programme, they found she was prepared to assist them, though she felt that her daughter was rather shy of publicity. The team did not see this as the real problem. A woman who travelled so extensively was hard to pin down in one place long enough for Eamonn to present her with the red book.

By now, Eamonn was intrigued by the work of this unselfish woman they called ‘a modern day Florence Nightingale’. To thousands of the sick, crippled, jobless, displaced persons of Europe she was a link with hope and sanity. She was ‘Mamma’ to many youngsters whose childhood was spent in the nightmare stench of Nazi concentration camps, whose parents died in the gas chamber. She was ‘Sister Sue’ to thousands of men and women whose bodies and minds were shattered in the hells of Buchenwald, Belsen and Auschwitz.

As the Life researchers pieced together other aspects of Sue Ryder’s extraordinary life, they learned that she would be in London for a few days in November. But what they or Eamonn hadn’t known, or could not be expected to know, was Sue Ryder’s total ignorance of This Is Your Life. So busy was she with her work, that she had not heard of the show, despite the fact that the series had now run for over a year and was attracting millions of viewers. Unsurprisingly, when Eamonn handed her the red book that evening in the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith, she looked absolutely bewildered. As she was greeted by her mother, friends and fellow workers she hardly knew what to say. She stood there, a small, unassuming woman, her face pale, her eyes deep-set and tense.

Today, Sue – or Lady Ryder of Warsaw as she prefers to be known – remembers the occasion. From the Foundation’s headquarters in the picturesque Suffolk village of Cavendish, she said she was at first a little baffled by the Life programme.

‘When Eamonn Andrews handed me the red book I couldn’t comprehend what was happening to me. I had never before seen the show, so it was new to me. I couldn’t understand the nature of the programme, but I know now I felt happy. Seeing my mother so happy, and my smiling friends around me, made me feel proud and secure. I didn’t find it an emotional experience.’

What was to please her greatly in the subsequent weeks were the many congratulatory messages, as well as postal orders and cash, that poured into the Foundation’s headquarters. To Eamonn, the programme had served its purpose. In addition, in his view, to being good television, viewers had met a remarkable woman with a stirring story. As he had pointed out, there was a place in the series for the heroic story. It showed that Life could be meaningful despite what some of his detractors liked to think.

Lady Ryder of Warsaw was to be the guest on two further Life programmes when she was able to study Eamonn’s role as presenter more closely. She was, as she says, enormously impressed. ‘I thought it was amazing how he handled the programme. His personal approach, his anxiety to put people at ease – these things, as well as his obvious sincerity and dedication, ensured the success of the show. I admired also the way he coped with different people.’

As time passed she was delighted to find that Eamonn continued to take interest in her work for the Foundation. ‘He used to send me these little notes asking me if he could help in any way. I knew he was under a lot of pressure and for that reason I didn’t want to bother him. As far as I could see, he never spared himself. He always worked so very hard.’

She and Group Captain Leonard Cheshire married in 1959 when both the Cheshire Homes and the Sue Ryder Foundation were firmly established. Before doing so they wrote to their colleagues: ‘We assure you that our sole aim is still the good of the work.’

Although Eamonn never cared to take the credit, it was generally believed that certain This Is Your Life programmes, especially in the early post-war years, helped to further good causes. In the case of the Sue Ryder homes this is probably true; there are now twenty-two in Britain and twenty-eight in Poland.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 19
  • Subject No: 19
  • Broadcast date: Mon 12 Nov 1956
  • Broadcast time: 8.15-8.45pm
  • Recorded: Thur 20 Sep 1956
  • Venue: King’s Theatre Hammersmith
  • Series: 2
  • Edition: 4

on the guest list...

  • Tadeusz Moneta
  • Josef Mejcik
  • Stefan Szypanski
  • Ludwig Jania
  • Captain Gruszynski
  • Mrs M Ryder - mother
  • Pamela & Steve Dyboski
  • Sarlote & Osvalds Aume
  • Pawel Makowiak
  • Egon Gorecki
  • Maureen Mackie
  • Rita Comerford
  • Joyce Pearce
  • Prof Dr A Krebs

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
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