Valerie SINGLETON OBE (1937-)

Valerie Singleton
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THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Valerie Singleton, television and radio broadcaster, was surprised by Michael Aspel on the set of Gloria Hunniford’s Open House television show at the Fremantle Studios in London.

Val’s initial ambition was to be a dancer, but after two years study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art she began a career as an actress at the New Theatre in Bromley. She joined BBC television in 1961 as a continuity announcer and a year later became co-presenter on Blue Peter, the popular children’s series - staying with the programme until 1972.

She moved into news and current affairs hosting BBC’s Nationwide for five years from 1973, and later the channel’s late-night news programme, Tonight. She hosted many other programmes, notably a ten-year stint on the Monday through Friday BBC Radio 4 PM programme, beginning in 1982, and eight years presenting BBC Two's The Money Programme from 1980.

Val’s television work has also included travel programmes, and presenting the popular Channel 4 quiz programme, Backdate, during the 1990s.

“I haven’t got anything to wear!”

Valerie Singleton recalls her experience of This Is Your Life in an exclusive interview recorded in April 2010

Screenshots of Valerie Singleton This Is Your Life

This is your life, Val ... and my only hope of TV fame

MAIL ON SUNDAY April 15 2001

By: Frank Barrett

This Is Your Life is one of the first programmes I remember enjoying when we got our first television in the Fifties.

Eamonn Andrews, not Michael Aspel, was in charge of the Big Red Book and the subjects were then likely to be model citizens such as legless fighter pilot Douglas Bader.

The show was an exquisite exercise in public embarrassment, especially the surprising of the guest, with Eamonn famously adopting a variety of strange guises to fool them.

In 1961 when Spurs legend Danny Blanchflower unstoppably ran from Eamonn, yelling 'Let me out', it was a national event almost on a par with the Profumo scandal.

Today I still watch the programme, although I can claim no real interest in the lives of recent guests such as Jonathan Ross or Midge Ure. So I was surprised to get a call from one of the show's researchers. 'This is in total confidence,' she said, 'we are doing Valerie Singleton, would you like to take part?' In the past few years I have come to know Val very well as a travel writer. She is one of the nicest, least affected people in television.

I promptly agreed to be at the Teddington studios on the appointed Tuesday evening and thus began my unlikely journey into showbusiness.

'Audience or guest?' I was asked at the studio entrance. 'Audience' had to queue at the stage door in the cold, we 'guests' were ushered into the Green Room for sandwiches and soft drinks.

'Do you know who's being "done"?' asked a man washing his hands in the gents. I shrugged, aware that I'd sort of signed an oath in blood. 'It's Val Singleton she was surprised by Michael on Gloria Hunniford this afternoon.

I saw it,' he said. 'Brilliant.' The Green Room was a Blue Peter Jurassic Park - dinosaurs of TV's great age bumped scaly heads. Over there were John Noakes and Peter Purves, here were Mark Curry, Peter Duncan and Simon Groom.

In one corner was Blue Peter's famous godmother Biddy Baxter, in another stood a dapper John Craven.

And then in came the current generation of Blue Peter presenters, young, long-limbed and excitable and, to me at least, anonymous.

Val's partner Mark looked very nervous. 'Six weeks I've had to keep this a secret for six weeks, it's been awful,' he said.

Sky TV newsreader Frank Partridge told me that there had been two rehearsals for the programme, both of which had been pretty disastrous. Were people's lines scripted?

'There is a writer, but you tell them what you want to say there's a lot of leeway.' Lying on a nearby chair was the script for the programme with every line clearly drafted. I stole a look. Relief: I would not be emerging through the famous sliding doors to deliver an amusing anecdote.

Like all TV stage sets, the one for This Is Your Life is incredibly tatty and surprisingly tiny. The audience was hidden behind a movable screen. They were being noisily 'warmed up' by a comedian. Our places were marked by felt-tip on masking tape stuck on to the seats. I was right behind Mark Curry and somewhere between Biddy Baxter, Scottish artist Jack Vettriano and former Blue Peter backroom girl Margaret Parnell, who was responsible for making the 'ones I made earlier' for 37 years. 'Don't ask me about Tracy Island,' she said.

As we waited, our photographs were taken by the resident snapper, whose pictures fill the This Is Your Life book presented to the guest as a souvenir of the evening (they also get a video of the programme). Suddenly the screen separating us from the audience was pushed aside, the stage lights went up and the TV monitors in the studio showed Val Singleton being surprised on the Gloria Hunniford show earlier that day.

'But I haven't got anything to wear!' was her startled reaction as Michael handed over the Red Book.

'My other fear was that there would be nobody to appear on the programme,' Val told me later.

Then the sliding doors slid back and there was Val striding down the runway to the show's signature tune.

The story of Val's childhood and her rise to stardom was rather unevenly told with the help of a mixture of live and taped contributions from the likes of Jonathan Ross, Richard Stilgoe, John Craven and Gloria Hunniford (all, uncoincidentally one supposes, previous recipients of the Red Book). Very movingly, a young Kenyan, who had once come to London to collect a plaque to put on his school's dormitory walls to show they had been built by a Blue Peter appeal, returned as a teacher to express his thanks. Strong men sniffled.

The surprise guests sat out of sight behind the set in facing rows of chairs as if in a dentist's waiting room.

The programme is recorded as 'live', but I timed it at longer than 50 minutes, which means that quite a lot of it will have hit the cutting-room floor when it is transmitted on Wednesday. Will , not Michael Aspel's reference to Val's work as a travel writer for 'Frank Barrett, travel editor of The Mail on Sunday' survive the cut? I fear not.

At the after-show party, I congratulated Val. Did it feel odd to be on This is Your Life? 'Unreal,' she said.

Did it feel odd for me to have the merest bit part on This is Your Life?

Extremely odd.

I can say, however, that whatever else I've achieved, I brushed shoulders with TV immortality.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 1076
  • Subject No: 1051
  • Broadcast date: Weds 2 May 2001
  • Broadcast time: 8-8.30pm
  • Recorded: Tues 10 Apr 2001
  • Venue: Teddington Studios
  • Series: 41
  • Edition: 23
  • Code Name: Tune

on the guest list...

  • Dennis Singleton - father
  • Mark Irvine - partner
  • Mike Singleton - brother
  • Mark Curry
  • Simon Groom
  • Peter Duncan
  • Matt Baker
  • Simon Thomas
  • Liz Barker
  • Konnie Huq
  • Stanley McMurtry
  • Peter Purves
  • John Noakes
  • Biddy Baxter
  • Joseph Kingala
  • Frank Partridge
  • Sian Williams
  • Nick Clarke
  • Jono Coleman
  • John Craven
  • Frank Barrett
  • Simon Calder
  • Jack Vettriano
  • Gloria Hunniford
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Jonathan Ross
  • Richard Stilgoe

external links...

production team...

  • Researcher: Ruth Malone
  • Writer: Joe Steeples
  • Director: Steve Docherty
  • Associate Producer: Helen Gordon-Smith
  • Series Producer: Jack Crawshaw
  • Producer: Sue Green
  • Executive Producer: John Longley
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 41 subjects: Matthew Pinsent > Todd Carty > Vinnie Jones > Donald Woods > Linda Lusardi > Dorothy Tutin > Paula Tilbrook > John Humphrys > Andrew Davis > James Ellis > Sue Jenkins > Geoffrey Hughes > John Van Weenen > Charles Dance > Mick Channon > Jonathan Ross > Simon Rouse > Midge Ure > John Barnes > Paul Jones > Patrick Robinson > Jim Shekhdar > Valerie Singleton > Darren Gough > Kevin Woodford > Richard Stilgoe