Valerie SINGLETON OBE (1937-)
THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Valerie Singleton, TV and radio broadcaster, best known as a presenter of the popular children’s series Blue Peter, was surprised by Michael Aspel on the set of Gloria Hunniford’s Open House TV show at Fremantle Studios in London.
“I haven’t got anything to wear!”
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.
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?
I can say, however, that whatever else I've achieved, I brushed shoulders with TV immortality.
on the guest list...