The Surprise of Your Life

Radio Times
22 July 1955
Radio Times This Is Your Life article
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Somewhere, blissfully ignorant of what is in store for him (or her), is an inhabitant of these isles who on Friday evening is going to get the shock of his (or her) life. For on that day a special edition of This Is Your Life will be staged and British viewers will be able to judge for themselves why this programme has become one of the best-sellers of American television.

The idea – though its success depends on shock-value, suspense, and the ability of a few people to keep a secret – is brilliantly simple. An unsuspecting individual, with no inkling of what is about to happen, finds himself (or, we must repeat, herself) confronted by a genial, beaming, superlatively persuasive American, Ralph Edwards. In his hands he holds an imposing-looking volume inscribed with the words This Is Your Life; and before the astonished citizen realises what has hit him he is informed that it is indeed his life which is about to be unfolded.

The person concerned will not necessarily be a celebrity. Although a great number of subjects in the American programmes have been internationally famous, some of the best programmes have been based on the lives of little-known members of society.

This Is Your Life, by its very nature, calls for skill in preparation and tact in production. Not only is the character in question taken through infancy, youth and in some cases middle age; he may also be greeted with acquaintances, friends and relatives whom he fondly imagines to be hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.

On her last visit to America, Bebe Daniels, innocently imagining that she was being taken out for the evening, was suddenly escorted on to the stage by Mr Edwards, there to meet Barbara and Richard, who with others had been flown out from Britain, while a succession of American men and women who had played some part in her career were introduced out of the blue. Victor McLaglen, brought to the studio in the belief that he was merely to broadcast a 'plug' for his next film, was utterly taken aback when one by one, half a dozen brothers, some as big as, others bigger than, himself, thumped him on the back and shook his hand; it was the first time he had seen them in many years.

Such a programme can only be compiled, written and edited with much painstaking investigation. Some of the stories the central character may even have forgotten; some of the friends involved he may never have expected to meet again. We can assure our readers that the secret of the victim's identity is being well kept. We have no idea who, on Friday, will be confronted by This Is Your Life.