Street Of Fame
TV Times
17 January 1970
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Eamonn Andrews

a brief biography

The Legend That Was Eamonn Andrews

a celebration to mark the presenter's centenary year

Joe Loss

Number 1 – Eamonn Andrews CBE

Nothing tells more about a person than the homes he has lived in. In a new series, TV Times measures the varying success of television personalities by the homes they've occupied since their birth. Each has his own street of fame. Today, Eamonn Andrews, living with his family (wife Grainne and children Niamh, aged two, Fergal (five) on Eamonn's lap, and Emma, eight) in a £50,000 home on the banks of the Thames. KENNETH ROCHE crossed the Irish Sea to find the humble beginnings of Eamonn's path to prosperity.

11, Synge Street, Dublin (1922-1925)

Eamonn's parents paid 18s. a week for this three-roomed flat, where he was born. He lived there until he was three and has two overwhelming memories of the place: a buzz saw – and a one-sided love affair.

"I remember a girl from across the road," he said. "I thought she was marvellous. But I've never seen her since and I don't know who she was. She was my first big love. I must have been two years old – at the most!"

"Then, almost next door to our house, was a sawmill. I used to love to sit and listen to its whine. Later, when I returned to the same road to go to school, I could hear it while sitting in the classroom."

"Now, on a summer's day, I associate the sound of a sawmill with sunshine and blue skies."

The Andrews' family at that time included only Mum, Dad (who was a carpenter by trade and a respected amateur actor) and little Eamonn. They didn't have the luxury of their own bathroom in Synge Street. They shared facilities with other families in the house.

It was too early for Eamonn to reveal his acting potential, of course. But father William was showing the way. He was connected with a group of amateur actors who had developed a considerable following in Dublin.

The house in Synge Street was later demolished and the site incorporated into an extension for the Christian Brothers School, which Eamonn attended until he was 18.

He has only one other main memory of Synge Street. The garden. Like the bathroom, it was shared with the others in the house but, said Eamonn, "it was a garden and I think all young children find a whole world of adventure and excitement in a garden."

11, St Thomas Road, Dublin (1925-51)

Their next home was a step up for the Andrews' family. It was a corporation house rented for just under 30s. a week. But the bathroom – and the garden – were their own. One of a long terrace of houses, it had the aura of being slightly better class than Synge Street.

Eamonn, then of school age, had to return daily to Synge Street to go to the Christian Brothers School. "I used to walk the three miles. But if it was raining, we'd get a penny for the tram and sometimes get a lift halfway from the milkman."

"He had the kind of transport you don't see now. It was an open cart with churns of milk on it. He would fill a pot and go to each house and deliver milk. I remember the cart was drawn by a grey mare and he would sometimes let one of us kids drive the horse."

School was not a magnificent experience for Eamonn, although one of his teachers remembers him being good at English "and terrible at maths."

In his early 'teens, Eamonn joined St Andrews Boxing Club for sixpence a week – mainly to avoid being picked upon by one of the boys at school. But like most healthy adolescents, he was mad about all forms of sport. His interest in football inspired him to dabble with sports commentaries.

Before he left school he was broadcasting boxing commentaries. He got the job by simply writing to Radio Eireann and telling them they needed him.

The years at St. Thomas Road were the formative ones for Eamonn. He lived there until he came to England with a jutting jaw and a determination to make good in show-business.

He had served a strong apprenticeship, having run a gauntlet of boxing and football commentaries, commercials, reading, writing and acting in radio plays. "You name it; I did everything that was going."

His first commercial show was for K.N.S. pure Food Products. With unabashed Eamonnesque, he called it "K.N.S. Poor Food Products" on the opening programme. But it was laughed off.

While living at St. Thomas Road, Eamonn won a bike in an essay-writing competition. Just before he left to come to London, he had an old Ford car. In the years between "I used to take lifts on the back of my Dad's motor-bike. It was a great big old thing. I never fancied riding it myself."

One morning, 19-year-old Eamonn left the house in St. Thomas Road to start work in a "legitimate" job – as a clerk in the Hibernian Insurance Company at £60 a year. His boss, Mr Joseph Gallagher, now retired, believes Eamonn would have made a first-class insurance man. But Mr Gallagher could see there was one major drawback to this gangling new clerk.

He seemed to be constantly hogging the telephone for strictly non-office work. He was always making or taking calls involving radio commentaries, boxing appearances – or fixing details for the mass of amateur theatrical shows he seemed to be involved in.

If Eamonn had a problem of any kind in those days, it was fitting all his activities into a 24-hour day. He was writing plays, producing them (for charity in many cases), running between Belfast and Dublin covering sporting fixtures for radio, writing articles, doing disc-jockey shows. He even put his own records on the turntable when he was a radio dee-jay.

All of which was not exactly fitting him for the life of an insurance clerk. And Eamonn made what he now recalls was "a fatal mistake".

He was broadcasting soccer commentaries and the English League was due to play the Irish League in Dublin. "But before that, the teams were playing on Wednesday in Belfast. I didn't know the players so I thought I ought to see them in action. I asked for the Wednesday off and was refused."

"I went to Belfast anyway and got my sister to ring to say I was ill. I went with a fellow called Brian Dernan."

"Came the broadcast on the Saturday, I did the first-half commentary and handed over to Brian. He said: 'I don't think this English team is playing as well as when we saw them on Wednesday, do you Eamonn?'"

"So I was in dead trouble. Joe Gallagher was listening, of course. And on Monday morning I was well and truly on the carpet."

59, Priory Road, West Hampstead, London (1951-53)

The Irish lad came to Britain. Behind, he left a reputation that was already turning him into one of Dublin's favourite sons. He had a special appeal on his home territory. Not only was he a broadcasting personality, but he had gone through to the Irish sense of appreciation by taking part in sporting bouts, too. He won the Irish junior middleweight title in between doing commentaries on other fights on the same bill.

That in itself was enough to turn him into something of a hero.

But in London, Eamonn was moving into a completely different gear. For a start he was not really known. And Eamonn wanted that change of gear to be upwards.

Priory Road was his first flat – the home to which he brought his new bride, Grainne. For £12 a week they had a kitchen, bathroom, living-room, bedroom and spare room. "It was a progression; I had more space than ever before. I had a room to go and work in."

He had finally been given his chance to try the London scene. What happened was this. The actor Eddie Byrne had been running a show called Pot of Gold at the Theatre Royal, Dublin. It was an audience-participation, prize-winning show.

"Eddie went off to make a picture and I got three or four weeks replacing him. From there, I did the same show at the Savoy Cinema, Limerick, for three months."

"Then Eddie moved more or less fully into pictures, and I was brought back to the Royal. That was when Joe Loss saw me and invited me to London."

"I had been trying for a long while to get into the BBC and I couldn't. That was one of the main reasons why I took the job with Joe Loss. The BBC kept saying, 'Well, when can we see you if you're that good?'"

"So I said: 'I'm in England, now you can see me.'"

Maitland Court, Lancaster Gate, London

Eamonn remembers his second London flat particularly for the television programmes What's My Line? This Is Your Life, "and a lot of writing." He paid £200 premium and a rent of £20 a week. The flat contained a lounge, kitchen, bedroom, office, dining-room - and a bedroom for the housekeeper. The Andrews were going up in the world.

With the new flat, Eamonn splashed out on a cream drop-head Zodiac, mainly because Grainne was crippled with a hip infection. She spent nine months in hospital and couldn't walk when she returned home. But the £800 car gave Eamonn the chance to get her out into the sunshine and fresh air.

Despite the obvious increase of luxury which this new home brought, Eamonn insists that he has moved only when he felt he had to. Mainly, because of an increasing family.

"I tend not to want to move once I've settled in, anyway. All the moves were a natural progression. The first move (from Synge Street to St Thomas Road, Dublin) was because my parents wanted somewhere bigger to bring up a family. The second move was when I left to come to London. The third move was to get started for marriage."

"When Grainne was in hospital I looked for a new place and found home number four. I showed her photographs of it in hospital and from those she decorated it."

"I never felt a great need to have a bigger and better house as some sort of status symbol. I wanted a nice garden, of course, but I never felt I had to spend a lot of money for the sake of it."

"I don't believe in status symbols. I never think of myself in terms of being a star. There are big stars among show-biz people and I think it's fine that they should have their houses and swimming pools, and so on. But mine has been a different kind of environment. I haven't suddenly become a star. I've just done my work and become better-known at one stage than at another, perhaps. But it's not the kind of gloss one associates with the title 'Star'."

"It doesn't even occur to me. I'm doing a job that I like. Other people are just as important in the shows I do – the make-up girl, the engineer, the cameraman, the producer."

Hartington Road, Chiswick, London (since 1961)

Behind high walls lies the 12-room mansion which Eamonn and his family now occupy. He won't say how much it cost him, but it is certainly worth more than £50,000. There is room for their adopted children (and if they have more), a conference room for programme and business meetings, a beautiful study for Eamonn.

There is a huge garden and the Thames runs along the bottom of it – a touch that Grainne particularly likes. In the garage is a £3,000 Mercedes.

For all that, Eamonn does not consider it 'palatial luxury'.

"I think it's a house we needed for our children. I don't feel I live – or have ever lived – in an opulent way. I think it's a beautiful house, but opulence is a word I don't like. I mean, when I first saw the house, the first thing I liked about it was its garden; and it had an extra bedroom. Mainly it was a place where we could have a bit of space to bring up our family. The sort of place which obviously as a kid I couldn't have myself."

For a man whose dreams have come true, this is his dream home.

So far the Street of Fame ends here.