How To Deceive Your Husband
TV Times
11 November 1972
TV Times: This Is Your Life article TV Times: This Is Your Life article TV Times: This Is Your Life article TV Times: This Is Your Life article
Margaret Dawson hoodwinked husband Les by pretending it was "talkative Gladys" on the phone when she was plotting with researchers
TV Times: This Is Your Life article TV Times: This Is Your Life article
When Eamonn Andrews featured comedian Alfred Marks (above), his wife went to the studio in curlers - lest he should suspect she was up to something. Goalkeeper Gordon Banks's daughter, Wendy, (with mum and dad above) nearly gave the show away when she blurted out: "My dad's going to be on This Is Your Life tonight"
TV Times: This Is Your Life article

It's much harder to fool your husband when he's at home most of the day - as Claudia Flanders (seen here with husband, Michael, and Eamonn Andrews) soon found out

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It was a lesson seven women had to learn by John Deane Potter

Many women behind the "victims" of This is Your Life, which returns this week, have gone to great lengths to prevent their menfolk discovering they are to be on the programme. Which just proves that women can keep a secret... if they really want to. Sometimes, however, it involves weeks of nerve-racking subterfuge...

Would you find it easy to deceive your husband? Could you tell him white lies for weeks to keep a secret from him?

This is the happy dilemma that faces the partner of many well-known personalities chosen to appear on This Is Your Life, which returns on Wednesday.

Thames Television first approach the subject's wife, explaining what they are proposing and ask for her agreement. Then, without his knowledge but with her co-operation, they research his life. To keep the secret from him until the moment of Eamonn Andrews' confrontation on This Is Your Life means weeks of subterfuge – some of it hilarious, some nerve-wracking – and the wife is the centre of it all.

If the husband is away from home at regular intervals, it is comparatively easy. But it was not easy for Claudia Flanders, whose husband Michael Flanders works at home. She remembers it as a period when she spent more time Christmas shopping than ever before – and bought practically nothing!

"The show was scheduled for January. My only excuse was to go Christmas shopping. I conducted most of the research interviews in the toy department at Harrods. After Christmas I developed a mania for the January sales, again as an excuse to help the research."

"When Thames approached me, I did not feel I could refuse. But I worried about it. I decided to ask a girlfriend for advice. I thought it was safe as she was flying to America next day. She convinced me I should go ahead. Weeks later she sent a letter addressed to both of us which added at the bottom: 'Good luck for This Is Your Life!'"

"Knowing that Michael had read it first, I nearly died when I saw it. I couldn't understand why he never mentioned it. So I said casually: 'That girl is whacky. I told her about an article on you in Life magazine and she got it all mixed up.'"

"'I wondered what she was on about.' he replied indifferently, and the whole thing passed off."

"The contact man was his agent, but whenever he tried to reach me, he often got Michael instead," continued Claudia. "If he did, he would ask inane questions, like: 'What did you have for breakfast?' Although Michael didn't suspect anything, he said to me: 'I am concerned about the poor chap. I think he's slipping. His telephone calls don't make sense to me.'"

"I never realised what a good fibber I was. I thought I had only a 50-50 chance of fooling my husband; I was certain that the expression on my face or the look in my eye would have given me away."

"But no! I managed to carry the secret. Michael joked afterwards: 'I will have to keep an eye on you in future!'"

"It was a joke, but it is not altogether nice to be congratulated by your husband on being a talented fibber."

Mrs Alfred Marks, better known as actress Paddie O'Neil, is another wife who suffers from occasional half-joking recriminations. She said: "Every now and again when there is a domestic difference, Alfred says: 'Don't forget I know what a talented fibber you are!'"

"I am the original woman in a dressing-gown. If Alfred ever saw me dressed in a morning he could think something was wrong. This was the difficulty on the day of his Life programme. The day before, I had my hair fixed and then realised it would look very suspicious, my being all neat and glamorous at breakfast. So I put in these big rollers, which I wore all day. I even went to the studio wearing them until a few minutes before the show. Walking about in rollers backstage, looking like someone out of Coronation Street, caused Eamonn and the boys to send me up something rotten!"

Bob Hope's wife, Dolores, hesitated to co-operate at first, saying she didn't like doing anything, however innocent, behind Bob's back. Finally Denis Goodwin, his British writer, managed to persuade her. She said: "O.K. but be it on your own head, I only hope he doesn't get mad!" He didn't.

"I never realised until I got involved, what a cloak-and-dagger operation it was," said Denis Goodwin. "I was invited by the producer to lunch at some obscure Italian restaurant where none of the waiters seemed to speak English. Top security, of course. It became even more like James Bond, when he leaned across the table and hissed: 'The code word is charity!'"

In spite of this, Bob Hope's appearance on the programme led to a game of hide-and-seek at the Savoy. Explained Goodwin: "He was in London doing two concerts with Frank Sinatra at the Royal Festival Hall. His four grown-up children were in on the secret. When they arrived in London, they booked into the Savoy not realising their parents were also staying there."

"Luckily, Bob and his wife were in the River Suite, which means they use the back door of the Savoy on the Embankment, while his children used the front entrance in the Strand. We were also helped by the fact that they knew their father's habits; like so many show-business people, he never gets up until noon – so they just got out of the hotel before 12 o'clock."

Sometimes, secret research of the unsuspecting subject is comparatively easy. Rolf Harris's wife, Alwen, was not even faced with the burden of telling white lies to her husband, who was working in Australia at the time.

But the game was nearly given away by the pilot of the plane that flew Rolf's parents from Perth, Australia, to London to appear on the programme. Alwen recalled: "He was a friend of Rolf, and when he got to London he wanted to ring up Rolf and ask how his parents were enjoying their trip to England. That would have ruined everything, of course, as Rolf had no idea they were here. Luckily, the pilot mislaid our number."

David Frost's Life was only possible because of his mother, 69-year-old Mrs Mona Frost, who lives in Beccles, Suffolk. She said: "David is often away in America. I always see him whenever he flies back. It was arranged that Eamonn Andrews should be waiting for us at Quaglino's restaurant in London on the night of the programme. We had been there before and he knew I had enjoyed it. Then I telephoned David and asked him if he would take me there for dinner."

"He said: 'I'll see if I'm free.' I knew he was free because I had arranged it with his secretary. When the time came for us to leave, he was on the phone to America and I began to panic. I said: 'David we must go.' He replied: 'Don't fuss, Mother; it doesn't matter if we are half an hour late.' I said: 'David, I like to be punctual.' I got him there only 10 minutes late."

"I was still afraid and so was Eamonn, that he might refuse to co-operate. When he found out what was happening, he turned to me and said: 'Did you know about this, Mother?' When I said I did, he went ahead and told me afterwards it was one of the most enjoyable evenings of his life."

Mrs Audrey Whillans, wife of mountaineer Don Whillans, had only one narrow squeak while she was hugging the secret. She said: "Most of it was easy because he was away several days a week lecturing. For the preliminary meeting, I made an appointment with a girl researcher to have lunch in Manchester, where I work."

"I was a little excited and put on my best clothes. Don drove me to the bus stop and suddenly asked: 'Why are you dressed like that?' I said I just felt like it. He gazed at me for a moment and said: 'You are going to work, aren't you?' I thought I had given the game away before it began. But he seemed quite satisfied when I assured him I was going to work in the ordinary way. He obviously thought my dressing-up was just a woman's whim because he never referred to it again."

To keep her secret, Margaret, the wife of Les Dawson, made use of a talkative friend whom we will call Gladys. Margaret said: "Normally he will flee if he thinks she's on the phone. So if he came in and I was talking to the TV people, I would cover the mouthpiece and say: 'It's Gladys.' He would then disappear. But then the TV researcher became a bit indignant about it at first. He said: 'I don't mind being addressed as Fred or Joe but not as Gladys.' He thought it very funny when I explained."

"I used to make notes about things in Les's life as I remembered them. I was terrified of Les finding them, so I hid them in a cookery book which I secreted at the back of the kitchen cupboard."

There was one last-minute crisis. Les was due to record in London at 10am on the morning of the show for a spot on another programme. When Thames sent the rail tickets for Margaret and her children (Julie, seven; Stuart, five; Pamela, 20 months) she found they were for the 7.25am train – the same one as he was travelling on. There was a hasty phone call to his agent, who rang Les to say that he could only get a recording studio at 8.30am. This meant the comedian had to travel down the night before, leaving the coast clear for last-minute preparations by his family.

Husbands sometimes have a worse secret-keeping job than any wife.

When John Alderton's wife, Pauline Collins, was going on the programme, he said: "I really did feel a heel when they dreamed up a four-minute commercial for Upstairs, Downstairs. We rehearsed it together and she kept asking how I thought it would go. And all the time, I knew it would never go. It was a dummy script to get her in to the studio."

"At one point, I thought she was considering leaving me. Can you blame her? I kept having funny phone calls and hanging up whenever she appeared. I also used to disappear to London for no good reason. She must have suspected me because once I said I was going to a TV studio for a costume fitting. She phoned and asked to speak to me and they said: 'What costume fitting?' I noticed an icy silence when I got home that evening but nothing was said."

"Trouble is that I am the world's worst fibber and blush if I have to tell one. That's why I'm sure she became more and more convinced I had a bird up in town. I waited for the screaming match to start, when I would have to tell her the truth and ruin the show. But it didn't materialise."

"My worst moment came on the day of the show. I somehow had to sneak out an evening-dress for her to wear that night. I couldn't take it in my car in the morning. The only thing I could do was to get up at dawn, creep across to a neighbour who was in the plot and leave it there to be collected later. God knows what she would have thought if she had woken up and seen me tripping across the dewy grass in my dressing-gown carrying one of her evening dresses. Having a bird in London would have been nothing to what she would have suspected then."

But children can be the greatest hazard. Ursula, the wife of England goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, didn't tell her youngest child, Wendy, aged nine, until she and her 13-year-old brother, Robert, were on the train to London for the show.

"I had told Robert because he is old enough to keep quiet," she said. "But Wendy can never keep a secret. We were in the dining-car when I told her. She immediately called out: 'My Dad's going to be on This Is Your Life tonight!' I thought the whole carriage would hear. But luckily, what with the noise of the train and the other people busily talking, no one took any notice. I was able to keep her quiet after that. But my heart was in my mouth until we arrived at the studio in case she blurted it out to any passer-by. She was so excited and proud of her Dad." Banks, currently recovering from his car crash, said after his TV appearance: "It was one of my greatest nights."

It was a child that caused the one who got away – Bernard Braden. His six-year-old grandson, Sandy, heard the programme being discussed and when Bernard came home he rushed up to him and said: 'You're on This Is Your Life, Grandpa!'

Bernard Braden and his wife, actress Barbara Kelly, rapidly reached a decision. Bernard phoned his old friend Eamonn Andrews and said: "It's off, I'm afraid; I know about it."

Said Barbara: "The poor little chap was terribly upset when he realised what he had done. It was very disappointing for the TV people; they had spent a lot of money researching in Canada, where we come from. But we had to own up. Otherwise the programme would have been a complete phoney."