The secret life of Eamonn Andrews
Weekend Magazine
24 October 1973
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The secret life of Eamonn Andrews

He and his team take elaborate precautions to keep each This is Your Life victim in the dark. But they still have plenty of nail-biting moments


No sex, no violence and little controversy – yet after 18 years This Is Your Life still commands an audience of 20,000,000 loyal fans.

"Well, I for one am not surprised," says the man who has devoted a large slice of his life to the show – Eamonn Andrews.

"It's ideal television. It's about people – involved people – and it's easy for the audience to identify themselves with the subject's pleasure at being given a surprise party."

"It must be the happiest show on TV. There are never so many smiling faces around than during the transmission and at the party afterwards."


Eamonn stoutly defends the show against critics who scoff at its surfeit of sentiment and the sight of strong men like Bobby Charlton being reduced to tears.

"So it's sentimental and nostalgic. OK, what's wrong with that?" he said. "Unless they are made of granite, everyone is sentimental – only sometimes they don't like to admit it."

"I don't mind admitting it. In fact, there are times on the show when I've felt pretty choked myself. It's just as well I've plenty of other things to think about or I'd be tempted to sit down and have a little weep with them."

It's difficult to imagine any other television personality who could handle such a show so effectively.

Behind that "everybody's uncle" image is a shrewd professional, an expert at coaxing words out of reluctant guests or politely drying up those who ramble on.

He has the advantage, too, of being such a nice guy that in all these years only one man – Danny Blanchflower – has told him to get lost when he presented his red book.

"I really don't know what we'd do if I was given the brush-off," he confessed. "In theory, we have a recorded show as a stand-by, but this wouldn't really work because by the time we could get it on it would over-run at the other end."

"Fortunately the subjects now know what the show's all about. It's not an expose – just a party shared by the viewers at which they can meet their old friends."

"Still, I must admit I'm pretty relieved by the time they are in the car and on the way to the studio."

With half of the shows done live, a possible refusal isn't the only hazard Eamonn faces when approaching people at a few minutes past seven every Wednesday.


Despite all the careful preparations, the subject might decide to go to the lavatory or go home with a headache.

"The timing is all-important," said Eamonn, "and we've had several near things."

"With the Bill Shankly 'life' we had arranged for the Liverpool team to be in the third carriage of the train. We knew the spot on the platform at which the third carriage would stop and we arranged our cameras and lights accordingly."

"We were mighty relieved when the train came in on time – then horrified to find that the carriage was empty."

"Bill had made the team move into the front carriage as the train approached the station so that they could get off quicker. Those who knew about the show couldn't tell him to stay put as it would have given the game away."

"So the show started with me running down the platform followed by the technicians trundling all the awkward equipment. We caught him just as he was about to disappear through the barrier. I shudder to think what would have happened if we'd been a few seconds slower."


"Another bad moment was with Barry John. I was in the tunnel with my book when the players ran off the field. They were all covered in mud – and I almost approached the wrong man."

Nothing annoys Eamonn and the production team more than cynics saying: "I bet half the subjects know about it before."

Keeping the identity of the guest a secret – an essential ingredient for the success of the show – causes more work and headaches than any other aspect of the show.

Code names and numbers, secret memos, elaborate deceptions and disguises – the steps taken to maintain the element of surprise – would make a good television series in itself.


Thames TV often wastes thousands of pounds to keep it that way. Programmes on David Niven and Bernard Braden are among dozens that have had to be scrapped or shelved at great expense because someone let the cat out of the bag.

The doubters were particularly vocal a few months ago when Pat Phoenix was the subject. She was in a gorgeous evening dress when approached by Eamonn on the Coronation Street set.

Elsie Tanner would never be dressed up like that, said the cynics. But what viewers didn't know was that a special episode of the Street had been written involving Elsie dressing up. While the unsuspecting Pat was being filmed in this episode, Eamonn burst in.

Only a handful of people at Thames know the identity of the subject.

These are Eamonn, producer Malcolm Morris and a few researchers. Not even the managing director of Thames or the cameramen and technicians are let into the secret.

"I don't even tell my wife," said Eamonn. "It's not that I don't trust her, but I look upon her as the best critic of the show and I want her to get the same surprise as the viewers."


To enable the production team to send memos to each other, the subject, members of their family and others who are to appear on the show are given various code names. Bob Hope was "Charity" David Frost was "Winter" Shirley Bassey "Cardiff" and Pat Phoenix "Sixpence" (Tanner, get it?)

As soon as the contents of a memo have been memorised, the papers are put through a shredding machine.

Briefing members of the family and guests contains many security problems, too. Sometimes the researchers pretend to be collecting information on someone else before switching to the real subject at the last minute.

Ronnie Corbett, for instance, was under the impression he was helping to set up the "life" of Ronnie Barker.


Eamonn himself was caught this way in 1955. Right until the moment the cameras were switched on, Eamonn thought he was about to surprise Stanley Matthews. But as he approached the footballer, the director of the show walked up and said: "No, Eamonn, this is YOUR life".

[ editor: This section of the magazine article is totally incorrect – see the Eamonn Andrews subject page to learn the correct version of events...]

This was one occasion when Eamonn was able to indulge himself in tears.

Choosing the subjects isn't easy. More than 80 per cent of the names put up at the show's production conference - and many are suggested by viewers – have to be rejected. Usually it's because of difficulties over filming or getting key figures in the subject's past.


When the subject has been chosen, the security precautions would do credit to MI5. Even so there have been some narrow squeaks.

When Bob Hope's life was being done, his family was flown in from America. Daughter Linda had her photograph taken with Tina Sinatra in a hairdressing salon on the day of the show.

There was a frantic scramble to get the picture suppressed from the evening paper in case Bob saw it.

David Frost almost ruined his life because he was on the phone to America 10 minutes before he was due for his date with Eamonn in a restaurant.

Frost's mother, who was in on the secret, kept shouting out, "Come on, David, we're going to be late," and he kept replying, "It doesn't matter, I'm not all that hungry."

She just managed to get her son to the restaurant as Eamonn was beginning to sweat.


Bernard Braden's six year old grandson ruined one show. It was a few days before the broadcast.

Bernard came home one train earlier than expected and burst in on a family conference on how to keep the secret from him. Despite frantic shushing, grandson Alec revealed all.

Immediately, Bernie phoned Eamonn.

"If I hadn't done so right away I might have been tempted to fake it," he said.

Only one person has had his life done twice – Sir Matt Busby.

Wasn't it time they got round to turning the tables on Eamonn again after all this time?

"No, I don't think they'd do that to me again," said Eamonn – but I thought I detected a worried undertone in that friendly Irish voice.