Aspects Of Aspel
TV Times
3 February 1979
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Michael Aspel

a career review

Michael Aspel

his 1980 This Is Your Life appearance

by Jan Etherington

The front door is solid pine, the doorstep is brass, there are hand-made tiles on the hall floor and the living room is in gentle earth colours and full of antiques, books and pictures. It's all very Michael Aspel. Very smooth...

Aspel, who chairs the new panel game Give Us A Clue, does not like the word "smooth", although it has sneaked in front of his name more times than he cares to remember. "I'm always put down as 'that beauty queen bloke', although I haven't compered Miss World or anything like it, for a very long time. I did eight years of news and current affairs but I know I was turned down for other projects in that field because there was this image of me wooing housewives and dripping hair cream."

"People read me wrongly, but I think that's a bleat that everybody has. Someone's always coming up to me with a script and my blood runs cold when they say: 'I've written it in your style.' It's always bland, very smooth and repulsive. I never did enjoy Miss World and I've done a lot of other things that I've disliked intensely, but I've got a lot of mouths to feed."

They include two sons from his first marriage, now 20 and 18, at university in Australia – "I just send them money now and then" – and 14-year-old twins, Edward and Jane, who live with his second wife, Ann, in Putney. Aspel himself lives modestly in an attractive Victorian terraced house in Wimbledon with his third wife, actress Liz Power, who played Ellen Terry in Lillie. He pours drinks in the living room and grins when I ask if he renovated the house himself. "No, I'm not very clever at things like that. I did paint the bathroom, but that's about all. I really don't get time."

He works harder than most entertainers. The day before, he'd commuted to central London for his daily three-hour programme on Capital Radio, caught a train to Leeds for a TV recording, travelled back on the sleeper and gone straight on the air again at Capital. And recently he's been appearing on tour in the hit musical Side by Side by Sondheim.

But Aspel appears to thrive on that non-stop schedule and admits that if he gets a rare chance to read during the day, he does it furtively, feeling guilty about relaxing.

Last month he was 46 and people are always telling him it's about time he looked his age.

"I've been married three times, I've had a lot of worry. I'm galloping into middle-age and I'm always being asked why I don't look more haggard. I suppose I've just got one of those faces, except for the baggy eyes, which get worse if I sleep too long. So I usually get up quickly and keep moving."

Aspel and Liz met five years ago in the play Private Lives. "I had heard he was going to be in the play with me, so I thought I'd better find out what he looked like," says Liz, with Aspel looking faintly embarrassed. "I sat and watched Crackerjack and thought: 'What a good looking bloke.' I think he gets the smoothie image because he can cope with everything. That always looks smooth. When we met, I thought he was terribly shy." "She wasn't impressed," Aspel chips in.

"I was," Liz insists, grinning. "You always say that. He always says, 'No, she didn't reckon me,' but I liked him enormously as a person. I just didn't know what he would be like in the play."

It was a demanding role for Aspel and at first their relationship was very much that of teacher and pupil with Liz taking charge. Aspel's role surprised a lot of theatregoers in Eastbourne, where the play opened.

"In one scene where Liz smashes a record player over my head and I slap her face, I could hear a couple of elderly ladies in the front row muttering, 'Ooooh! I didn't know he was that sort of bloke.'"

Despite the slaps, Liz married Aspel 18 months ago. She remembers their honeymoon well – particularly because of its novelty value.

"We'd booked a holiday on the Algarve with the twins because it was July and they were off school, but after three days Michael had to go back to London to record a TV show. The first morning after he left, there was a knock on my door and the children were standing outside in their nightclothes saying: 'We thought we'd come and have breakfast with you, it being your honeymoon and everything and Daddy not being here.' They were really sweet, considering they're not my children. I'm just an outsider who's been plonked on them."

A few years ago Liz would have liked "about four kids" of her own but now, at 31, and with Aspel's other commitments in mind, she'll settle for fewer. Aspel thinks she'd make a 'terrific mother' and with the problems which caused a miscarriage last year now sorted out, they'll be moving shortly to a "smashing, big Edwardian house just up the road". They think it will be ideal for a growing family.

Michael Aspel speaks glowingly of his children. "Edward is very bright. Jane is very imaginative. She's started to have young lads calling round. She's got this adoring goalkeeper at the moment who does a paper round, so his prospects are good. He's a solid citizen, but I don't think an engagement is imminent."

Aspel's conversation is deceptively calm and leisurely. Telling a story, straight-faced, he will toss in very funny observations and beautifully turned phrases. His own broadcasting favourites are Kenny Everett – "I think he's a genius" – and Alistair Cooke – "I'd love to see his scripts. I'm sure he writes things like 'sad' or 'pause' in them. He's brilliant."

Those who know Aspel well dismiss the suave image. They regard him as a very funny man and excellent company. More than 20 years of broadcasting have made him a master of the throwaway line and a natural on television. He's so much in demand because he's attractive, everybody likes him and he never panics. All of these qualities are necessary in his role as chairman of the charades game Give Us A Clue.

"When I first saw the programme," Liz tells me, "I thought you looked absolutely marvellous, darling."

"Lighting is important, Lizzie," Aspel explains. "And if you've got baggy eyes like mine, good lighting can do wonders. I don't enjoy seeing myself, but if I do watch TV I think: 'Yes, I suppose I am smooth.'"