This is his life...
RTE Guide
15 December 1978
RTE Guide article: This Is Your Life article RTE Guide article: This Is Your Life article RTE Guide article: This Is Your Life article
This is his life, or at least part of it. Eamonn Andrews commutes each week from Dublin to London to do among other things This Is Your Life. Eamonn, who is seen here at the start of one of his cross-channel jaunts, has himself been a subject of the programme. Twice, in fact, the only other man to achieve that distinction being Sir Matt Busby
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This is his life...

To some people it is an accolade; to others it is nothing more than a television gossip column without the spice. But to Eamonn Andrews, This Is Your Life is planning, secrecy and tension. For every time that Eamonn confronts his 'victim' with the red book and says those words, "This is your life", he has reached the culmination of months of research, plotting, counter-plotting, secret meetings, decoys and finally those tense moments wondering how the 'victim' will react.

Some have not been willing subjects: Danny Blanchflower refused to take part; author Richard Gordon also refused at first, then allowed himself to be talked into it but only after a substitute programme had been put out in its place, and Coronation Street's Jack Howarth, who plays Albert Tatlock, tried to decline on the grounds that he was liable to burst into tears.

The choosing of the person suitable to have his life done takes place at the programme conferences. He is listed on the agenda as "possible future subject". Having decided on a subject because either his story is one of untold heroism or the person is a well-known figure, the researchers start on their secret mission. (And without the researchers and writers there would be nothing.)

The first step is to check out the story as thoroughly as possible. If it stands up then contact is made with someone close to the subject – wife, husband, brother or mother. It is such a person who can tell the This Is Your Life team how the subject would react to being caught. They also know of the past secrets of the subject and from what part of the world the surprise can spring. At this point the researchers start to scour the Earth piecing together the subject's life.

Meetings with the subject's family take place; many such rendezvous are complex affairs. John Alderton, star of The Upchat Line, to name but one programme he is known for, was supposed to be away from home for the day filming when the This Is Your Life researcher was to meet John's wife, Pauline Collins, at their home.

However, before the researcher set out for the Aldertons' house, Pauline rang him to say that John had returned home earlier then expected so they arranged to meet instead at the cutlery counter of a London store!

Having schemed and plotted for many weeks and months and having successfully kept the secret from the unsuspecting subject, Eamonn sets out to catch his 'prey'. It is a strict This Is Your Life rule that if the subject gets wind of what is about to happen, then the programme is cancelled.

The office wall at their headquarters in Thames Television has the legend 'Careless Talk Costs Lives' emblazoned on it. The reason for cancellation is two-fold and quite obvious. First, it is more fun for the guest if it is a surprise. Secondly, to go ahead after the guest has found out leaves him or her open to the accusation of immodesty.

Actually trapping the subject is for many viewers the best part of the programme and Eamonn also seems to get a kick out of it. He has taken on many disguises in order to catch his guests unawares. (Remember during his twenty years in British broadcasting, he has met many of his subjects and they know him only too well).

For his friend, the late David Nixon, Eamonn was trussed up in a bag as part of a magic trick; for Shirley Bassey he became part of British Airways staff; for David Frost and Moira Lister he waited at table; for Pauline Collins he swopped places with Gordon Jackson in a scene from Upstairs Downstairs and, of course, he interrupted BBC Radio 2's morning show to corner Terry Wogan. Catching his subject has its hair-raising moments for Eamonn.

When doing the life of Spike Milligan, he spent the day worrying whether the unpredictable Milligan would make his planned journey from London to Bexhill-on-Sea to an army reunion where Eamonn was waiting with book in hand. He stood quaking in his shoes the night he lay in wait for Twiggy.

The moment she was supposed to arrive at a party that had an extra guest with a red book, the model was at home knitting in her parent's home. In those days, as indeed it still is on occasion, the show was live. But Twiggy eventually showed up and Eamonn caught her in the nick of time.

Little wonder then that Eamonn sometimes looks as relieved as the guest is surprised at the moment that he utters those four famous words: "This is your life".