Katie Boyle's Roman circus
TV Times
20 November 1982
TV Times: This Is Your Life article TV Times: This Is Your Life article TV Times: This Is Your Life article
Eamonn Andrews, in the guise of an Italian policeman, stops Katie's carriage...
...then all is revealed and, when Katie is over the shock, they enjoy Eamonn's latest coup
TV Times: This Is Your Life article
Top: guests, including showbusiness stars and old friends, wait offstage of This Is Your Life. Above: Katie with her husband, Sir Peter Saunders and her friend, actress Linda Christian
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Eamonn Andrews

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Producing Life

the producers who steered the programme's success

Venues and Sets

the studio look and locations

Katie Boyle

Patrick Cargill

Barbara Cartland

Cyril Fletcher

Spike Milligan

Peter Saunders

This Is Your Life – how they captured our columnist

Katie Boyle's Roman circus

By Charmian Evans / pictures Peter Bolton

The mission was code-named Operation Europe. Its secret task: to arrange a meeting between two strangers in Rome. Eamonn Andrews was about to catch another unwitting subject for This Is Your Life – our own columnist Katie Boyle.

You saw the programme recently, but planning began six months before. We were to work on a TV Times Magazine fashion feature in Rome, using Katie as the model. And while she posed, unsuspecting, for our camera, Eamonn and his film crew would pounce.

Secrecy was of the essence – if any hint were given that Katie might know the programme would be cancelled.

Confidential notes and phone calls passed between TV Times Magazine and Thames Television, where I met producer Malcolm Morris and his research and production team. Operation Europe appeared on the planning board alongside other equally mysterious names.

Eventually it was decided that on the crucial day, Katie would be photographed by our chief photographer Peter Bolton in a horse-drawn carriage near the Coliseum. There she would be stopped by an Italian policeman, who would, of course, be Eamonn Andrews in disguise. After Eamonn had sprung the big surprise, Katie would be whisked to Rome airport and on to London, where she would appear on the show that evening.

It was a simple enough plan. But it was fraught with potential dangers. Born in Italy, Katie knew Rome and the language. She has many relatives in Rome, so we had to make sure none of them let slip about the programme. Miles of Italian red tape had to be unravelled, not least in getting Eamonn – code-name Fred throughout the operation – a genuine police uniform. And after the 'pick-up' was there a plane that could get us back to London on time to be in the studio? And Katie had to be persuaded to take a suitable dress with her to wear on the programme.

Well, before the big day, Malcolm Morris and director Terry Yarwood made a trip to Rome, and reported their findings in a final briefing, attended by myself and Peter Bolton. We pored over maps and photographs and rehearsed plans, just as if it was a military operation.

Details finalised, we agreed to meet up with the This Is Your Life team in Rome.

Little did Peter Bolton and I know, as we met up at Heathrow airport, how much we would lie, scheme and connive over the next few days to make sure the programme went ahead.

Katie settled comfortably into her seat on the plane, unaware of the devious scheme afoot. And the next day, Sunday, we began taking fashion pictures of her in Rome. Katie was enjoying herself so much that she decided to change her air ticket and stay on an extra day or two. That meant she wouldn't have a seat booked on that vital return flight, but we said nothing and resolved to change her mind by gentle persuasion.

Then we were given another bombshell. 'Don't, whatever else you ask me to do, expect me to pose anywhere near a horse-drawn carriage,' said Katie. She has a strong love of animals and she despises the way horses are treated in Italy.

Later that night, Morris received a call in his hotel on the other side of Rome. Disbelieving, he heard me whisper hoarsely: 'Meet me at the Spanish Steps at 10 o'clock.' We made excuses to Katie for an early night, and sped to meet Morris. Over cups of strong cappuccino, we laid plans to force Katie to return to London as planned, and get her to take that all-important ride in a carriage.

At 7am on Monday I spoke to Katie's husband Sir Peter Saunders in London. It was another votto voce call (using the phone was difficult because Katie had moved to a room next door to me and the walls were thin). We hatched a plot, and using subtle emotional blackmail had Sir Peter ring Katie to persuade her to come home as arranged on Tuesday evening.

Then it was time for photographer Peter Bolton to play another trick. After taking more fashion pictures and returning to the hotel, we told Katie we had just received an urgent message from the TV Times Magazine office in London.

'I'm livid,' he told her, 'but the office has asked us to do another picture of you. They want to launch a travel supplement and they would like a picture of you in a horse-drawn carriage, for the cover. We'll have to forsake last-minute shopping and do it on the way to the airport tomorrow.'

Katie was understandably annoyed, but reluctantly she agreed. 'I'll only do it if the horse is fit and well-loved – if we can choose the right one,' she said.

We knew the horse and carriage had to be chosen in advance so that the microphone could be planted in it. So we made another frantic call to the producer, who sent researchers out to find the healthiest horse and the most loving owner in Rome.

Thames had organised a taxi for the next day to arrive with Malcolm Morris at about 8am. He was to pick up Peter Bolton from the hotel to go along the route to the Coliseum. Bolton would decide on the spot for taking his own fashion pictures of Katie, and plant the microphone in the waiting horse and carriage. He would then return, with horse and carriage and taxi, at 9.45am.

We left the restaurant to have a last, late-night meeting with the This Is Your Life team. En route, I called in at our hotel, to find a note from Katie saying: 'Let's get a very early start and leave some time for shopping. I'll be ready at eight.' Horrified, I scribbled a note back saying we'd rather make a gentle start as it would be a long day – perhaps we could meet around 9.30am. I slid the note under her door and crept away.

Despite a late night, the 6.30 alarm call wasn't needed. Neither Bolton nor I slept a wink. At seven, breakfast arrived. I tried to force dry croissants past the knots in my stomach.

At 7.15am I heard noises next door. Katie was up. In no way must she go to reception, where she could run into Peter Bolton, Malcolm Morris, a horse and carriage or perhaps all of them at once.

The very real danger was that it could turn into a Marx Brothers farce.

The only way to make sure she didn't come out of her room was to sit with my door ajar, looking down the corridor through the reflection in the mirror of my wardrobe door.

The phone rang and I leapt out of my skin. It was Peter Bolton, and he was off to the Coliseum to lay the 'trap' – planting the microphone in the carriage and returning to the hotel.

The phone rang again. It was Katie, up and ready. Would I like to collect the fashion clothes from her, ready to pack? If there was time we might nip out and get a few things around the hotel area. 'Lovely idea,' I said, trying to sound natural. 'But I haven't had breakfast yet,' I lied.

I collected the clothes from Katie and greeted my second breakfast of dry croissants, soft crackers and ferocious coffee. Thankfully, Katie seemed happy to wait as I ploughed through my unwanted meal. If she still wanted to go out, I'd have to feign illness – not too difficult after a sleepless night and two breakfasts.

While she waited, Katie began to write some postcards and I managed to keep her talking until 9.30. Unable to stall any longer, we made our way downstairs. Eventually Peter Bolton came back and we ordered a taxi from the hotel to the horse and carriage rank. Katie obligingly got into the 'doctored' carriage and Peter Bolton and I sped on in the taxi to the Coliseum, a short distance away, to wait with the film crew for Katie to turn up.

The moment of truth had arrived, and quite a few nerves were jangling.

Eamonn Andrews was right on cue. He waved down the carriage and Katie sweetly told him in Italian not to worry: 'We're just taking a picture and we won't hold you up!' Suddenly those famous words were ringing in her ears – 'Katie Boyle, this is your life.' Katie was amazed, dazed and emotional. She hugged Eamonn and her surprise was total: she was stunned.

There was little time to talk. Everyone was whisked off to the VIP lounge at Rome airport to celebrate with a glass or two of champagne.

The flight home was hysterically funny, especially as we revealed the schemes involved to bring Katie and Eamonn together.

At Heathrow, a car took her to a London hotel. Within minutes, her dress was being pressed, and Katie bathed and washed her hair ('Now I know why my husband asked me, quite out of character, if I was taking my heated rollers!')

Despite a long day she looked stunning, and two hours after the landing she was off again, this time to a private suite at the Royalty Theatre in London's West End. All Katie could think about was: 'Who's going to be there?'

A technician fitted her microphone, the make-up girl gave her seal of approval to her make-up. Malcolm Morris popped in for a final chat, and in the theatre the audience waited. Backstage, on an odd collection of seats in a draughty corner, sat the guests who included Spike Milligan, Cyril Fletcher, Barbara Cartland and Patrick Cargill.

Half an hour later it was all over, and everyone trooped through a catacomb of passages to a private bar where drinks and a buffet were laid on. There, many friends who hadn't appeared on screen were reunited with Katie. The tape of the show was run through for all to see and enjoy.

Peter Bolton and I watched those brief seconds of film outside the Coliseum. Suddenly, Rome seemed a very long way away.