This Is Your Life
Television and Radio 1985
1 November 1984
Television & Radio 1985: This Is Your Life article Television & Radio 1985: This Is Your Life article
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Eamonn Andrews

a brief biography

Producing Life

the producers who steered the programme's success

The Big Red Book

the programme's icon

Venues and Sets

the studio look and locations

Pat Jennings

Norman Parkinson

Ginette Spanier

Most Thursday mornings Eamonn Andrews gets up in his West London home, jogs a little, breakfasts, and drives to an office in Tottenham Court Road. There he presides over a meeting which discusses the previous night's This Is Your Life and evaluates the progress made on the programmes still in the pipeline. Producer Malcolm Morris will want to pat backs for jobs well done; suggestions will be made about possible improvements; researchers will want to report on the progress they have made on their subjects.

Every programme has a code name, unrecognisable to anyone not 'in the know'. On Malcolm's wall is a chart which notes developments in each one, concluding with the date of recording and the transmission date. Tom Brennand and Roy Bottomley are among those present. They once ran a Press news agency in Oldham, Lancashire. They have been around since the series was first shown on ITV and are the ideas and contact men.

Not present - because his briefing will come later - is stills photographer Stan Allen. With over 400 programmes under his belt, he is another constant factor in the series and it is his pictures of the making of the show that will ultimately adorn the Big Red Book which each subject receives.

Secrecy is vital. Thames Television, which produces This Is Your Life, believes that a substantial part of the impact of the programmes is in those first few seconds when the identity of the honoured guest is revealed. It is not unknown for transmission to be dropped or shelved because the 'cover' has been blown - usually because of local Press stories in which inside information is regarded as something to be passed on to readers as a matter of pride. But secrecy is still all important. Very few Thames' employees, even down to those who will be looking after the show's live audience, know who is to be that evening's hero or heroine.

The ultimate in duplicity was achieved when Eamonn himself was on the other end of the Big Red Book. To make sure that not even 'yer man' realised what was happening another freelance photographer was engaged to do the 'pick-up' pictures. An astonished Eamonn, outside Thames' studio at Teddington, suddenly found himself confronted by a trigger-happy Stan Allen and only then realised he had been caught in his own trap.

Now and then, for purely logical reasons, the secrecy clause has to go by the board. For example, it would be illogical to capture Pat Jennings, the Northern Ireland and Arsenal goalkeeper, before anything other than a football crowd. So Pat was nailed at White Hart Lane, Spurs' ground, at the end of an evening match - and there is no way you can swear thousands of spectators to secrecy!

Another example was the Royal photographer Norman Parkinson. That was set up, to the programme's eternal gratitude, by Prince Andrew. What nobody had recognised was that, wherever he travels outside Buckingham Palace, his Royal Highness has an unofficial but ever-present corps of Fleet Street photographers. He was thus tracked to the Mayfair picture gallery where the 'pick-up' was to take place and Fleet Street added up two and two and got four! You can't win them all.

One of the nicest aspects of working on This Is Your Life is the letters that flow into Malcom Morris' office. Most of them are either from the people chosen as the subjects - who say 'Thank you for a wonderful night' - or from their admirers who say 'Thank you for letting us see him/her as they really are'.

The success of the series is not that it examines skeletons in cupboards, rather that it focuses its attention on those aspects of people's lives which have gained them popularity, respect or admiration. One of its subjects was the French couturiere, Ginette Spanier. In a recent magazine article she described her appearance on the series as 'The Greatest Day of My Life'. That gave immense pleasure to all those involved in its production.

If you ask photographer Stan Allen what was the greatest day in his life he will tell you it was when he got to meet his personal idol, the Queen Mother. For ten minutes Stan and the Queen Mum stood and chatted about a mutual interest - fishing. About ten yards away were a group of Fleet Street friends who also happened to be photographers. Not one of them snapped the momentous occasion. Stan Allen, photographer to the gentry, weddings by appointment - This (nearly) Is Your Life!

The Planning Meeting - to discuss and organise the programmes in the pipeline

Eamonn Andrews out jogging before the start of another hectic working day

The successful 'pick-up' of Royal photographer Norman Parkinson aided and abetted by Prince Andrew

Stills photographer Stan Allen (left) talks tactics with producer Malcolm Morris

Getting ready to pounce. Eamonn approaches soccer star Pat Jennings at the end of a match while producer Malcolm Morris gets ready to capture it on film

The crowd are cheering, but still Pat hasn't seen who's behind him

The deed is done