Eamonn's surprising disguises
TV Times
11 October 1986
TV Times: This Is Your Life article TV Times: This Is Your Life article
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Should Omar Sharif ever hear the magic words This Is Your Life, they might be spoken by an Arab sheik – with an Irish accent. Eamonn Andrews has never had the opportunity to surprise the Egyptian star of Lawrence of Arabia, but should the time come, he would like to dress for the part. Likewise, the chance to appear as an Indian prince – perhaps before Sir David Lean, who directed A Passage to India, or Gandhi producer/director, Sir Richard Attenborough – is an idea that very much appeals to the presenter, who admits that his biggest problem on the programme is his own face; it is so well known.

'Disguise is now an important part of This Is Your Life,' Andrews explains. 'I alter my appearance for practical reasons, to get close to people without them spotting me. The film crew is always trying to get me to dress up but, when I do, my family curl up with embarrassment. "It's obviously you, Dad!" they say. I tell them that they know it's me because they are expecting to see me, but for the man in the street, it's the last thing on his mind.'

An elaborate disguise, like the sheik, is rare. Often, very little is needed to create the illusion. 'I had to walk through a pub to catch Coronation Street's Johnny Briggs so I just put on a hat, some glasses and a moustache.'

Because there is often a period of waiting, the vital factor is to slip into an unobtrusive role that will not attract attention. To catch actress Moira Lister at a cocktail party, Andrews became a waiter.

'I put a napkin over my arm and said, "More champagne, madam?" It was hard to get her to look at me. People don't often look at waiters, or chauffeurs, postmen, traffic wardens – all useful disguises.'

There are times, Andrews admits, when understatement is forgotten and he makes a bit of a fool of himself. 'I had to hop along London's Euston Road dressed as a giant bird to catch Rod Hull and Emu, and for Arthur Askey, I became a giant Easter egg. It was hard to conceal the big red book.'

Astronomer Patrick Moore proved a challenge. 'I wore a spacesuit,' Andrews remembers. 'The trouble was that it was a real astronaut's suit, with heavy gravity boots, and Patrick moves quickly.'

He enjoyed catching two Londoners well known for their quick wits. 'I was a newsvendor outside a Fleet Street restaurant to meet former Fleet Street editor Derek Jameson. I had a muffler and cap and I actually sold a few papers while I was waiting for him. We mocked up a front page which said, "Derek Jameson in Trouble Again", so he naturally stopped and bought one. To pick up Fred Housego, the cabbie who won Mastermind, I became a very old man, hard of hearing, whom he had to collect from Waterloo.'

The subjects of This Is Your Life are known as 'targets'. Says Andrews: 'The one thing they are not called is "victims". We have a phobia about that!'

TV Times has often been instrumental in setting up targets for the programme. The four Game for a Laugh presenters were persuaded to gather in Trafalgar Square in pantomime costumes, apparently for a photo session. 'I was dressed as Santa and gave them all a gift. When Matthew Kelly opened his present it was the big red book.'

Katie Boyle proved one of the most dramatic targets. 'I was in Rome, dressed as an Italian policeman, directing traffic around the Coliseum.' Andrews explains. 'Katie appeared, driving towards me in a pony and trap. She believed she was being filmed. As the carriage appeared in front of me, I put up my hand to stop it. What I hadn't bargained for is the fact that Katie is an Italian contessa and fluent in the language.'

'She let fly in colourful Italian at the driver, telling him to ignore me and drive on. I had to leap up and grab the reins, shouting This Is Your Life.'

One thing no one can disguise, however, is the excitement of those magic words.