Andrews's death casts doubt on his show
This Is Your Life Big Red Book
related pages...

Eamonn Andrews

a brief biography

The Legend That Was Eamonn Andrews

a celebration to mark the presenter's centenary year

Obituaries: Eamonn Andrews

Press coverage of the death and memorial service of Eamonn Andrews

Eamonn Remembered

RTE Guide tribute to Eamonn Andrews

Bill Cotton

Leslie Crowther

David Frost

Barbara Kelly

David Nixon

Ted Ray

Terry Wogan

The Guardian: This Is Your Life article

The Guardian 6 November 1987

Andrews's death casts doubt on his show

By Martin Wainwright

The future of one of Britain's most durable television successes, This Is Your Life, will be decided this week, following the death yesterday of Eamonn Andrews of heart failure at the age of 64.

The Irish broadcaster had presented the surprise biographies of more than 500 celebrities since 1955 and there are doubts at Thames Television whether the programme should survive him.

"I cannot conceive of the programme without Eamonn. This Is Your Life was Eamonn," said Philip Jones, head of light entertainment at Thames. The current series has been cancelled, although 26 shows had been scheduled and Mr Andrews had recorded four which had not been screened. [ editor: Eamonn had recorded three editions, not four, which had not been screened at the time of his death - they were eventually broadcast the following January]

The broadcaster died in his sleep at a private hospital in London, after spending the evening with his wife Grainne. The couple had been due to fly to Lanzarote today to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary.

Mr Andrews, who will be buried in his native Dublin, said in October that he had recovered from an unidentified virus which had been responsible for his recurrent ill health and noticeable loss of weight. His adopted daughter, Emma, said yesterday that the infection had damaged his heart and lungs but there had been no indication that the condition was potentially fatal.

Few broadcasters have achieved the combination of popular fame and affection from fellow-professionals which Mr Andrews won in a career which began with freelance boxing commentaries on Irish radio in 1939. His programmes, notably This Is Your Life and What's My Line? were perennial successes, but he suffered little jealousy from colleagues and few personal attacks in the media.

He was strongly religious and a serious student of broadcasting, chairing the committee which introduced television to the Irish Republic. The Queen awarded him an honorary CBE in 1970 for his services to British radio and TV.

Bill Cotton, managing director of BBC-TV, said yesterday: "He was a man who cared deeply for his family, his friends and his work. The public recognised this instinctively and that was the secret of his success."

The television presenter Leslie Crowther said: "My introduction to television was eased by his generosity."

The Guardian: This Is Your Life article

The Guardian 6 November 1987

The life and times of a prize fighter

Martin Wainwright remembers Eamonn Andrews who died yesterday at 64

The word "congenial" could have been invented for Eamonn Andrews in his 35-year role as British television's most familiar host. He was good company and made his guests feel they were too. Chummy and chatty, he knew his audience and asked questions on their behalf in the polite, unpatronising way he felt they would use themselves.

The Andrews broque (the result of the Blarney Stone returning his kiss, according to Ted Ray) was a powerful and classless contrast to the generally clipped accents of the 1950s BBC.

The result was damned as bland by some; in the more acerbic Sixties one critic described the closing-down epilogue on ITV (which poached Mr Andrews from the BBC in 1964) as a hotbed of excitement compared to the gentle revelations extracted by This Is Your Life.

But Mr Andrews knew what he was about. He was a formidable operator, clear about his ambitions and the way to achieve them, in his wide-spread business interests as well as in broadcasting. His humble origins in Dublin and a youthful boxing career, culminating with the Irish amateur middleweight title, had taught him in every sense how to fight.

He was born in 1922 in the same street as George Bernard Shaw, the eldest of five children of a carpenter and a devoutly religious mother who sent him initially to a convent, giving him a mortifying reputation as a cissy when he transferred to an all-boy school. An interest in writing poetry did not help; but the bullying led to his decision to take up boxing which proved, in turn, a path to radio and TV.

His first employer, at an insurance company where he took a job as a clerk, put up with five years of freelance boxing commentaries for Irish radio, before suggesting that Andrews was better suited to broadcasting than checking claim forms. Taking the hint, the young Irishman decamped to Britain and in 1948, at the age of 26, won the job of compering an offbeat radio quiz called Ignorance Is Bliss. Among his unsuccessful rivals was another great broadcaster in the making, Gilbert Harding, who was soon to team up with Andrews, David Nixon, Isobel Barnett and Barbara Kelly in one of BBC's first major television successes, What's My Line?

At the same time, meanwhile, Mr Andrews laid the foundations of a showbusiness empire back in Ireland, specialising in theatrical advertising and property, as a failsafe in case his career as a performer fizzled out. Combining with a former rival, Fred O'Donovan, he set up a company in Dublin in 1948 which became the biggest entertainments conglomerate in the country. Cannily managed, it flourished until 1984 when recession in Ireland drove one of its enterprises, a floating nightclub on the River Liffey, into bankruptcy. The collapse tumbled the rest of Mr Andrews' Irish business interests into receivership but left his British operations intact.

The centrepiece of these, a programme which became synonymous with Eamonn Andrews and endlessly figures in the top twenty TV ratings, was This Is Your Life, the televised biography sprung on celebrities since 1955. Mr Andrews made the wise investment of buying the rights to the series, and to What's My Line? whose lady chicken-sexers and other curious characters came close to rivalling the This is Your Life red book in the public's affection.

Eamonn Andrews always denied any secret formula for his success, which also earned large audiences for his children's programme Crackerjack, the pioneering chat programme, The Eamonn Andrews Show, the ITV news review Today and more obscure ventures like a money programme called Mind Your Own Business. He profited from his genuine delight in television and a lifelong conviction that the medium was designed, above all, for entertainment rather than preaching or education.

"The great leveller has always been, and always will be, that television will always fail the day it forgets that entertainment, sad and tinselly though it is, is the prime purpose," he said. This humble, unpompous approach seemed to strike a chord with viewers, who also appreciated Andrews' two great technical abilities, think quickly on screen and maintain an enviable flow of words. They approved, too, of his distinctive, unfailing courtesy to guests, even if it earned him a joint nickname with David Frost in broadcasting circles. Frost was the television's arsenic, said the wags, Andrews its old lace.

Mr Andrews' size – 6ft 1in and well-built – and boxing ability doubtless gave him the self-confidence not to bully, but his good nature was not something carefully nurtured for the screen. His 36-year marriage to Grainne, who survives him, was a happy one and he was devoted to his three adopted children, Emma, who is now 26, Fergal, 23, and a second daughter Niamh, who is 19. The critics, inevitably, loved to rubbish his shows as populist nonsense, but he seldom attracted personal attacks or spite. He was a devout Catholic and in recent years wrote a weekly column for the Catholic Herald.

If his faith is justified, the recording angel will now be ticking off a list of sober achievements to his credit, including the chairmanship of the committee which brought television to the Irish Republic. But his chief memorial will be his programmes, the style he bequeathed to successors like Terry Wogan, and that memorable catchphrase, presumably irresistible to St Peter when he unlocks the Gates: "This is your life."