Obituaries: T Leslie Jackson
The Story of This Is Your Life: Leslie Jackson
related pages...

Producing Life

the producers who steered the programme's success

Eamonn Andrews

a brief biography

A Life Refused

those who said 'No'

Bernard Braden

Kenneth More

Sue Ryder

The Stage: Leslie Jackson obituary

The Stage 23 April 1992

T Leslie Jackson

T LESLIE JACKSON, veteran television producer and director, has died suddenly.

Jacko, as he was known throughout the BBC for the 25 years he worked there, was born just outside Manchester in 1910. Following several jobs, including a short career as a professional boxer, he turned to the theatre.

Throughout the thirties he worked for several repertory companies, mainly in the North West, as a stage manager, actor and stage director.

Following the war, he joined the newly re-opened BBC Television at Alexandra Palace in 1946, starting as a studio manager. By 1950 he was a director and in 1956 was made a producer working in light entertainment most of his career ending up as a senior producer.

During his time at the BBC, Jackson was involved in many of the early landmark events of British television such as Life With The Bradens, reputed to be British television's first sitcom.

In 1951 he directed the first series of What's My Line? which he continued to run for over six years.

The show brought him together with Eamonn Andrews, with whom he brought another British television institution to the screen in 1955 when This Is Your Life began transmission.

As commercial television arrived in Britain, Jackson was invited to join Rediffusion on a brief leave of absence from the BBC and produced the first six episodes of both Take Your Pick and Double Your Money.

Paul Jackson, Carlton Television's director of programmes admitted that he owned his own career in television almost entirely to his father's inspiration and love of the business and said:

"Jacko always relished meeting people and involving himself in their stories, a trait he never lost in later life. In many ways I think he was one of those lucky enough to be there at the best of times for British television and also one whose talent helped to create and define those times."

Suzan Leavy

The Independent 11 April 1992

Obituary: T Leslie Jackson


T Leslie Jackson, television producer, born Stretford Manchester 20 April 1910, Producer BBC Television 1946-70, married 1944 Joanne Spoonly (two sons, one daughter), died 7 April 1992.

T Leslie Jackson, like many television pioneers, brought to the medium the professional standards of the theatre. He was best known as the first producer of What's My Line? and This is Your Life.

Born in Stretford, Manchester, in 1910, of non-theatrical parents, Leslie attended a local school before moving to Ireland with his family. The fact that he left school at the age of 14 caused consternation when later noted at BBC boards. He worked in a flour mill before joining the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and then the Manchester Repertory Company, as an actor, later becoming a stage director.

During the summer the company played Oldham, Macclesfield and Rhyl. The producer was James Bould, later to become one of the first outstanding television designers. Also in the company was a young drama student, Joanne Spoonly, who became Jackson's wife in 1944. He volunteered for the Royal Navy during the Munich crisis of 1938 but was not called up until 1940. When theatres closed in 1939, he joined the Manchester Fire Brigade.

Alf Draper, a naval colleague and later a scriptwriter on This is Your Life, met him after D-day when he was a naval lieutenant in charge of Tank Landing Craft. He describes Jackson as "a fly-away-looking chap with the tenacity of a heavyweight", adding, "we sailed from Liverpool to go out East in a convoy of tank landing craft, we hit a tempest-like storm and only four out of 12 ships survived. He literally stayed on the bridge day and night and had no doubts that we would survive. He was planning what he would do in the theatre. He went to war with a prompt copy of Sean O'Casey's Juno And The Paycock."

Jackson served in the Russian convoys, meeting James Bould again in Sevastopol and on his return to England in Falmouth. When discharged from the Navy in 1945 he joined John Fernald's Reunion Theatre, a company of ex-servicemen that included Kenneth More.

Jackson joined BBC Television in 1946 as a studio manager. Contemporary definition describes this as "the producer's representative on the floor", and in that capacity "Jacko", as he was known to the post-war staff and artists at Alexandra Palace, had charge of every kind of production in the studio from London Town, an early magazine programme with Richard Dimbleby, to musicals with West End stars like Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge and Leslie Henson.

Television was not strictly departmentalised in the late Forties, and news was largely the province of radio. In television, drama and light entertainment were of prime importance. In the 1947-48 issue of British Television T L Jackson has a single line entry: "Is a studio manager at Alexandra Palace". By May 1950 he was the subject of a two-page article, entitled "Jacko of the Shirt".

Pre-war studio managers had worn a collar and tie, and Jackson's open-necked red shirt was unorthodox. But there was a practical purpose behind his dress - he could easily be identified on the studio floor, where live television frequently lived up to the term "organised chaos". In the heat of the studio there were frequent breakdowns of equipment and often of tempers. Jackson had the reputation for dealing with trying situations with humour and good grace.

In July 1948 the then Princess Elizabeth, together with the Duke of Edinburgh, visited Alexandra Palace to watch a production of Hulbert's Follies. Jackson was sent to wardrobe for a more appropriate outfit. He emerged wearing a white jacket and gloves.

Although capable of dealing with any production, his first love was for drama and he often worked as part of a team comprising James Bould as designer, and Eric Fawcett as producer, on pioneer productions of stage classics.

When promoted to producer - the equivalent today is director - his first programme was An Evening At Home With the Bradens (1951). It ran for six episodes.

Television was expanding, and Eamonn Andrews described meeting Jackson at Lime Grove Studios in 1951. Both men shared an interest in boxing and both had boxed at St Andrew's Club in Dublin. They met to discuss a new programme, What's My Line?. The original plan was for Andrews to alternate as chairman with Gilbert Harding. Jackson chose the first team of Gilbert Harding, Marghanita Laski, Jerry Desmonde and, at his wife's suggestion, Elizabeth Allen, an English actress who had acted in Hollywood films in the late Thirties. The show was a huge success with viewers. It went out live on Sunday evenings and Harding's comments together with the fashions worn by the female members of the panel, provided topics of conversation among commuters around London. Many famous people participated as the mystery guest who had to be identified behind a blindfolded panel. Although the panel changed for various reasons, Andrews became the regular chairman, leaving Harding to attract viewers with his unpredictable behaviour. After two highly successful series, What's My Line? was handed over to another producer, Dickie Leeman.

Andrews, like Harding and many of Jackson's colleagues, became a personal friend. In the summer of 1955 Jackson saw a recording of an American programme brought back by Ronnie Waldman (head of Light Entertainment for BBC). It was This is Your Life.

Jackson was enthusiastic about the programme in spite of the BBC's official reservations about its suitability for British audiences due to the intrusion into private life. The show was thought to be in bad taste, but in Jackson's hands it ran for seven series with high viewing figures. The subjects (Leslie strongly objected to the term "victim") were always treated with tact and dignity. The show had an enormous range. Unknown war heroes, show business types, people like Sue Ryder, who had devoted their lives to the service of others. The people paying tribute were often unsophisticated and uneasy about appearing in front of the camera, but Jackson always put them at ease and encouraged them to tell their story with confidence and sincerity.

While each programme had a different scriptwriter, Jackson supervised each script and production with infinite care. Obviously there was no proper rehearsal as the subject had to be unaware of the preparations. Great efforts were made to surprise the subject, but an introduction to the television theatre and some simple rehearsal with a "stand-in" took place on Sunday before the normal programme on Monday night. For seven years, Jackson was never home for Sunday lunch.

In 1965 Jackson produced for the first time Call My Bluff, another long-running popular success. Robin Ray was its first chairman, followed by Robert Robinson. Jackson continued with the programme until BBC regulations forced him to retire in 1970.

After such a hectic life it was unlikely that Jackson would take a well-deserved rest. He worked voluntarily for an eye charity benefiting Moorfields Hospital, and only a war in Pakistan prevented his going to advise on television under the auspices of the Ministry of Overseas Development. He spent a year in Trinidad for the same organisation, training staff for their television service. For three years he worked at the National Coal Board liaising between them and BBC and ITV on such productions as The Corn Is Green and How Green Was My Valley. A great deal of his time was devoted to the Catholic Stage Guild, and for many years he worked for the Holy Family Church in Acton where he died suddenly after attending mass.

He had the support of a wife who shared his theatrical background and three children who gave him a great deal of pleasure. He saw his son Paul perform at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, as a student, and later followed him into the BBC as an Assistant Floor Manager, leaving as a light entertainment producer to further his career in commercial television. The only daughter Ceri is now a professional actress. Sean, the only musical member of the family, kept his Spanish guitar playing as a hobby and opted for a successful career in catering and hotel management.

The Times 22 April 1992

T Leslie Jackson

T Leslie Jackson, television producer, died on April 7 aged 81. He was born in Manchester, on April 20, 1910.

T Leslie Jackson masterminded the popular television shows What's My Line? and This is Your Life. Yet the success which both, in their different ways, achieved was by no means a foregone conclusion at the outset. The sometimes genial, sometimes peppery, interrogations by such panel members as Gilbert Harding and Marghanita Laski in What's My Line? and the often emotional drama of This is Your Life called for skilful handling. The BBC hierarchy of the 1950s was particularly hesitant about the latter, a frank import of American models which often trod the borders of tastelessness. But Jackson saw the show's potential, and his enthusiasm carried the day.

Under his guidance the show ran to seven highly successful series. Occasionally there were the unplanned for traumas for example, when the night's celebrity found out that he was the "victim" and refused to cooperate, thus torpedoing that particular show. A notable such occasion was when the soccer player Danny Blanchflower took one look at Eamonn Andrews' red book and fled.

After leaving school at 14 T. (for Thomas, sometimes known as Terence) Leslie Jackson moved with his family from Manchester to Ireland, where he worked in a flour mill and boxed as an amateur before joining the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Later he returned to Manchester to join the city's repertory company where he met Joanne Spoonly, whom he married in 1944.

During the war he served in the Royal Navy as a seaman on Murmansk convoys and then, after being commissioned, he commanded a tank landing craft in the Normandy landings. Later, he almost lost his life when a storm in the Irish Sea devastated a landing craft flotilla carrying war materials for the war against the Japanese, sinking nine of the 12 vessels, including Jackson's.

In 1945 Jackson joined a company of ex-servicemen actors called John Fernald's Reunion Theatre, among them Kenneth More. From there he joined the BBC as a studio manager at Alexandra Palace, where he was involved in the early Richard Dimbleby magazine programme London Town as well as in musicals, variety and, later, drama.

In 1951 when the comedian Bernard Braden moved from radio to television, Jackson directed and produced At Home With The Bradens. In 1951, too, Jackson first met Eamonn Andrews. Together they devised What's My Line? of which Andrews became the regular chairman. Screened live on Sunday evenings, it was an immediate success. In 1956 Jackson launched Call My Bluff, chaired first by Robin Ray and later by Robert Robinson.

After his retirement Jackson did voluntary charity work for Moorfields Eye Hospital, trained television staff in Trinidad on behalf of the Ministry of Overseas Development, and liaised between the National Coal Board and the BBC and ITV on such productions as The Corn Is Green and How Green Was My Valley.

His three children inherited his and his wife's showbusiness talents. Their only daughter, Ceri, is an actress, Paul is a producer in commercial television and Sean plays Spanish guitar but works in catering.