BBC harks back to a previous life
This Is Your Life Big Red Book
related pages...

Michael Aspel

a career review

The Big Red Book

the programme's icon

Eamonn Andrews

a brief biography

A Life Refused

those who said 'No'

Woman's voice in TV shock

Daily Sketch interview with director Yvonne Littlewood

Eamonn Andrews

Shirley Bassey

Richard Gordon

Freddie Mills

Stanley Matthews

Patrick Moore

David Nixon

The Guardian: This Is Your Life article

The Guardian 29 July 1993

BBC harks back to a previous life

Andrew Culf Media Correspondent

This Is Your Life, one of the longest running programmes on television, has been poached from ITV by the BBC as part of its quest for ratings success.

The 38-year-old warhorse, killed off by the BBC in 1964 before being revived five years later by ITV, regularly attracts audiences of 12 million.

Alan Yentob, controller of BBC1, denied that This Is Your Life's "evergreen formula" was out of step with BBC policy, which places a high premium on distinctive and non-derivative formats, or with yesterday's annual review which calls for an injection of "freshness and surprise" into BBC1.

ITV said the show had performed sterling service, but would be replaced by programmes appealing to a younger and more upmarket audience.

Greg Dyke, chief executive of LWT, said: "This move shows more than anything else how desperate the BBC is to improve its dismal ratings performance."

The BBC had once been a breeding ground for new popular programming and talent, but was "increasingly relying on poaching ITV staff and now ITV shows." Mr Dyke said.

Mr Yentob, who has signalled determination to broaden the BBC's appeal with more popular entertainment, has also signed contracts with Rowan Atkinson, Angus Deayton, Felicity Kendal and Nicholas Lyndhurst in an estimated £15 million package of programmes for 1994.

The acquisition of Michael Aspel and his big red book is part of a wider deal between the BBC and Thames, the former ITV company which lost its franchise in 1991 and is now an independent production company. Thames will also develop and supply drama and situation comedies in a three-year deal, starting in January 1994, believed to be worth £20 million.

Mr Yentob, attempting to revive BBC1's flagging audience share, said: "The challenge of BBC1 is to position itself as the channel of diverse appeal. These developments symbolise range, risk and renewal."

This Is Your Life will return to ITV in the autumn, before transferring to the BBC in September 1994, with an estimated £3 million price tag.

Mr Yentob said: "It is one of the few shows that have made an indelible mark on British TV. It has stood the test of time and it will benefit from change and from moving to the BBC from ITV." It would be less show-business or celebrity driven.

The Guardian: This Is Your Life article

The Guardian 29 July 1993

38-year-old TV warhorse gets a new canter

This Is Your Life, the BBC's freshest acquisition, is one of television's golden oldies, writes Andrew Culf.

Almost as old as Come Dancing, it was first screened in 1955. Although Alan Yentob, BBC1's controller, yesterday insisted it fits into the BBC's policy of distinctive and innovative programming, there was some surprise that such a well-worn format had won favour.

John Birt, director general, in his review of the year's television output, said there was an "impression that the early evenings on BBC1 do not match our Extending Choice promises. Too much of our output is formulaic and tired. The task for BBC1 is to introduce freshness and surprise into this part of the schedule."

The BBC insists it will reinvigorate the format of This Is Your Life, but the 38-year-old warhorse will give the autumn 1994 schedules a distinctly dated look.

The first "victim" in 1955 was the show's later presenter Eamonn Andrews. Meticulous planning came unstuck when the Daily Sketch revealed that Stanley Matthews, the footballer, was to be its subject. Andrews was led to believe boxer Freddie Mills would be the replacement – but the tables were turned.

The first host was Ralph Edwards, an American who devised the format. Andrews took over as presenter in September 1955.

The BBC killed off the programme in 1964 after nine years and 255 programmes.

It was revived by ITV in 1969 when Andrews took the format to Thames Television, the new London-based commercial station.

Only two subjects refused to appear: Danny Blanchflower's calm response to the words "This Is Your Life" was "Oh no, it's not". Richard Gordon, author of Doctor in the House, also refused to participate.

Andrews was tied up in a sack to surprise David Nixon, dressed as an airline steward to catch Shirley Bassey, and as an astronaut for Patrick Moore.

In 1961, the show's director, Yvonne Littlewood, was heard after a sound breakdown blaspheming on air: "Oh Christ, not again."

Michael Aspel took over the show in 1988 (Andrews died in 1987) and will host ITV's last 26 programme run in the autumn before transferring to BBC1.