This Is Your Life goes back to its birthplace
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Glasgow Herald 29 July 1993

This Is Your Life goes back to its birthplace

THE BBC has taken This Is Your Life from ITV - and will run it next year as one of its schedule highlights.

Michael Aspel will continue to host the ratings leader, which the BBC bought from independent production company Thames, the ITV company which lost its London broadcasting franchise at the start of this year.

The deal marks a return to the BBC for the programme, which originated at the corporation in 1955 but switched to ITV 24 years ago.

Also returning to the BBC next year will be comedy stars Rowan Atkinson and Dave Allen, both lured back from ITV with the promise of new shows.

The roll-call of stars and programmes for 1994 was unveiled yesterday by BBC1 Controller Alan Yentob, as part of his strategy to offer diversity while chasing ratings.

This Is Your Life will have a slightly different format on the BBC.

Mr Yentob said: "We're going to extend the range of guests. It won't only be showbusiness or celebrity-driven."

The corporation was not involved in an auction for the series, he said, adding: "There are plenty of copy-cat shows but this has stood the test of time."

The series, once presented by Eamonn Andrews, is one of the oldest on TV.

But Mr Yentob said that despite its age the programme could still be part of an innovative and diverse BBC schedule when it joins the line-up from autumn 1994.

He said he was particularly pleased to welcome presenter Michael Aspel - in recent years one of ITV's most bankable stars - back to the corporation.

Comic Rowan Atkinson, who took such shows as Mr Bean to ITV, has been persuaded to return with the promise of the chance to do comedy drama. He plays a racing driver in a new series called Heroes and Villains next year.

Thunderbirds, the cult 60s puppet series, is to be dubbed in Gaelic for primary schoolchildren learning the language, BBC Scotland announced yesterday. Tairnearan Tar As - Thunderbirds Are Go - will be launched in the autumn.

Irish comedian Dave Allen, who defected to Carlton recently, returns to the corporation with a series of six entertainment features on everything from marriage to food.

Actress Felicity Kendal is another of the "family jewels" back on the BBC next year - starring in a new comedy series about a widow and her teenage son involved in parallel romances.

Mr Yentob denied that the new shows would lead to "wholesale carnage" for many existing BBC programmes.

The ITV Network Centre said later that This Is Your Life had gone to BBC1 because ITV had "felt unable to agree to the long-term deal" Thames wanted.

Evening Standard 28 July 1993

BBC puts stars in £20m front line

BYLINE: Tom Leonard

A STRONG line-up of television stars and the return of This Is Your Life were unveiled by the BBC today as the big guns in its entertainment ratings war.

A series of contracts worth an estimated total of £20 million will see Felicity Kendal, Rowan Atkinson, Angus Deayton, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Dave Allen star in their own BBC shows in 1994.

And, announcing a three-year deal with Thames Television to bring This Is Your Life and its presenter Michael Aspel back to BBC1, the channel's controller Alan Yentob said it was 'like getting back one of the family jewels'. Its 'return will also mark a homecoming for Michael Aspel, currently one of the highest-paid stars in British television, whose experience with the BBC ranged from the news and Miss World to Ask Aspel and Crackerjack.

This Is Your Life was first shown in 1955 on the BBC and its first 'victim', Eamonn Andrews, stayed on as host, both on the BBC and when Thames revived the show in 1969. According to Mr Yentob, who took over the reins of BBC1 earlier this year, the show's traditional celebrity formula will be extended to less-familiar faces.

Felicity Kendal will star in a seven-part comedy series Honey For Tea, written by the creator of Waiting For God.

Angus Deayton will present a new factual entertainment series on BBC1, In Search Of Happiness, as well as signing a further three-year contract for more series of BBC2's acclaimed Have I Got News For You.

Rowan Atkinson will play a racing driver in a new series, Heroes And Villains, which is produced by his independent production company.

Nicholas Lyndhurst is to play a downtrodden Forties romantic in a six-part comedy series, Goodnight Sweetheart, by Birds Of A Feather creators Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran.

Dave Allen will be globetrotting for his series of six features on birth, beauty, food, money, marriage and death.

Earlier this month Mr Yentob expressed concern that the BBC was too middle-class and metropolitan.

The Independent 1 August 1993

This is your dull and sanitised life


THE THING that surprises me most about the news that This Is Your Life has been poached back by the BBC from ITV is that the show is still running after 38 years. Apparently only two subjects, Danny Blanchflower and the author Richard Gordon, have refused to appear; the rest go like lambs to the slaughter, smiling through gritted teeth as disembodied voices from the past remind them of incidents they have very sensibly forgotten.

"Yes," Eamonn Andrews or more recently Michael Aspel would declare with a cheesy grin, "it's Mrs Dilys Roberts, your next-door-neighbour in Salford in 1966, specially flown in from North Uist where she now breeds Angora rabbits". Enter elderly woman, obviously a complete stranger to the embarrassed celebrity, who is forced to embrace her and endure an inconsequential or mildly embarrassing anecdote from schooldays or adolescence.

Are the subjects deliberately chosen for their blameless lives? Has a show ever been abandoned at the research stage after a subject's relatives and acquaintances universally expressed their loathing for him or her? We don't get much reminiscence along the lines of: "Hello John, remember me? I'll never forget that day in 1993 when you laughingly sacked me as your Chancellor of the Exchequer."

Personally, I cannot imagine anything worse than standing on stage wondering which gruesome period in my past was about to be excavated; August 1982, for example, and that scene of high melodrama when I parted with my then lover at Rome airport. (Me: "I never want to see you again." Him: "Hurry up or you won't get your duty-frees.") This would probably translate, in This Is Your Life - speak, into the ex-lover's voice demanding joshingly: "So - did you ever get those duty-frees?" I, meanwhile, would be scrambling off the stage and trying to conceal myself among the audience. The BBC is welcome to Michael Aspel and his red book, but real life is neither as bland, nor as relentlessly jolly, as the show would have us believe.

The Stage 5 August 1993

Television Diary

We at Television Diary Towers must confess we allowed ourselves a smile when we caught sight of ITV's responses to the BBC poaching Thames Television's This Is Your Life.

"From now on, the healthier channel will be the one which generates new success, rather than relying on old," the ITV Network Centre said sniffily.

Greg Dyke, chief executive of LWT, was – typically – more bullish about the whole affair. "There was a time when the BBC was a breeding ground for new popular programmes and new talent, but these days it is increasingly relying on poaching ITV staff and ITV shows," he remarked – presumably alluding to Granada Television's director of programmes David Liddiment's decision to move to the Beeb.

However miffed ITV is about losing This Is Your Life – and it must be to have even bothered issuing press statements about it – it has no room to crow. The Network Centre is quite right to say that the successful channel will develop new talent – but, if its autumn schedule is anything to go by, ITV is not really bothering, with names which have been stuck with the channel for donkeys' years (Dennis Waterman, Cilla Black, Jeremy Beadle) still present plus those usually seen on the BBC (Robbie Coltrane, Stephen Fry, Griff Rhys Jones).

Dyke's comments, we have to say, smacked of sour grapes, given the number of names his company has poached from the BBC in the past, from Bruce Forsyth to Phillip Schofield.

And, of course, it was ITV which quite happily took This Is Your Life from the BBC back in the sixties … and, while Auntie may have been miffed, we can't imagine her being quite as mealy-mouthed about it as ITV has been. A bit of etiquette never hurt anyone.

The Stage 5 August 1993

Yentob plans to woo viewers with talent


Alan Yentob, controller of BBC1, this week signalled an attempt to woo viewers back from ITV with a package of talent-led programmes aimed at mainstream audiences, including Thames Television's This Is Your Life.

Yentob is under increasing pressure to improve his channel's performance in the ratings. Recent weeks have seen BBC1's audience share dip below 30 per cent, and growing awareness of the number of repeats it is playing in prime time has attracted widespread criticism.

While the channel still has a number of hits, it has experienced particular trouble in drama series and in light entertainment.

This was officially acknowledged by director-general John Birt in the Corporation's annual report, in which he branded much of BBC Television's light entertainment output as "formulaic and tired" and admitted that "in general our television drama did not match our aspirations."

Yentob has confirmed a three-year exclusive deal with Angus Deayton, presenter of Hat Trick Productions' BBC2 show Have I Got News For You?, who will front a new factual entertainment series In Search Of Happiness.

Rowan Atkinson will return to BBC1 with an output and development deal through Tiger Aspect Productions, the independent production company in which he holds a stake. The first fruit of the deal will be Heroes and Villains, a comedy drama series.

Following his stand-up shows for Carlton Television, Dave Allen will present six entertainment features independently made by Union Pictures.

Nicholas Lyndhurst will star in Goodnight Sweetheart, a new sitcom from award-winning writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran and part of a renewed output deal with Alomo Productions, while Felicity Kendal will star in Honey For Tea, a new comedy by Michael Aitkens, writer of Waiting For God.

And the BBC has signed a three-year output and development deal with former London weekday ITV contractor Thames Television – believed to be worth £20 million – which includes 'people' show This Is Your Life, which started life on the BBC in the fifties but has spent the last 24 years on ITV.

Yentob would not be drawn on further changes he had planned for BBC1, but denied that he was "not simply getting rid of all our performers."

He explained: "We have shows which work, shows with potential to work and shows which don't work – in which case it is time to do different shows."

When This Is Your Life transfers to BBC1 next year, it is likely to retain its early evening slot – a time at which the channel has found it increasingly difficult to place hits against strong competition from ITV.