Is this the end of your life?
The Guardian
1 November 1999
This Is Your Life Big Red Book
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Is this the end of your life?

After receiving a National Television Award last week, Michael Parkinson, who beat much younger chat-show hosts to take a prize, bemoaned television's eagerness to dispense with older presenters and formats. It's true that Parkinson whose return to his interviewing chair has been welcome represents a strong case against format-euthanasia. But another veteran show returning tonight puts the opposing argument. This Is Your Life (tonight, BBC1, 7pm) has survived a switch of presenters from Eamonn Andrews to Michael Aspel and a change of channel from ITV to the BBC, but its bigger problem is a cultural change. The series was created in an age when an attitude of reverence towards celebrities was further encouraged by the fact that relatively little was known about them. The format also depended on the amazement of the audience at television's organisational abilities: the location of a long-lost friend, the provision of airline tickets from Australia and so on.

This Is Your Life, though, still belongs to an age when viewers would tune in merely to see how tall or wide a star really was and what their children looked like. Imagine, for example, a This Is Your Life about David Beckham or Posh Spice or both. As Mel C or Gary Neville stumbled through some pre-scripted anecdote, we would learn less than we already knew from their appearances in other media.

The programme's terminal decline can be precisely dated to the night when the guest surprised was Maureen from the series Driving School. As she had become known only because of a lengthy television series dramatising the interesting details of her life, what did anyone think was left to add? Otherwise, the series has been drawn to minor celebrities who happen to know major ones who might be persuaded to take the stage. Unless the new series offers innovations of format or character, it's time for the book to be closed.