True Lives: Eamonn
This Is Your Life Big Red Book
related pages...

Eamonn Andrews

a brief biography

A Life Remembered

tributes to the original presenter

The Legend That Was Eamonn Andrews

a celebration to mark the presenter's centenary year

Eamonn Andrews

Eamonn's first appearance as a subject of This Is Your Life

Eamonn Andrews by Tom Brennand

Press reviews of the former scriptwriter's new book

Muhammad Ali

Diana Dors

Terry Wogan

Sunday Times 13 October 2002

Leading light

BYLINE: Liam Fay

Eamonn Andrews was Ireland's first big television star. But as a new documentary discovers, he had no dark secrets, writes LIAM FAY

At its peak, Eamonn Andrews' television career was almost derailed because he'd become too famous. In the early 1960s, he was forced to abandon plans for a series of interviews with major literary figures because none was prepared to risk being outshone by his dazzling celebrity.

Playwright Sean O'Casey refused to participate in the proposed show unless he could interview Andrews.

Literature is, ultimately, a bid for eternal life. Its practitioners are engaged in a fight not to the death but to the hereafter. It's a measure, therefore, of the culture shock of television's initial impact that even the most venerated shamen of letters were so jealous and fearful of the nascent medium and its best-known luminary. They seemed to believe that Andrews had discovered a short cut to immortality.

Brendan Behan said as much when he was interviewed by Andrews in a 1962 BBC TV special called Meet The Quare Fella, the success of which sparked the ill-fated plan for a series of literary encounters.

Behan, who would die from chronic alcoholism within two years, spoke with candour and wit about his life and what he may have sensed was impending death. As always, of course, the relentlessly upbeat Andrews was determined to avoid any unnecessary gloom. "None of us is quite sure where we're going," he concluded, in the urbane and reassuring tones which were his trademark.

"You are," Behan retorted. "You're quite sure you're not going to die. Anyone who appears on television as often as you is of the opinion he's going to live to 150."

Andrews was British television's first superstar. He was also the first Irish superstar of the television age. For over three decades, his name, voice and face were among the most instantly recognisable in these islands. Since his death in 1987 at the age of 65, however, he has largely been forgotten or, at best, remembered only dimly as the grinning host of This Is Your Life, the TV series with which he was most closely associated.

The airbrushing of Andrews from the broadcasting annals is about to be at least partially redressed by Eamonn, an affectionate tribute film by Mint Productions which launches the welcome return of RTE's True Lives documentary strand. Prime Time anchor Miriam O'Callaghan, who runs Mint Productions with her husband Steve Carson, worked as a researcher on This Is Your Life during the 1980s, and has long been eager to see Irish television acknowledge Andrews's contribution to our cultural history.

Though more rose-tinted than it needs to be, the documentary charts Andrews's undeniably pivotal role in the evolution of Irish national self-assurance and, more specifically, his status as an inspiration for generations of aspiring broadcasters, chief among them an ambitious young blade called Gay Byrne. The film is also a meditation on the ephemeral nature of modern celebrity. By his own admission, Andrews was among the first media personalities to become famous for being famous, a phenomenon he was to celebrate with dwindling enthusiasm throughout his career.

The eldest of five children, Andrews grew up in Dublin's Synge Street and educated by the Christian Brothers. From an early age, he wanted to be "known" (in those days, the term famous was reserved for the megastardom of Hollywood) and identified broadcasting as the quickest route. A champion boxer in adolescence, he wasted no time in parlaying himself into a gig as a boxing commentator with RTE radio.

Irish broadcasters like Byrne and Terry Wogan would subsequently achieve a great deal more in their careers than Andrews did in his, yet both insist they would never have had the confidence to enter the profession without his trailblazing example.

When these wannabes started out in the late 1950s, they entered a world governed by a grammar and logic which Andrews had pioneered and perfected. A decade earlier, Andrews had been the barbarian at the gate. Having learned his chops in the RTE sports department, he moved to London in 1950 determined to make his name. With the fortuitous timing that was to mark his early career, he finally landed a job with the BBC at precisely the moment the corporation realised the plummy tones of its traditional broadcasters were striking a discordant note in the more meritocratic post-war era.

Andrews spoke in the native accent of a region which doesn't exist on any map. Inaccurately dubbed mid-Atlantic by some, his accent actually started out as a gauche attempt at a facsimile of standard BBC pronunciation. He was born with one of those resonant, authoritative voices that commands attention, a natural gift burnished by elocution classes. Yet it was the soft Dublin inflections and homely burrs which impressed BBC bosses.

Andrews quickly established himself on British sports radio and the quiz Ignorance is Bliss. In 1951, he was selected to host What's My Line?, BBC television's first foray in what were termed parlour games. Adapted from an American format in which a celebrity panel tries to guess the occupations of contestants, the show was an overnight sensation. In 1955, Andrews was chosen to present This Is Your Life, a light-hearted biographical tribute show also imported from America.

Within a few years, Andrews was Britain's highest-paid television performer. Yet he remained insecure and rarely declined any offer of work. He even dabbled in children's programming, working as a presenter on afternoon shows such as Crackerjack.

His instinctive insecurities turned out to be well-founded, as BBC mandarins began to express reservations about what they saw as the unedifying direction in which Andrews and his celebrity-stroking shows were dragging the venerable corporation. This Is Your Life was cancelled. Andrews's failure to bring onboard the mooted series of literary interviews was the last straw, and his BBC contract elapsed in 1964.

Still a hot television property, however, he was snapped up, at an increased salary, by ITV where he hosted World Of Sport and his own nightly celebrity chat series, The Eamonn Andrews Show. But his luck had run out. The attempt to advance from the cosy familiarity of game shows to the jungle of live, late-night TV was a disaster. The format of the new show cruelly exposed Andrews's limitations. A maestro of the one-on-one interview, he proved incapable of controlling a more freewheeling panel discussion. Moreover, his prim disposition left him extremely uncomfortable with the libidinous mood of the swinging sixties. He grew flushed with embarrassment when faced by guests such as sex siren Diana Dors for whom the bawdy double entendre was a form of conversational punctuation.

One of the recurring themes of Eamonn is Andrews's abiding innocence. Behind the scenes, from its earliest days, British television was a hotbed of sex, drugs and relentless debauchery. Yet the deeply religious Dubliner seems not only to have avoided participation in such shenanigans but to have remained oblivious of the fact that they were going on.

Niamh Barrett, who produced and researched the documentary, insists that the real-life Andrews was as advertised; entirely without a dark side. "We started out assuming he must've had secret vices because everyone has," she says. "But there really wasn't any. He had his starry side. He always stayed in the most lavish hotels, no expense spared. He liked to be recognised. He enjoyed his champagne parties. But he was very religious, easily shocked and almost childlike."

The only serious battering Andrews's reputation endured came in 1989, after his death, with the publication of a hostile memoir by Tom Brennand, a television scriptwriter who'd been a consultant on This Is Your Life. Brennand portrayed Andrews as a vain buffoon with few redeeming qualities. The book caused a minor scandal in Ireland and greatly distressed Andrews' family, particularly his wife Grainne, who died in 1989. Yet the Brennand affair isn't mentioned in Eamonn. "It was a scurrilous and very petty book," says Barrett. "The man (Brennand) was almost laughing at Eamonn because he was innocent. He itemised all these little slights and things that annoyed him about Eamonn but they weren't worth mentioning. It just added up to a very bitter picture. So we decided not to bother rehashing any of it."

The final decade of Andrews's life was overshadowed by business difficulties as the entertainment empire he'd built in Dublin crumbled into debt and disarray. Nevertheless, his professional pride was preserved by the fact that he remained in demand as a television presenter.

He hosted Today, the London nightly news magazine, for 10 years. He was also chosen to anchor Top Of The World, an ambitious satellite quiz linking contestants on three continents. Above all, though, he was the man with the red book: This Is Your Life had been revived by Thames Television in 1969 and Andrews continued to front the show until his death.

By then, however, the programme had long since lost its allure. This Is Your Life 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. It thrived in an era when celebrity was almost invariably a mark of achievement. By the late 1980s, this was no longer the case.

"Eamonn had spent his career talking to heavyweights, people of stature and achievement," says Barrett. "He was often overawed by his guests but was really quite happy to let them take central stage. That's why he faded into the background and isn't remembered as vividly as other presenters." Given what passes for celebrity these days, that probably wouldn't have bothered him at all.

True Lives: Eamonn, RTE1, Tuesday, October 22

The News of the World 20 October 2002


BYLINE: Nick Bramhill

TELLY legend Eamonn Andrews suffered a life of bullying and poverty on the mean streets of Dublin before his unique voice won him fame and fortune, a new documentary reveals.

Eamonn, best remembered as the host of TV hit This Is Your Life, was born in 1922 in Dublin's tough Liberties area.

The eldest of five children, painfully-shy Eamonn was bullied ferociously at school.

Although he won a scholarship to a nearby Christian Brothers school in the early '30s, the awkward adolescent still suffered at the hands of bullies.

But his life changed when he took up boxing, after a smaller boy had flattened him with a punch to the nose.

He grew in confidence and teachers soon spotted that the gifted student, who excelled at English, had another unique talent - his silky-smooth speaking voice.

His sister Theresa Durcan recalls: "All the family knew from an early age that Eamonn's voice would play a big part in his life. He was aware he had a gift."

Ambitious Eamonn soon got his big break, after pestering bosses of fledgling Radio Eireann to give him a try-out as a boxing commentator.

He excelled in his new role and soon became the undisputed voice of Irish boxing - as well as becoming junior boxing champ of Dublin five times.

The spotlight will be put on his life in an episode of the highly-acclaimed True Lives series, to be screened at 10.10pm on Tuesday on RTE 1. The documentary charts Eamonn's meteoric rise to become a premier television celebrity.

A programme spokesman said: "On screen Eamonn appeared effortlessly at ease."

"But behind the scenes he remained nervous before every show and perhaps never quite recognised his own abilities."

In the programme another Irish broadcasting legend, Gay Byrne, pays tribute to his hero.

He says: "I think he was the greatest sporting commentator of all time."

"I wanted to be like him, I wanted to BE Eamonn Andrews."

The Mirror 22 October 2002



THIS documentary series returns with a profile of one of Ireland's most famous sons - Eamonn Andrews.

The Dublin man was one of Britain's first television celebrities and was best known for his This Is Your Life.

During his incredible career he met with some of the world's greatest stars.

But as tonight's programme reveals, Andrews was painfully shy and suffered from nerves before every show.

It also tells how he failed to benefit financially from his long working life.

Gay Byrne and other well-known names help to take a look back on the unlikely star.

The People 27 October 2002



BYLINE: Jim Gallagher

HIGHLIGHT: ORDINARY HERO: Eamonn Andrews was a TV icon

HE WAS Ireland's first ever TV superstar and the biggest name on British TV.

For several decades he was THE face of television.

And just to prove it, this documentary only needed to use his first name.

There was only one Eamonn, and his surname was Andrews.

You can forget the Dunphys of the world, this Eamonn was the real thing.

It is quite remarkable that FIFTEEN years after his death the presenter of This Is Your Life is still a household name on both sides of the Irish Sea.

What came across in this programme was just how ordinary Andrews was.

A commuting father, he loved nothing better than to fly home to Dublin after a tough week in London and into the arms of his wife and family.

There were no dark secrets, no skeletons in the cupboard, no drug or vice past.

His only weakness appeared to be the odd glass of champagne.

But his ordinariness was what made him so popular.

A gentle giant, he really was just like you and me - but with a TV voice made in heaven.

He set the standard for upcoming talent and even Gaybo confessed his ambition was to be just like Eamonn.

What was surprising was that Eamonn confessed he was a painfully shy man and would suffer huge nervous attacks before his shows.

"I was painfully shy as a child, literally painfully - I could feel it physically," he said.

"It is such a dreadful thing, shyness, it's something many people suffer from - foolishly, needlessly."

But in fact Eamonn made the job look amazingly easy. And he interviewed everyone from Muhammad Ali to Bing Crosby.

What many younger viewers may not have known was that he was a champion boxer.

When he began working for Radio Eireann as a sports broadcaster, he would fight in the ring and then turn round and commentate on the rest of the night's fights.

It was while covering a fight in America that he first saw the US show This Is Your Life and immediately suggested a British version for the BBC.

The producers made Eamonn himself the subject of the debut show and he cried at the end.

It was the TV series for which he will always be remembered.

His death was front page news across the water with headlines like This Was Your Life.

True Lives: Eamonn was a fitting tribute to one of the giants of the early television era.

He really was, as the show claimed, 'a decent man in an odd job'.