Magic Moments
TV Times
29 July 2016
TV Times: This Is Your Life article
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Birth of Life

the genesis of the programme

Ralph Edwards

the man who created it all

New Lease of Life

the programme's relaunch

Producing Life

the producers who steered the programme's success

Life Second Time Around

surprised again!

Eamonn Andrews

Arthur Askey

Shirley Bassey

Billy Connolly

Alex Higgins

Denis Law

Joe Loss

Stanley Matthews

Freddie Mills

Great memories from this week in TV history

61 Years Ago

'Eamonn Andrews, this is your life...'

For once, Eamonn Andrews was lost for words. Sitting in the audience at BBC Television Centre [ editor: it was actually BBC Television Theatre] to watch British TV's first This Is Your Life, he'd been led to believe that the man next to him, boxer Freddie Mills, was going to be the inaugural 'victim', a last-minute substitute after the original choice, footballer Stanley Matthews, had been tipped off by the Daily Sketch.

Ralph Edwards, the host and creator of the US version of the show, was acting as master of ceremonies and came towards them. 'Ralph rattled off a few comments about Freddie, then handed the book to me and said, "Here, you read it",' Eamonn recalled. 'I was only too eager. "This is your life... oh blimey!" For there, staring at me, was my own name!'

Eamonn, best known at the time as the presenter of the panel game What's My Line? had already been contracted to present future editions of the show. First, though, he was to get a taste of life on the other side. 'It went so fast. I was in a daze.'

The avuncular Irishman went on to host This Is Your Life for 27 years – nine with the BBC and 18 with ITV – until his death in 1987, when Michael Aspel replaced him.

During that time, he donned myriad disguises to catch his subjects unawares, from an airline steward for Shirley Bassey to a giant Easter Egg for Arthur Askey.

In 1974, he joined a select band to receive the big red book twice. 'When my wife Grainne came on, I could see a flicker of anxiety, trying to assess whether I was pleased or not,' he recalled. 'She can rest assured, I was mightily pleased.'


To preserve secrecy, the team used code names for their subjects. Some were based on a former occupation – one-time oil platform worker Billy Connolly, for example, was known as 'Rig' - but usually they were a pun or word association. Denis Law, for instance, was 'Barrister', Joe Loss was 'Found' and Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins was 'Gale'. The one person never to have had a code was Eamonn. 'There would have been no point,' producer Malcolm Morris told TV Times. 'As soon as he saw it on the planning board, he'd have asked, "Who's that?"'