Not on your life, mate!
Daily Mail
24 October 2011
Daily Mail: This Is Your Life article
related pages...

Eamonn Andrews

a brief biography

Birth of Life

the genesis of the programme

Eamonn Looks Back

first-hand recollections

Producing Life

the producers who steered the programme's success

Ralph Edwards

the man who created it all

Venues and Sets

the studio look and locations

The Big Red Book

the programme's icon

A Life Refused

those who said 'No'

Danny Blanchflower

Press coverage of the footballer's refusal to participate

It's the show that balances on a tightrope

TV Times interviews footballer Danny Blanchflower

Not on your life

Press coverage of Richard Gordon's 'on air' refusal of the big red book

Eamonn Andrews

Shirley Bassey

Katie Boyle

Donald Caskie

Henry Davies

Thomas Drake

Robert Fawcus

David Frost

Richard Gordon

Sam Kydd

Stanley Matthews

Patrick Moore

David Nixon

Bill Oddie

Francoise Rigby

Henry Starling

Elizabeth Wilde

Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION: How many people refused to accept the Big Red Book in the TV programme This Is Your Life? FOOTBALLER Stanley Matthews was due to feature in the first episode of This Is Your Life on July 29, 1955, but the show was pulled when the Daily Sketch leaked the story and ruined the surprise.

The day was saved when host Eamonn Andrews was presented with the Red Book. Ralph Edwards, who produced the show's US edition, did the honours.

The genial Andrews was a popular host and the series was soon pulling in more than 20 milion viewers a week. Early series mixed celebrity with real-life heroes, including business people, military personnel, the clergy and those who had performed outstanding community or charity service.

Examples included Cromer lifeboatman Henry 'Shrimp' Davies; Henry Starling, a Billingsgate fish market porter; Beth Wilde, a victim of spinal injury apparently healed by faith; Francoise Rigby, a member of the Resistance; Thomas Drake, warden of Queen Elizabeth Home For the Blind; and Donald Caskie, a clergyman who assisted evacuations from occupied France.

A highlight was Eamonn's efforts to surprise celebrities. He disguised himself as an astronaut to meet astronomer Patrick Moore in 1974, grabbed David Frost in 1972 by posing as a wine waiter and was tied in a sack a year later to trap magician David Nixon. He posed as a traffic policeman for Eurovision host Katie Boyle in 1982 and as an airline steward for Shirley Bassey in 1972.

In 43 series with 1,104 subjects, only three have refused to appear, and two of these eventually relented.

In February 1961, Tottenham Hotspur captain Danny Blanchflower was scheduled to appear, but when Andrews headed towards him with the Red Book and said: 'Danny Blanchflower, This is your life!', he simply replied: 'Oh no, it isn't' and walked away.

He later explained: 'I consider this programme an invasion of privacy.' This was a shame, as the free-thinking Ulsterman would have made an excellent subject. He was replaced by Dr Robert Fawcus, a GP based in Chard, Somerset.

The most famous refusal was that of Richard Gordon, author of Doctor In The House.

In the mid-seventies, when the series was produced by Thames TV, several editions went out live. When Gordon heard the catchphrase 'This is your life!' on February 20, 1974, he responded: "Oh, b**ls, it's not."

Viewers were treated to a repeat episode featuring actor and former prisoner-of-war Sam Kydd. [ editor: the Sam Kydd edition was not a repeat]

But Gordon was persuaded by family and friends to appear in a subsequent episode, broadcast on February 28, 1974.

Comedian and naturalist Bill Oddie initially rejected the Red Book in 2002. Footage of the incident was recently shown during Mark Lawson's illuminating BBC4 interview with Oddie.

Oddie was adamant that he would not take part: 'I always said I wouldn't do it, and I won't'.

Michael Aspel's crestfallen look of bemused rejection was a picture. However, Oddie was persuaded to do it by his daughter and the show was broadcast on January 31, 2002.