The time of their Lives
Leicester Mercury
25 July 2020
Leicester Mercury: This Is Your Life article
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Stars celebrated their family roots as This Is Your Life came to UK television screens 65 years ago

CLUTCHING the famous Big Red Book, Eamonn Andrews would lie in wait for unsuspecting celebrities and surprise them by suddenly appearing and announcing: "This is your life". They would then be whisked to the TV studio to meet various friends and family who were all in on the secret.

The show was filmed in front of a studio audience and was often packed with emotion, as faces from the past were sometimes flown halfway around the world to take part in the programme.

The element of surprise was a big part of the show's success and programmes were cancelled if the celebrity realised what was happening during the planning stages.

The show was based on the American series of the same name and launched on the BBC on July 30, 1955, with genial Irishman Eamonn as the host. [ editor: The first programme aired on 29 July 1955 with Ralph Edwards as the host]

He presented more than 500 episodes with Michael Aspel later taking over the helm.

Comedian Ted Ray, footballing legend Sir Stanley Matthews, circus owner Billy Smart, British speed record holder Donald Campbell and Dame Vera Lynn were among the early guests in the 1950s.

The programme was being watched by more than 20 million viewers a week when it moved to ITV and Dame Joan Collins, Beatles record producer George Martin and Hollywood star Stewart Granger were featured in the 1980s. Not everyone was pleased to see Eamonn walking towards them though. Footballer Danny Blanchflower was the first person to refuse to appear. He walked off, declaring it "an invasion of privacy." Eamonn was the star of the show himself when he received his own Big Red Book and he, Honor Blackman, Bob Monkhouse and Dora Bryan all had the distinction of appearing not once, but twice. Comedy stars Bob Hope and Dudley Moore were the only celebrities, however, deemed worthy enough for a two-part special of the show.

Eamonn presents actress Joan Collins, pictured with her father Joe Collins on his 80th birthday, with the Big Red Book in 1982.

DUBLINER Eamonn Andrews was the All-Ireland Juvenile Boxing Champion growing up and at 16 he was the boxing commentator for Radio Eirran.