End of an era as Aspel closes his big red book
This Is Your Life Big Red Book
related pages...

Eamonn Andrews

a brief biography

Michael Aspel

a career review

The Big Red Book

the programme's icon

Birth of Life

the genesis of the programme

New Lease of Life

the programme's relaunch

Venues and Sets

the studio look and locations

Ronnie Corbett

Simon Cowell

Jimmy Tarbuck

The Guardian: This Is Your Life article

The Guardian 3 June 2003

End of an era as Aspel closes his big red book

Mark Oliver

It was the end of a television era last night when presenter Michael Aspel announced that his days of ambushing stars with his big red book were over and he is quitting This Is Your Life.

While recording a show on pop's "Mr Nasty", Simon Cowell, at Teddington studios in London, Aspel, 70, told the audience: "I have been hosting the programme for 15 years and I am closing the book for the last time this evening."

Reports last month had claimed the 48-year-old programme was facing the axe after being spurned by younger celebrities, including Oasis star Noel Gallagher, who reportedly told producers to "stuff your red book".

However, the BBC insisted last night that the show had a future and it had asked producer Thames Television to revamp the format, which could include ditching the red book.

"The world of celebrity has moved on and we are looking at different ways of tackling this subject," a BBC spokesman told the Guardian last month.

Lorraine Heggessey, the controller of BBC1, praised Aspel, saying he "has done a fantastic job and created many memorable programmes with his red book." She added: "He continues an important role on BBC1 as the presenter of one of our longest running and most successful programmes, the Antiques Roadshow."

Viewers will see Apel as presenter of This Is Your Life until the summer.

BBC News Online 3 June 2003

Aspel closes big red book

Presenter Michael Aspel has quit long-running TV show This Is Your Life, amid uncertainty about the programme's future.

Aspel was recording a programme with pop music mogul Simon Cowell when he announced he was leaving.

"I have been hosting the programme for 15 years and I am closing the book for the last time this evening," he told the audience at Teddington Studios, south-west London, on Monday.

Based on a US format, the show is one of the longest-running on British television, having first started on the BBC in 1955 with Eamonn Andrews.

The programme's host - carrying its trademark big red book - surprises a celebrity, then takes them back to a studio for a discussion about their life, where they are reunited with old colleagues and family members.

It was axed in 1964, but Andrews fronted a revival on ITV in 1969, made by Thames Television.

The show clocked up huge ratings in the 1970s and 1980s, pulling in up to 20 million viewers.

It was thought the programme would end after Eamonn Andrews died in 1987, but it continued with Aspel as host.

Falling ratings

However, the show fell out of favour with ITV in the early 1990s, and Thames took it to BBC One in 1994.

Reports had suggested the programme was under threat, because of falling ratings and the reported refusal of younger celebrities to appear on the show.

But the BBC said it had merely asked Thames to refresh the format.

Aspel, 70, is one of the UK's best-known broadcasters, having begun his career as a radio actor for the BBC in Cardiff in 1954.

After that he became a newsreader for the BBC, and went on to host a variety of programmes for both the BBC and ITV, as well as on radio.

DAILY MAIL 3 June 2003

Aspel, 70 to quit This Is Your Life

Michael Aspel announced last night he was quitting as presenter of This Is Your Life after 15 years.

He made the announcement after filming the last episode in the current series.

It is believed he decided to go after the BBC said that This Is Your Life would be overhauled or scrapped.

The show, now 48 years old, is struggling to convince young stars to take part. Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher is said to have told the BBC when approached: 'Stuff your red book.' Mr Aspel, 70, who has worked for the BBC since 1954, revealed he was leaving after a show with Pop Idol judge Simon Cowell. He took over the programme from Eamonn Andrews in 1988.

He told the guests, film crew and audience at the studio in Teddington, South-West London: 'I am closing the book for the last time.' BBC 1 controller Lorraine Heggessey said: 'Michael has done a fantastic job. He continues as a presenter of The Antiques Roadshow.'

The Sun 3 June 2003


TV'S Michael Aspel last night quit This Is Your Life after 15 years. Aspel, 70 - recording a show with pop's Mr Nasty Simon Cowell - said: "I'm closing the book for the last time."

He made the announcement at the end of the show's recording in Teddington Studios, South-West London. BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey said: "Michael's done a fantastic job."

Viewers will watch him presenting shows until later this summer.

Reports earlier suggested the series - originally hosted by Eamonn Andrews - was under threat. But the BBC claimed it just wanted a fresh format.

The Mirror 7 June 2003


IT WAS while sitting in a celebrity-packed restaurant (I was a food critic at the time, but had to retire after getting carried away one night and accidentally eating my own tongue) that I realised what the key is to showbiz success. Sincerity.

Yes, if you can fake sincerity at will, you've got it made, especially if you're feigning astonishment at the oh-so-unexpected arrival of Michael Aspel and his big red book.

Just in case you didn't know, it's been confirmed to me by insiders that more than 80 per cent of This Is Your Life's victims know in advance about their "ambush" (they're usually informed by their spouse or a close friend). So there's no actual adrenalin rush when the encounter takes place and the ritual has become so predictable Aspel has decided to quit.

"I've been hosting the programme for 15 years and I am closing the book for the last time this evening," he told his audience this week, apparently disillusioned by the number of celebs who won't agree to appear.

Even Noel Gallagher had told him where to "stuff his red book" - when fading rock stars are turning the show down, euthanasia seems the kindest option.

How different it all seemed back in the 60s and 70s when Eamonn Andrews was in charge and a glimpse into a celebrity's private life was an enthralling rarity.

Brandishing a red book was all the rage back then (Chairman Mao tried his own version in China, if I remember rightly).

But there's been a cultural revolution since then and nowadays most celebs are only too eager (or desperate) to share their wonderful lives with anyone who'll point a camera at them.

In an age of Hello! magazine and wall-to-wall celebrity lifestyle programmes, This Is Your Life no longer has a USP. And sadly, what was once a rattling good show is now in the throes of its death rattle.

Of course, it's always been formulaic because every week for almost 50 years a Worthy, a Luvvy, a Ratty or a Sporty has passed through the hallowed studio portal to receive the sort of embarrassingly gushing tributes usually reserved for funerals.

The Worthies were the dullest, having been chosen because they ran a donkey sanctuary or had an electronic kazoo fitted to their "trake" hole as a result of a "brave struggle with cancer". Luvvies were little better. Usually nonagenarian actresses well into their anecdotage, they told stories about "dear sweet Noel" (Coward, or sometimes Gordon, but seldom Gallagher), but at least they'd usually attract a few genuine celebs.

Ratties were minor stars who belonged to the Water Rats and did a lot of work for charity without telling anybody about it (yet somehow we always did know about it).

And Sporties spent half their time telling us they'd never taken steroids and the other half proving that their talent for running very fast and jumping very high didn't extend to a talent for being even remotely interesting.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is an accurate summary of every edition of the show since 1955.

Could anything save it now? Not if its survival means another decade of Ronnie Corbett and Jimmy Tarbuck turning up again and again to tell us about their pro-celebrity golf tournaments.

Maybe if someone came on once in a while and said "he's always been a miserable bastard" that would help.

But it takes more than a single drop of vinegar to neutralise the saccharine sweetness of an entire vat of syrup.