This Is Your Life
Radio Times
28 November 1963
Radio Times: This Is Your Life article Radio Times: This Is Your Life article
Bob Oatway got a surprise when Eamonn Andrews stepped out of his van
Radio Times: This Is Your Life article
Kenneth More being picked up outside a cinema
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Always, split-second timing is needed. Often, hidden cameras. Sometimes, decoys and disguises. It seems appropriate that the last three digits of the This Is Your Life office number at TV Centre should be 003; for the ingenuity used in plotting the surprise 'pick-up' of unsuspecting subjects for the programme is worthy of 007 James Bond ambushing an opponent from SMERSH.

Kenneth More, for example, was invited to make a personal appearance at a cinema in Shepherd's Bush; and concealed cameras picked him up as Eamonn Andrews stepped forward to take him to the Television Theatre a few yards down the street. Circus showman Billy Smart, a celebrity guest on What's My Line?, was asked to go backstage afterwards to have photographs taken, and found himself in front of the This Is Your Life audience.

But for a direct approach, there have been few pick-ups to equal that of the leper missionary, Dr Macdonald, who found the taxi he fondly imagined was taking him to an appointment driving straight through an open door and on to the stage of the theatre.

So well known is the programme that it has become more and more difficult to lure subjects within camera range of Shepherd's Bush without arousing their suspicions; but nowadays the technique of filming a pick up enables it to be staged in all sorts of unlikely places. Many viewers will remember Bob Oatway, who collects rubbish to sell and raise money for children's seaside homes. When the pick-up was made, Eamonn Andrews stepped out of one of Oatway's own rubbish vans.

Then there was Colonel Wintle, who at the time he was chosen as a 'Life' subject was working on a London evening newspaper. His editor asked him to investigate what a BBC-tv outside broadcast camera team was doing on the dockside across the Thames from Fleet Street, and see if there was a worthwhile news story. He went over by boat, climbed the steps to the dock, and was met by Eamonn with: 'There is indeed a story, Colonel – and it's yours!'

If the timing of a pick-up goes wrong, only Eamonn Andrews' gift of the gab can save the situation. A classic instance was the case of Canon Arbuthnott, an eminent This Is Your Life subject who was due to be collected by a carefully briefed taxi-driver and taken to the waiting Eamonn on the pavement outside Television Theatre. But the cabbie arrived a minute early and drove off with the wrong passenger. By the time another taxi had been found and the Canon safely delivered, Eamonn had been talking, with mounting desperation, for five and a half minutes.

And tonight? As always, the men in Room 003 have their fingers crossed.