Basil D'OLIVEIRA OBE (1931-2011)

Basil D'Oliveira This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 300
  • Subject No: 302
  • Broadcast live: Wed 17 Mar 1971
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Venue: Euston Road Studios
  • Series: 11
  • Edition: 18

on the guest list...

  • Naomi - wife
  • John Arlott
  • Benny Bansda
  • John Kay
  • Mary Lord
  • Clarence Lord
  • Geoff Boycott
  • Colin Cowdrey
  • Keith Fletcher
  • John Hampshire
  • Peter Lever
  • Ken Shuttleworth
  • John Snow
  • Bob Taylor
  • Derek Underwood
  • Alan Ward
  • Bob Willis
  • Don Wilson
  • Ray Illingworth
  • Ivan - brother
  • Sybil - sister
  • Lewis - father
  • Maria - mother
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Damian - son
  • Shaun - son
  • Tom Graveney

production team...

  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related page...

Life Before Wicket

bowling up the cricketers

Ray Illingworth

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Screenshots of Basil D'Oliveira This Is Your Life

Basil D'Oliveira's autobiography

Basil D'Oliveira recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, Time to Declare...

Perhaps the most memorable non-cricket day was my appearance on This Is Your Life in 1971. Now I always watch that programme whenever possible because I think it's a moving, sentimental occasion and I'm a little bit like that anyway. But I used to say to Naomi, 'I'll never go on that if anyone ever asks you - I'd make a fool of myself.' Anyway, just before I flew out to Australia with the 1970/71 England side, my business adviser and friend, Reg Hayter, told me, 'Play well, Bas, there might be a nice surprise for you when you come back.' I hadn't a clue what he meant, so I thought no more of it. Well when we returned in triumph, Reg met me at the airport and said, 'Well done, I want you to come down to London on Monday to talk business.' This was on Thursday and I told Reg he must be joking. I was going to stay in Worcester with my family for a month. Reg told me that Naomi had approved the trip and I got mad then, because I thought my own family didn't want to see me! Naomi was also at the airport that Thursday and she told me she was quite happy for me to go down again to London so soon after arriving back. I couldn't make out what the hell was going on, I thought there was something very odd happening - especially as Naomi was ill all that weekend with stomach pains (she later told me it was the worry of keeping something from me for the first time in our lives).

Anyway Reg Hayter pulled a master stroke because he told me he'd got tickets for the Henry Cooper/Joe Bugner boxing match on the Tuesday; Reg knew I liked boxing and that I would be tempted to change my mind about going down to London. Unknown to me, Reg and the researcher for This Is Your Life had been at my home while I was playing in Worcester; Naomi was helping them sort out the biographical stuff. All weekend, I was in a state of uncertainty about going to London; it just didn't feel right. Anyway, to Naomi's great relief, I left on the Monday afternoon - that meant she could be picked up by brother, Ivan, who lived at Leicester, then taken down to London to stay in a hotel with all my family and friends who'd been flown over from South Africa. But Naomi took the precaution of getting our home telephone disconnected, in case anybody answered my call and blurted out that she had gone to London. So I was phoning all Monday night, all next day and even from the press box at the big fight on Tuesday night - but there was no reply from home, in fact the phone had gone dead. I was out of my mind with worry yet Reg kept saying, 'Don't worry, keep calm.' I was getting madder and madder.

On the Wednesday Reg told me I had to be at Lord's at six o'clock for an MCC dinner. I said, 'What for? I've done my job in Australia, why bother me now?' Reg gave me some flannel about it being a special dinner laid on to wish me well, etc, etc. I was always susceptible to flattery! By this time I was frantic with worry about Naomi and the kids and Reg also had a problem - how to keep me sober. He and I always have a few drinks when we meet up and as far as I was concerned, this time was no different, provided I could find out what was wrong at home. Reg said to me at lunchtime, 'I think we'll have a Turkish bath, Basil.' That was the daftest idea I'd ever heard from him, especially as El Vino's was open in Fleet Street, where we often used to meet. He had a terrible time persuading me to go to the RAC Club but finally I started taking pity on him, I thought he was going round the twist. I humoured him and Reg said we could stay in the bath till 5 o'clock when my old mate, Peter Smith (now cricket writer for the Daily Mail) would pick us up and drive us to Lord's. I seriously started to doubt Reg's sanity when he told me he was going to buy me a new shirt for the meeting at Lord's! I kept telling him there was nothing wrong with my red shirt, yet Reg swore blind that a nice, new white one would be better. Unknown to me, the TV boys had told Naomi to get me in a white shirt because red wouldn't look good on the screen - that's one little ploy of theirs that failed.

So we got to the RAC Club and had a sauna and Reg took an eternity getting dressed. 'Reg, come on', I said, 'you're like a bloody old woman, what's up with you?' By this time, it was only 4.30 and he could see I was getting distinctly fed up, and that I was also distinctly sober. Yet, just to waste a little more time, the following conversation ensued:

'Basil, tell me about your father'

'What the hell for? Are you feeling all right?'

'Just talk a little about your father'

'But Reg, we never talk about my father, we always talk sport'

I was beginning to think he was certifiable but what he was trying to do was to jog my memory for the programme that night - and also waste some precious minutes. By this time, it was five o'clock and Peter Smith turned up to take us to Lord's for the appointed hour of six. By 5.20, we were very near the Clarendon Court Hotel at Edgware Road, where all the county cricketers stay and I wanted to pop in to see some of our friends behind the bar and in the restaurant. Peter stopped for petrol. I noticed that his tank was half-full, but he said he needed to fill up for a long journey. He stood chatting for five more minutes with the forecourt attendant and I was getting very restless. Peter and Reg were still trying to kill time and to keep me away from the Clarendon Court Hotel, because all the England tour party would probably be there having a drink before going to the TV studios for the programme.

I was dying for a drink now and they agreed to stop. They took me to the dingiest pub I've ever seen, where we sat drinking gins and tonics. I was convinced I was the only sane man round the table by that time - a conviction that strengthened when we got to Lord's and they both dashed out of the car before I could catch my breath. So I sat back and thought, 'That's a fine couple of friends I've got here - I'm stuck in the dark and don't know what the hell's going on.' They'd gone ahead to warn Eamonn Andrews and the rest that we'd arrived. We walked in, I said hello to a few MCC officials and then Eamonn Andrews turned around and said, 'This is your life'. Well, I could have died; in that old cliche, you could have knocked me down with a feather. After I'd recovered from the shock and brandished a friendly fist at Reg and Peter, I had to break the news to Eamonn; I wasn't going on the show. Eamonn said would I please come in the car with him to the studios and that if I was still adamant, he wouldn't press me. There was just an hour to go and poor old Eamonn was obviously sweating inside. We got to the studio at 6.40 and Eamonn got out of the car with these words, 'Basil, I respect your wishes - but once you find out who's inside that studio, you'll be an awfully disappointed man if you turn me down.' A shrewd move, that. I pondered my fate for five minutes, then a girl researcher came out and said, 'Are you coming in, Mr D'Oliveira?' I agreed and it felt worse than walking out to face the Aussies at Melbourne. After a large, stiff drink, the show was under way and I loved it, even though I was sure I'd break down and cry. John Arlott was there and from South Africa there was Benny Bansda, my sister, my parents and other friends. John Kay walked in, and Mr and Mrs Lord, my friends from Middleton - it was a very warm, sentimental occasion. And it was topped off by one little piece of film.

When they researched the programme they asked Naomi if I'd like to see one particular thing that I've always missed. Well, she and my sons still went to church, even though I'd lapsed by that time. I was nevertheless very proud that Damian and Shaun sang in the church choir, even though I'd never seen that. Naomi told the researcher that it would be lovely to see my two boys in their cassocks singing in the church choir. They went down to their school, told the headmistress they were filming a documentary on school choirs and got permission to film in the church. But Damian and Shaun weren't told the real reason for the film, because they would probably have let the cat out of the bag. So the film director had to make sure that my two sons led the choir out when it was time to shoot the film! I was knocked out when I saw that piece of film, I was so proud. A good job the programme was nearly at an end because I was ready to fold up.

Incidentally, the boys didn't know I was on the TV until Barbara, our next-door neighbour, called them into her house at 7 o'clock to watch the show.

I couldn't get over the secrecy involved, the amount of planning. All my family in South Africa had to get permission to have some time off work but they couldn't give the real reason, in case it was leaked to the South African press and then it would get out over here. My family weren't even allowed out of their hotel in London, because of the rare chance that they might bump into me in the street! So if anyone ever tells you that This Is Your Life is a bit of a hoax, don't you believe it.

Roy Bottomley This Is Your Life book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

As South Africa returns to the world sporting stage, few stories could be more moving than that of Basil D'Oliveira, whom we surprised in the Long Room at Lords on 17 March 1971, on England's triumphant return from Australia after winning the Ashes for the first time in twelve years.

For the Cape Coloured South African, prevented by law from playing for his own country, it was a particularly personal triumph.

Years earlier, listening to the commentaries of John Arlott, Basil, a total stranger, had written to him for advice. It took two years but John, thanks to his cricketing contacts in the Central Lancashire League, got Basil taken on by the Middleton club. From there he went on to a glorious career with Worcestershire and England. Small wonder John was a little damp of eye that night.

Basil D'Oliveira This Is Your Life

Series 11 subjects

Bob Hope | Vidal Sassoon | Talbot Rothwell | Mike and Bernie Winters | Joe Brown | Patrick Campbell | Bobby Moore
Robert Soutter | Graham Hill | Sandy Powell | Edward Woodward | Moira Lister | Dickie Henderson | Wilfred Pickles
Kenny Ball | Marjorie Proops | Basil D'Oliveira | Clive Dunn | Peter Noone | Monica Dickens | Jon Pertwee
Lionel Jeffries | Adam Faith | Googie Withers | Matt Busby