Charles COLLINGWOOD (1943-)

Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 1112
  • Subject No: 1088
  • Broadcast date: Thu 13 Feb 2003
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Wed 29 Jan 2003 10.00pm
  • Venue: Teddington Studios
  • Series: 43
  • Edition: 7
  • Code name: Cricket

on the guest list...

  • cast members of The Archers
  • Judy Bennett - wife
  • Toby - son
  • Jane - daughter
  • Barney - son
  • Angela Piper
  • Caroline Lennon
  • Angela Rippon
  • Michael Buerk
  • Mary Correll
  • Jeremy Cox
  • Richard Gould
  • Nigel Dempster
  • Richard Stilgoe
  • Bernard Manning
  • Peter Skellern
  • Henry Sandon
  • Sarah - daughter-in-law
  • Amber - granddaughter
  • Ciaous - grandson
  • Steph - daughter-in-law
  • Olivia - granddaughter
  • Megan - granddaughter
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Wendy Richard
  • Mike Earls-Davis
  • Ronald Pickup

production team...

  • Researcher: Kate Greer
  • Writer: Joe Steeples
  • Director: John Gorman
  • Associate Producer: Helen Gordon-Smith
  • Series Producer: Jack Crawshaw
  • Producer: Sue Green
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...
Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life

Screenshots of Charles Collingwood This Is Your Life

Charles Collingwood's autobiography

Charles Collingwood recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, Brian and Me...

Having been in the studio until the day before my hip operation, I wasn't due back at work for nearly three weeks, by which time I was mobile but still had to be driven everywhere by Judy. On 10 January 2003, I was still hobbling around, but we decided it was time to give our first dinner party since the op and we invited eight people, including Jane, who lived in Pimlico at the time.

That morning, my agent Natasha Stevenson was called by the BBC This Is Your Life team, who told her they wanted to do a programme on me and asked how they might get in touch with Judy.

'I represent his daughter as well,' said my quick-thinking agent. 'If I tell Jane, she can tell her mother, so there won't be any suspicious phone calls.'

Natasha rang Jane, who was thrilled. 'I'm seeing Mum tonight,' she said. 'I'll tell her then.'

That evening, Judy and I were pouring our guests drinks in the drawing room when Jane arrived. She walked in and could barely manage, 'Hello' before saying, 'Mummy, I've got something in my eye, can you help me? I've got something in my eye.'

Somewhat surprised, Judy said, 'Darling, you're twenty-three years of age, calm down.'

'Please, Mummy, please.' She was suddenly eleven again.

'Jane, I've got a lot of cooking to do and I'm entertaining our guests,' Judy muttered rather irritably. 'Just go and look in the mirror.'

But Jane was having none of it, and dragged Judy out of the room still moaning, 'I've got something in my eye.'

In the kitchen, she dropped the act, and said, 'Mummy, sit down.' Judy was getting increasingly cross.

'Mummy they're doing Daddy on This Is Your Life.'

Apparently Judy shot out of the chair, threw both arms in the air and then did a dance with Jane, singing, 'Yes, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.' Jane quickly told her that it had to be kept from me – because she knew her mother's instinct was to burst in on our guests and say 'Guess what everybody?' Poor Judy!

What followed were the most nerve-wracking three weeks of her life, in which she lied to me constantly. Luckily, because of my hip, I was under orders to go out for an hour's walk every day, so Judy used the time I was out of the house to make numerous phone calls and give the BBC names and addresses.

In an attempt to maintain secrecy, there was always a password for each This Is Your Life subject. When the production team rang anybody, they never used names, just the password - mine was 'cricket' - and family and friends were told this in advance. It was all very cloak and dagger, and all this secrecy meant that Judy went through weeks of torment.

I remember how puzzled I was that we had been invited to a number of dinner parties and they all cancelled. I began to worry and said to Judy, 'What's going on? Why is everybody pulling out of those dinner parties?'

In fact, they had all rung Judy, saying they were terrified that after two or three drinks they would let something slip.

On the day before the show Judy drove me up to Birmingham and we stayed at our usual hotel. On the morning of 29 January, she dropped me at the BBC, I got out of the car with my stick and hobbled off to the studio, and Judy drove back home to London. At last she knew she wouldn't have to see me again until we were at the This Is Your Life studio that night, and later she told me, 'As I dropped you off, I drove up the street, shouting, "Thank God! It's not my problem any more!"'

Sadly, two days earlier, Angela Piper's father had died, aged ninety-eight. She loved him dearly and was deeply upset when her husband called the studio, while we were recording, so I spent the next two days saying to the producer, 'She doesn't have to come up for the Wednesday recording. Let's do her scenes at a later date.'

'No, really, Charles, she wants to come,' I was told and I thought, 'Fair enough, perhaps it would help her to take her mind off it all.' That Wednesday, Angie arrived for the last episode of the day, which was due to finish at seven o'clock. We only had two scenes together, so I took the producer to one side and suggested, 'Let's do Angie's scenes first so she can go home.'

'No, no,' he said. 'I want to do both your scenes last.' 'How callous can you be?' I thought.

Those of us in that episode had been told that, on that day, there would be television cameras there to film a scene from the producers' gallery, which they did from time to time, for the BBC archives, so I didn't give them a moment's thought. I also saw various people wandering in and out the studio, but they were appointing a new producer at the time, so I assumed it was part of the interview process. Of course, when I mentioned it to the other actors they just agreed with me because they were all in on it.

Unusually, our editor Vanessa had asked me to come up to her office for a cup of tea that day. 'You've had so much to do in The Archers in the last year,' she explained. 'I'd really love your input into how you feel the programme is going.' Flattered, I did as I was bid and sat for the best part of an hour while Vanessa asked me various questions. Occasionally the phone would ring and she would apologise, tell the caller she was busy, and carry on. We had some tea and eventually she dismissed me with a 'Thank you, Charles, that's absolutely fascinating, I'm really grateful.'

I went away thinking, 'Well, nobody's ever asked my opinion before, I must be important.' It turned out the only reason I was in Vanessa's office was so that they could film the preamble to the show with Michael Aspel, and as long as she had me trapped in there, I wasn't going to bump into him.

Apparently, as I left Vanessa's office, Angela Piper was coming along the passage with her cocktail frock and she had to dive into a script cupboard so I wouldn't see her! I was oblivious to it all. The strangest thing, however, was that some of the cast were hanging around. Normally, when we've finished our episodes, we are out that door like bats out of hell.

'Why are you still here?' I asked Barry Farrimond, who plays young Ed Grundy.

'I'm meeting my sister for a drink,' he said, which was fair enough.

I did notice that whenever I spoke to Richard Attlee (Kenton) he went bright red, but some people do, don't they?

We came to the last episode of the day, and Angela Piper and I were in the studio, me with my stick. Rather thoughtfully, the director, Kerry Davies, said, 'Charles, we've got the cameras filming you. Why don't you put your stick down? You don't want to be seen with a stick, I'm sure.'

So I put the stick down, did the scene and we were just about to leave for the day when Kerry caught us at the studio door and said, 'Angie, Charles, I'm so sorry, but it's such a good scene, would you mind if we just did it once more? We'd just like to bring the cameras into the studio so that they can film you both in close-up?'

The camera was set up, and the director said, 'Action' and we started replaying the scene where Brian is fighting to keep his life with Jennifer together and saying, 'Jennifer I didn't mean it...'

'Brian, you dare look at me like that again, you think...'

'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, darling.'

We got about a page in when, suddenly, there was a terrible commotion. I heard the studio door banging, and my first thought was, 'Oh my God! Some nutter who's got a thing about unfaithful men has got past the security and he's going to kill me!' It all happened so fast. I put my hand out behind me and felt cashmere and, I promise you, in that moment I thought, 'Nutters don't wear cashmere!' At that point I looked up and saw the iconic bright red book and Michael Aspel's face beaming above it.

'Charles Collingwood,' he was saying, 'This is your life.'

It's not often I'm lost for words, but all I could come up with was, 'What? I don't believe it! You're kidding!'

'We've got a car outside to take you to the studio, where your family are waiting to have a big party,' he continued. 'Are you happy?'

'Yes, of course,' I replied. Vanessa, the producers and all the actors who hadn't gone home were gathered round. 'But it's seven o'clock. Where are we going?'

'Teddington,' said Michael.

'Teddington!' That's over 100 miles from Birmingham.

'We start filming at quarter past ten,' explained Michael. 'Forgive me, Charles, I've got to go in the car ahead and prepare the script, so I'm off.'

The producer said she would be travelling with me and, as I walked towards the car, with my stick, I asked, 'Can I ring Judy and tell her?' and then it dawned on me. 'Judy already knows, doesn't she?'

'I think Judy knows a little bit about this,' she laughed.

'Yes,' I thought. 'The lying cow!'

'What will I wear?' I asked.

'I'm sure you'll find that's all taken care of.'

And so we sped down the M40 across to the studios at Teddington, got there about nine o'clock, and I was taken round the back of the TV studios to the dressing room, where I found all my best clothes, suits and jackets, my favourite ties and all the things Judy knew I might want to wear. There was a TV monitor, a bowl of fruit, some sandwiches and a bottle of champagne and, I can't be sure, but I've got a feeling that as soon as I was inside, they locked the door so I couldn't escape. They don't want to risk people running away or trying to find out who else is in the building.

I sat there, trying to come to terms with the madness of it all, watching a nature programme on the TV that was full of animals shagging. 'I can't get away from infidelity,' I thought.

Eventually they were ready for me and I left my dressing room and limped, leaning on my stick, to the side of the stage, where Michael was standing with the producer.

'I don't want to have my stick now,' I said to the producer. 'How far is it from the big doors to the chair?'

'Twelve paces,' she answered.

'Michael, you won't walk too fast, will you?' I asked.

'Charles, it's your show,' he assured me. 'You walk at any pace you like.' What a gentleman.

When the music started playing and those famous doors slid open, I was overwhelmed. There was an enormous cheer; it seemed that hundreds of people had turned out at quarter past ten at night, for me. There were even people there whom I hadn't seen since school. No sooner had I sat down than I was joined by my darling (devious) Judy, along with Toby, Jane and Barney, who'd come all the way from the Sierra Nevada in Spain.

Friends and colleagues came on to say their piece, including Michael Buerk who described me as 'the last remaining true Englishman, from a gentler age, forever in a cravat!' Some were on film, including Wendy Richard, bless her heart, and Ronnie Pickup, with whom I had been at RADA.

Quite the biggest surprise was Bernard Manning. I hadn't seen him for nearly twenty years. He didn't say hello, he shuffled on, and said. 'Those see-through wigs are marvellous, Charles!'

I asked him if he was well, and he quipped, 'No, I've one pill for my heart, another pill for my diabetes, a pill for me brain, a pill for me back and a pill for me stomach. I wake up every morning, I nudge me elbow sideways and if I don't feel wood I get up.'

In 1981, during the run of Under Manning, the series I had done with Bernard, Judy and I had on one occasion been at the Embassy Club as his guests and, after a bottle of champagne, had been hauled up on stage to 'busk it' with Bernard for twenty minutes (not for the faint-hearted). At the end of my 'tribute' on This Is Your Life, Bernard said 'Thoroughly deserved, you've done really well, Charles, I'm very proud of you. You'll never make any fucking money, but...' Which had to be edited out. Then he finished with, 'It's lovely to see your family and lovely to see Judy looking so gorgeous - better than that old slag you used to bring up to the Embassy Club!'

Judy and I cried with laughter, the whole place rocked. We knew he was poking fun at Judy, but quite a lot of my first wife's friends thought he was referring to her. Oops!

Two weeks after the broadcast, Judy and I were at a Variety Club lunch at the Grosvenor House Hotel, with 2,000 people and, between courses, I popped out for a pee. On my way to the loo, a voice behind me was calling, 'Charles! Charles!' I turned round and there was Ronnie Corbett, whom I had never met before.

'Charles,' he said. 'I just want to tell you that your This Is Your Life had more humour and sincerity than any I've ever seen.'

Now, he really is famous so that compliment was the icing on the cake for me.

Series 43 subjects

David Dickinson | Mo Mowlam | Gillian Taylforth | Mike Rutherford | John McArdle | Elmer Bernstein | Charles Collingwood
Jonathan Davies | Elizabeth Pescops | George Best | Lisa Maxwell | Roger Cook | Bob Monkhouse | Nicholas Winton
Anthony Andrews | Alex Norton | John Bardon | Simon Cowell | Alec Stewart | Vic Armstrong | Chris Bonington
John Middleton | Bob Harris | Gyles Brandreth | Aled Jones