Esmond KNIGHT (1906-1987)

Esmond Knight This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 27
  • Subject No: 27
  • Broadcast live: Mon 18 Feb 1957
  • Broadcast time: 7.30-8.00pm
  • Venue: King's Theatre, Hammersmith
  • Series: 2
  • Edition: 12

on the guest list...

  • Nora Swinburne - wife
  • Dorothy Rendle
  • Michael Shepley
  • Balliol Holloway
  • Wilson Barrett
  • Michael Buxton
  • Rosalind Knight - daughter
  • Sally Duncan
  • Enid Heyworth
  • Dr Vincent Nesfield
  • Recorded tribute:
  • Capt Charles Knight - uncle

production team...

  • Researchers: Peter Moore, Nigel Ward
  • Writer: Gale Pedrick
  • Director: unknown
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
  • with thanks to Rosalind Knight for her contribution to this page
related pages...

Rosalind Knight, actress and daughter of Esmond Knight, recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in an exclusive interview recorded in March 2011

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Photographs of Esmond Knight This Is Your Life

Esmond Knight recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in the end of the series review programme, Stories behind This Is Your Life, broadcast in June 1957

An extract from the Esmond Knight website...

Towards the end of the 1950s, two events occurred that took Esmond back in time to the day that changed his life - 24th May 1941 - the day he was injured on board HMS Prince of Wales. The first of these took place on 18th February 1957 when Esmond was the subject of a TV programme which is now all too familiar, but in those days was quite new - This Is Your Life.

The man with "the red book" in those days was Eamonn Andrews, and for thirty minutes he talked through Esmond's life and introduced family, friends and colleagues including Balliol Holloway (the actor who worked with Esmond in his early Old Vic days), Nurse Thorday (who had looked after him in hospital in Iceland), Dr Vincent Nesfield (who had restored his sight), Enid Hayworth (the matron at Nesfield's nursing home), Michael Shepley (schoolfriend and fellow actor who worked with him in the film Henry V), Michael Buxton (a shipmate from HMS Prince of Wales who survived the sinking), Rosalind and Nora. Uncle Chas could not be there - he was in Kenya and not well enough to travel, and in fact died later the same year. But he had recorded a message for Esmond in advance which was played during the programme. Earlier that day, Chas had sent a telegram to Esmond's home that read: "All good wishes, I shall be speaking to you later, old boy, love Chas." Fortunately it didn't arrive until after Esmond and Nora had left home for the evening (Esmond thought he was going to the theatre), otherwise it would have given the game away.

The final "mystery guest" was intended to be Burkard, Baron von Muellenheim-Rechberg of Wiesbaden, third gunnery officer on the German battleship Bismarck - or as Esmond scribbled in a personal note in the great scrapbook of his life, "the man who blew me to blazes". Unfortunately, on the day of the show, Muellenheim-Rechberg was ill and could not take part. However, six months later, a "flashback" programme about the making of This Is Your Life was recorded and this time the surprise was belatedly sprung on Esmond, and the two finally met. Only 107 out of 2,000 men survived the sinking of Bismarck and Muellenheim-Rechberg was the senior surviving officer. Before the war he had been an assistant naval attaché under Ribbentrop at the German Embassy in London and his English was excellent, so he and Esmond were able to talk easily together about their experiences, sixteen years after they had faced each other as enemies in the Battle of Denmark Strait. When they were introduced to each other in the BBC television studio, they had in fact been corresponding for some years, but this was the first time that had actually met - or rather the second if you included their previous encounter in battle. After the show they continued to talk in the green room and remained good friends for the rest of their lives.

In a review of Esmond's This Is Your Life programme the next day (19th February 1957), TV critic Stanley Moss wrote: "If you can judge a man by his friends, Esmond Knight must be a really delightful person."

Battleship Bismarck book

Baron Burkard Von Mullenheim-Rechberg recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, Battleship Bismarck, A Survivor's Story...

[ editor: Von Mullenheim-Rechberg - the senior surviving officer on the German battleship Bismarck - was due to be the final guest on Esmond Knight's This Is Your Life, but was unable to appear due to illness. However, the production team were able to arrange for the two men to finally meet on the Stories behind This Is Your Life programme broadcast in June 1957 (see video extract above)]

It was in the stars that the shell that struck the bridge of the Prince of Wales would not explode until it had passed through, a fact that later brought me the friendship of one of its victims.

Lieutenant Esmond Knight, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, an actor by profession and a painter and ornithologist by avocation, was keeping lookout through a pair of German Zeiss binoculars. His station was in the unarmoured antiaircraft fire-control position above the bridge, and he was protected only by his steel helmet.

He heard something like "a violently onrushing cyclone," then someone said, "Stretcher here, make way." He had the feeling that he was surrounded by corpses and he smelled blood.

People were approaching him and asking, "What happened to you?" He looked in the direction of the voices and saw nothing – a shell splinter had blinded him.

In 1948, after a visitor to Germany brought me greetings from him, he wrote me, "I was blind for a year, but now I am back to my old profession at the theatre, which makes me happy."

In 1957 I was a surprise guest in the episode of the BBC's television program This Is Your Life that was devoted to Esmond Knight. That is when we met for the first time, and we have been friends ever since.

Series 2 subjects

Peter Scott | Ada Reeve | Peter Methven | Sue Ryder | Harry S Pepper | Compton Mackenzie | Maud Fairman | Billy Smart
Brian Hession | John Barbirolli | Duncan Guthrie | Esmond Knight | Sammy McCarthy | Edwin Madron | Diana Dors
Parry Jones | Percy Flood | G H Elliott | Stuart Hibberd