Harry WEBB (1909-?)

Harry Webb This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 123
  • Subject No: 123
  • Broadcast live: Mon 15 Feb 1960
  • Broadcast time: 7.30-8.00pm
  • Venue: BBC Television Theatre
  • Series: 5
  • Edition: 25

on the guest list...

  • Norman Gregory
  • George Goodyear
  • Edward Dodd - live link
  • Leslie Timms
  • John Higham
  • Cliff Norton
  • William Flint
  • Jochen Funke-Kaiser
  • June Dorman
  • Edith Lomas
  • Margery - wife
  • Nicholas - son
  • Robin - son
  • members of the Stonehouse Gang
  • Filmed tribute:
  • Sir John Hunt

production team...

  • Researcher: Nickola Sterne
  • Writer: Nickola Sterne
  • Director: unknown
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
related page...

A Charitable Life

the unsung heroes

Harry Webb This Is Your Life

Harry Webb and guests with Eamonn Andrews on This Is Your Life

Harry Webb autobiography

Harry Webb recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, The Stonehouse Gang Story...

The occasion when Eamonn Andrews claimed me as his victim for the television feature This Is Your Life was in every way a highlight of the Stonehouse Gang programme, much more a Gang happening than a personal thing.

Behind it lay a story of Gang persistence and a BBC last minute hustle.

When in 1959 the boys and girls of the Gang threw a surprise party for me to celebrate my half-century, they showed a great deal of initiative in getting tape-recorded greetings from important personalities, greetings in song from a television singer, and the physical presence of all the lads who were in the original gang twenty years before.

It later transpired that they had off their own bat contacted the BBC to suggest a programme to celebrate the occasion. Most of their ideas bore fruit but that one was put on ice. 'A good idea,' commented the BBC 'We will keep it in mind. But our programme commitments are all completed for the date you suggested.'

On ice it stayed.

Then, at the very last minute in February 1960 there were complications about a programme they had intended doing for This Is Your Life, featuring Norman Hartnell, the Queen's dressmaker. Problems arose from protocol associated with the Royal Warrant. Emergency conferences were held to try and decide what to do.

It was then that someone remembered the approach that the enthusiastic Birmingham youngsters had made to them the previous year – and wheels began to turn fast and furious.

No one in Birmingham knew a thing about it until the Saturday and the programme was to go out on the Monday. So began a weekend of lies and lies and more lies. But white ones.

'Can we borrow the Gang van to take some youngsters sledging?'

'Can you manage the Sunday night programme at clubhouse without some of the leading members – they have an important engagement?'

'Can you get to London on Monday morning for a conference about the Albemarle Report on youth service?'

They didn't want to take youngsters sledging! They wanted the vehicle to career all over the place contacting old boys and girls of the Gang for their participation in the programme.

Could they have a private call on the club phone? The wires to London were apparently humming all the weekend.

Plane seats were booked 'on spec' to bring from Germany one of the Gang's many foreign friends, Jochen Funke-Kaiser, who had been in camp with us in the late forties.

In Birmingham, in the Evening Despatch library, the staff were combing the files for items about the Stonehouse Gang.

In London, Lesley Sewell and her colleagues at the head-quarters of the National Association of Youth Clubs planned a whole day conference at Devonshire House, especially to keep me on tap throughout the day.

No sooner had I caught my early morning train to Euston than the whole of my family and crowds of Gang members past and present made their way to London by coach, car, train and Gang bus, and rehearsed furiously all afternoon. Normally, they were told, folk taking part in the programme went up to town on the Sunday and had twice as long to prepare their lines.

The Chief Constable of Birmingham hurried off to the Birmingham BBC studios to record. John Hunt – who, by coincidence, was at the next table to me when I was having lunch, but naturally breathed no word about the affair – was recorded just as he was leaving London for a trip abroad.

Meanwhile at Devonshire House I was involved all day in trying to contribute a lot of hard thinking to a conference that was all make-believe. Late in the afternoon when we were exhausting our wisdom about the poor Youth Service, I was told that the BBC had telephoned to ask if Harold Hayward (the youth clubs' training officer) and I could spare time to go round to Lime Grove to have a short discussion about the Albemarle Report on a 'Panorama' programme.

The taxi that called for us went a mighty circuitous route to get me to the studios smack on time. When I arrived, an official met me. 'So sorry,' he said. 'We are not quite ready for the discussion. Could you hang on a bit? Perhaps you'd care to sit in for a minute or two to see a show that's just going on air. That is, if we can find a seat for you.' It was a seat they had been keeping for me all day!

Then the plot slowly revealed itself and Eamonn Andrews took my arm and led me on to the stage in the glare of the lights and in view of some thirteen million viewers, I learned later.

To me, at the time, none of it seemed real. I was not conscious of the cameras, nor did I give any thought to the millions viewing. Usually I am talkative, sometimes over-talkative, but that night I said very little. Eamonn commented on it.

It was all quite overwhelming, but fortunately throughout the programme laughter beat the tears (if only at times by a short head) and it was, folk remarked afterwards, one of the most cheerful of the This Is Your Life series.

On to the stage came the Gang's first members from way back in 1938, a police constable who used to live opposite the Gang's huts and thought I was much too soft to be an effective gang leader, the ex-leader of the Weoley Castle Canal Terrors, the Gang's first Prime Minister, the youngest nipper who had just been admitted to junior Gang membership, one of the first girls to join, the German boy from Cologne, a widow whose son we had been able to help and finally Margery and our two sons. As the programme drew to a close, a crowd of Gang members surged on to the stage and mobbed me.

As the programme was about to go off air, Eamonn reported that a telephone call had just been received from the Variety Club to say they had been impressed by what they had heard and were sending the Gang 200 guineas. What a night to remember!

The Times article: Harry Webb This Is Your Life

The Times 17 February 1960


Because of regulations governing Royal Warrant holders, the BBC cancelled arrangements for Mr Norman Hartnell, the Queen's dressmaker, to be the subject of This Is Your Life in last Monday's television programme. Subjects chosen for this programme do not know they are to appear until it begins, and in this case the arrangements were almost completed when the BBC received advice from the Lord Chamberlain's office that it was contrary to the regulations for Mr Hartnell to appear.

Among those who would have been seen in the programme were Balmain, the French dressmaker, Dolores, a model who is in South Africa, and a woman who worked for Mr Hartnell as a messenger in his first firm. The "life" portrayed instead was that of Mr Harry Webb, a Birmingham youth leader, founder of the Stonehouse Gang Club.

Series 5 subjects

Evelyn Laye | Donald Caskie | Eva Turner | Billy Butlin | James Slater | Edmund Arbuthnott | Louis Langford | O P Jones
Richard Hearne | Francoise Rigby | John Barclay | Thomas Drake | William Merrilees | John Lord | Russ Conway | Stanley Bishop
Leonard Stanmore | Arthur Askey | Robert Oldfield | Alicia Markova | Frederic Morena | Hilda Rowcliffe | Thomas Salmon
Harry Welchman | Harry Webb | Nat Gonella | David Barclay | Richard Todd | Thomas Bodkin | Gracie Fields | Michael Ansell