Janet BROWN (1923-2011)

Janet Brown This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 555
  • Subject No: 551
  • Broadcast date: Wed 3 Dec 1980
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Wed 26 Nov 1980
  • Venue: Royalty Theatre
  • Series: 21
  • Edition: 8
  • Code name: Margaret

on the guest list...

  • Tyler - son
  • Emma - daughter
  • Peter Goodwright
  • Roger Kitter
  • Johnny More
  • Barry Cryer
  • Jerry Stevens
  • Syd Little
  • Eddie Large
  • Bill - brother
  • Chris - sister
  • Esther Rantzen
  • Desmond Wilcox
  • Barbara Woodhouse
  • Margaret Shields
  • Alan Clare
  • Noele Gordon - live link
  • Jean Bayless
  • letter from Margaret Thatcher
  • Helen Rutherford
  • Jessie Matthews
  • Filmed tribute:
  • Carol Channing

production team...

  • Researcher: Tom Wettengel
  • Writers: Tom Brennand, Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Stuart Hall, Terry Yarwood
  • Producer: Jack Crawshaw
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

It's a Funny Old Life

it's all about the comedy

Family Life

keeping it in the family

The Night of 1000 Lives

a celebration of a thousand editions

Barry Cryer

Noele Gordon

Jessie Matthews

Desmond Wilcox


Tyler Butterworth, son of Janet Brown, recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in an exclusive interview recorded in June 2022

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Screenshots of Janet Brown This Is Your Life

Janet Brown's autobiography

Janet Brown recalls her experience of This Is Your Life in her autobiography, Prime Mimicker...

Rehearsals began for my new series, Janet and Company. The scriptwriters suggested more new characters: Beryl Reid, Lorraine Chase, Sue Ellen. One of the problems of being an impersonator is finding fresh characters. Occasionally a person will suggest somebody to me, and I say, 'Have you any idea how they sound?' I have to be able to do the voice so that the character is instantly recognisable. It's no good if you have to start explaining to your audience. The public have got to know them right away. I remember doing an impersonation of Janet Street-Porter in London and the audience reacted immediately. I did it again only sixty miles away, and the audience just looked blankly at me. 'Have you any idea who I'm doing?' I asked. And they said, 'No.' At that time her programmes hadn't been networked. That's another thing you have to check.

Another thing I did – or thought I did – was a promotion for the Christmas show in my series, but before I describe that there's something I would like to put straight.

Lots of people don't believe that the programme This Is Your Life is really genuine. Well, it is. It really is a surprise. I know, for it happened to me. Earlier on, they had done Pete's life and I found the comparisons interesting.

When it happened to me, the circumstances were completely different. I had gone along to Thames's studio at Euston to do the promotion for the Christmas show which I've already mentioned. Earlier in the day, I'd been lunching with Bernard, my manager, our yearly special lunch at Claridge's. The car was late picking me up to take me to the studio, and I rang to find out where it was. My secretary had said she knew I would do this – I never like being late for appointments. I found out later it was the old business of timing again, making sure I didn't arrive at the wrong moment, and bump into some of the guests. They had to be kept well out of sight.

When I got there they led me to a little studio where they were going to film the piece. It was to go out later in the month, they said. Of course, I believed it, why shouldn't I? The idea was for me to sit in the front row of an audience they had collected and I would watch the film clips go up, with me playing various characters, then turn to camera and say, 'These are some of the people you will be seeing in my show, so please look in at 10.30 tonight.' Where had the audience come from, I asked, as I looked round the little theatre. Oh, the office block, they're all office workers.

What fun! 'Hello, everybody. How are you? Have you all got Equity cards?' I was thoroughly enjoying the whole set up. This should work very well, I thought. The lights went down, the film clips came on, and I saw myself playing several well-known stars. Then, suddenly, I was looking at a wig from the back. It was a bad one. What on earth had I been doing here, I wondered. That's a dreadful wig. How did I let that pass? Then the wig turned round, and it was Eamonn's face I was looking at. It still didn't register with me. What's he doing in my Christmas show? What's he doing in this bit of film? I heard his voice speaking to me, and then saying:

"...and if you look to your left, Janet..."

I did, and he was standing there, next to me.

How did I feel? A mixture of things, really. My immediate reaction was to think, 'This has got to be a joke – it must be.' And then, as it slowly dawned that it wasn't, I thought what an idiot I had been. I'd believed that all those people there were making up an audience, that what I had been doing was genuine, and I felt stupid. The next reaction was the awful realisation, as Eamonn said the words, 'This Is Your Life', that I was going to burst into tears. And when I saw the recording later, I noticed my hand had gone up to cover my face. My legs felt as if they had turned to jelly. It was a terrible fright and one I wouldn't like to experience again. Having said all that, I would also like to say it was one of the loveliest, happiest nights I've known.

After the initial surprise, I was taken to a hotel where I had time to get myself together before the actual recording. Thames wanted me to enjoy it. They saw how upset I was to begin with, and they said, 'Look Janet, we want you to have a marvellous night. You have nothing to do but sit back and enjoy yourself.' And I thought, right, I'll do just that. But when I walked through the audience my composure nearly left me. So many kind people were showing their affection, calling their hellos and patting me on the arm as I made my way to the stage, and I thought, I'm never going to make it. The whole thing had a feeling of unreality.

It began with Tyler and Emma coming on, smiling from ear to ear. How they managed to keep it secret from me, I'll never know. Then out of the blue my sister appeared: they had flown her over from Canada. My brother was there, and many other friends. As well as family, there were so many of my TV friends from Who Do You Do? Goodness, what next? Here was Esther and her husband Desmond. Now what? I didn't have long to find out, for the brisk figure of Barbara Woodhouse marched in, complete with 'Walkies' written on her T-shirt. She practically took over the programme as she gave me a lesson in dog training. Carol Channing sent a message from New York. And Margaret Thatcher wrote me a lovely letter, which Eamonn read out. The final surprise was the appearance of Jessie Matthews, the star who had been one of my first impressions and whom I had admired so much but never met. I had a great big lump in my throat at that moment. Oh, and I mustn't forget the girls from the Co-op were there too!

Janet Brown This Is Your Life

Afterwards, when the programme was over, I went downstairs. To my surprise, my close friends Helen and Gerry Wise from Sussex walked in. 'How lovely to see you,' I said. 'Fancy coming up all this way to the studio.' I was delighted they were there to share this night with me. We had had so many good times together. Then behind them came two, then three more and gradually the whole room was full of my friends. There was a marvellous party. I loved it. The first party I've ever had especially for me. It was a great feeling.

Later on, I was given the big red book with my name on the cover and inside a set of pictures of everyone who had taken part in the programme. Also, in a black folder, a record of the whole show. Not only was it a complete surprise, it is still a lovely memory.

Series 21 subjects

Joe Loss | Julie Goodyear | Lawrie McMenemy | Peter Bowles | Mike Yarwood | John Schlesinger | Andrew Lloyd Webber
Janet Brown | Rodney Bewes | Russell Harty | Joan Wells | Billy Connolly | Bill Owen | Jeffery Archer | Brian Jacks
Melvin Hayes | Fred Housego | Alex Higgins | Tim Brooke-Taylor | Bernard Cribbins | Gemma Craven | Jim Watt
John Thaw | Jonjo O'Neill | Judith Chalmers | Margaret Price