John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life
  • The only known subject to record This Is Your Life and the BBC radio's Desert Island Discs on the same day!

programme details...

  • Edition No: 443
  • Subject No: 440
  • Broadcast date: Wed 10 Nov 1976
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Wed 6 Oct 1976
  • Venue: Euston Road Studios
  • Series: 17
  • Edition: 3
  • Code name: Star

on the guest list...

  • Cpl Raymond Thomas
  • Royal Engineers Junior Leaders Regiment Personnel
  • Judith - wife
  • Emma - daughter
  • Victoria - daughter
  • Maj Roger Chapman
  • Richard Snailham
  • Rev Leland John Blashford-Snell - father
  • Mary Blashford-Snell - stepmother
  • Derek Wheatstone
  • Cdr Cliff Le Quelenec
  • Bob Crawley
  • Maj Ernie Durey
  • Bob Russell
  • Tickie Wright
  • Maj Alberto Patron
  • Kay Doling
  • Pam Baker
  • Rosemary Allhusen
  • Carolyn Oxton
  • Capt Jim Masters
  • Charlie Thompson

production team...

  • Researchers: Lavinia Warner, Debbie Gaunt
  • Writers: Tom Brennand, Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Royston Mayoh, Terry Yarwood
  • Executive Producer: Jack Andrews
  • Producer: Jack Crawshaw
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

Life on Earth

an uncharted adventure

The Night of 1000 Lives

a celebration of a thousand editions

The Big Red Book

the programme's icon


the show's fifty year history


John Blashford-Snell recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in an exclusive interview recorded in November 2016

John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life Big Red Book

Screenshots of John Blashford-Snell This Is Your Life - and a photograph of John Blashford-Snell's big red book

John Blashford Snell's autobiography

John Blashford-Snell recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, Something Lost Behind the Ranges...

After Zaire, I found myself being asked to help organise many expeditions. I did this gladly and several of them achieved notable success. Squabbles broke out in some, but usually these were due to inexperience or lack of leadership. Some of the groups even got as far as fighting it out in the press! It was very like the nineteenth-century verbal battles between explorers. I do not blame the press. In fact, I have a great many friends in Fleet Street, so much so that I have often been accused of showmanship; but I would prefer to call it salesmanship. It doesn't matter how ambitious, worthwhile and well planned your expedition may be, unless you can sell the idea to someone, you are unlikely to get the support to bring it to fruition. I believe that the two essential qualities of leadership are communication and inspiration. They are particularly applicable to expeditions.

Such was our liaison with the media that I was not altogether surprised to hear that, when I had been 'kidnapped' for the Thames Television programme This Is Your Life, our detractors fancied the whole thing had been rigged! If they could have known the momentary fear when I found strange people closing in on me and Eamonn Andrews' Irish brogue in my ear, 'Excuse me one moment, Colonel, we want you', they might have been more sympathetic. As it was, it was only by chance that I didn't hit him and bolt. When the truth came out I still felt like running, but was assured that many old friends were in the studio having a tremendous party and I couldn't really walk out on them. The evening was the greatest fun. Nobody burst into tears and everyone drank far too much. It was super to have so many chums present, including Charlie Thompson, the old Negro from the Darien, who had been flown across the Atlantic especially for the show. Confronted by a beefy Guardia sergeant saying 'You're wanted in Panama City', Charlie had been marched off to El Real jail to await a helicopter.

At Panama airport an Embassy Officer met him. 'Senor Thompson?' enquired the Briton. 'Si,' said Charlie, looking round for the gallows.

'Do you remember Major Blashford-Snell and a number of Englishmen coming to your village in 1972?' Reluctantly Charlie admitted he did. He'd never seen TV and the suggestion that he should fly to London to appear on a show was totally incomprehensible, but anything was better than garrotting. That afternoon he was issued with a passport and a visa for seventy-two hours in Britain. 'Do you have any clothes?' asked the Embassy official, 'it is rather cold in London in October.'

Barefooted Charlie had only the patched shorts he had worn for five years, so he was given $20 to buy warmer garments. The money got him a straw hat, some flip-flops and a cheap suit but no shirt. Thus clad he arrived at Heathrow. The lady who greeted him later told me that they were almost in London before she realised Charlie didn't speak a word of English and some hurried language lessons followed. I doubt Thames TV realised what they were taking on when they decided to feature the life of an Army explorer! Alas before the show they left Jim, Ernie and sundry other sappers in the Green Room with a table groaning with liquor. The results were predictable but somehow no one seemed to mind.

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...

Explorer Lieutenant-Colonel John Blashford-Snell had just been the guest on, appropriately enough, Desert Island Discs and was crossing the road outside Broadcasting House with presenter Roy Plomley when we surprised the man who thrives on danger.

What we didn't know was that the incident might have been dangerous for Eamonn Andrews. The colonel had served in Northern Ireland and on 6 October 1976 still had an armed bodyguard. He was instantly on alert when he heard the Irish accent, but fortunately also instantly recognised the Life host.

Eamonn Andrews and John Blashford-Snell

One of the colonel's proudest achievements came in 1968 – the Great Abbai Expedition, seeking the start of the Blue Nile, flowing from the Ethiopian Highlands to the plains of the Sudan. 'Blashers' and his party navigated five hundred miles of crocodile-infested waters and were twice attacked by marauding bandits. He put on his pith helmet and walked towards one heavily armed group, calling through a loud-hailer, 'Tanasterling, tanasterling, salaam!' Translated, that means, 'We come in peace' – whereupon he was shot at. One member of the party was already wounded.

Armed bandits staged a night raid on his camp. The colonel emerged from his tent wearing only his pith helmet and fired his flare-gun into the ground, producing great bouncing balls of fire into the paths of the bandits and frightening them off for a few precious moments to allow the party to escape – with the colonel grabbing his clothes.

Series 17 subjects

Frankie Howerd | Wilfred Hyde-White | John Blashford-Snell | Mervyn Davies | Pam Ayres | Ivy Benson | Jim Wicks
Joss Ackland | John Inman | Patrick Cargill | Sheila Hancock | Tom O'Connor | Florence Priest | Tony Britton | Molly Weir
Anthony Quayle | Alfred Pavey | Michael Denison | Mary Chipperfield | Leonard Sachs | Cyril Fletcher | Matt Monro
Tony Greig | John Frost | Brian Rix | Alberto Semprini | Louis Mountbatten