Johnnie HAMP (1931-)

Johnnie Hamp This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 856
  • Subject No: 845
  • Broadcast date: Wed 10 Feb 1993
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Tue 20 Oct 1992
  • Venue: Granada Studios, Manchester
  • Series: 33
  • Edition: 20
  • Code name: Tag

on the guest list...

  • Vee - wife
  • Christopher - son
  • Jonathan - son
  • Ashley - son
  • Bernard Manning
  • Frank Carson
  • Roy Walker
  • Jim Bowen
  • Mick Miller
  • George Roper
  • Duggie Brown
  • Merry - daughter
  • Gladys - mother
  • Wally Okin
  • Peter Heath
  • Maurice Lee
  • Graham Walker
  • Robin Colvill
  • Elizabeth Dawn
  • Les Reed
  • Hugh Morris
  • Amber - granddaughter
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Henry Mancini
  • Barbara Kelly
  • Bob Holness
  • Pete Murray

production team...

  • Researcher: Ian Brown
  • Writer: Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Brian Klein, Malcolm Morris
  • Associate Producer: John Graham
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

Johnnie Hamp recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in an exclusive interview recorded in November 2011

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Screenshots of Johnnie Hamp This Is Your Life - and Johnnie Hamp photographed at his home with his big red book in November 2011

Johnnie Hamp's autobiography

Johnnie Hamp recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, It Beats Working For A Living, reproduced here with kind permission of the author...

The unthinkable has happened. Bernard Manning has let me down. The undisputed Godfather of The Comedians had promised to arrive at my exhibition at twelve thirty. It was now ten past two and there was no sign of him. Frank Carson was also supposed to be there, but with Frank anything was possible – he might have got the date wrong, or he might have gone to the wrong place – perhaps both. And other members of The Comedians team – Jim Bowen, George Roper, Roy Walker, Mick Miller, Duggie Brown had all promised to be there, but not one of the seven had turned up.

There were plenty of other show business celebrities milling around the exhibition of my desk blotters – thirty years of doodles which Prof R Dodwell, the Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery, had designated works of art. The press were busy interviewing the famous and a film unit was shooting close-ups of the exhibits. Friends, family and a contingent of my mates from Coronation Street had turned up to help publicise the event.

Why, of all people, had The Comedians let me down? Hadn't I created the TV series which had lifted them all from obscurity as unknown club comics to become household names? All I had asked of them was an hour of their time, the ungrateful bastards!

The exhibition was being held in a hotel conference room so they might well be in the bar getting stoned and ignoring the clock. No, Bernard in particular is not a drinker and over a period of twenty years had been so reliable and never late – if he said he'd be here, he'd be here. But he wasn't. And Frank wouldn't buy a drink if he could help it and would know that the booze in the exhibition room would be free. If they were not here by now they were not coming.

With a mighty crash the entrance doors flew open and towards me and arms linked in danced the gang of missing comedians bellowing out "Happy Days Are Here Again" at top volume. Alex Bernstein, the quiet unassuming boss of Granada, with whom I was having an in-depth discussion about my ink-blotter art, stepped aside in trepidation. The film cameraman turned to capture the boisterous entrance of the funnymen, an undignified intrusion on the subdued atmosphere befitting an exhibition of artistic work.

In the confusion I did not notice that there were in fact eight comedians, not the invited seven – they were all familiar faces to me with Bernard Manning as leader of the pack. Unnoticed the eighth man must have broken away from the group and gone around behind me. A jab in the ribs drew my attention from the roasting I had started to give to the comics for being so late. I turned to see another familiar face. His identity didn't register immediately and I continued to blast away at the group, a little more tactfully now because the film camera was picking up all that I was saying.

Another jab in the ribs, this time by a big red book as Michael Aspel shouted above the hubbub "Johnnie Hamp – This Is Your Life!"

My immediate reaction was that the whole thing was a joke – just the sort of stunt the lads would pull on me. I knew that the This is Your Life team were in Manchester as the producer had asked me to help them with some research regarding a northern singer I had 'discovered' some years earlier. I also knew that it was not their policy to choose television producers as subjects, and was well aware that Michael Aspel was a good sport and game for a laugh as I had already appeared as a guest on five previous editions of the programme. It was obvious – the lads had seen Michael in the hotel bar and had talked him into going along with the joke. They knew I would enjoy it too.

I heard the cheers and saw the smug smiles on the faces of the exhibition guests who were obviously all in on the secret. Then I knew it was for real. Within minutes I was whisked out of the exhibition hall, into the lift and locked away in one of the hotel rooms. I was not allowed to make contact with anyone outside that room in case I discovered who the production team had chosen as guests to illustrate my 'Life'. It was now about two thirty and I was told that the show was not to be recorded until five thirty so I had plenty of time to speculate on who the guests might be.

I had been producing television programmes for more than thirty years so I tried to put myself in the shoes of the This Is Your Life producer. Who would I choose as Johnnie Hamp's guests? Obviously my wife Vee. How the hell had she kept all this secret from me for all those weeks, particularly as she knew that I was aware of all the tricks, the little white lies and subterfuge that are necessary.

My younger sons, Jonathan and Ashley, were at the exhibition so they would be on the stage, but could my eldest son Christopher get away from his practice in Surrey? He had phoned this morning to wish me luck with the exhibition and to apologise for not being able to get up to Manchester as he was so busy with his chiropractic patients.

If I was producing this show I would certainly bring over my daughter Merry from her home in Florida. As I recounted earlier Merry was blinded in a school laboratory accident when she was eleven years old and was front page news for several years whilst bravely facing countless operations in a vain attempt to regain her sight. She would be brought on early, I thought, as they would know that her appearance would be no surprise to me.

And my mother would probably be there. She was eighty six now and I had expected her to be at the exhibition, but Vee had explained to me that she didn't think my Mum's poor old legs could take that much standing around, so she'd have to give it a miss. Now I know why she had her hair specially fixed yesterday. What a shame my Dad wouldn't be there – he had passed away in 1966.

My old mate, hit songwriter and composer Les Reed and his wife June were at the exhibition. So was my secretary, later to become my assistant, Lucinda Bradbury who had been my right arm for more than twenty years at Granada, Would they all be on the stage?

And who else? School friends, RAF mates, business colleagues – and which names from the thousands of artistes I've worked with over the years? God, I hope they don't bring on some superstar I've only worked with once or twice, and make us pretend that we are lifelong pals. I shudder when this happens on some of the shows I've seen – it's so obvious.

How many of the people I would like as my guests haven't been invited? I wonder if anyone refused to take part? The programme only runs for half an hour, so they can't invite everyone I might expect to be there. I'm glad I can't be blamed for any omissions!

At five o'clock I was escorted from the hotel to the Granada Studios where Thames TV were to record the programme. We went in through a back door and along corridors to a dressing room, all as familiar to me as my own home as I had worked in these same studios for more than twenty five years. The make-up girl was also well known to me, we had worked on many shows together. As she applied the pancake, and after her congratulations she said "The Grumbleweeds haven't changed much since we..." She trailed off realising she had just let one of the cats out of the bag. The Grumbleweeds were going to be on the show. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the associate producer looking daggers at her so I pretended I was deaf and swiftly changed the subject.

I was ushered through more familiar corridors into Studio 6, the big one where I'd made so many shows with great performers like The Beatles, Woody Allen, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Burt Bacharach – so many good memories. Michael Aspel was waiting and immediately we entered the set to strains of that oh so familiar theme music. Tonight I was to be the 'star' – what a laugh!

I think, if we are honest, everyone in show business would like to be chosen as a subject for This Is Your Life. I must confess that from time to time I've wondered how I would react. Would I become emotional, even tearful, as so often happens as the story unfolds and unexpected guests appear. As it happened I thoroughly enjoyed myself as the show was one long laugh from start to finish, all the guests were really good mates and there was no need at all for any phoney hugs and kisses.

The Comedians and The Grumbleweeds were there of course. My wife Vee headed up the family. Our three sons Christopher, Jonathan and Ashley were already seated and our daughter Merry came on with my Mum – my Best Man and RAF mate Peter Heath, composers Les Reed and Henry Mancini, Barbara Kelly, Bob Holness and Pete Murray from my quiz show days, Liz Dawn, alias Coronation Street's Vera Duckworth, who was once a barmaid in my Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club series.

There were two big surprises to finish – Thames had flown over my six year old granddaughter Amber with Merry and they had somehow traced, with Vee's help, my favourite schoolmaster Hugh Morris, who I had not seen since I left school when I was fourteen. I had imagined that Mr Morris was long gone – a fourteen year old always thinks that his teachers are ancient – but he was thirty eight back then and a young eighty four year old when he appeared on the show. They showed clips from some of my programmes including Its Little Richard, The Music of Lennon and McCartney and The International Pop Proms, as well as some extremely embarrassing footage of me miming to a Danny Kaye record shot when I was working as a variety artiste.

The show was recorded in October 1992 but not transmitted until February 1993 during which time our second granddaughter Alice was born to Jonathan and his wife Sue, so all three were on the stage, although Alice couldn't see much from where she was!

On the day of transmission family and friends gathered at our home in Cheshire to watch the recording which was preceded by the local news programme on which I was mortified to see my old friend and colleague Gay Byrne pay tribute to one of our mutual best mates Bill Grundy who had died earlier that day. I knew that Bill had been ill for some time, in fact I had visited him in hospital, and I would have loved it had he been well enough to have been a guest on my 'Life'. Bill and I had so many good laughs in the early days at Granada along with Gay Byrne and Michael Parkinson when we all worked together on the local Manchester magazine programme Scene at 6.30.

Michael came up to stay with Vee and I when we attended Bill's funeral and remarked that on This Is Your Life they can only scratch the surface of a 'Life' in the thirty minute time slot. This is so true, there were so many other friends and colleagues I would have loved to have been there on the night, all with good stories to tell. But as a producer myself I realise that you have to draw the line somewhere.

Series 33 subjects

Barbara Windsor | Dickie Bird | Frazer Hines | Pat Kerr | Juliet Mills | William Tarmey | Ellen Pollock | Tessa Sanderson
Peter Saunders | Anthony Newley | Bert Weedon | Glen Murphy | Les Dawson | John Surtees | Shirley Bassey
Albert and Michel Roux | Anthony Jones | Lynda Bellingham | Frank Bruno | Johnnie Hamp | Honor Blackman | Sister Aquinas
Roddy McDowall | Jimmy White | Peggy Spencer | Jackie Collins | Derek Fowlds | Nat Lofthouse | Ann Miller | George Melly