Sir Learie CONSTANTINE MBE (1901-1971)

Learie Constantine This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 222
  • Subject No: 223
  • Broadcast: Tue 16 Apr 1963
  • Broadcast time: 7.55-8.25pm
  • Recorded: Thu 21 Mar 1963 8.00pm
  • Venue: BBC Television Theatre
  • Series: 8
  • Edition: 27

on the guest list...

  • Bessie Braddock MP
  • Elias – brother
  • Ian Peebles
  • John Kirk
  • Betty Snowball
  • Norma – wife
  • Winifred Atwell
  • Gloria – daughter
  • Gene Lawrence and The Triniana Combo
  • Filmed tribute:
  • Dr Eric Williams (Prime Minister of Trinidad)

production team...

related page...

Life Before Wicket

bowling up the cricketers

Learie Constantine This Is Your Life

Learie Constantine with Eamonn Andrews on This Is Your Life

Learie Constantine biography

Undine Giuseppi recalls This Is Your Life in her book, A Look at Learie Constantine...

Learie entered the darkened cinema at Shepherd's Bush in the company of John Dalziel, and was led to a seat by an usherette carrying a torch. A film was in progress. He didn’t like the idea of being late, particularly as the film was about Trinidad, and he had been asked by the BBC to write a commentary on it. It had been arranged that John would come in a car to pick him up to take him to the cinema, but John, who had arrived late in the first instance, had insisted that they should have a drink together before reaching the cinema.

“Here you are, Sir!” said the usherette, as she indicated where Learie should sit.

Learie hoped that he hadn’t missed very much of the film.

From the position which he had taken up close to Learie’s seat, Eamonn Andrews of the BBC called out, “Stop the film, please!”

The lights in the cinema came up, and laughingly, Eamonn turned to Learie.

“Forgive me for interrupting the film you’ve come specially to see,” he said, “but you’ve been shown into the wrong seat. We have a chair reserved for you up there on our stage – for tonight, Sir Learie Constantine, MBE – THIS IS YOUR LIFE.”

Learie’s mouth fell open in surprise. Then “My life?” he said incredulously.

Inviting him to see the film had all been part of a big ruse to get Learie to the cinema without his suspecting the real reason for his being there.

The audience applauded as Eamonn Andrews took him by the hand and led him to the stage.

One of the finest tributes which the BBC can pay to an individual is to feature him on a programme called ‘This Is Your Life’.

The greatest secrecy surrounds the arrangements made for the programme. Persons who have been close to the individual, or who have played a significant part in his life, are brought together from the ends of the earth, if need be, for the occasion.

In Learie’s case, his wife Norma was there. So too, were his daughter Gloria, and his brother Elias, both flown specially from Trinidad for the occasion. Bessie Braddock, the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, John Kirk from Nelson, Winifred Atwell, the famous Trinidad pianist, Betty Snowball, well-known woman cricketer, Ian Peebles, former England cricketer and one-time captain of Middlesex, Gene Lawrence and his Triniana Combo.

But Learie did not know that yet. They were all hidden behind the screen on stage. As each member of the group was brought forward, memories of the past came flooding back, and skilful questioning by Eamonn Andrews caused Learie to share that past with his audience.

“Cricketer, barrister, politician, and now High Commissioner in London for Trinidad and Tobago,” announced Eamonn, “Learie Constantine is, perhaps, best remembered as being one of the world’s greatest cricketers.”

He turned to Learie. “But your life has by no means been confined entirely to the cricket field.”

Eamonn went on to review the part of Learie’s life which he had spent as a Welfare Officer in Liverpool.

“A well-known Member of Parliament and an old friend of yours can tell us more about your work at that time. And here she is,” announced Eamonn, “Member of Parliament for the Exchange Division of Liverpool – Mrs Bessie Braddock!”

Bessie was a good friend of the family. Her father was a Welfare Officer and member of the Labour Party, like Constantine himself. Learie was delighted to see her. Bessie had the biggest handbag ever made, but she left it offstage, in case it might have caused comment.

Bessie described Learie as being the ideal man for the job in Liverpool, and paid tribute to his tact and steadying influence.

“If ever a man deserved to be officially recognised for his work, Learie Constantine did,“ she concluded.

Betty Snowball was at the time a Physical Education teacher who had been brought from a school somewhere in the North of England. She kept wicket for England, and had been coached by Learie, who always said that she hit the ball as hard as any man, and harder than most.

John Kirk, while at school, had been coached at cricket by Learie. They had grown close to each other, and John had learnt to depend on Learie’s judgement, not only where cricket was concerned, but also in other important aspects of his life. On leaving school, he had turned to Learie for advice as to what career he should follow.

“Be a solicitor,” suggested Learie, and so it was.

Learie introduced John to T A Higson, Senior Chairman of the Lancashire County Cricket Club, and a successful Manchester solicitor. John had never forgotten the occasion. It was on the day that Hitler invaded Poland. Seven years passed, however, before John Kirk actually went into Higson’s office, and in due course qualified as a solicitor.

Tommy Higson had played no little part in advising Learie in business matters during the Lancashire League years, and Learie was always grateful to him. Learie was sorry that Higson had died soon after the war, and so could not share in the joy of his success in other fields.

Winifred Atwell, the renowned pianist, was from Trinidad. Like Learie himself, she came from an old Tunapuna family, and they rejoiced together as only Trinidadians can.

At one stage of the programme, Dr Eric Williams, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, was shown on film. He spoke about Learie’s work for the People’s National Movement Party; his time as a Minister, and the automatic choice of him as High Commissioner in London.

Dr Williams also expressed delight at Learie’s receipt of a Knighthood, and stated that Trinidadians were in good hands in England.

Gloria, Learie’s daughter, and Elias, his brother, were among those who would never forget the occasion. It was John Dalziel who had telephoned from London to get from them more detailed information about Constantine.

Gloria at the time was the Senior Mistress at St George’s College, a Government Secondary school at Barataria. She and Uncle Elias left Trinidad together on the same plane. The weather was 88 degrees; hot, sticky and uncomfortable. They were to change planes at New York, and continue their journey to London together.

Elias, however, ran into a snag. It was discovered that he did not have an American visa, so he and Gloria parted ways at the airport. She was put aboard a TWA plane to continue her journey. He was hustled into the Immigration Room and kept under surveillance while the powers that be decided what should be done with him. Eventually he was put on board a Pan-American flight and allowed to continue his journey.

Strangely enough, he and Gloria arrived at Heathrow, London, at almost the same time. It was Saturday morning. The weather was cold, and they shivered as they awaited Lady Norma Constantine and the old coats which she had promised to bring for them. The transition from 88 degrees to 33 degrees was not exactly a West Indian’s ‘cup of tea’.

From the airport they were taken directly to the hotel where they were to stay. They had strict instructions that they were to avoid being seen. Nothing must happen to spoil the surprise which the BBC had so carefully prepared for Learie.

On Sunday afternoon all who were to appear on the programme met at the BBC. Lady Constantine had had to make some excuse to get away from the house without arousing her husband’s suspicions that something unusual was going on. A friend, put up to the job, corroborated her story of an appointment.

Then back to the hotel on Sunday night to keep out of sight until Monday morning when Gloria was allowed to go shopping. She just had to buy herself a new coat! The old ‘junk’ which was the only thing her mother could slip out unnoticed was hardly the thing for her to be seen in. The coat having been bought, it was back to the hotel once again for her!

At eleven o’clock on Monday morning the entire group was taken to the studio, and rehearsal for the evening’s programme began. They rehearsed all day. Nothing was left to chance. They changed for the programme in the dressing-rooms, and waited for the show to begin.

Asked by Eamonn Andrews about the memories of his early married life, Learie recalled a time when his wife left him to take charge of their only child, Gloria, for a few days. She must have been around six years old at the time.

Mrs Constantine had carefully pressed and plaited Gloria’s hair before leaving, and left him strict instructions as to how he should take care of it.

“Comb a little girl’s hair? Never again,” thought Learie. He certainly agreed with Gloria that when he was through with it, it was more matted than plaited!

He laughed heartily at the memory of the incident.

The audience enjoyed every moment of the evening.

“To end our programme,” said Eamonn Andrews, when Gloria had left the stage, “what better tribute could we have than a salute from your own people delivered in the traditional West Indian way? So here is the Sir Learie Constantine Calypso...”

Off-stage, the Combo started the introduction to the calypso.

“Specially written for you and sung by Gene Lawrence, the leader of the Triniana Combo,” continued Eamonn. “But before he begins, let me say – Sir Learie Constantine, MBE – THIS IS YOUR LIFE.”

Eamonn Andrews handed to Learie the famous book marked THIS IS YOUR LIFE – SIR LEARIE CONSTANTINE.

The real one which he was to keep in memory of this wonderful occasion was presented to him subsequently. In it were the various photographs taken on the stage that evening, and it was inscribed thus

“This programme was pre-recorded on 25th March, 1963, and televised over the BBC nationwide network in the evening of Tuesday, 16th April, 1963. Your appearance before our cameras was made possible by the kind assistance of your wife Lady Norma Constantine.”

On the very last page it read, “This book and the programme it represents are our tribute to your sportsmanship, statesmanship and zest for life shown in a career, which, having inspired young and old for 62 years, still holds promise of even greater things to come. Sir Learie Constantine, THIS IS YOUR LIFE.”

Series 8 subjects

Rupert Davies | Kenneth Revis | Sydney MacEwan | Cleo Laine | Arthur Baldwin | Edith Sitwell | Ben Fuller | Robert Henry McIntosh
Mabel Lethbridge | Stephen Behan | Ruby Miller | Richard Attenborough | Daniel Kirkpatrick | Michael Wilson | Dick Hoskin
James Carroll | Uffa Fox | George Thomas Cummins | Hattie Jacques | Sam Derry | Finlay Currie | Phyllis Lumley | Ben Lyon
Bertie Tibble | Zena Dare | Victor Willcox | Learie Constantine | Phyllis Richards | Michael Bentine | Joe Loss | Gladys Aylward