Les DAWSON (1931-1993)

Les Dawson This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 314
  • Subject No: 315
  • Broadcast date: Wed 22 Dec 1971
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Fri 17 Dec 1971
  • Venue: Teddington Studios
  • Series: 12
  • Edition: 6

on the guest list...

  • Hughie Green
  • Meg - wife
  • Dickie Henderson
  • Ken Cowx
  • Betty Lawrence
  • George Walker
  • Norman Collier
  • Dora Bryan
  • Syd Lawrence and his Orchestra
  • Kevin Kent
  • Laura Lovelady
  • Julie - daughter
  • Stuart - son

production team...

  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

Les Dawson

second tribute

It's a Funny Old Life

it's all about the comedy

Life Second Time Around

surprised again!

The Big Red Book

the programme's icon

How To Deceive Your Husband

TV Times takes a light-hearted look at keeping a secret

Dora Bryan

Frank Carson

Hughie Green

Dickie Henderson

Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life Les Dawson This Is Your Life

Screenshots of Les Dawson This Is Your Life

Les Dawson's autobiography

Les Dawson recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, A Clown Too Many...

I was tired and I hadn't seen the family. When I did return home for the weekend, Meg seemed to be unenthusiastic about my presence, and the kids were furtive too.

Several times when I answered the telephone the line went dead. I began to suspect that Meg was having an affair.

By the middle of January, the cast of the pantomime were acting strangely, and I became almost paranoid.

Then one night whilst on the phone to Meg I heard our door bell ring. Meg went off the line to answer it and my son, Stuart, picked up the receiver and squealed about a man who had been to the house asking about my army career, amongst other things.

When Meg came back on the phone, I questioned her about the "man" and she said oh, he was from the gas about a fault on the stove and he thought he'd been in the forces with me. That night I slouched off to a night club firmly convinced that my marriage was on the way out... Who could blame her? Away for weeks on end; no angel myself, drinking too much...

I'd made one record, a song called Send Her Roses for Chapter One Records, run by Les Reed. It hadn't done well really, but a song plugger by the name of Tommy Sanderson had asked me to tape another song in London. I'd put him off time and time again, but finally, I agreed to take the night train to London on the Saturday after the show and tape the song on the Sunday. This meant of course that I couldn't go home for the weekend and when I telephoned Meg to tell her this fact, she sounded relieved...

So I was right, there was somebody else. I was virtually carried on to the train that bitter evening by Mike Bullock, the manager of the Alexandra Theatre, and I sat the whole journey through the chill of the night, morose and ill-shaven. Tommy Sanderson and his wife were at the station to meet me, and away we drove to their modest house in Hampton.

On Sunday we entered a sound studio and I sang to a backing track. My voice was awful, tired and hoarse, and on top of everything else, my agent phoned to say that I was due to go to Thames Television to do a small walk-on piece with Hughie Green. I couldn't believe it... I shouted down the line that it was bloody impossible, but Tommy said he'd run me to Teddington in time for the show. Over and over again, I did the song and it got worse. Eventually I threw my head set down and cried that enough was enough.

In silence we drove to Thames TV and all I wanted to do was drink. Royston Mayoh, an old friend now a senior producer there, walked over and shook my hand warmly and away we went, as I thought to the bar, but no. Royston marched me to a dressing room where bottles of Scotch were standing in welcome upon a table. I was furious. I demanded to know why we couldn't go and see the many friends I had in the bar?

Sorry, Les, Royston apologised, but there was an executive party being held there. He left with an excuse and I was alone with my thoughts... A broken marriage, a career that seemingly was in decline, what the hell was happening? Suddenly, as is the way of television, all became a hustle... Make up, fuss, lights, I'm tired, sod all this. The whiskey in my gut is sour and rank...

Introduction from Hughie Green, in a daze I walk on to the stage area; small talk, a few laughs but a nervously eager audience... What the hell is going on? Frank Carson, the Irish comedian, comes on with a parcel... What's he saying? Have I brought a present for Hughie's birthday? I feel numb and I am sarcastic in my rejoiner. Hughie makes some remark about me opening his present from Frank. I rip open the parcel, inside is a red book and I see the title, 'This Is Your Life'. I roar with glee, of course that explains everything! They've caught Hughie Green.

I hand Green the partly revealed book and I wink at the audience; they roar back when I say to Hughie, "You'll love this, mate." "Take the rest of the paper off, Les," he says firmly. Hey? what the hell... I do so and there beneath the title I read dizzily "Les Dawson". At that moment Eamonn Andrews pats me on the back and booms, "Les Dawson, singer, comedian and pianist... this is your life."

The studio erupts and I cling to Andrews for support as the whole place swims out of focus... There is no way I can carry on. I'm pale and trembling, and I have to be led away, and the bar is opened especially for me as I try to recover my composure.

I kept wondering who the hell would come on... Would they have traced the negress who I lived with on the Left Bank? What about the French Canadian cutie in Soho? I rummaged through my memory banks; too many corners, dark ingles of indiscretion... Surely they wouldn't have found the German stripper who I'd promised to take to England just before my marriage? Who would be aware of the vagrant and drunk, the pot washer and boxer? I worried needlessly.

First to join me with Eamonn was Meg, who, true to her lights, burst into tears and held me close. No wonder the telephone had clicked off at home when I answered it, the research department for This Is Your Life had been in close contact with Meg all the last few weeks. I confess to being emotional as the likes of Hughie Green, Dickie Henderson, Dora Bryan, Norman Collier came on...

Then old friends like Betty Lawrence who had fed me when I was down and out; dear Ken Cowx; my old Hoover boss, George Walker, and finally, the entire Syd Lawrence orchestra... It was a night I will never forget, and when my two eldest children Julie and Stuart rushed breathlessly into my arms, the floodgates opened.

When I hear people say that a lot of celebrities know they are due to appear on This Is Your Life I would dearly love them to see the video of mine: my face is drawn and pale, and I assure you, it's not an experience I would want to repeat. But it was well put together and apart from one moment in the programme when Eamonn Andrews asked me about playing the piano in the Parisian brothel, there was nothing to cause dismay.

Meg still tells our friends that she was frightened by the state of me when the show started, and that she would never enter into such a subterfuge again. Still, the evening of the programme did have its benefits: Meg and I made love in our London hotel in the manner of a teenage honeymoon...

Les Dawson's biography

Louis Barfe recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, The Trials and Triumphs of Les Dawson, reproduced here with kind permission of the author...

A man of Dawson's capacity for drink, conversation and carousal needed little persuasion to immerse himself in the bibulous culture that pervaded broadcasting and show business at the time, and so it became prudent to stay on the other side of the Pennines, for the sake of his driving licence. 'I'd wake up in unfamiliar places and see a stranger in the mirror,' he wrote in 1985, adding that 'it would be years before common sense took charge'. One of the more constructive pursuits of those early years as a nomadic entertainer was the novel he had begun to write, on which he worked in idle moments. Sticking to the principle of writing about what you know best, the manuscript concerned a struggling club comedian who hits the big time on TV, but has to choose between his career and his family.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dawson began to fear for his marriage around this time, his paranoia being heightened by Meg receiving mysterious telephone calls. Whenever Dawson himself answered the telephone, the line would go dead. He became convinced that Meg was having an affair. He also had a vague sense that his career had peaked and that the only way in terms of ratings and approval was down. The latter impression was underlined when he was booked to appear as a star guest on the All-Winners Final of Opportunity Knocks on 20 December 1971. Suspecting that he would find at least a few friends in the bar at Thames Television's Teddington studios, he was most upset when his old friend, Thames producer Royston Mayoh, steered him to an ante-room laden with bottles of Scotch whisky and explained that the bar was in use for an executive party, a story that Dawson didn't believe for one minute. Mayoh went to attend to another matter, leaving Dawson to drink alone.

Finally called to make his appearance at the close of the show, Dawson was going through the motions of banter with Hughie Green and Irish comedian Frank Carson, discussing Green's birthday and the present that Carson had brought for the host, when a tall figure emerged from behind the set. Green suggested that Dawson open Carson's present on his behalf. Calling Carson a 'creep', Dawson began removing the wrapping paper, to reveal a red book. Realising that he was in the middle of a This Is Your Life sting, he laughed awkwardly, but the laugh turned to shock as Eamonn Andrews stepped forward, and put his hand on Dawson's shoulder. Green and Carson were now laughing and clapping uproariously. The telephone calls and his pariah status at the studios were all explained as Andrews said, 'Tonight, Les Dawson, this is your life.'

'You're asking your loved ones to tell lies for the first time, and Meg wasn't very happy about that,' observes Royston Mayoh, himself a director of many editions of the show. In the case of the Dawson show, others produced and directed, but Mayoh was crucial to the preparations, knowing both Andrews and Green well, and being able to keep the secret. 'Many times we cancelled the show because we'd heard that the subject had heard about it. Eamonn was absolutely resolute that if there was any doubt at all that the subject knew, you didn't want to be there.'

One element of the preparations for any This Is Your Life was the stagger-through the evening before the recording, at which the director would take the Andrews role and run a rough rehearsal with any guests that were overnighting. Usually these would be family members, which meant there was a chance to check on the details in the script. As Mayoh remembers:

'Oftentimes, within the first sentence, a voice would come from the back: 'Excuse me, it wasn't 1946 at all.' Everybody's got a different memory. [Scriptwriters] Roy [Bottomley] and Tom [Brennand] were there, and the producer was there and the three researchers were there, and I was reading it as Eamonn. We'd stop and talk about it. It was important for me as a director, because I could make notes on what I was looking for. I could make notes on the passion that was around there. Auntie Mildred - when she comes on, I've got to get a close-up of her because she's going to 'go'. It gave me clues on what I was looking for.'

In the case of Dawson's This Is Your Life the line-up included Meg and their children, Dawson's childhood friend Ken Cowx. mentor Betty Lawrence and his old Hoover boss George Walker, as well as Dickie Henderson, remembering the big night in Blackpool where Dawson had gone from being an Opportunity Knocks audience winner to a fully fledged TV comedian. At the end of the show, some scenery flats were removed to reveal the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, who played out their benefactor in swinging style, before rushing to play a gig in Exeter. Lawrence's professionalism meant that there was no chance of cancelling the concert, but equally he was unwilling to miss Dawson's big night, so he had chartered an aeroplane at considerable expense to ferry the band to the engagement. 'Syd and Les were in heated discussion about Glenn Miller, who perished in an air crash,' recalls drummer Fergie Maynard. 'Syd had always avoided flying and was extremely nervous. I suggested a few double brandies, as did several of the orchestra. I boasted that I had been in the band of 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment and had taken off twenty-three times, and never landed once, but that didn't help. On landing at Exeter, I was the greenest looking member of the orchestra, but Syd forgave Les.' While all this was going on, Les, having sown the seeds of fear in Lawrence's mind, was otherwise occupied. After the recording, relieved that their marriage was not on the rocks, Dawson and Meg returned to the hotel room that had been paid for by Thames and 'made love... in the manner of a teenage honeymoon'.

Series 12 subjects

George Best | Alfred Marks | Rolf Harris | Don Whillans | Sacha Distel | Les Dawson | Doris Hare | Keith Michell | David Frost
Barry John | Michael Flanders | Charlie Williams | Ginette Spanier | Hughie Green | Tom Courtenay | Hylda Baker
Gordon Banks | Alan Rudkin | Michael Wood | Graham Kerr | Pauline Collins | Ray Illingworth
Patricia Hayes | Nosher Powell | Richard Briers | Lulu