Richard BRANSON (1950-)

Richard Branson This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 683
  • Subject No: 677
  • Broadcast date: Wed 20 Nov 1985
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Fri 8 Nov 1985
  • Venue: Royalty Theatre
  • Series: 26
  • Edition: 5
  • Code name: Island

on the guest list...

  • Steve Ridgway
  • Dag Pike
  • Steve Goodwill
  • Duggie Duggan
  • Nobby Clark
  • Peter McCann
  • Chay Blyth
  • Phil Collins
  • Mike Rutherford
  • Tony Banks
  • Gary Daly
  • Eddie Lundon
  • Helen Terry
  • Suggs
  • Bedders
  • Feargal Sharkey
  • Joan Templeman - partner
  • Eve - mother
  • Edward - father
  • Lindy - sister
  • Robin Brockway - brother-in-law
  • Ned - nephew
  • Jack - nephew
  • Vanessa - sister
  • Joyce - aunt
  • Simon Draper - cousin
  • Jonathan Gems
  • Robert Drayson
  • Nik Powell
  • Robert Morley
  • Christopher Stylianou
  • Chris Strangeways
  • Max Handley
  • Joan Vernon
  • Mike Oldfield
  • Clare - aunt
  • six sheep
  • Clifford Birt
  • Vince Antia
  • Peter Williams
  • Mark Tait
  • Dorothy Huntley-Flindt - grandmother
  • Holly - daughter
  • Sam - son

production team...

  • Researcher: David N Mason
  • Writer: Norman Giller
  • Directors: Terry Yarwood, Michael D Kent
  • Associate Producer: Brian Klein
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...
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Malcolm Morris biography

Producer Malcolm Morris recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, This Is My Life...

Richard Branson was not only young but a mystery to most people in 1985 when he had just bought his first plane for his new airline project called 'Virgin'. The unanimous opinion throughout the business world was that this was a ridiculous name for an airline and he and it were doomed to failure. I was advised not to target him. 'He was too young, too brash and had upset too many people' was the word.

I still wanted to do it and Eamonn agreed because Richard Branson was a young man who had already done some extraordinary things. We started our research and found out that he was a practical joker who had a barge on the Thames which he used as an office. We felt strongly that if we surprised him in a normal fashion he just might find it boring, so we thought up something special. The plan was for Eamonn to draw up alongside him in a small boat and board him, pirate style.

Someone then suggested that he should go the whole hog and dress up like a pirate, complete with a dead parrot on his shoulder. Eamonn immediately began to imitate a very good friend of his, Robert Newton, who had immortalised 'Long John Silver' in Treasure Island. 'Ah, Jim Lad, ah.' Eamonn got quite carried away and, much to my amazement, agreed to do it.

Luckily for us it was a nice day on the Thames as Eamonn's boat pulled up alongside Richard Branson's barge. Richard was being 'interviewed' by one of our team as a way of distracting his attention when Eamonn, complete with dead parrot, arrived on the deck and gatecrashed his way into Richard's office.

'Ah, me hearties!' Eamonn called out as he approached Richard, who was totally baffled by Eamonn's outfit but agreed to come quietly as we whisked him away from his barge to the shore and a fast car to Teddington.

He was convinced that his friends had helped us as a form of revenge for the many practical jokes he had played on them, and he was right.

This Is Your Life: Richard Branson The Times article

The Times 23 November 1985

Long Distance Form: This Is Your Life

Just one of the success stories

If almost every Briton keeps, for emergencies, a mental list of eight favourite records, so too have most of them, in idle moments, imagined a large red book half-hidden beneath the overcoat of the stranger moving purposefully through the crowd: "And tonight... This is your life!"

This Is Your Life began in 1955 with the BBC, transferred to Thames Television in 1969 and, last Wednesday, reached the fifth programme in its seventeenth Thames series with the usual 24-minute flick through events and friends in the life of "millionaire business tycoon" Richard Branson.

The programme's durability and rock-like constancy of format provide ample fuel for detractors. Gentle, affectionate, acceptable, This Is Your Life admits no scandal or malice; its brief biographies are not profiles but panegyrics: "You've often been a bit of a rascal, Ricky, but we love you!" Its attentions are a form of taxidermy, leaving the subjects smug and stuffed, exhibits in a hall of fame.

The famous, unchanged format which has survived for 32 years was seen at work in Wednesday's programme. The show opened with Eamonn Andrews on a barge, dressed as Long John Silver. Interestingly, in a medium obsessed with pre-selling (Later in the show... Wednesday's guest will be...) This Is Your Life trades on the frisson of ignorance. With no advance billing of the night's life, Andrews plays guess the guest, confiding at last that it is Richard Branson.

The second central shibboleth is that Branson does not know. Surprised on his own houseboat by a smiling Irishman with a parrot on his shoulder and a red book in his hand, Branson squeaks an expletive (bleeped on transmission). And so to the studio, where, the guest is assured, his family and many of his friends await him.

The guest's friends are as important to the show's success as the guest himself. Branson's record business is an excuse to introduce Phil Collins, China Crisis, Madness and two other pop stars. They are required merely to appear, smile at Branson (hugs and kisses optional but encouraged) and be cheered for it. Next, Andrews introduces "the lady in your life and mother of your two children".

The first substantial fact revealed is that the subject weighed 11 pounds at birth. A voice wafts from offstage: "And you've been larger than life ever since, Ricky". Enter the subject's mum to hug him. And so on, until the climatic arrival of Branson's 87-year-old ballroom-dancing grandmother with his two tiny children. Roll titles and emotion.

It is idiotically simple, executed with professionalism, popular in the extreme (though past its ratings-topping days) and able to claim that 32 years of success is sufficient defence against carping like this. I wonder, however, how much longer it can survive.

This Is Your Life employs the only style of television profile which enquires into lives in less depth than the chat show. The parade of faces ("The foreman you haven't seen for 19 years", "She's flown in from Los Angeles specially!") seems increasingly to mask a fear that the subject cannot hold a show on his or her own.

The problem is, perhaps, that the title This Is Your Life hints at more than it delivers.

Mark Lawson

Series 26 subjects

William Roache | Dennis Taylor | Elisabeth Welch | Sheila Mercier | Richard Branson | Maurice Denham | David Ellaway
Terry O'Neill | Gerry Marsden | Joyce Carey | Chas n Dave | Oliver Reed | Felix Bowness | John Harris | Bonnie Langford
Henry Cotton | June McElnea | Derek Jameson | Richard Vernon | Martyn Lewis | Peter Shilton | Ted Rogers
Simon Williams | Larry Slater | Lena Kennedy | Denis Quilley