Roger COOK (1943-)

Roger Cook This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 1117
  • Subject No: 1092
  • Broadcast date: Thu 17 Apr 2003
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Tue 22 Oct 2002 8.00pm
  • Venue: BBC Television Centre
  • Series: 43
  • Edition: 12
  • Code name: Oven

on the guest list...

  • Frances - wife
  • Belinda - daughter
  • Floella Benjamin
  • Jane - sister
  • Nick Ross
  • Bob Southgate
  • Mike Townson
  • Tim Tate
  • Paul Golden
  • Michael Hames
  • Will Travers
  • Barry Eaton
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Stirling Moss
  • Trevor McDonald

production team...

  • Researchers: Ruth Malone, Ian Skelton
  • Writer: Ian Brown
  • Director: John Gorman
  • Associate Producer: Helen Gordon-Smith
  • Series Producer: Jack Crawshaw
  • Producer: Sue Green
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...
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Screenshots of Roger Cook This Is Your Life

Roger Cook's autobiography

Roger Cook recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, More Dangerous Ground...

Back in the autumn of 2002, shortly after the News of the World had caved in, and unbeknown to me, Frances had agreed to have me ambushed by This Is Your Life. She tells me she'd been approached twice before over the years and - knowing I'd rather walk on hot coals than take part - she had declined. This time, however, she and my agent colluded. They had decided that appearing would remind the public and television executives alike that I was still around - and, more importantly, the programme would give me the opportunity to tell more people about my libel victory than those who might just have seen it reported on page 38 of the guilty paper.

I hadn't the faintest idea what Frances was up to. Because I had previously pleaded with her never to get me involved with This Is Your Life, it didn't enter my head. There was the odd clumsily discontinued phone call when I came into the room, and if I didn't trust her totally, I might have suspected a toy boy - but that was it.

In September, I planned to visit the Motor Show - as is my habit - and had been invited to the Jaguar stand for lunch. My very tall friend Martin Broomer from Jaguar's public affairs department was in attendance, and I didn't notice a conspiratorial air to him either. I did wonder what he was up to when there was no lunch and he gave me a very protracted guided tour of Jaguar's brand new XJ8 instead.

I was luxuriating in the front seat, being told about the cruise control for the nth time, when my attention wandered and I looked out of the window. There, approaching fast in the rear vision mirror I saw him - Michael Aspel, Big Red Book in hand. There was no escape, just a terrible sinking feeling and a fleeting desire to strangle Martin Broomer, now revealed as a conspirator. I hastily collected my thoughts and got out of the car to face my fate.

My manufactured meeting with Michael over, I was limousined down to London and the BBC Television Centre, to be welcomed by members of the production team, and deposited in a dressing room. The programme was due to be recorded three hours hence. Frances had brought me up some smarter clothes, and had arranged for some sustenance.

But even on this celebratory occasion, I remained as accident-prone as ever. Frances had suggested to the production team that having been denied the promised lunch, I would probably appreciate something to eat when I arrived at the studios. She was asked what I might like and recommended smoked salmon sandwiches, with the clear proviso that they didn't contain any cucumber, to which, oddly, I am very allergic.

This was duly noted, and a cling-film wrapped tray of splendid looking sandwiches was waiting for me in my dressing room. I fell upon them, and had wolfed one down before realising that they were not as described on the post-it note stuck to the wrapping. They were not 'Smoked salmon. No cucumber', but tinned salmon, with cucumber. Almost immediately I felt a tingling in the throat. My face and throat began to swell until I looked like an angry chipmunk. I found it difficult to breathe and my heart raced.

I go prepared for such occasions, rare though they fortunately are, and took a whopping dose of the anti-histamines I always carry with me. I didn't need the adrenalin shot because, in the circumstances, there was more than enough flowing already. After about half an hour, the swelling subsided - and then I was spectacularly sick — all over the dressing room and all over the shirt I was to wear. Shamefaced, I got down on my hands and knees and cleaned the place up.

By the time I was ready to face the world it was about an hour to go to the recording. Jack Crawshaw, the usually amiable producer, was furious about what had happened, and not just because it had put his programme at risk. I was given profuse apologies, a new dressing room with somewhere to lie down, and a freshly laundered shirt. Unfortunately, when the recording began, I still felt like death warmed up. Fortunately, with a thick layer of television make up on, no one could tell.

As I stepped through the doors of the set, friends and family were arrayed before me. I was, of course, pleased to see them, but very embarrassed too. Contrary to what you might think, I do not like being on public display. Having watched the programme on transmission, I could see myself wincing on several occasions. I was even more embarrassed by some of the family anecdotes on the one hand, and touched too by the kind and over-generous things friends and colleagues had to say about me on the other.

Sir Stirling Moss was the most down to earth. He said that if I was a motor vehicle, I'd be a tank — otherwise I could never have attempted half the things I've done. Floella Benjamin described me as a real live Superman, exposing evil and wrongdoing all over the world. Michael Haines from Scotland Yard said the programme had twice been responsible for changes in the law on child pornography and that I was therefore a hero to children everywhere.

Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation praised our campaigns against the illegal exploitation of endangered species and said I was a hero to the animals of the world - and Sir Trevor McDonald said that whereas most journalists reported the news, I was one of those who had made the news, and that I had changed the face of investigative journalism. As a surprise finale, my old friend Barry Eaton appeared, having been flown in especially from Australia. Eyeing my waistline after a brotherly embrace, he said that he'd always known I'd make it big, but was amazed at just how big. (I chose to take this as a compliment.)

Despite my acute embarrassment, I couldn't help feeling proud of what I and my colleagues had managed to achieve over the years. I was also proud of Frances and Belinda, 'my support team at home'. They looked gorgeous.

There was much, much more. I was overwhelmed and mightily relieved when the praising stopped and Michael Aspel handed me the Big Red Book - intoning, in time-honoured fashion: "Roger Cook, this is your life."

Well thanks, Michael, I thought - it's been challenging, rewarding and mostly enjoyable, but it's not quite over yet.

Series 43 subjects

David Dickinson | Mo Mowlam | Gillian Taylforth | Mike Rutherford | John McArdle | Elmer Bernstein | Charles Collingwood
Jonathan Davies | Elizabeth Pescops | George Best | Lisa Maxwell | Roger Cook | Bob Monkhouse | Nicholas Winton
Anthony Andrews | Alex Norton | John Bardon | Simon Cowell | Alec Stewart | Vic Armstrong | Chris Bonington
John Middleton | Bob Harris | Gyles Brandreth | Aled Jones