Russ CONWAY (1925-2000)

Russ Conway This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 113
  • Subject No: 113
  • Broadcast live: Mon 7 Dec 1959
  • Broadcast time: 7.30-8.05pm
  • Venue: BBC Studio 1, 201 Piccadilly
  • Series: 5
  • Edition: 15

on the guest list...

  • Bert Weedon
  • Eddie Falcon
  • Geoffrey Wallace
  • Joe Muddell
  • Bobby Kevin
  • Joan Morgan
  • Vera Bissicks
  • Michael Holliday
  • Roy Ashford
  • Mollie Ashford
  • Reg Gook
  • Dr John Lloyd
  • Norman Newell
  • Teddy Holmes
  • Lilian Stanford - aunt
  • Joan Regan
  • Filmed tribute:
  • Billy Cotton

production team...

  • Researcher: Liam Nolan
  • Writer: Liam Nolan
  • Director: unknown
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
  • with thanks to Peter Ashford and Terry Horner for their contributions to this page
related pages...

A Musical Life

blowing a trumpet for the musicians

The Audience

the applause, laughter and tears

Split Second Danny

Radio Times feature on the programme's chauffeur

Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Russ Conway This Is Your Life Big Red Book

Photographs and screenshots of Russ Conway This Is Your Life - and a photograph of Russ Conway's big red book

Russ Conway recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in an extract from a radio interview

Peter Ashford, son of Roy and Mollie Ashford, recalls their experience of This Is Your Life in this exclusive contribution to the BigRedBook website...

In 1950, myself and my family moved to a new home at Fanshawe Road, Hengrove, Bristol. Hengrove was a new suburb, and as more housing was needed for an increasing population in Bristol, more suburbs were being created. This was soon after World War 2, and rationing was still in place. Adjacent to where we lived was Whitchurch airport, and the airport will forever hold a special place in aviation history, as, at one stage, it was the only operational civil airport in the UK during those war years; most UK airports had been requisitioned by the military. Several well-known personalities of the time flew to/from Whitchurch in secrecy, e.g., the US First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope, Winston Churchill, etc. It was a hive of activity, with BOAC and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines basing their UK operations there, offering a lifeline with air services to/from Spain and Portugal.

In 1959, there was a knock at the door one evening. I answered the door (I was ten years old), and a man called Liam Nolan was asking to see my father.

So... I asked my parents many questions about who he was. He was employed by the BBC to seek out people who could be guests on the This Is Your Life TV show, which initially started in the US and then franchised across the Atlantic to the UK. Eamonn Andrews was the host.

On leaving school in 1941, my father, Roy Ashford, was employed by E. Thornton and Son, a shipping company based in Baldwin Street, Bristol. At that time, my mother, Mollie Hollingsworth, was already working in the same offices. Soon after, Dad enlisted in the Royal Navy and was posted to HMS Royal Arthur, Skegness, which had been a Butlin's Holiday Camp but had now been turned into a training facility by the Navy. Soon after arriving, he heard a guy playing the piano with a Bristol accent. His name was Terry Stanford (later to become Russ Conway), and Dad and Terry became good friends.

At the end of the war, enlisted people were demobilized, and Dad found his way into a job with the Singer Sewing Machine Company in Bristol. In September 1947, my parents were married in Bristol. My mother was still working at E. Thornton and Son, and this company is still operating as Thornton's Travel, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, having set up the travel agency within its operation in 1940. I have all my mother's diaries from those war years, and it's plain to see that the staff were under huge pressure, being shipping agents, trying to handle shipping in Bristol City and Avonmouth Docks.

In the 1950s, as more people bought TVs, 'stars' could be viewed at home. Previously, the public would need to visit the cinema to see their favourite stars, but now they had a new medium to see artists such as Russ Conway. Russ had little formal piano training but was one of those people who instinctively had a penchant for playing an instrument, and the piano was the vehicle he chose.

Mum and Dad were invited to London to appear on the occasion of Russ being the focused star on This Is Your Life. I was dispatched to my grandparents to stay, and we all watched the show... LIVE, of course, from my grandparents' living room. That was on 7 December 1959.

Various family members and friends were on the show, and one star in particular, Joan Regan, was a well-known singer at the time. Mum had a good conversation with her backstage and returned to Bristol, saying she was a lovely person. 1959 was a great year for Russ; he shot to stardom with No. 1 hits in the UK charts and was a major player in the music scene. He often appeared on the Billy Cotton Band Show.

Ironically, Mum grew up in the Bedminster area of Bristol and, in the 1930s, often went to Southville Public Baths, where she became friendly with the Stanford brothers several years before she met Dad. So, it was fitting that both my parents appeared on the show, considering only Dad was the invitee. However, Mum was called down from the audience to come onto the stage late in the show.

In 1999, my parents went to see Russ play at the Winter Gardens, Weston-super-Mare; that was the last time they saw him.

It seems highly fitting that Russ's funeral was conducted at the historic St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol, at the time of his death in November 2000. He had come 'home'.

NME Magazine Russ Conway article

New Musical Express 11 December 1959

Russ Conway reveals how it feels to relive your life before millions

All day Tuesday, Russ Conway was feeling the after-effects of the nerve-racking surprise – and delight – of being the "victim" of the BBC-TV's This Is Your Life programme.

"I've still got butterflies in my stomach. Yet somehow I feel the programme means a big turning-point in my future life," was what Russ told me on Tuesday afternoon.

He confessed that it was a shock at first, then a slight worry, but in the end an inspiring and delightful half-hour.

Russ was very surprised when he saw the television transmission van outside the sound radio studio on Monday afternoon, when he turned up to record his show to be heard in the Light Programme next Monday night.

It was a very unusual thing, he further thought, to find TV cameras inside the plush Piccadilly One sound studio, a few yards from the Circus. And he was even more surprised when he met Joan Regan – in full TV make-up.

But one thought calmed his curiosity. "About a fortnight ago," he explained, "someone mentioned to me in strictest confidence that Bert Weedon was to be the subject of This Is Your Life"

Russ went to work as usual on rehearsals for the pre-recording of the show. The clock was approaching 7.30 pm when an operator moved behind one of the cameras that had been lying dormant for so long.

No worry

Russ was suspicious, but as Bert Weedon was in his programme, he just thought it was Bert's "Life" that was about to be revealed to millions.

Tension reached a peak when Eamonn Andrews arrived – and spoke to Weedon. "I laughed inwardly," Russ recalled. "I was in on the secret and had been right all the time – or so I thought."

"I noticed Eamonn working his way around the studio. He spoke to me, I replied, and turned away, thinking we had finished our conversation."

"But he was still talking to me. When I realised I was to be the subject – or victim – I wanted to run right out of the studio. Panic? I never was so close to it."

But Russ overcame it, and the show went on...

There was Billy Cotton (on film) from Glasgow, Mrs Joan Morgan, a childhood friend; Miss Bissicks, his Sunday school teacher; and Mike Holliday, who knew Russ in the Navy.

"I bleached my new collar," recalled Mike, "to take the newness away and to make others think I was an old hand. Russ saw my collar and said: 'You must've been in a long time.' I winked and said: 'All day!'"

"Years later I met Russ at a music publisher's when I was looking for 'Yellow Rose of Texas.' I remembered him, even out of uniform."

Russ (or Terry Stanford, as he was then) was proud when his father won the George Medal in Bristol and modestly embarrassed when he himself was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for devotion to duty as a signalman during a battle.

Out of the Navy in 1948, he became radio salesman, barman, civil servant. When his father died in 1952, he joined the Merchant Navy, leaving in 1955, when he got a job playing at the George pub, Newington Butts, three times a week, attracting an ever-growing audience.

One fan then was John Lloyd, who described Russ as "a master of the change of key," and who recorded him at his home one night – Conway's first!

Dancer Irving Davies introduced Russ to Norman Newell, who got him a job as song plugger with Teddy Holmes, of Chappells. Norman told how he rang Ken Morris to record "Roll The Carpet Up", but Ken wasn't at home. So he asked Russ to do it – which Russ jumped at because it was a song he was plugging for Teddy Holmes at the time!

That started Russ off as a recording artist, but Teddy Holmes said: "He was a good plugger. He can have his job back any time!"

As Terry Stanford was too square Norman took the name Conway from the late Steve Conway, and Teddy added Russ.

Russ was asked to write the music for the BBC pantomime, "Beauty and the Beast", and a minuet from this, with tempo changed, became "Side Saddle" – and Russ was made! "Roulette" "China Tea" and "Snow Coach" followed.

Always Shy

He played in the Royal Variety Show in Glasgow this year, but another "Command Performance" was described by his aunt, Mrs Lilian Stanford, which Russ did for her at Bristol for charity. "He was overcome by the applause," she recalled. "He has always been so modest and shy."

Next Joan Regan told how he was so nervous about playing on-stage with her for the first time at Birmingham. Just beforehand she injured her leg backstage, and Russ was so worried about her he forgot his nerves.

"He once said he was going to pack it in," went on Joan, "but I told him off. 'You're raving mad giving up the talent you have,' I told him sternly. I'm so glad he took heed."

Series 5 subjects

Evelyn Laye | Donald Caskie | Eva Turner | Billy Butlin | James Slater | Edmund Arbuthnott | Louis Langford | O P Jones
Richard Hearne | Francoise Rigby | John Barclay | Thomas Drake | William Merrilees | John Lord | Russ Conway | Stanley Bishop
Leonard Stanmore | Arthur Askey | Robert Oldfield | Alicia Markova | Frederic Morena | Hilda Rowcliffe | Thomas Salmon
Harry Welchman | Harry Webb | Nat Gonella | David Barclay | Richard Todd | Thomas Bodkin | Gracie Fields | Michael Ansell