Sheila MERCIER (1919-2019)

Sheila Mercier This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 682
  • Subject No: 676
  • Broadcast date: Wed 13 Nov 1985
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Tue 29 Oct 1985
  • Venue: Yorkshire Television, Leeds
  • Series: 26
  • Edition: 4
  • Code name: Country

on the guest list...

  • Richard Thorp
  • Diana Davies
  • Helen Weir
  • Clive Hornby
  • Hugh Manning
  • Jane Hutcheson
  • Ian Sharrock
  • Jean Rogers
  • Frederick Pyne
  • Stan Richards
  • Arthur Pentelow
  • Ronald Magill
  • Peter - husband
  • Nigel - son
  • Brian Rix - brother
  • Elspet Gray - sister-in-law
  • Nora - sister
  • Ronnie Marsh
  • Christine Russell
  • Dinah Sheridan
  • Andrew Sachs
  • Nicholas Parsons
  • Rosalind Iden
  • Rosina - daughter-in-law
  • David - grandson
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Frank Thornton
  • Irene Handl
  • Derek Royle
  • Dennis Ramsden
  • Bob Todd
  • Frazer Hines

production team...

  • Researcher: Tom Wettengel
  • Writer: Roy Bottomley
  • 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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Screenshots of Sheila Mercier This Is Your Life

Sheila Mercier's autobiography

Sheila Mercier recalls her experience of This Is Your Life in her autobiography, Annie's Song...

After my operation, I appeared on the quiz show, Whose Baby? with my son, Nigel. It was while we were making this programme at Thames Television's studios in Teddington, Middlesex, that Peter was asked - unbeknown to me, of course - about the prospect of Eamonn Andrews nabbing me with that big red book for This Is Your Life. I had told Peter that if he was ever asked he should say no, but he said yes and, of course, told me nothing.

So, one day while working on Emmerdale Farm, the producer ordered us all out on location for some filming. I blithely went out to the farm and had a glass of champagne put in my hand, thinking that Yorkshire Television must have come into money, because we had never been offered real champagne before. We were told to sit down and look happy and, the next thing we knew, a yokel was coming round the corner with a horse and cart. 'That's a nice touch,' I thought. Then, the 'yokel' threw off his disguise and there was Eamonn. I nearly died. 'Peter, how could you?' I thought.

Sheila Mercier This Is Your Life

I was bundled into a car and taken to a caravan at Yorkshire Television where I couldn't see any of my guests. That wait was the most frightening moment of my life, wondering who would want to come on my This Is Your Life. Peter was rushed to the house to get something for me to wear and the show began.

First on, of course, was Peter and I gave him one of my rat-face looks, then smiled and he felt better. Next came Nigel, who was white-faced with fear, and my face reflected the agony I knew he was going through. He was followed by Brian, Elspet and my sister, Nora. I wasn't worried for Brian because he was used to this sort of thing, but I was worried about what he might say, so the look of anxiety never left my face until the family were all sitting down.

The Emmerdale Farm cast all came in and sat down, but no one said anything, which surprised me. There were only eleven of us in the cast in those days, compared to a couple of dozen now.

One person I was particularly pleased to see was Christine Russell, a very dear friend and actress whom I had known since 1946, when we went to Germany together in the stage play Exercise Bowler. I was always happy in her company but, when we arrived back in Britain, we all went our separate ways.

I didn't meet Christine again until we bumped into her at the Strand underground station once she wasn't working. I was employed at the Whitehall Theatre by then, so I said, 'Come and see Brian.' Christine became my understudy and she and her husband, 'Slim' (Dennis) Ramsden, have been part of our lives ever since. So it was good to see her again.

Next came my grandson, David, blowing kisses to me on film. He was adorable. Frank Thornton, best known to viewers as Captain Peacock in the comedy series Are You Being Served? and appearing on stage in London at the time, also sent a filmed message. He had been our leading man in Bridlington all those years ago in rep and we had often acted together.

He and I played husband and wife in Present Laughter and, sitting in his dressing-room for This Is Your Life, Frank was wearing the dressing-gown that he had worn as Garry Essendine in that play. Over the years since, we had met at various parties and kept in touch.

Ronnie Marsh, who was in Private Lives with me at Middleton St George during the war and piloted me to be demobbed, came on the show too. After his wartime job as a squadron leader, he had acted and joined the BBC, later becoming a director, producer and executive producer, before taking charge of serials and series, overseas sales and co-productions. Since retiring, he had gone to the BBC as a consultant.

Dinah Sheridan was next. She had appeared with me all those years ago in Sweet Aloes at Huddersfield Rep when we used to have a star in the cast every week. We kept in touch with Dinah and her daughter Jenny Hanley, who acted Briddy Middleton in Emmerdale Farm for a short time. Since then, I have seen Dinah at a party given to celebrate the 501st episode of This Is Your Life. It was also her seventieth birthday, so we were all very pleased to sing 'Happy Birthday'.

Andrew Sachs also appeared on my This Is Your Life. I had first worked with him in rep in Bexhill, then he joined Brian's company in Simple Spymen at the Whitehall Theatre. What a funny man he is, and so clever.

Next was a lovely, farcical film called Under Beds, Behind Doors, which Irene Handl, Derek Royle, Bob Todd, Nicholas Parsons and 'Slim' Ramsden had put together. It was hysterically funny and sometimes, if I'm feeling in the dumps, I play it and laugh again. All of them had worked with me at some time or another during my years with Brian and the Whitehall Theatre crowd.

The film started with Irene - who was in the film The Night We Got the Bird with me - stepping into a wardrobe with a parrot. Various shenanigans followed, in true Whitehall style, and it all ended with Bob Todd saluting me, his trousers promptly falling down. Bob had been in the stage run of Chase Me, Comrade!, as had Derek, who took over from Larry Noble during its last months.

Bob is an example of someone who came to showbusiness late, in his case after spending many years as a farmer. At the age of forty-two, he became an actor and stooged to some of the great television comedians, such as Sid James in Citizen James, Dick Emery in his shows and Marty Feldman in Marty, before teaming up with Benny Hill.

Derek Royle was part of a showbusiness family, with his daughters Carol and Amanda carrying on the acting tradition. Sadly, he and the other stars of that dear little film are also no longer with us, apart from Nicholas Parsons, who starred in my last West End farce, Uproar in the House, and 'Slim' Ramsden, who had been in Chase Me, Comrade! at the Whitehall and Brian's repertoire at the Garrick.

Then, my darling Frazer Hines came on. He was taking a break from Emmerdale Farm at the time and touring in a play. It was so good to see him - he's quite my favourite person after my family.

Nicholas Parsons walked on with a custard pie all over his face - from that filmed piece earlier. Better love hath no man than this, that he gets a custard pie in his face. He was terribly funny and kept making mistakes and correcting them. Nicholas is, of course, known as presenter of Sale of the Century, but he's always been an actor in films and theatre, and is a great pro to work with - always on the ball - and will help you out when necessary.

Rosalind Iden came on. Now there's a name from the past. She was, of course, Sir Donald Wolfit's wife, Lady Wolfit, and I had toured with her at the beginning of the war. She was clearly very much in with with Donald then and we were so glad to hear that she eventually married him.

She was, in fact, his third wife and has an interesting story of her own. She was the daughter of Ben Iden Payne, who had persuaded Miss A E F Horniman, the tea heiress, to lease the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester so that he could start the first repertory company in England. It was while he and his actress wife Mona Limerick were there, in 1911, that their daughter was born.

She studied as a ballerina and became ballet mistress at the Old Vic Theatre, but forewent the opportunity to create the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company, presented to her by Lilian Baylis, who took a close interest in her career.

It was the need to earn more money that led Rosalind into acting and she was given a boost by her father, who cast her in a season at the Stratford Memorial Theatre after becoming director there. Donald then engaged her in his company and later she became his leading lady both on stage and off.

The last arrival for my This Is Your Life was my precious grandson, David, who came on with his mother, Rosina. He came towards us with a posy of flowers and, as he offered it to me, Eamonn pushed the big red book into my hands, so I wasn't able to pick up the posy. I was so upset, but it all ended with a lovely party and everybody let their hair down.

I was slightly disappointed, and surprised, that a great friend of mine, Helen Jessop - who now lives and works in Johannesburg - had not been flown in. Apparently, she was asked, but her theatre boss wouldn't release her. What a shame. Also, my chum Anna Dawson had not been able to make it.

But the show was a wonderful experience and I'm so glad Peter lied to me. 'I can get away with anything with you now,' he said afterwards. 'I've been lying to you for the past few months.' It must have been very difficult for him.

Getting selected for an appearance on This Is Your Life is just one of the signs that you have made it in showbusiness. Fame and fan letters are something to which I soon became accustomed when Emmerdale Farm turned out to be so popular.

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