Ted WILLIS (1914-1992)

Ted Willis This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 91
  • Subject No: 91
  • Broadcast live: Mon 23 Mar 1959
  • Broadcast time: 7.30-8.00pm
  • Venue: BBC Television Theatre
  • Series: 4
  • Edition: 26

on the guest list...

  • Mrs Budd
  • Melvyn Hayes
  • Arnold Locke
  • Larry Martin
  • Florence Fussell
  • Arthur Lenton
  • John Slater
  • Audrey - wife
  • John - son
  • Sally - daughter
  • James Carr
  • Alfie Bass
  • ex-Chief Inspector Mott
  • Emile Littler - live link
  • Marjorie Fender
  • Horace Fender

production team...

  • Researcher: Nickola Sterne
  • Writer: Nickola Sterne
  • OB Director: Mary Evans
  • Director: Vere Lorrimer
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
  • with thanks to John Willis for his contribution to this page
related pages...

The Written Word

putting pen to paper

Alfie Bass

Ted Willis This Is Your Life Ted Willis This Is Your Life Ted Willis This Is Your Life

Photographs of Ted Willis This Is Your Life

John Willis, son of Ted Willis, recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in this exclusive contribution to the BigRedBook website...

Although I was a schoolboy - and much to my horror was made to wear my school blazer on the programme - I still remember the event reasonably well.

The family had kept the secret well so my Dad was genuinely surprised and also very moved. It was a big thing to be chosen, like getting an honour.

I recall that my parents were surprised by some of the guests the producers invited on the programme as their connection to Ted was tenuous. But I do recall that there were two children on the programme of West Indian origin who Dad had brought home one day completely out of the blue. I think their Dad was in prison and their Mum in hospital. In any event they lived with us for a few weeks which typified my Dad's compassionate approach to life.

I also remember being upset that on the day my scripted answer to the question 'What would you like to be when you grow up?' from Eamonn Andrews was cut from 'A footballer like Danny Blanchflower' to just 'A footballer'.

Next day at school my classmates couldn't stop asking me about it. But wearing that blazer was very uncool.

And Sally, daughter of Ted Willis, recalls her memory of This Is Your Life in this exclusive contribution to the BigRedBook website...

I too remember it quite well considering I was quite young. I only found out that it was all happening on the day itself as I was considered too untrustworthy. This was probably true as I can remember wanting to go and tell my friend.

It was all very exciting being picked up in a chauffeur driven car to go to the studios. I was a bit disappointed that we couldn't take our dog, Buster. The BBC wanted us to but mum had said "No". I thought her very mean.

My one line (scripted) was, in reply to the question "And what does your dad think of you?", "I don't know. I think he just laughs at me". I struggled with this as I was not sure what it meant in as much as I had never seen my dad cracking up every time he saw me!

Ted Willis's autobiography

Ted Willis recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, Evening All...

I had written a number of Dock Green short stories for the London Evening News and one day late in 1959 the editor, Reg Willis, asked me if I could go to the BBC Club at Lime Grove to have some photographs taken with Jack Warner and other members of the cast. I arranged to go the following Monday evening.

Within an hour, Michael Barry, Head of Drama at the BBC, rang to say that he had heard about this photocall and that he would like to see me before I went to the club to discuss a new contract. The next morning Tom Sloane, who had succeeded Ronnie Waldman as Head of Light Entertainment, also telephoned to say that he too had some matters to discuss and that he would meet me in Michael Barry's office.

It did not occur to me that someone was very anxious to make sure that I turned up that Monday evening and I set out with a light heart. I spent an hour with Michael Barry and Tom Sloane discussing ideas for future programmes and then Michael suggested that it was time to go to the club. As we went across the brightly lit yard he said, "I expect you're wondering about these lights. They're here because we're shooting a documentary on the work of the BBC."

Into the club, where Reg Willis waited with a cameraman and all the principal actors in Dixon. A drink and a few photographs later I heard the familiar opening music of the programme This Is Your Life, and saw the titles come up on the club's television set. My first thoughts was that Audrey would be watching at home.

Then I saw Eamonn Andrews heading for our group with the famous Red Book in his hands and my second thought clicked into place: the subject was going to be Jack Warner and I had been lured there to participate in some way in the programme. Then, as from a long way off I heard Eamonn: "...the man who created these marvellous characters. Ted Willis, tonight This Is Your Life."

Then I was hustled back across the yard, under those damned lights, which I now know were there for a different purpose than I'd been told, with the cameras rolling while Eamonn talked and I answered I know not what. A car was on hand to take us to the Television Theatre and, as I learned later, the waiting audience was shown film which extolled my love of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, suitably introduced by Jack Warner.

Audrey and the children were brought on early, Sally bright-eyed and eagerly curious as usual, John a little subdued and nervous. There was a touch of guilt in the look Audrey gave me – she had been working in cahoots with the producers for the past month, operating behind my back, and deception, even in a good cause, was never something that came easily to her.

As for myself, I felt as though I were locked in some bizarre and puzzling dream. The parade of people from my past – Alfie Bass, John Slater, little Jimmy Carr, ex-Inspector Mott, the two West Indian children, Margie and Horace – none of them seemed totally real and when they spoke I had the strange impression that I was standing outside myself, listening with amusement and a certain irony to the verbal bouquets they flung at the Ted Willis who was the object of their attention. It was a little like going to your own funeral to hear friends muttering rehearsed compliments about the dear departed.

Of course, This Is Your Life is designed to be entertainment and as such it is good, cheerful, sentimental stuff. There are no knives, the subject is not dissected, his faults are left outside the doors of the studio and no breath of criticism is allowed to foul the sweet emotion of the carefully prepared atmosphere. It must be taken with fingers crossed behind your back and, like most of show business, not too seriously.

The irony of one moment did not strike me until later when, having emerged from the dream, I read the transcript of what had been said. Eamonn introduced an old lady whom he referred to as Granny Budd. She had lived next door when I was a boy and I remember her as a tetchy nag of a woman who was forever complaining but the programme had her pegged as a kindly, lovable old trout and it was too late to argue. When Eamonn asked if she remembered me, old Granny Budd, aged 104, replied, "Of course I remember him. We were at school together."

Series 4 subjects

Jo Capka | Jimmy Edwards | Andrew Milbourne | Bella Burge | Tommy Steele | Ronald Shiner | James Edward Wood
Margaret Rowena Jones | John Griffiths | Freddy Bloom | Bransby Williams | Miriam Moses | Elsie Mullock | John Vidler
Florence Desmond | Noel Duckworth | Alfred Daniel Wintle | Ted Heath | Andrew Macdonald | Harriet Cohen
Willie Hall | Reginald Blanchford | Kenneth More | Hugh Llewelyn Glyn Hughes | Miriam Jowett | Ted Willis
Alfred Southon | Tiger Sarll | Mary Ward | Roy Gill | Stirling Moss | Ethel Goldsack | Tommy Trinder