Tom Breaks This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 189
  • Subject No: 190
  • Broadcast: Mon 26 Mar 1962
  • Broadcast time: 7.30-8.00pm
  • Recorded: Mon 22 Jan 1962 7.30pm
  • Venue: BBC Television Theatre
  • Series: 7
  • Edition: 26

on the guest list...

  • George Greaves
  • Bill Atkins
  • Jack Ryan
  • Audrey Hartley
  • Douglas Outram
  • Marjorie Flush
  • Albert Flush
  • Lance Fairlamb
  • Frank Taylor
  • Harry Thomas
  • Sydney Jowett
  • Leslie Garside
  • Eric Searston
  • Bertram Edmund Weerasinghe
  • Hector – son

production team...

  • Researcher: Arthur Sellwood
  • Writer: Arthur Sellwood
  • Director: Yvonne Littlewood
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
  • with special thanks to Odath Weerasinghe for his contribution to this page
related page...

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Photographs of Tom Breaks This Is Your Life

The Ceylon Observer article: Tom Breaks This Is Your Life

The Ceylon Observer January 1962

Phone call summons him to appear on TV in England

by an Observer reporter

A telephone call from the BBC takes Mr B.E. Weerasinghe, the General Manager of Pure Beverages Ltd to London today. Mr Weerasinghe is to appear on the BBC television programme This Is Your Life.

Mr Weerasinghe is seldom at home in the evening. Providentially he was when the telephone call summoning him to London came late on Wednesday evening.

This Is Your Life is a fortnightly programme, starring a colourful personality. The star is brought by some device to the BBC studio – quite unaware that he is to be interviewed on television.

Here he is confronted with people from his past. This fortnight's star is Mr Tom Breaks OBE, formerly Chief Fire Officer of Region No 1 in World War II.


Mr Weerasinghe, Colombo's Fire Chief from 1933-46 received his early fire training under Mr Breaks in 1932-3.

On being asked by the BBC whom her father would most like to see, Mr Breaks's daughter is said to have replied: "I am sure it would be Mr Weerasinghe from Ceylon".

So Mr Weerasinghe, a former Golf Champion of Ceylon and the President of the Havelocks Gold Club flies to London today at just 36 hours notice.

The Ceylon Daily News article: Tom Breaks This Is Your Life

Ceylon Daily News January 1962


(By a 'Daily News' reporter)

Memories of nearly 28 years are revived today by the flight to England of Mr B.E. Weerasinghe, retired Fire Chief.

Few passengers on today's BOAC flight will know that Mr Weerasinghe is making a special trip at the request of the BBC to appear for about two minutes on a TV program – This Is Your Life.

Mr Weerasinghe was not aware of his good fortune till he received a telephone call on Wednesday evening from Mr Arthur Sellwood of the BBC asking him whether he could come to London at BBC expense.

How the BBC came to know Mr Weerasinghe's telephone number and for what purpose is a story in itself.

Years ago in 1932, young Bertie Weerasinghe was undergoing a year's training as a fire officer under the benign guidance of Tom Breaks, Chief Fire Officer at Sheffield. Tom Breaks and "Weera" became great friends.

Tom Breaks is now nearly 67 years of age and retired. He and "Weera" have not seen each other since. But the BBC will bring them together again. It will be on the program This Is Your Life.

People from different walks of life are brought to this program every week. On Monday the BBC will present Tom Breaks.

How did the BBC know that Tom Breaks and "Weera" were so intimate?

This Is Your Life is a program that cannot help being autobiographical. Pieces of Tom Breaks' life had to be put together, so BBC researchers burrowed into the past with the help of Tom Breaks's only daughter. She was only eight years old when B.E. Weerasinghe was a young fire officer in training, under her father.

The BBC staff men asked her whom her father would like to meet most. She unhesitatingly replied "Weera. My father always recalls his memory. He is from Ceylon, and he was Ceylon's Fire Chief."

So the BBC followed the trail and were able to get at the quarry in his own home.

The careers of the two fire officers were the same. While Tom Breaks ended up as Fire Chief in Sheffield during the war his pupil became Fire Chief of Ceylon also during the war. He was Assistant Civil Defence Commissioner for the whole island.

Bertie Weerasinghe, who is now Managing Director of Pure Beverages Ltd, leaves this evening. He will be staying in London for a month or so with his son, Ranjit, who is a chartered accountant.

The Sheffield Star Observer article: Tom Breaks This Is Your Life

The Sheffield Star 10 October 2012

Recruit all fired up

Chief-elect learns his trade in city

It was a dilemma faced by a city 12,000 miles away – but which was solved right here in Sheffield.

Eighty years ago this month, on the other side of the world, a 28-year-old engineer had just been announced as chief fire officer of Colombo in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

The only problem? Young Bertram Weerasinghe – who was to oversee a team protecting 250,000 people – had no previous firefighting experience.

Now, Midweek Retro can reveal how a solution was sought right here in the Steel City.

For in October 1932, Bertram was sent to South Yorkshire to spend 12 months living at Central Fire Station in Division Street while learning his trade.

And the story of how this exotic stranger fought dozens of blazes, made lifelong friends and was even eulogised in the national press has been recalled this anniversary by his son Odath.

"My father had a great affinity with Sheffield," says Odath, a retired IT systems auditor who lives in Australia. "The UK had one of the finest fire services in the world back then but this arrangement was still very unusual."

Bertram already had strong links with the city when he arrived here. He had studied at Sheffield University four years previously, and had married a Scottish girl before moving home to take up an engineering post.

"He didn't really enjoy that work," says Odath, 65, one of Bertram's five children. "Then he learned Colombo Municipal Council was looking to recruit its first native fire chief and he applied for the job. I think the officials were impressed by his ambition and keenness, so they said he could have the post if he trained in England for a year."

Thus, Bertram got in touch with Sheffield Fire Brigade and was taken on.

His wife Evelyn lived in a flat in Fulwood Road while Bertram stayed at the station itself under the command of Superintendant Tom Breaks – later famous for commanding London fire units during the blitz.

And his arrival was considered so unusual several national newspapers ran the story. "It is very fascinating work," Bertram told one. "I have ridden on your fire engines; I have watched and assisted your firemen. They are quick and smart on the job. Not a minute is wasted. The art of firefighting is to be there before a fire really develops and put it out."

It was an art he learned well.

Bertram's diaries record him dealing with blazes across the city, from cutlery factories in Rockingham Street to furniture factories on The Moor. One official report noted he "worked like a Trojan".

And the memoirs also show him being accepted into city life at a time when men from other parts of the world were far from a common sight.

He played golf at Sitwell Park, in Rotherham, drank in the Three Merry Lads pub in Fulwood, and regularly took Evelyn to the city's cinemas.

The friends he made here would remain for life. In 1962, When Tom Breaks appeared on BBC TV show This Is Your Life, Bertram was flown to London to appear as a special guest.

By that time, of course, Sheffield was but a memory for him.

After his year finished he returned to Colombo and stayed in his post until 1946. He was awarded an OBE for work during World War Two when he was an assistant civil defence commissioner.

After retiring from the brigade he held various executive posts before passing away, aged 67, in 1971.

Series 7 subjects

Max Bygraves | Mario Borrelli | Alastair Pearson | Brian Rix | Derek Dooley | Elizabeth Twistington Higgins | Sandy MacPherson
Ronald Menday | Harry Day | Peter Finch | Charlie Drake | Timothy Cain | Isabella Woodford | David Park | Sefton Delmer
Coco the Clown | Jenny Gleed | Arthur E Davies | Tom Evans | David Pelham James | Kenneth Horne | Marie Rambert | David Butler
Glen Moody | Kenneth Cooke | Tom Breaks | Dora Bryan | Bob Oatway | Acker Bilk | Hester Meakin | Joe Filliston | Ellaline Terriss