Val DOONICAN (1927-2015)

Val Doonican This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 279
  • Subject No: 281
  • Broadcast date: Wed 6 May 1970
  • Broadcast time: 6.55-7.25pm
  • Recorded: Wed 22 Apr 1970
  • Venue: Euston Road Studios
  • Series: 10
  • Edition: 23

on the guest list...

  • Dickie Henderson
  • Lynn - wife
  • Agnes - mother
  • John Dooley
  • Mickey Brennan
  • Ned - brother
  • Dermot Buckley
  • Pat Campbell
  • Frank Davies
  • Dennis Holloway
  • Peter Roy
  • John O'Neil
  • Billy O'Toole
  • Tommy Byrne
  • Jack Lee
  • Moira Anderson
  • Oona - sister
  • Nellie - sister
  • John - brother
  • Nancy - sister
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Gene Autry
  • family members

production team...

  • Researcher: Mary McAnally
  • Writers: Lawrie Wyman, George Evans
  • Director: Margery Baker
  • Producer: Robert Tyrrell
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

A Song For Life

it's the singer not the song

The Audience

the applause, laughter and tears

The Night We Shocked Petula

TV Times photo feature on Petula Clark's second This Is Your Life surprise

Moira Anderson

Dickie Henderson

Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life Val Doonican This Is Your Life

Screenshots of Val Doonican This Is Your Life - and a screenshot of Val Doonican at his home with his This Is Your Life book

Val Doonican autobiography

Val Doonican recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, My Story, My Life, reproduced here with kind permission of the author...

In 1970, I had the pleasure of being one of the chosen subjects for TV's This Is Your Life. I can honestly say that I didn't have a clue until that fateful moment when the little book was pushed in front of me, and those now famous words were addressed to me: 'Val Doonican, tonight, this is your life.' Unbeknown to me, the planning stages of the whole thing had been going on for ages beforehand. I truly suspected nothing, although after the deed had been perpetrated, I found myself putting all kinds of two and twos together.

The first question the organisers put to Lynn was, 'How can we be sure to catch him?'

'On the golf course.' She assured them. 'Organise an attractive game of golf with people he likes to play with, and come hail, rain or snow, he'll be there.'

That year was a very special year for me professionally. I was now booked in my own show for a period of six months at the famous London Palladium. All kinds of plans were in the melting pot.

The family and I had just got back from holiday in Barbados, when I received a call from my agent. It appeared that Leslie Grade's office, who were responsible for staging the Palladium show, wished to talk to me about organising a special photographic session. The resulting photos were intended for the theatre souvenir brochure. I rang Leslie Grade who suggested I might like a round of golf with the famous Ryder Cup captain Dai Rees. A photographer, of course, would be in attendance to take some suitable shots. This all sounded very plausible to me, since my golfing routine with Norman Vaughan was well known.

The golf match was planned for a few weeks hence, and naturally I looked forward to it very much. Now, believe it or not, only days before my golfing appointment, I had a phone call at about dinner time (Lynn was sitting, looking at a magazine, waiting for the food to be ready). The voice on the other end sounded very Irish. Frankly, I thought it was somebody trying to be funny. The conversation went something like this?

ME: Hello

VOICE: Can I speak to Val Doonican?

ME: Speaking, who is this?

VOICE: (a very Irish name)

ME: Sorry, how did you get this number [which is ex-directory]?

VOICE: Oh, I'm with the Irish Times – we had it here in the office.

ME: Is that you, Tarbuck?

VOICE: Mr Doonican, could you tell me what you're doing next Wednesday?

ME: Next Wednesday? Why do you ask that? I'm playing golf actually.

VOICE: With Dai Rees?

ME: Yes. How do you know that?

VOICE: Actually, somebody tipped us off that it was Dai Rees's This Is Your Life. He's being set up.

ME: Well, if he is, nobody's told me.

VOICE: I see, well, thank you very much.

I put the phone down, still wondering what the whole thing was about, and not suspecting a thing, Lynn looked up from her book.

'Who was that?'

I shook my head. 'No idea, says he's from some paper, asked me if next Wednesday is Dai Rees's This Is Your Life.'

Lynn put down her magazine. 'Potatoes are ready,' she said, disappearing into the kitchen. The whole thing disappeared from my mind. My friend Mickey rang me the next day, offering to take me to South Herts Golf Course on the Wednesday. I wondered why he'd want to come along, and consequently asked him.

'I'd love to meet Dai Rees,' he said convincingly, 'maybe get a picture of him.'

He picked me up on the Wednesday, with lots of time in hand. 'I thought we'd arrive early,' he said, 'the traffic is pretty awful today.' In fact, we were just approaching the golf club, with almost half an hour to spare, when Mickey suddenly said, 'I'll take you down this way, there are some fantastic houses on this road. We've plenty of time anyway.'

I said I wouldn't mind being early, 'Give me a chance to hit a few shots and loosen up.'

Undaunted, Mickey showed me all the houses as if he had just become an estate agent. He'd obviously been told to get me there at a certain time, in order to avoid my seeing any scanner vans from Thames TV which were secreting themselves in the vicinity of the clubhouse. Dai was his charming self, the photographer was eager and ready, so things began to happen. We made our way to the teeing ground and our round began.

Once again, it was easy to deduce, in retrospect, that Dai had been asked to have me on the 18th green at a certain time. At the time, however, I was covered in confusion. We'd played some nine or ten holes when he casually suggested that we cut across the adjacent tee and play back towards the clubhouse. 'Looks as if it's going to pour down,' he said, looking up into a rainless sky.

Anyway, we'd had quite a few pictures and I thought maybe the great man had better things to do and given quite enough of his valuable time.

Soon we were playing our approach shots on to the 18th green. In fact, I played quite a good one, which was followed by Dai's shot, on this occasion not quite as close to the flag as mine. (I'll elaborate on this in a moment.) The 18th green is quite elevated at South Herts, and as we popped our heads above the hill approaching it, I noticed a man standing by the flag, wearing a golf hat. 'What's he doing there?' I thought as I approached my ball, then like a bolt from the blue, I recognised Eamonn Andrews. 'Eamonn!' I exclaimed. 'What the hell are you doing here? Then, as if struck by a thunderbolt, I thought, 'My God, it is Dai's This Is Your Life.'

Dai, Mickey and myself gathered round Eamonn and I waited in anticipation for Dai's shattering surprise. Then it came:

'Val Doonican, tonight, this is your life.'

It really was a wonderful night. The only occasion in about 35 years when the entire Doonican family (with the exception of my father) were gathered together in one room. Some of my dearest friends came from far and wide, together with some special people from show business, in particular the late Dickie Henderson, and Moira Anderson, who was appearing in the Palladium show.

One lovely surprise brought very special memories of my boyhood back in Ireland. When I was very young, in common with most other boys, I longed for the weekly treat of Saturday at the pictures. I just loved cowboys – one of my favourites being Gene Autry. Lynn knew that I had written to him when I was about six years of age, asking for his autograph. Sadly, I never had a reply. Well, halfway through my evening of surprises, there on film, direct from his home in America, was the legendary Mr Autry himself.

'Howdy there, Val,' he greeted me, while leaning on a corral gate. 'Gee, I'm sure glad to have this opportunity of sending my greetings to you, and to apologise most sincerely for not answering your letter.'

That was followed by a short extract from one of his movies. 'And that,' said Eamonn, 'was what you and Mickey paid your precious fourpence to see way back in those early days.'

'Jesus,' said Mickey, 'we were robbed.'

Well, as I've said, it's easy to be wise after the event, and think 'I should have twigged that something was going on.' For example, during our West Indies holiday, Lynn had about four long-distance calls from London, making all kinds of stories as to who they were from; there had been that strange phone call from the phantom Irish man, Mickey's sightseeing trip around South Herts, and Dai's ending the round of golf so quickly.

Two memorable remarks were made at the party afterwards. I told Eamonn that I took great exception to his opening comments on film, spoken, incidentally, over the arrival of our two balls on the 18th. Since we were not in view, you simply saw an empty green, then a ball pitching on. As I've said earlier, my ball arrived first, quite close to the flag. 'Oh, that'll be Dai,' says Eamonn's voice, then Dai's ball appeared, not quite so close. 'Yes, that'll be Val.' The cheek of the man.

The second story came from an ex-member of the Four Ramblers. I hadn't seen Tommy Burns for about 15 years, but he'd been flown across from Dublin. It so happens that my family were on the same plane. My mother, however, was travelling incognito, using the name Mrs O'Reilly (this was just a precaution in case anybody noticed that there was a Mrs Doonican on the plane, and mentioned it to me).

My old partner Tommy, however, had known my mother for many years and recognised her, but wasn't sure if she'd remember him – after all, she was then 82. As they disembarked in London, some representatives from Thames TV greeted them. As they were all going to spend some time together as a party, introductions were considered advisable. Tommy was just about to say hello to my mother when somebody said to him, 'Oh, Mr Burns, have you met Mrs O'Reilly?' He was a bit lost for words, and remarked to me later: 'I had no idea your mother had married again.'

Gus Smith biography of Eamonn Andrews

Gus Smith recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, Eamonn Andrews His Life...

Malcolm Morris marvelled at Eamonn's enormous enthusiasm for Life. He knew this factor was part of the great success of the programme, for Eamonn's enthusiasm was transmitted to the viewer. There were people who Eamonn still wanted to surprise, among them Val Doonican. He admired Val's smooth style as an entertainer, his gentle way with songs, and how quickly he managed to win over audiences. 'Val's style is tailor-made for television,' Eamonn once confided to a show-business colleague. 'He can go on forever.'

Val's was one of the names he had pencilled into his notebook as a likely Life subject. He remembered he had been born in Waterford, worked in a factory for a paltry wage, and struggled in Ireland in the late forties to make it in show-business. It was only when he tried his luck in England that he eventually achieved success. From time to time, he had invited Val as a guest on the Life programmes and their friendship had endured.

For his part, Val Doonican never gave any thought to being the 'next victim'. But that was nothing unusual, for most people who had been surprised by Eamonn admitted afterwards, 'We never once thought it would happen to us.'

For Val, it all began on a mundane note. He was appearing at the Palladium and the publicity people wanted some new photographs of him and arranged that these would be taken on the South Herts golf course as he played a round of golf with famous professional, Dai Rees. The day fixed for the game was a Wednesday.

A few days before, Val was sitting at home when the phone rang. Picking up the receiver, a voice with an Irish accent said cheerfully, 'Val Doonican?'

'Yes,' replied the singer, thinking for a moment that it was his friend Jimmy Tarbuck playing another of his tricks on him. After a while he suspected it wasn't Jimmy.

'Who's speaking?' he asked impatiently.

'My name's Seamus O'Shaughnessy.'

'Who gave you my number?'

'I'm from the Irish Times in Dublin. Your number is in the office.'

'I'm sorry, but I don't think it is.'

Val got suspicious. He listened as the voice said, 'Tell me, what are you doing next Wednesday?'

After a slight pause, he replied, 'I'm playing a game of golf with Dai Rees and having some publicity pictures taken.'

'Well,' said the other, 'We've been tipped off that Eamonn Andrews is going to surprise Dai Rees for This Is Your Life.'

At that moment, Val's wife Lynn was sitting in the armchair opposite and heard him repeat the name of the programme. She inwardly winced, for she was sure the secret was out. But when her husband, who was still puzzled by the call, explained that it was Rees who was going to be the victim she made no remark.

On the Wednesday Val's touring manager drove him to the golf course and as they got out of the car at the clubhouse, Val said, 'Why don't you join us for a game?' The manager nodded: 'No, no, I'll walk around with you for a few holes.' With them also was a photographer. After playing the first and second holes, Dai Rees suggested that they cut across to the twelfth hole because workmen were digging up the fifth hole. Val thought: what a funny game of golf I'm having.

Next thing he knew he was coming up to the eighteenth hole. He hit the ball onto the green and as he strolled towards the hole with Rees he suddenly spied a tall individual standing on the green.

'Who the hell is that?' he said to Rees.

The golfer casually replied, 'I really don't know who it is. Probably one of the members.'

As he approached nearer, Val recognised Eamonn. He was wearing a golf cap and pullover. On the green he said to him 'What are you doing here, Eamonn?' At that moment something else crossed his mind. May be, after all, he was going to surprise Dai Rees for This Is Your Life. He chuckled at the thought. Then he heard Eamonn say beside him, 'That was a nice shot you played and I'm glad to say This Is Your Life, Val Doonican!'

Val smiled with astonishment. 'I don't believe it!'

Eamonn took his arm and led him towards the clubhouse. 'I still can't believe it, Eamonn,' muttered Val.

'Just enjoy yourself,' Eamonn told him.

He changed in the clubhouse and accompanied the Life members to the Thames studios. After his feeling of disbelief had worn off, Val was thrilled with the show. As relatives and friends were paraded before him, he got the impression of being present at an old movie. Everything seemed to pass quickly before his eyes. They brought on his mother, his teacher, the musicians who used to perform with him. He found the experience very moving. Memories flooded back and all his yesterdays suddenly seemed to merge into one.

'It was lovely,' he would say later. 'I just sat there. Afterwards when people called to the house they wanted to see the book. They were fascinated that my life story had been condensed into such a number of pages.'

Eamonn, he remembered, handled the show expertly. 'He hardly projected himself once. He let the people be the stars. I began to think that is the reason why the show has enjoyed such a long run on television. I can't imagine anyone except Eamonn presenting the show.'

Series 10 subjects

Des O'Connor | Bobby Charlton | Harry Driver | Twiggy | Honor Blackman | The Beverley Sisters | John Fairfax | Henry Cooper
Jackie Stewart | Jimmy Savile | Arthur Dooley | Wendy Craig | Tony Jacklin | Charlie Cairoli | Richard Evans | Alfie Bass
Jack Good | Joe Mercer | Ronnie Corbett | Colin Milburn | Frankie Vaughan | Lorna Ridgway | Val Doonican
Johnny Speight | Reg Varney | Harold French