A is for Eamonn Andrews

This is my contribution to Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.

Eamonn AndrewsNot everyone I write about is well-known outside their own country, but the thing they are well-known for doing sometimes is, as is the case with Eamonn Andrews.

This is Your Life was the popular biographical programme that appeared on tv in America, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden and it it is the UK version that Andrews is best remembered.

Andrews was Irish, having been born on Synge Street, Dublin, the same street as playwright George Bernard Shaw, albeit more than 65 years later in 1922.

He began his broadcasting career as a sports commentator for the Irish national station, Radio Éireann, and by 1950 he had become a presenter for the BBC, particularly commentating on boxing contests, Andrews having been a useful amateur boxer himself.

The Big Red Book

The Big Red Book

He gained a wider audience as the chairman of the popular radio panel game, What’s My Line, and was chosen to be the bearer of The Big Red Book in 1955.

Indeed, he was the very first ‘victim’ of the show in the UK, but more of that later. Andrews hosted the show in two stints, from 1955 to 1964 and 1969 until his sudden death from heart failure 1987.

The gap is explained by his leaving the BBC in 1965 to join the commercial Associated British Corporation where he pioneered the talk show on UK television.

He became well-known for his hopeless ad-lib links. For example, ‘Speaking of cheese sandwiches, have you come far?’ This habit was lampooned mercilessly by Bill Pertwee on Round the Horne with his Seamus Android character.

After he died, Andrews was replaced on TiYL by Michael Aspel, but Eamonn remains the original and the best, at least as far as I’m concerned.

But as I mentioned above, Andrews was the very first unsuspecting subject of the UK This is Your Life in 1955. The show was presented by its American creator, Ralph Edwards, and Andrews believed that his friend, the boxer Freddie Mills sitting next to him in the audience, was the target.

Also in the audience were the likes of Boris Karloff, Bebe Daniel and Ben Lyon and Andrews was taken completely unawares. Here is a YouTube clip from that very first show:

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

15 comments… Add yours
  • Leslie 18th July 2012

    This was so much fun! I do remember seeing a few episodes of the American version in Canada, but I was very young! I found it interesting to see Andrews smoking in the audience. I can remember people used to be allowed to smoke in movie theaters, too. Great start for our Round 11 and have an awesome week,

    abcw team

  • Roger Green 18th July 2012

    I know him only vaguely, though I did watch This is your life a lot in my youth.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Wanda 18th July 2012

    That does take me back to the 50’s when my family would watch this show.

  • Chris H 18th July 2012

    Wow. I’ve actually never heard of Andrews. Interesting!

    Chris H
    ABC Wednesday
    A is for Avogadro’s Number

  • chrisj 18th July 2012

    Oh my goodness! I remember Eamonn Andrews — and Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon! That’s light years ago!

  • Jennyta 18th July 2012

    I remember him and ‘This is your life’ well. If I remember rightly, he also hosted ‘Crackerjack’ the children’s programme for a while. Everything looks so dated on that clip – I actually felt quite shocked to see him sitting there smoking, indoors, in a public place!!! It brings home how much our attitudes have changed over the years.

  • Chrissy Brand 18th July 2012

    Great tribute- I have some fond memories of TIYL at 7 pm on ITV. I would always hope it was a pop singer or sports person and that they then would show video clips of then in song/action. Rarely did I know as a young thing, who the “lifers” were. I found a good website recently detailing every episode.

  • Mara @ Weighty Matters 18th July 2012

    I know of the show, but don’t think I have ever seen it. This clip was quite hilarious though, he just looked so shocked! And what about those cigarettes?

  • Arctic Fox 18th July 2012

    I’m going to get my very own “chair of honour” to sit in!
    Eamonn and Freddie Mills look a right pair of boxers…. classic!
    The surprise moment when he [Eamonn] reads the name made the whole clip worth watching – and what a great voice Boris Karloff has!
    As for Round the Horne – it’s something I only discovered in the last few years and they do play it on Radio 4 extra now and again, along with other classics.

  • Mr Parrot 18th July 2012

    Thanks all. Writing the post started after watching the video which shows how the world has changed in such a short space of time – I felt my jaw dropping to see someone smoking in a tv studio!

    I probably should have mentioned Crackerjack! as well (Crackerjack!) because that was really my first awareness of Eamonn (and Peter Glaze and Leslie Crowther) but that might feature at some point in the future.

  • Trevor Rowley 18th July 2012

    Crackerjack – didn’t the youngster get piled up with everything they had won (boxed game, pair of roller skates, oil painting set etc.) but also had to hold on to all the cabbages they had “won” for getting answers wrong? Also, something called “Double or Drop” (although I can’t recall exactly what that entailed). I was in my mid/late teens when this TV programme hit the air so I thought it mostly for youngsters but I would always watch it to see who their musical guests were – in the sixties this was regularly a recording artist currently in the charts (eg. Searchers, Animals, Dusty Springfield etc) and the bonus was that the act played live (bum notes included).

    As for Freddie Mills, he was a national treasure who everybody loved (think of Henry Cooper, Vera Lynn, Harry Secombe) but, sadly, after his boxing career he seemed to “bumble” his way through the world of show business, popping up in panto and TV where he was somewhat out of his depth. He was clearly punch drunk and with his body ravaged by a boxing career in which (in the early days) he was often fighting every week. His death is still shrouded in mystery. Did he shoot himself or was it a gangland killing? We’ll probably never know.

  • Cro Magnon 18th July 2012

    You’ve now reminded me of ‘Life with the Lyons’. Andrews always seemed shy and embarrassed; whatever he was doing. But I did like Crackerjack (CRACKERJACK!).

  • Mr Parrot 18th July 2012

    Crackerjack! (Crackerjack!) was very much part of my childhood. The game itself was called Double or Drop with more prizes added for getting questions right, cabbages if you got them wrong and getting to keep what didn’t fall. And a Crackerjack! (Crackerjack!) pencil whatever the outcome.

    And as for Freddie Mills, his story is not dissimilar to that of Frank Bruno don’t you think? Apart from the gangsters obviously.

  • Meryl 18th July 2012

    OH what an AWESOME way to begin round 11! Great post and super fun clip!

  • Trevor Rowley 19th July 2012

    Luckily for Frank he was never subjected to a bullet under his chin although his mental health problems have clearly been a sizeable burden for him.

    I read a biography on Freddie Mills some years ago and it told an amazing story. He started boxing in the booths in the travelling fairgrounds in the south of England where he was able to earn easy money as he was a decent boxer even as a brash teenager. This meant several fights a day. He soon progressed into the professional fight game (I think he might have even bypassed the amateur ranks completely) and a fight once a week was not uncommon. Even at the top end of his career he would have several major title fights in one year. Contrast this with today’s boxers who are protected by management teams who are reluctant to see their man come out of his “bubble” more than once or twice a year and even then only if a decent payday has been guaranteed. He clearly came from a different era of professional sport. He was also a friend of the notorious Kray twins. Say no more.


Your email will not be published on this site, but note that this and any other personal data you choose to share is stored here. Please see the Privacy Policy for more information.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: