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This Is Your Life first screened in Britain in 1955 – the same year that George Dixon began pounding the beat in Dock Green.
Eamonn Andrews was the host right from the start, and the show ran on the BBC until 1964. After a five-year rest, it re-emerged on ITV (with Des O’ Connor as the first victim) where it stayed ever since.
When Eamonn died in 1987, Michael Aspel took over as the bearer of the Big Red Book until 2003. It was revived briefly in 2007 with Trevor McDonald as host.
The show was based on the American version (which had begun broadcasting on radio in 1948 and moved to television in 1952), which had been created and hosted by Ralph Edwards,
The meticulously secret planning for the very first programme failed miserably when the Daily Sketch revealed in advance that footballer Stanley Matthews was to be the victim. So they had to find a last-minute substitute.
Eamonn was led to believe it would be boxer Freddie Mills, but the tables were turned on the show itself and Eamonn was the subject. He burst into tears when his mother Margaret was brought on.
Over the years, Eamonn, his perspiration, and his big red book underwent a number of disguises to maintain the element of surprise and trap the unwary.
He dressed as an airline steward to catch Shirley Bassey, as a wine waiter for David Frost, as a petrol pump attendant for John Alderton, as Hudson from Upstairs Downstairs for Alderton’s wife, Pauline Collins, as an astronaut for Patrick Moore and as a Scottish soldier for Andy Stewart. He was also tied up in a sack to surprise magician David Nixon.
Amongst the recipients of the Big Red Book over the years were;
Muhammad Ali, Arthur Askey, Michael Aspel, Pam Ayers, The Bachelors, Nina Baden-Semper, Des O’ Connor, Douglas Bader, Gordon Banks, Alfie Bass, The Bee Gees,George Best, Rodney Bewes, Tony Blackburn, Honor Blackman, Lionel Blair, Brian Blessed, Frank Bruno, Bobby Charlton, Jackie Charlton, Petula Clark, Jackie Collins, Joan Collins, Phil Collins, Billy Connolly, Harry Corbett, Ronnie Corbett, Henry Cooper, Wendy Craig, Bernard Cribbins, Leslie Crowther, Peter Cushing, Jim Dale, Dickie Davies, Les Dawson, Ken Dodd,Val Doonican, Diana Dors, Gabrielle Drake, Clive Dunn, Arthur English, Adam Faith, Derek Fowlds, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bob Geldof, Gary Glitter, Stewart Granger, Larry Grayson, Hughie Green, Tony Greig, Deryck Guyler, Rolf Harris, Dickie Henderson, Graham Hill, Bob Hope, Frankie Howerd, Rod Hull, John Inman, Kevin Keegan, Danny LaRue, Lulu, Vera Lynn, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Patrick Macnee, Nigel Mansell, Gerry Marsden, Spike Milligan, Hayley Mills, Matt Monro, Bobby Moore, Bob Monkhouse, Dudley Moore, Peter Noone, Richard O’Sullivan, Michael Parkinson, Jackie Pallo, Nicholas Parsons, Jon Pertwee, Oliver Reed, Angela Rippon, Jimmy Savile, Barry Sheene, Jack Smethurst, Alvin Stardust, Jackie Stewart, Mollie Sugden, Eric Sykes, Jimmy Tarbuck, John Thaw, Leslie Thomas, Percy Thrower, Freddie Trueman, Twiggy, Peter Ustinov, Reg Varney, Dennis Waterman, June Whitfield, Barbara Windsor, Mike and Bernie Winters, Norman Wisdom, Ernie Wise, Terry Wogan, Edward Woodward, Mike Yarwood . . . and Eamonn Andrews himself.
Only three people turned down This Is Your Life in the history of the show: Author Richard Gordon, comedian Bill Oddie and footballer Danny Blanchflower, who was the first to refuse in February 1961.
As Eamonn pronounced the immortal words “Tonight, Danny Blanchflower, This Is Your Life”, the Spurs captain calmly replied “Oh no it’s not” and refused to have anything to do with the show.