This Is Your Life (ITV, 1969-1994, BBC1, 1994-2003)
This Is Your Life is a long-running and fondly thought-of show based on an American format that came to British TV as early as the mid-50s, although this piece will concentrate on the later years of the run. The show was originally hosted by the Irishman Eamonn Andrews (who also around this time was hosting the game show What’s My Line? that I also reviewed on here recently).
The basic idea of the show was that the host would surprise a celebrity (sometimes using a rather elaborate set-up) with the Big Red Book (although it seems that the book wasn’t regularly red-coloured until around 1970). Not only was it a surprise to the celebrity that they were going to be the subject of that edition, but it was also a surprise to the viewers as no information was usually released beforehand about who would feature on the show, and most editions in the early years were shown live.
Following the usual sometimes rather awkward “oh I say, it’s not going to be me is it?!”-type response that a guest usually gave to being surprised, they would then enter the studio where they would be greeted by much applause from the assembled friends and family (cue famous theme music). The host would then tell the story of their life which usually began by showing some rather embarrassing photographs of the guest from their childhood years.
Other guests would then be welcomed on to the stage who would usually be introduced with a “do you recognise this voice?” teaser and then share some anecdotes. And most editions would end with a rather emotional big “you haven’t seen them for 20 years, but they’re here tonight”-type guest who would get everyone applauding once again, before the guest is given the Book to keep.
Personalities from just about every area of showbusiness took part, including TV presenters, actors, comedians, sportspeople and so on. After the death of Andrews in 1987, he was replaced as host by Michael Aspel (who himself was a “victim” as they called them in 1980), and between its time on the BBC and ITV (the show usually didn’t feature an advert break even when it was on ITV), there were over 1,000 editions in 43 series, and a small select group of people appeared more than once or in special extended editions.
One twist to the format was that usually about once or twice in a series, a non-famous person was featured as a guest, and it was always interesting to note that the life story of a milkman seemed to go down as well with viewers as the more familiar celebrities. This Is Your Life was always an enjoyable and uplifting show which finally came to an end in 2003 after almost 50 years, although there have been lots of rumours since that it might return one day, who knows if the Big Red Book will ever return to the screen.