The day we lost the Big Red Book
A star of TV’s longest running soap nearly didn’t make it to the screen when he was singled out as a ‘This Is Your Life’ subject. Producer MALCOLM MORRIS explains.
One of the chanciest moments of all for This Is Your Life came in September 1985. The target: William Roache, who plays Ken Barlow in Coronation Street; the location: the Rovers Return public house.
Eamonn Andrews was all set to surprise William but, with just minutes to go, we realised we had lost the Red Book.
I thought Eamonn had it; he thought I had it.
William was on his way when I spotted a large, red accounts book. I grabbed it and handed it to Eamonn just as William arrived. Twelve million people watched those opening moments the one and only time when an accounts ledger has doubled as the Red Book and nobody noticed… not even William Roache.
We found the book in time for the rest of the programme. Someone had picked it up out of curiosity and put it down behind the Rovers bar!
Jimmy Cricket was the subject of what turned out to be one of the last programmes Eamonn presided over before he died in November 1987.
We had smuggled in Jimmy’s sister Evelyn from Australia. The day before the show she asked if we would have any objection to her doing some Christmas shopping in Oxford Street, in London.
The West End was jam-packed and it seemed a 10,000-to-one chance that Evelyn, the last surprise on the show, would run into her brother.
Off she went into the milling throng of Oxford Street – and bumped straight into Jimmy.
Her nerve held. She told him she had come over for a family gathering that was supposed to be a surprise. The real surprise came later, of course.
Maurice Leonard, now the producer of What’s My Line?, used to be a researcher on This Is Your Life and had acquired a bit of a reputation for being accident-prone.
Knowing that actor Anthony Quinn was an essential ingredient of a 1978 programme about Muhammad Ali’s life, Maurice flew to Los Angeles and based himself in Quinn’s Beverly Hills hotel.
Quinn’s filming schedule kept him working until all hours and Maurice, waiting with a film crew, became increasingly anxious as the deadline loomed.
At last Quinn appeared down the main hotel stairway. Maurice jumped and rushed straight into a large plate-glass mirror. Minutes later he woke up to be told by Quinn that they had just finished filming the message to Ali and he had less than 40 minutes to get to the airport so that he could catch his flight home.
Months later Maurice was sent off to collect sexy actress Ursula Andress from London’s Heathrow airport. She had flown in from Los Angeles to appear on the programme we were doing on Charles Aznavour.
Ursula arrived with a very large suitcase and Maurice, being a gentleman, lifted it into the boot of her car. He pulled a muscle and was bent double. When the car arrived at the studios in Teddington we were all treated to a wonderful sight.
Maurice, in the back of the car, was lying face down across Ursula’s lap while she massaged his bare back, a labour of love she had performed all the way from Heathrow. Just one of the perks of the job!
To preserve secrecy, the This Is Your Life team use codenames for ‘victims’. Here are examples:
- POWDER – JOE JOHNSON
- PEN – DENIS QUILLEY
- FOUND – JOE LOSS
- ARTHUR – DUDLEY MOORE
- SWAN – GABRIELLE DRAKE
- POOLS – RICHARD VERNON
- THEME – CARL DAVIS
- FERRY – GERRY MARSDEN
- CRACKER – FRANK CARSON
- BUTLER – DONALD SINDEN
- WINE – BILL OWEN
- GLOSS – BARRY SHEENE
- REST – WAYNE SLEEP
- REACH – DOUGLAS BADER
- GALE – ALEX ‘HURRICANE’ HIGGINS
- GOAL – JACKIE MILBURN
- UNCLE – LORD MOUNTBATTEN
- PARTRIDGE – ANTHONY QUALE
- PLANET – FREDDIE STARR
One of the great delights of This Is Your Life is the chance to honour the life of someone completely unknown to the public.
Kitty Wilson has fostered 50 children and in March 1983 seemed to us just such a person who should be recognised.
We persuaded friends to invite her to leave her home in the Midlands for a day’s shopping in London. When she arrived at Liverpool Street station, Eamonn and the film crew were well hidden behind some large packing boxes.
The train pulled in, three hidden cameras rolled, Eamonn pulled a large hat over his eyes and turned up his coat collar. He went up to the lady, put his hand on her shoulder and smiled.
‘Hello, Kitty,’ he said. The woman looked completely blank. Eamonn looked over at me and I shook my head. It was the wrong woman. The resemblance was astonishing, but I spotted ‘our’ Kitty a little further back…
By the time Eamonn had turned and said ‘This is your life’ to the real Kitty Wilson, the other woman had gone, melting into the crowd.
I still wonder who she was and what story she would have had to tell. Perhaps she’s even reading this article.
The Kitty story was another of those incidents that continue to make This Is Your Life one of television’s most excitingly dangerous, unpredictable programmes.
I remember when my son Gregory was born, on 19 December 1972. The obstetrician who delivered him turned to me in one of those quieter moments and said: ‘So you do This Is Your Life. When are you going to run out of people?’
‘As long as you keep delivering them,’ I replied, ‘we won’t.’
Malcolm Morris was talking to STEWART KNOWLES
About the author
Malcolm Morris (1932-2016) held various roles at Tyne Tees and Thames, including Controller, Programme Department (Administration)
1 thought on “The day we lost the Big Red Book”
I remember reading that Phil Collins’s codename for TIYL was Potato (as in the album title No Jacket Required).