Mike Yarwood recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, Impressions Of My Life...
The other highlight of this time was being the subject of This Is Your Life. It was genuinely a total shock. People always ask you if the subject is warned in advance; well, the answer is definitely no. Of course when you start to become fairly well known you can't help realising there's a chance you might be on This Is Your Life, and once before I'd even thought I was being set up for it. I'd been invited to appear on The Russell Harty Show which wasn't strange in itself because I'd been on chat shows before, but there did seem to be something odd about this particular occasion. For a start there seemed to be very little preparatory work done; no research that I knew of was carried out and I didn't even meet Russell Harty until we were in make-up. (Usually you meet the host before the show starts and discuss what you're going to do.)
This is obviously the way Russell Harty prefers to work, but it was so different from my past experiences that I began to doubt we were really doing a show at all. Russell can't really want to interview me, I thought, this must be a set up for something else. The only something else I could think of was This Is Your Life.
All through the interview I found it difficult to concentrate. I kept looking out for Eamonn Andrews and waiting for those dreaded words. 'This is your Life!'
They didn't come. Russell Harty wound up the interview, thanked me for coming and I was on my way out of the studio before I realised the truth – it had been a genuine interview after all. I only wished I'd paid more attention.
When This Is Your Life really happened I didn't have a clue, although looking back there were plenty of hints. For weeks beforehand Sandra rushed to the phone every time it rang and said, 'No, I'm sorry, you've got the wrong number.'
It happened so often that even I couldn't fail to notice it.
'What's the matter with the phone, Sandra?' I asked, 'All these wrong numbers. We'll have to get it checked.'
In fact it was a code to let the television team know that I was present and she couldn't talk.
Then there were the girls' dresses. Sandra had just finished making Charlotte and Clare new party frocks but about a week later she bought two more.
'Why do they need another two frocks?' I asked. 'Haven't you just made some?'
'Yes, but these were so nice I thought I might as well get them as well,' said Sandra. 'They have so many parties at this time of year.'
I didn't give it another thought. I wasn't at all suspicious, and Sandra let nothing slip. It must have been difficult for her because she's a very open person and can't lie, but she kept the secret brilliantly.
Neverltheless there were odd occurrences. The This Is Your Life team needed an excuse to get me to London, since I was between television shows at the time, so suddenly my accountant was insisting I come to London for an urgent discussion of my finances, and my agent arranged an important business lunch for the same day. I agreed half-heartedly and travelled to London the evening before in order to be fresh the next day. Bob Boyce and I walked into the Royal Garden Hotel.
'Mike Yarwood; I've booked,' I said at the reception desk.
'Ah yes,' said the girl, 'Mr and Mrs Yarwood. Two nights.'
'No,' cut in Bob quickly. 'It's Mr Yarwood only, just for tonight!'
The girl looked confused, then blushed. Although I didn't know it she'd almost given the game away. A room had been booked for Sandra and me the following night after the show, at a time when I thought she would be safely at home in Prestbury and I would be travelling back to her.
'Oh yes, of course,' she said quickly, 'Mr Yarwood.'
The next day I went to lunch as planned and then on to the Hilton Hotel for the meeting with my accountant. It seemed a perfectly ordinary day and I was glad when the business was finished and I could go home.
Bob and I made our way back through the Hilton towards the entrance where Bob knew that Eamonn Andrews and the television crew were waiting. We'd almost reached the door when I stopped.
'Oh, I must ring Sandra,' I said.
'Can't you call her later?' asked Bob, trying to move me towards the door.
'No, I always ring her when I'm leaving,' I said and back I went to find a phone.
With no idea of the havoc I was causing outside, I dialled our number at home and listened to it ringing and ringing. I tried it once again, just in case I'd misdialled, but the same thing happened.
'There was no reply,' I said to Bob a few minutes later, 'I expect she's out with the girls somewhere.'
Of course Bob knew that there was no reply because Sandra was at that moment sitting in the studios at Thames Television watching the outside of the Hilton Hotel on a monitor and waiting for me to step into the picture.
'Never mind, you can try again later,' said Bob, steering me towards the door once more.
Through the glass plate I suddenly saw Jimmy Tarbuck.
'There's Jimmy!' I said in surprise.
I quickened my pace and went to greet him.
'Hello, Jimmy!' I called, then stopped. Michael Parkinson was standing next to him, along with Russell Harty.
'Hello Mike, Hello Russell... What's going on?'
'Oh, there's a do on,' said Jimmy.
There was always some charity function happening somewhere so this didn't seem unlikely. We started chatting – then suddenly Eamonn Andrews stepped out from behind me, clutching his famous red book. The instant I saw him my stomach started to churn.
'Mike Yarwood, this is your life!' said Eamonn.
'Aaaaaah ****...' – I was completely thrown and a four letter word escaped. Fortunately they bleeped it out afterwards.
It was an overwhelming experience. One minute I was going home, and the next thing I knew I was in a limousine travelling to the television studios at Euston. The whole thing is like your wedding day – it's so overpowering and goes by so fast that you can't remember much about it when it's over. Watching a video of the show afterwards was like watching someone else.
They showed clips of some of my impressions and brought the subjects into the studio. There was Magnus Pyke, Larry Grayson, Reginald Bosanquet, Russell Harty and of course Michael Parkinson.
'When I watch him it's like watching another person,' said Larry Grayson, 'but then afterwards I realise it's me.'
'I never before said "you are, are you not" until Mike did it,' said Russell Harty.
'And I never started picking my nose until Mike did it,' said Michael Parkinson.
'I don't show you picking your nose,' I protested, laughing. 'I do you rubbing your nose.'
But there wasn't much time for discussion. They'd filmed my mother in Bredbury recalling the day I bought her a bath cube for her birthday when I was four; they'd flown David in from Africa where he was doing missionary work; and they'd tracked down so many old friends from the past. There was Neil Jenkins, a reliable Broadway Rover in the old days; Tommy Dunbar, who recalled our Mr Tacky and Mr Hacky sketches; Wilf Fielding; and of course Roy Mayoh. He turned up clutching the Ewbank carpet sweeper that had taught me so much about microphone technique.
'Mike, if you do really well one day I'll promote you to a Hoover!' he promised.
The Bachelors came on and joked, 'We always felt safe when we were working with Mike because if we got tired he could go on instead of us!'
Dilys Watling recalled how she brought Sandra and me together; Max Bygraves told the story of the picture of a meal that he'd sent me; Josephine came down from Cheshire to talk of our school days; Mike Medina and Brian Healy teased me about the Drumbeats and of course pride of place was Sandra and the girls who were all looking absolutely beautiful for the occasion. I could see that the money for the party frocks was money well spent.
It was an incredible evening. Lovely, but completely overwhelming. I enjoyed it, but I must say I'm glad it's all over and done with now and I can relax in the knowledge that no one goes on This Is Your Life twice.
After the show there was a big party. This Is Your Life parties are famous throughout Thames Television and I believe that mine was pretty good even by their standards. Unfortunately I don't remember much about it. By the time Sandra and I got back to the hotel I think I was pretty 'tired and emotional'.
The Observer 2 December 1979
The Life of Eamonn
by Russell Harty
I've just been invited to take part, again, in the second best television programme.
It may not be the second best television programme ever, but it's certainly the second best we now have. It's a programme that makes a lot of people laugh, many more cry, and one or two hiccup with fright. The programme is called This Is Your Life and is compered in genial and professional style by Eamonn Andrews.
I can't remember a better half-day out than the happy times which are organised, in the strictest fashion, by those preparing the surprise for the surprised.
A year ago several of Mike Yarwood's victims were asked to assemble outside the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane to form a curtain of tribute, which would then part to reveal the one with the big red book. The victims, upon this day, included Reginald Bosanquet, as he then was, Larry Grayson, without the festooned specs, a pre-Bette Midler Michael Parkinson, Dr Magnus Pyke, like a ruined East Anglian windmill before restoration, Mr J Tarbuck. And me. Mr Yarwood was confidently reported to be locked in intensive dialogue with an agent on the twentieth floor. We were to be warned of his descent by a man with a walkie-talkie.
We were put into what the organiser called a limousine, which was to draw up at the Hilton as Mr Yarwood came out. It was a hot day. We were driven up to the door, but an agitated walker-talker sent us off for another five minutes. We drove off around the twisting streets of Mayfair and came back. We were sent off again.
The atmosphere inside the car became more joyful with each circuit. Jimmy Tarbuck released from the paralysing strictures of having to be funny, had our crew so reduced to hysteria that even the driver, a man upon whom you would have relied to drive you around Arnhem, at one point mounted the pavement in his mirth.
Mr Tarbuck's mysteries concerned the activities of a Miss Rita Webb, a lady of uncompromising social attitudes who would arrive at night in Soho, with friends, men friends. When these men, generally two of them, had marked out a strip joint with a brassy entrepreneur touting at the ill-lit door, they would park their car and leave the watchful Miss Webb inside. They then assumed the innocence of the abroader and once the tout had engaged trailed past the doorway, their interest, Miss Webb, like a Limehouse fury, shot down the street and unleashed her adventurous tongue. She claimed that she was their mother, that it was their first night in the West End, that someone so oily and offensive had no business forcing this kind of thing on two such harmless lads and that the police were to be summoned.
By this time, traffic had ground to a stop and a small crowd had gathered and the strip-club owner's main concern was to rid himself of this turbulent leech. Quite what this enterprising lady's reward amounted to was not made clear, because, by this time, we were whizzing, wet-eyed, back to the Hilton.
When Mike Yarwood was confronted by our crowd, his only worry, and that a genuine one, was that he was missing out on a good party – since we were moving one way and he another. The rest was as jolly as planned.
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