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Andrews, Eamonn (1922-1987)


Main image of Andrews, Eamonn (1922-1987)

"I became, almost overnight, a face. I acquired that new, meaningless description for people who can neither sing nor dance nor juggle nor play the harp - a personality. Television personality." Voted Television Personality of the Year four times, the genial Dublin-born Eamonn Andrews was a highly respected and much-loved broadcaster chiefly associated with two popular television programmes, the panel show What's My Line? (BBC, 1951-63; ITV, 1984-87) and the biographical tribute programme This is Your Life (ITV, 1955-87).

As a schoolboy, he joined a boxing club, beginning a life-long affiliation with the sport. Aged 16, he began his broadcasting career on Radio Éireann, progressing from an amateur boxer inside the ring to professional broadcaster in the commentary box. A determined Andrews left his day job as an insurance clerk and set his sights on the BBC. He quickly made his mark as the quizmaster on Ignorance is Bliss (1950) and a variety of other programmes.

The idea of appearing on television did not thrill him. His first venture into the medium saw him losing his tie while clambering into a boxing ring to conduct a live interview. But he was receiving high praise for his work at the BBC and accepted an offer to be the resident chairman on the weekly panel game What's My Line?, in which a celebrity panel had to guess the occupation of members of the public. The programme and Andrews became instant hits: audiences enjoyed the clashes between Andrews and the outspoken panellist Gilbert Harding. Andrews once outwitted the blindfolded panel himself when he 'signed in' with a falsetto voice as the show's mystery celebrity guest, earning himself a diploma. He became a household name, "I was addressed as Raymond - and, once, even as Amen Andrews!" He moved into children's programmes, presenting Playbox (BBC 1955) and Crackerjack (BBC 1955-64); the latter including his own invention: parlour game 'Double or Drop'.

His place in the pantheon of British television came as the bearer of the big red book, with the long-running This is Your Life, originally devised in America. Andrews' first subject was to be footballer Stanley Matthews, but after this information was leaked to the press, Andrews himself became the surprised first recipient - bursting into tears when his mother appeared. Week in, week out, it was a nerve-wracking experience for Andrews and the production team keeping the identity of the subject a secret. "I always expected the unexpected and never relaxed until the guest of honour was sitting on the stage and the programme rolling," especially after Danny Blanchflower and Richard Gordon refused to appear. The sight of the red book invariably had the reaction that Andrews hoped for, 'What, it's for me, this gift?' Months of painstaking planning culminated in a heavily-disguised Andrews (astronaut, Father Christmas and even tied up in a sack) pouncing on the unsuspecting celebrity, placing his hand on their shoulder, whipping out his big red book and uttering the immortal words "Tonight... This is Your Life."

In the 1960s, the launch of television in Ireland brought him his most exciting and rewarding challenge as the Chairman of the RTE Authority. After his contract with the BBC finished in 1964 he moved to commercial television, presenting World of Sport (ITV, 1965-68) and his own late night chat show The Eamonn Andrews Show (ITV, 1964-69) with an array of guests including Lee Marvin, Noël Coward and The Beatles. His laidback interviewing technique and unscripted remarks were lampooned on the BBC radio comedy Round the Horne as television personality Seamus Android.

A self-confessed workaholic, Andrews returned to This is Your Life in 1969 and hosted the programme for another twenty years. Simultaneously in the 1970s he presented the local news magazine Today (ITV, 1968-77). The 1980s saw him host the ambitious satellite quiz Top of the World (ITV, 1982) and alternate between his big red book and a revived What's My Line?. Although his last few years were stricken by illness, he continued to work, even signing a new three-year deal for both programmes just before he died on November 5th 1987. His life and career were commemorated with a bronze statue at the RTE Headquarters in his beloved Ireland.

Graham Rinaldi

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Thumbnail image of What's My Line? (1951-64, 1973-74, 1984-90)What's My Line? (1951-64, 1973-74, 1984-90)

TV game show that made stars of Eamonn Andrews and Gilbert Harding

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