Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
This Is Your Life
The format of the show was simple: the host would ambush a celebrity or public figure, present them with a 'red book', and then conduct a biography of them in a television studio. The guest would be presented with family members and old friends, reunited with old acquaintances, and often shed a tear when a personal tragedy was recounted.
Officially, the celebrity guests were surprised by their appearance on the show, as they were ambushed by the show's cameras and made their way to the studio during the commercial break. (The show was initially aired live.) Advance planning for the broadcast meant that inevitably, some celebrities would know in advance about the surprise. Carl Reiner later admitted that he knew beforehand about his appearance. Some celebrites were unpleasantly surprised. Angie Dickinson refused to appear, and Laurel and Hardy were angered by being "tricked" into what would be their only television appearance on December 1, 1954. Laurel later said "I was damned if I was going to put on a free show for them".
The show was exported to several countries, including the United Kingdom, where it was launched in 1955 on the BBC and was presented by Eamonn Andrews (who also ended up being the very first "victim"). It moved to ITV in 1969, and Michael Aspel (himself a "victim" in 1980) became presenter after Andrews died in 1988. It returned to the BBC in 1993, and was axed in 2003.
Guests on the UK version included Muhammed Ali, Joan Collins, Shirley Bassey, Bill Oddie, George Best, Spike Milligan, and Barbara Windsor. Only three people have turned down the 'red book' in the history of the UK version: footballer Danny Blanchflower in the 1950s, author Richard Gordon (of "Doctor in the House" fame) in 1974 and Bill Oddie (The Goodies) in 2001.
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