28 June 2015

Hall of Fame: The Big Red Book

Outside of being honoured by the Queen, perhaps the greatest distinction anyone in the UK could receive was to appear on TV's This Is Your Life. Three Northern Ireland internationals were surreptitiously approached by Eamonn Andrews or Michael Aspel during the show's near fifty year run on the BBC and ITV.

1961 - Danny Blanchflower
The first to be surprised by Eamonn Andrews was Northern Ireland and Spurs captain, Danny Blanchflower. The man himself wasn't too keen and in February 1961 answered Andrews' familiar refrain of: "Tonight Danny, This Is Your Life" with the retort: "No it isn't!" before running off, so the story goes. This was the first time anyone who had been approached refused to partake.

1971 & 2003 George Best
It was a full decade before Andrews found the courage to approach another Northern Irish footballer. George Best went from his element at a fashion show surrounded by pretty girls to an uncomfortable slouch in front of the TV cameras.

He became one of the few individuals to be featured twice when caught out by Michael Aspel in 2003. This was shortly after his liver transplant, and the filming of a liver disease appeal was used as a rouse to entrap him. By 2003 Best, as a regular football pundit and chat show doyen, had become much more confident in front of the cameras.

1983 Pat Jennings
In 1983 Eamonn Andrews strode onto the White Hart Lane turf to surprise Pat Jennings following a North London derby between Jennings' then current side, Arsenal and ex-club, Spurs. The ever shy but polite Jennings sat among his playing colleague from club and country, but it was clear he was happiest to be among his family.

This Is Your Life was cancelled as a regular series in 2003 (a 2007 one-off special aside). A full list of footballers to have featured on the show can be found at the Big Red Book website. While some of the biggest names in British football were featured, it seems a shame that more Northern Ireland players didn't appear, or perhaps there was a fear that any of the potential subjects might just have done a Blanchflower!

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