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Tuesday, 25 September 2012


Eamonn was born on Synge Street, Dublin, Ireland on December 19th 1922, the same street as playwright George Bernard Shaw. He was educated at the local school, Synge Street CBS. He began his working career as a clerk in an insurance office. He was a keen amateur boxer and won the Irish junior middleweight title in 1944. His journalistic talent was being rewarded from an early age as shown in this press clipping from the Irish Press newspaper in May 1936
In 1946, he became a full-time freelance sports commentator, working for Radio Éireann, Ireland's national broadcaster. In 1950, he began presenting programmes for the BBC, being particularly well known for boxing commentaries, and soon became one of television's most popular presenters. His first regular presenting job on the ‘wireless’ as it was known then was the BBC Light Service quiz show ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ with co stars Harold Berens, Gladys Hays and Michael Moore. Eamonn had mastered the technique of the quiz shows on stage in Dublin where he presented variety show inserts like ‘Double Your Money’.
In 1955, Andrews made a brief appearance on film, appearing on camera as the narrator who introduces the unrelated segments that comprise the portmanteau film, Three Cases of Murder. He was even talent scouting pre X Factor days and a youthful Dickie Rock appeared on stage.
In 1951 despite his nervousness about appearing on television he became host of the panel game ‘What’s My Line’ which he stayed with until 1963 briefly reprising the role from 1984-1987. The programme and Andrews became instant hits: audiences enjoyed the clashes between Eamonn 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 presented a number of Children’s TV programmes including ‘Playbox’ in 1955 and ‘Crackerjack’ from 1955 to 1964. In 1955 he earned the position of host of an American imported programme format and for decades was closely associated with ‘This is Your Life’. His first programme was to be the presentation of the famous red book to football legend Sir Stanley Matthews but a British newspaper leaked the story and with some surprise the shows creator Ralph Edwards handed the red book to Eamonn himself. He was the subject again of a ‘red book’ in 1974 when the show was hosted by magician David Nixon.
Throughout the 1950s, he commentated on the major British heavyweight fights on the BBC Light Programme, with inter-round summaries by J. Barrington Dalby. Upon his death British heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper described Eamonn as ‘the best boxing commentator ever’. On 20 January 1956, he reached #18 in the UK Singles Chart with a "spoken narrative" recording named "The Shifting Whispering Sands (Parts 1 & 2)", which had musical backing by the Ron Goodwin Orchestra and Chorus.
When the Irish Government finally settled on the plan for state involvement in a new Irish television service they asked Eamonn to come back to Ireland and assist. He chaired the Radio Éireann Authority (now the RTÉ Authority) between 1960 and 1964, overseeing the introduction of television to Ireland on December 31st 1961. About this time, he also acquired a number of business interests in Ireland, including recording studios and a dance hall.
In 1964 he returned to the UK and in that same year when his contract with the BBC expired he moved to commercial television. He initially worked for ABC who later merged with Rediffusion to create Thames Television. He initially presented his own chat show from 1964 – 1969 and the sports round up programme The World of Sport from 1965 – 1968. In 1969 the This is Your Life show transferred to ITV and Eamonn was once again the host, the show running continuously with Eamonn until 1987. Celebrity guests included: Bill Shankly, Sir Tom Finney, Anna Neagle, Muhammad Ali, Ken Dodd, David Nixon, Frankie Howerd, Norman Wisdom, David Jason, Jeremy Beadle, Anne Kirkbride, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Harry Hill, John Motson, Frank Skinner, Jim Davidson, Bob Carolgees, Charlie Cairoli, Joan Collins, Bernard Manning, Shirley Bassey, Stephen Behan (father of Brendan Behan and Dominic Behan).
Actor Windsor Davies famous for his role in 'Ain't Half Hot Mum', Sydney McEwan, Peter Davison, Alfred Marks, Brian Rix, George Best, Spike Milligan, Jon Pertwee, Eric Sykes, Marty Wilde, Justin Hayward, Rick Wakeman, Bernard Braden, Paul Young, Gary Glitter, actor Patrick Macnee, The Bee Gees pop group, Goodies members Bill Oddie & Tim Brooke-Taylor, producer Bill Kenwright, Liverpool footballer Kenny Dalglish, Barbara Windsor, and DJ John Peel. Lynn Redgrave, in December 1996, was caught while taking her bow in her one-woman show on stage at the Haymarket Theatre, the only time the Redgrave clan including Michael and Sir John, was seen together on stage at the same time. Bob Hope and Dudley Moore have been the only subjects of two-part editions of the programme, in 1970 and 1987 respectively. Both were broadcast over two weeks. Clive Mantle's profile included a post-credits sequence where he thanked the audience for coming. Footballer Danny Blanchflower turned down the "red book" in February 1961, as did author Richard Gordon (of Doctor in the House fame) in 1974. In 2001, Bill Oddie (of The Goodies) initially turned it down, but changed his mind and appeared on the show. Actor Richard Beckinsale was a feature on the show shortly after his 31st birthday, eight months before his death. ‘Whats My Line?’ also moved to ITV with Eamonn at the helm from 1984-1987. The show blindfolded the panel who had to guess either the name or the occupation of the guest. He was a regular host of the Miss World contest and was voted television personality of the year four time. He once said ‘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.’ He was famous for coming up with off-the-cuff linkings which did not work – such as 'speaking of cheese sandwiches, have you come far?' This was parodied by the character Seamus Android in the BBC radio programme Round the Horne in the 1960s, performed by Bill Pertwee. At the time Andrews hosted a chat show on ITV. He was also famous for sweating while on screen, as parodied by another BBC radio programme The Burkiss Way. Andrews' contribution to UK radio is commemorated in The Radio Academy's Hall of Fame.
In the late 1960s, at the height of the Cold War and Vietnam War, he showed his serious side when at his own expense he interviewed many notables to ask them their current opinions, and what they thought the world would be like twenty years into the future. He planned to invite them back, to screen what they had said, and to chat about how accurate they had been. He didn't live to record the second part; the tapes exist in the family's archives, and have never been viewed. After months of illness, thought to have originally begun as a virus picked up on a plane trip and exacerbated by a heavy work load including travelling to Hollywood to record editions of This is Your Life, his wife forced Eamonn to check himself into the Cromwell Hospital in London for tests. That night he passed away peacefully on November 5TH 1987, aged 64. His widow, Gráinne Bourke, whom he married in 1951, and adopted three children with died 18 months later.

1 comment:

  1. I always remember my cousin, Robert White, telling me that when he was a boxer at the same Dublin club as Eamonn, Radio Eireann decided to run its first boxing commentary. Eamonn was well known in the club for doing “mock“ commentaries on matches. I believe the first match to be commentated on was between my cousin and another club member, a good friend of his. As a result the match was not a particularly good one but Eamonn made it sound very exciting and consequently his career in boxing commentary started.