In November 1996 I found myself at the old Granada TV Studios in Manchester for the recording of Noddy Holder’s This Is Your Life. Originally they’d asked me to emerge from behind the curtain to ‘surprise’ Nod but in the event my services weren’t required, though I was on stage throughout, sat to the side with all the other guests.
I was going to say: “Remember The 13 Balkans Nod? And how the night ended?” He might have forgotten this story but the gist of it is that after a show at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, we’d all gone back to our hotel, The 13 Balkans, from where – after we’d consumed far too much brandy – Nod and I ventured out on to the streets in search of the kind of fun and games that can be found in the red-light area of this magnificent city. We’d chanced our arm in a house of ill-repute, only to be shown the door for being too drunk, probably a good thing too.
All this came to mind last week as I was deleting some old files from my computer and came across a letter I’d written to my now long-deceased father whom I knew to be a fan of This Is Your Life. I’d figured he’d be interested in how it all worked, and the day after I got back to London, I wrote to him as follows:
I’m back in London and I thought I’d write and tell you how This Is Your Life went.
We had a rehearsal in the afternoon with Michael Aspel going over the lines and a stand-in taking the part of Noddy Holder, the special guest. Actually there were stand-ins for some of the other guests too. Everybody was shown where they were to sit... indeed all the places had names on, but the names were taken off in the evening.
When the rehearsal was over we were all herded into the green room, a sort of hospitality suite where there was complimentary wine and beer, together with sandwiches, and we had to wait quite a long time there before Noddy arrived at the TV studio. He’d been told he was appearing on another programme, a chat show, and not until he came through the doors and appeared on the set to be greeted by Aspel did he know he was on This Is Your Life. He looked very surprised indeed.
At that point there was a ten-minute break for Noddy to realise what was going on, and then the show started again. I was on the set, to the right, in the second row, looking out on to the studio audience of about 400 people. Aspel read his lines from the big red book and the guests came through the big door, just as you see them on TV. The only difference was that every so often Aspel would fluff his lines and we had to go back and start again. Indeed, after it was all over we all had to go back to do a few bits again because his voice hadn’t come through clearly. At the end everybody stood up and approached the front of the stage, me included, smiling out at the studio audience.
After that we had a knees-up in the BBC dining room... again food and drinks provided free of charge. We also had an opportunity to watch the show they’d just made on a video screen, and you can see me from time to time even though I don’t actually say anything. After that we all went back to the hotel and continued drinking in the bar until heaven knows how late... I wasn’t exactly in the peak of physical condition this morning, but I’m back in shape now.
I think they’re going to show it on the Friday before Christmas because it has a Christmassy theme. Slade’s biggest hit was ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, of course, and this was played several times during the show, and at the end when everybody joined in.
The other thing I remember – which I didn’t tell my dad – was that a table had been set up in the BBC dining room from which expenses would be paid, mostly for travel and ‘refreshments’, and we all queued to receive wads of cash from a BBC purser. All this money, oodles of it, was promptly spent by us all in the bar at the hotel.