Click for larger image Opportunity Knocks
1971 All Winner's Show
Click for larger image The Thames talent contest Opportunity Knocks ran from 1956 to 1977, with the first 12 years on ABC. The granddaddy of talent shows, outlived by ATV's New Faces and more recently superceded by the likes of Pop Stars and The X Factor, Opportunity Knocks brought us a whole wealth of talent: Bonnie Langford, Bobby Crush, Peters and Lee and Lena Zavaroni. It also provided auditions for Les Dawson, Freddie Starr and Mary Hopkin. This 1971 All Winners edition features a big surprise for Dawson, when he is surprised by Eamonn Andrews and made the subject of This is Your Life!

Click for larger image Opportunity Knocks
1977 Final Edition
Click for larger image The final edition of Opportunity Knocks. One might think from the clip that Les Dawson hosted it. But no, it was just a jolly good wheeze, Hughie Green did actually host it! Hughie always meant everything "most sincerely folks" and affected a curious meandering mid-Atlantic drawl in his presentation. He grows quite emotional as he signs off on the series for the last time; it probably wasn't easy letting go of his baby after 21 years. Both these clips, and the 1971 clips above, were recorded on Challenge TV in December 2002.

Click for larger image This Is Your Life
22/12/1971 Les Dawson
Click for larger image This Is Your Life originated in the USA, hosted by Ralph Edwards. He brought the format to the BBC in 1955, surprising Eamonn Andrews who was seated in the studio audience. Andrews hosted the BBC version until his switch to ITV in 1964. Thames revived the show in 1969, with Andrews hosting right up until his death in 1987. Les Dawson was twice subjected to the Big Red Book, in 1971 and 1992; that first appearance was recorded just after his appearance on the 1971 Opportunity Knocks All Winners Show.

The subjects of these next four examples are Spike Milligan, surprised at an army reunion in Bexhill-on-Sea; Peter Butterworth, intercepted in a department store; Sheila Hancock caught on stage after a West End performance; and Dennis Waterman, arrested on the set of The Sweeney.

Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Spike Milligan
Peter Butterworth
Sheila Hancock
Dennis Waterman

Click for larger image This Is Your Life
14/05/1980 Michael Aspel
Click for larger image In this 1980 example, Eamonn surprises Michael Aspel, right after a recording of the miming game show Give Us A Clue at Teddington Studios. Listen carefully and you'll hear a bizarre arrangement of the stock tune Chicken Man, by Alan Hawkshaw, which Give Us A Clue shared with Grange Hill at the time. This Is Your Life's famous theme tune was actually called Gala Performance, composed by Laurie Johnson, though it was always edited to suit the show's title sequence.

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Click for larger image This Is Your Life
09/04/1980 Bill Beaumont & 18/03/1981 John Thaw
Click for larger image Our most surreal example yet of an Eamonn sting: England rugby star Bill Beaumont is ambushed in Battersea Park by a phalanx of multi-coloured Minis, adorned with umbrella-twirling members of his Grand Slam team. The second clip shows Eamonn hiding behind a pillar at the National Theatre, waiting to spring out on Sweeney star John Thaw. Guests include his wife Sheila Hancock, plus Tony Selby, James Ellis, Diane Keen, Carol Drinkwater, Ian Hendry, Tom Courtenay and Richard Briers.

This Is Your Life
26/12/1990 Ernie Wise
A recording made in the Anglia TV region. Michael Aspel hosts the show, a role he took on in 1988 following Eamonn Andrews' death. The subject is Ernie Wise, who believed he was on his way to take part in a chat show. But when he arrived he was confronted by old friends such as Lionel Blair, Gemma Craven, David Lodge and June Whitfield, dressed up in tails and singing 'Bring Me Sunshine'. Peter Cushing is the final guest. He arrives demanding payment for that 1969 sketch, but ends with a poignant speech.

Click for larger image This Is Your Life
2001 Babs Powell
Click for larger image The life story of Babs Powell, former Pan's People dancer alias Barbara Lord and the wife of actor Robert Powell. Michael Aspel continued to host This Is Your Life, even after Thames TV lost its ITV franchise. The series was produced independently by Thames for the BBC until it was axed in 2003. The show made one last appearance, in June 2007 on ITV, with Sir Trevor McDonald hosting a one-off special about Simon Cowell.

Click for larger image Tommy Cooper's Christmas
Click for larger image First shown on 25/12/1973, from the same series as The Tommy Cooper Hour, this is another Five revival from 26/12/2002. It's pretty good, with a great slapstick intro, classic magic tricks and a bizarre concoction of sketches involving Basil Fawlty's 'Gourmet Night' victim Allan Cuthbertson, who was arguably Tommy's best straight man. The only things that make my toes curl are Sacha Distel and Tommy's toothy duets with Clodagh Rodgers. What was their appeal?

Click for larger image The Tommy Cooper Hour
Click for larger image The Tommy Cooper Hour was his tenth TV series, and his fourth for Thames. As always, they prove to be a great showcase for Cooper's talents in performing magic tricks badly and telling lame jokes. He only had to walk on stage for the audience to dissolve in laughter. His "Spoon Jar: Jar Spoon" routine is especially brilliant. Even Robert Wagner loved it!

Click for larger image The Tommy Cooper Hour
Click for larger image This show opens with an amusing piano routine in which Tommy accompanies a group of dancers as they sing a song about falling leaves... all the while being littered by them! His guest cast includes Hugh Paddick, Sheila Steafel, Frank Thornton, plus an early career appearance for Richard Wilson. I donnnn't belieeeve it! The producer/director was Terry Henebery, reputedly one of Tommy's favourites.

Click for larger image The Tommy Cooper Hour
Click for larger image The running gag in this show is a bizarre man in a brown coat and bowler hat, who pops up in odd moments to make inspections, causing Tommy to mouth "Who is that?" to someone off-camera. The guest cast includes Sheila Steafel and Janet Brown, with the voice of Kenny Everett, plus mouse act Topo Gigio and music act Lynsey de Paul provide more entertainment. Stalwart Thames director Royston Mayoh handled the madness on this occasion.

Click for larger image Tom O'Connor
Click for larger image Though he had appeared on Granada TV's Comedians series in 1971, the Merseyside-born comedian Tom O'Connor made his name on Opportunity Knocks in 1975, winning three separate editions. This propelled him to stardom as an entertainer, presenter and gameshow host. He had already hosted Wednesday at 8 for Thames in 1976 and he won his very own show in 1977. The theme music is suspiciously like David Nixon's old theme tune, so perhaps it was a generic Thames big-band showbiz number...?