Ralph Edwards

Originator of 'This Is Your Life'
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The Independent Online

Ralph Edwards, broadcaster: born Merino, Colorado 13 June 1913; married 1939 Barbara Jean Sheldon (died 1993; one son, two daughters); died Los Angeles 16 November 2005.

Ralph Edwards was among the first broadcasters to realise the financial importance of a television franchise for a popular idea. Every time Eamonn Andrews or Michael Aspel surprised a subject with the "big red book"on This Is Your Life, the credits had to acknowledge Edwards's role as creator and licensee.

He came up with the idea for This Is Your Life for US radio in 1948 with the purpose of telling the life story of some notable citizen. The television version, which began in 1952, was based more on celebrity and the subjects included Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe and Laurel and Hardy.

In 1955 Eamonn Andrews, the host of What's My Line?, was booked to host the UK edition, but the press leaked that the first subject would be the footballer Stanley Matthews. When the day of the first show came, Andrews assumed that Matthews would still be the subject, and he was stunned to see instead Ralph Edwards, who then hosted an edition on Andrews's life. Andrews burst into tears at the sight of his mother, soon a common occurrence as relatives or friends returned from abroad for surprise appearances.

Later editions were filmed in advance with the subjects often leaked to the newspapers, but the early live shows offered the possibility of the subjects turning the programme down, as happened with the footballer Danny Blanchflower and the writer Richard Gordon.

Although the US This Is Your Life finished in 1960 and was regarded as a cultural artefact, the UK version ran on the BBC until 1964, returning on ITV five years later and then running through on both ITV and BBC until 2003, with a new series now planned.

Ralph Edwards was born in Merino, Colorado in 1913 and began broadcasting when he was only 15 as an announcer on a radio station in Oakland, California. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, he moved to New York and became a staff announcer at CBS.

In 1940 he created a radio quiz show based on a childhood game in which contestants had to undergo a forfeit for a wrong answer. Truth or Consequences became a top-rated radio, and then television, show. In 1950, in an outstanding publicity stunt, Edwards persuaded the town of Hot Springs, New Mexico to change its name to Truth or Consequences in exchange for the programme being broadcast from there. It never reverted to its original name.

In the Eighties, Edwards had further success with The People's Court, which turned a retired judge into a celebrity. In 1995, he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame and six years later received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Emmys, which also acknowledged his considerable work for charities.

Spencer Leigh