BBC welcomes back 'This is Your Life': Corporation puts faith in several old troupers, while courtesy is moved towards the top of the current affairs schedule. Michael Leapman reports

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The Independent Online
THE BBC, reaching back into its history in the search for new viewers, announced yesterday that it is reclaiming This is Your Life from ITV.

The archetypal 'people' show, which originated in the US and was brought to Britain 38 years ago by the BBC, will move to BBC 1 early next year with its present ITV host, Michael Aspel.

Alan Yentob, controller of BBC1, spoke enthusiastically yesterday about his acquisition of 'one of the few shows that have made an indelible mark on British television'.

He said that although the essential format will be unchanged - taking notable people by surprise and confronting them with acquaintances from the past - it will have the 'BBC stamp' on it. This will mean broadening the range of guests beyond show-business and sporting celebrities.

ITV issued a statement implying that it was not sorry to lose the old warhorse. 'The healthier channel will be the one which generates new success rather than relying on old,' it said.

ITV's figures show that it reaches a mainly downmarket audience, half of whom are over 55. 'ITV is now keen to commission more programmes which have an appeal for young, upmarket viewers,' it said.

Mr Yentob also gave details of deals with five established stars. Three of them - Rowan Atkinson, Dave Allen and Nicholas Lyndhurst - are, like This is Your Life, returning to the BBC after spells with ITV.

Atkinson will star in a comedy drama series, Heroes and Villains, and has also agreed to take new ideas to the BBC; Allen will present six themed comedy features filmed in overseas locations; and Lyndhurst, from ITV's The Two of Us, will be in a new comedy series, Goodnight Sweetheart, playing a hen-pecked man who returns to the 1940s.

Two others in this galaxy of old troupers are Angus Deayton and Felicity Kendal. Deayton has signed a three-year contract to continue the popular Have I Got News For You? on BBC 2, and will also have a 'factual entertainment' series on BBC 1 called In Search of Happiness. Kendal, who has not made a series for several years, will star in Honey for Tea, about a widow and her teenage son involved in parallel love affairs.

Mr Yentob was careful not to be specific about the kind of audience he is seeking to attract. He said he regretted the remarks he and Liz Forgan, managing director of radio, had made in Birmingham this month, suggesting that the BBC was lowering its sights to attract a mass audience. 'The idea of . . . taking the BBC downmarket is somewhat preposterous,' he said. 'The challenge for BBC 1 is to position itself as the channel of diverse appeal.'

This is Your Life, which attracts 12 to 13 million viewers on ITV, will stay on the commercial channel until the end of the year. Its move to the BBC is a result of this year's change of ITV franchises, when Thames, which produces the programme, lost its London weekday licence to Carlton.

(Photographs omitted)