How rain almost stopped Eamonn

Hartlepool man (the late) Victor Willcox featured on the popular BBC television programme, This is your Life in April 1963. Victor (left) with the show's host, Eamonn Andrews.
Hartlepool man (the late) Victor Willcox featured on the popular BBC television programme, This is your Life in April 1963. Victor (left) with the show's host, Eamonn Andrews.

IT was raining on March 18, 1963. It was raining hard.

Victor Willcox, then 58, woke, had his breakfast, and took a look outside at the heavens opening.

He said to his wife Betty: “Why do I have to go to London? I am not going.”

Stunned Betty had to think quick. She was in on the secret. Her husband was going to be the star of the show on This Is Your Life which was being recorded that same night.

She had to find a way of getting Victor to the BBC studios without telling him he was going to be plucked from the audience by Eamonn Andrews.

She cajoled him, shouted at him and eventually he relented, saying: “Well, if it’s that important I’ll go. But I’m not happy about it.”

And so a crisis was averted.

Then, Betty had to follow him to the station to make sure he got his train.

And she even had to make sure he wore a black tie so that it showed up on black and white television on This Is Your Life!

His only daughter Joan Patterson, 74, and her husband Ronnie Patterson, 76, remembered the day and filled in the blanks about the parts the viewer never got to see.

They remembered the irony it all started with.

“A BBC researcher called Alan Haire came to our house,” said Joan, “But when he came, my dad was sitting in the front room!”

“Alan said he was from the BBC and we thought he was taking the mickey,” said Joan, now retired and a former Barclays Bank and Buxted chicken factory wages office worker.

Ronnie said: “Alan saw Victor sitting in the chair and whispered to us ‘Is that Victor?” It was, and the secret was almost out.

Somehow, Alan had to chat to Joan and Ronnie for background research without Victor knowing.

In a stroke of luck, Victor said it was time for him to go home – and Alan offered him a lift!

Then, Alan returned to Joan and Ronnie’s house to research for This Is Your Life. “We were sat talking to him for hours,” said Ronnie.

They dug out family albums, and Ronnie used his background as general manager of the Hartlepool Mail to arrange for photographs of Hartlepool to be taken.

Meanwhile, Alan Haire was lining up Victor’s surprise guests for the show including long-lost friends, family and work colleagues.

And so the arrangements were made for a programme in which Victor’s astonishing war record – and other details of his life – were highlighted.

Victor, of Wynnstay Gardens in Hartlepool, was a Merchant Navy man who volunteered for the Royal Navy when the Second World War broke out.

He drove landing craft and his bravery shone through in the Normandy landings when he made 15 trips between England and France.

As a child, he was a creative sort who built models out of Meccano.

He was born in Hartlepool, educated at Lynnfield and Brougham schools and got his first job as an 11-year-old delivering fruit and vegetables by night, and in a shipping office by day.

He believed he was going to London to be part of a follow-up to a show called Waiting For Work, where he was interviewed in the Engineers Club in Hartlepool.

“The BBC told him they were going to do a follow-up to that,” said Ronnie. “Betty had to get him on the train for London and she even hid in the train railway station to make sure.

“Then the family came down on a train a couple of hours later.”

After their arrival in London, Victor was given a ruse. He was told to stand in a bus queue outside the BBC studio until he got a command on the loudspeaker to come inside.

Joan remembered: “The voice came over the loudspeaker saying ‘is there a Victor Willcox there? Will you come inside?

“There was a theatre inside and Eamonn came up the gangway. He said ‘Victor Willcox, this is your life.

“I was hiding behind the stage in the dressing room, having my face made up.”

Victor’s guests included his wife Betty, sister Zilla, lifelong friend Harry Richardson and a woman from Canada called Moya Lynch who he’d not seen for more than 30 years.

Photograph’s from Victor’s early years, including him and his version of the Eiffel Tower, were shown.

The actor Leo Glenn, who starred in war films such as The Wooden Horse and the Longest Day, was a special guest. Joan said: “I think it was because he was acting the parts my father had played in real life.”

Ronnie remembered how Victor was not one for the limelight. “He did not consider himself special. He never talked about the war. He thought he was just one of thousands. He was such a decent guy and I respected him for that.”