When Hartlepool’s Compton Mackenzie got This is Your Life’s Red Book treatment

Compton Mackenzie.
Compton Mackenzie.

TELEVISION was still in its infancy - with just one channel on offer - when Eamonn Andrews surprised a Hartlepool-born writer with his famous red book in 1956.

Sir Compton Mackenzie - best known for penning Whiskey Galore and The Monarch of the Glen - had been led to believe his actress sister Fay Compton was the subject of the show.

FAMOUS SON OF HARTLEPOOL: Compton Mackenzie during his appearance on This Is Your Life on December 10, 1956.

FAMOUS SON OF HARTLEPOOL: Compton Mackenzie during his appearance on This Is Your Life on December 10, 1956.

But, after travelling to London to make a guest appearance, he was astonished when Andrews approached him with the book instead - saying with a flourish “This is Your Life”.

“We arrived at the stage door of the King’s Theatre, where I was taken up to a dressing room. There I was told Eammon Andrews would be along soon,” Sir Compton later recalled.

“Eamonn did not arrive and I began to grumble in spite of an assurance he would soon be with me. ‘Extraordinary lot of amateurs you still are at the BBC,’ I grumbled.

“At last Eamonn Andrews arrived and I reproached him for giving his instructions so late. As I took my seat, the curtain went up and Eamonn was saying “This Is Your Life”.

“I record now my admiration for Eamonn Andrews’ unique gift of putting people at their ease under the lights of television - and also my affection for him.”

Mackenzie, a prolific writer of fiction, as well as an actor, political activist and broadcaster, was born “quite by chance” at 23 Adelaide Street, West Hartlepool, on January 17, 1883.

His father, actor Edward Compton, was on tour at the time and had been due to perform with the Compton Comedy Company in Hartlepool from the week beginning January 15.

“It had been arranged that Compton Mackenzie’s mother, actress Virginia Bateman, should leave Hartlepool the following week for the expected birth,” revealed the Mail in 1947.

“But on the Sunday evening, when the company reached West Hartlepool, she went into labour. Compton was born at 10am on the morning of Wednesday, January 17, 1883.”

His birth was attended by Dr Eustace MacLean Swanwick, a well-known GP, and in later life Mackenzie revealed he might not have survived is it had not been for the doctor’s skill.

But Mackenzie not only survived, he thrived. Following an education at St Paul’s in London and Magdalen College, Oxford, he served with British Intelligence during World War One.

In 1917 he founded the Aegean Intelligence Service and in 1919 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire - as well as being awarded the French Legion of Honour.

He also found time to write a string of books and plays, including Carnival in 1912, Sinister Street in 1914, Coral in 1925, The Monarch of the Glen in 1941 and Whisky Galore in 1947.

And, by the time of the This Is Your Life show, Hartlepool’s famous son had seen Whisky Galore become a huge film hit - and helped co-found the Scottish National Party as well.

“Readers often seem dubious that West Hartlepool could have been the birthplace of such a distinguished author, but it is true,” the Mail reported on September 19, 1947.

•Email sarah.stoner@jpress.co.uk ot write to her at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24