Andrews, Eamonn (1922–87), broadcaster, was born 19 December 1922 at 11 Synge Street, Dublin, eldest among five surviving children (two sons and three daughters; another son died in infancy) of William Andrews, an ESB carpenter, and Margaret Andrews (née Farrell). During his childhood the family moved to a new corporation house on St Thomas Road. He was educated at Holy Faith convent in the Liberties, and at Synge Street CBS. Tall, gawky, and painfully shy, he took up boxing in response to bullying at school, eventually pursuing a successful junior amateur career. Initially a poor, inattentive student, he was motivated at age fourteen to study tirelessly, owing to his parents’ inability to continue to pay for his schooling, and won a scholarship that allowed him continue to the leaving certificate. Sent to elocution lessons by his mother to refine his Dublin working-class accent, he developed the neutral Irish accent that would be a hallmark of his broadcasting career. Employed by the Hibernian Insurance Company (1939–46) as a junior filing clerk, and subsequently promoted to the sales staff, he also obtained irregular work as a boxing commentator on Radio Éireann (RÉ), published occasional pieces of boxing and miscellaneous journalism, and engaged in amateur dramatics. He wrote and acted in a play, ‘The moon is black’, which endured a poorly received two-week run at the Peacock theatre. Engaged by RÉ to commentate on the 1944 amateur boxing championships in which he himself was competing, after winning his semi-final match he immediately proceeded from the ring to the broadcasting booth and commentated on the next several bouts; later in the night he won his final, to become Irish junior amateur middleweight champion.
Abandoning his insurance job to concentrate on cultivating a broadcasting career, he continued to work intermittently for RÉ in sports commentating and light entertainment, and also appeared on independently produced sponsored programmes. He co-founded a company that produced sponsored programmes and advertisements that were broadcast on RÉ. His first sustained RÉ assignment was on Microphone parade (1947–8), in which he searched out and interviewed celebrities staying in Dublin hotels. A major break came when he was engaged in 1948 by impresario Louis Elliman (qv) as a stage quiz master before live audiences on ‘Double or nothing’, first at the Savoy cinema in Limerick, and then in the Theatre Royal, Dublin, where he was seen by English bandleader Joe Loss, who signed him to present the quiz as an interlude act on a 1949 British tour. Having unsuccessfully bombarded the BBC for some years with written applications for work, he was engaged to host the popular BBC radio programme Ignorance is bliss, a mock quiz show on which a panel of comedians gave zany responses to simple questions (1950); the thirteen-week run was followed by a stage tour. After several short BBC assignments, he began a twelve-year tenure as studio presenter of Sports report on the BBC Light Programme, a Saturday afternoon radio results programme with live linkups nationwide (1950–62); he also presented Sports review on the BBC overseas service. He became widely known as host of a new BBC television game show, What's my line? (1951–63), derived from an American programme of the same name, on which a panel of four persons posed questions intended to reveal the occupation of the contestant. Andrews was selected as host over Gilbert Harding (d. 1960), who instead became a regular panellist; the weekly battle of wits between the imperturbable Andrews and the irascible Harding was a major element in the programme's appeal. The BBC's first successful television panel game show, What's my line? was dropped briefly in 1955, only to be revived by popular demand. A remarkably versatile broadcaster, Andrews also presented the children's television programmes Playbox (1955) and Crackerjack (1955–64); the radio quiz show Twenty questions; and a late night radio music and chat show, The pied piper. His frequent boxing commentating included the first heavyweight championship bout broadcast live to Britain from the USA, between Rocky Marciano and Don Cockell (1955).
Andrews consolidated his fame as host of This is your life (1955–64), another adaptation from American television, which Andrews himself recommended to the BBC after seeing it in the USA. The format was to surprise a person unawares, and escort him to the television studio, where his life's story would be related through the reminiscences of family, friends, and associates (often assembled for the purpose from far-flung locations), linked by the presenter's narration. Subjects included both celebrities and lesser-known persons with interesting lives. The intended subject for the inaugural programme (July 1955) was footballer Stanley Matthews; when the secret leaked, the production team surprised Andrews himself as the subject. Initial concerns within the BBC that the programme was excessively emotional for British tastes, and intruded upon people's privacy, were also iterated by some critics; nonetheless, the programme scored consistently high ratings, attracting an average weekly audience of twelve million. Viewers were intrigued by each episode's opening sequence, when Andrews (frequently disguised) would ambush the unsuspecting subject, and ceremoniously present him with an oversized red book with gold lettering. In February 1961, Northern Ireland footballer Danny Blanchflower (qv) became the first intended subject thus confronted to refuse to participate. In the latter 1950s Andrews won several awards as Britain's leading television personality. He fronted the first live television transmission from Great Britain to the USA via the communications satellite Telstar (1962).
Andrews returned to the Irish airwaves in the late 1950s presenting programmes produced by his own company, Broadcasting and Theatrical Productions (later renamed Eamonn Andrews Studios). In 1959 he was named chairman of the advisory committee on the establishment of an Irish television service. He served as first chairman (1960–66) of the Radio Éireann Authority (later renamed the RTÉ Authority), which had responsibility for both radio and television (the latter being launched as Telefís Éireann on 31 December 1961); the appointment aroused considerable controversy surrounding a potential conflict of interest, in that his production company sold programmes to RÉ, and had purchased the Irish rights of many overseas programmes for eventual resale to RÉ. Andrews ceased appearing professionally on RÉ for the duration of his chairmanship.
With his two chief vehicles having been dropped by the BBC, in 1964 he moved to ABC Television, holders of the ITV London weekend franchise, and launched The Eamonn Andrews show (1964–9), a late Sunday night talk show. Though Andrews never appeared entirely comfortable in the talk-show format, the programme was initially successful, and frequently controversial owing to the outrageous behaviour and irreverent observations of some guests. When ABC metamorphosed into Thames Television and obtained a weekday franchise (1968), the programme was moved out of its Sunday slot, and ratings declined. On its demise, Andrews reprised This is your life (1969–87). Exceeding its previous popularity, and becoming one of the longest running programmes in British television history, it was consistently placed among the top-ten rated programmes, and was Thames's second biggest money earner (trailing only The Benny Hill show). During his ITV career Andrews also presented World of sport (1965–77); Today, a London region news magazine programme (1968–77); and Time for business, dealing with business and finance (1977–9). From 1984 he hosted a Thames revival of What's my line?
Andrews was a director of Butlin's Holiday Camps, supervising all entertainments throughout the organisation. During the 1960s–70s he significantly expanded his business interests in Ireland, to include involvement in hotels, in a Dublin dance hall (the Television Club), in management of the Gaiety theatre, and other entertainment ventures. Amid mounting financial difficulties, a portion of his Irish companies was liquidated in 1983. His ill-fated investment in 1984 in the MV Arran, a floating nightclub in a converted ferry moored in the Liffey river, precipitated the collapse of his remaining businesses.
Andrews married (1951) Grainne Bourke (d. 1989), a former dancer and stage costume maker, daughter of theatrical producer and outfitter Lorcan Bourke (qv). They adopted two daughters and one son. Desiring to educate their children in Ireland, in 1970 they sold their London home and moved to The Quarry, Carrick Hill, Portmarnock, Co. Dublin. Thereafter Andrews commuted weekly between Dublin and a flat in Chiswick.
One of the most enduringly popular and highly paid figures in the history of British broadcasting, Andrews was among the first of the breed of television personalities to achieve fame despite their inability, in his words, to ‘sing, or dance, or play the harp’. Over six feet in height, brown-eyed, he had a broad, genial, toothy smile, and a prominent jaw. Described by one journalist as ‘natural, neutral, inoffensive, unaffected, uncommitted’ (Brennand, 8), he projected an image of unthreatening, classless ordinariness, with which, amid television's illusion of intimacy, a broad range of the British and Irish public could identify. A devout catholic, he was made a papal knight of St Gregory for his charity work (1964). He was made an honorary CBE (1970). After suffering declining health for some time owing to heart disease (aggravated perhaps by the stress incumbent on his business failures), he died 5 November 1987 in a London hospital, and was buried in Balgriffin cemetery, north Co. Dublin. Having published an autobiography in 1963, he left the unfinished text of an extensive revision, which was completed by his widow and Robin McGibbon as For ever and ever, Eamonn (1989). He was co-author of Surprise of your life (1978), comprising behind-the-scenes accounts of twenty-nine episodes of This is your life. A bronze statue of Andrews by Marjorie Fitzgibbon was unveiled at RTÉ headquarters, Donnybrook, Dublin (1988). His younger brother Noel was an RTÉ sports commentator.