By Cian Manning
Eamonn Andrews was born in Dublin on 19th December 1922. In his youth he was educated at Synge Street CBS not far from his home where he lived with his parents (his father working in the Electricity Supply Board), three sisters and brother Noel (who would also have a career as a boxing commentator). The schools motto of Viriliter Age meaning ‘act manfully’ was promoted in the Christian Brother’s tradition of extoling the benefits of physical pursuits such as in Gaelic Games and athletics. A great passion for all sports by young Andrews was particularly harnessed into the fistic arts. Growing up on Dublin’s South Circular Road near the National Stadium it was inevitable that boxing would play a huge role in his formative years. Andrews was a prominent member (he even served as assistant secretary to Paddy Kilcullen) of the St. Andrew’s Club on York Street. The club was established in 1922 and from it’s early years was a strong entity on the Irish Amateur Boxing circuit. It was seen as an important proponent of the development of juvenile boxing which would lead to the IABA to recognise this area of the sport in 1926. From the York Street stable came flyweight Jimmy Ingle who went on to win Ireland’s first European Championship at the National Stadium in 1939.
At 6ft 1in, Andrews weighed 13st at his peak pugilistic physique (which in today’s metrics would place him somewhere between light heavyweight and cruiserweight). A keen amateur boxer, Andrews won an All-Ireland Juvenile Championship. Though clearly amateur, Andrews’ first payment in his journalistic career was due in part to his success in the ring. He noted that:
…after I won an All-Ireland Juvenile title. Convinced that all I had to do now was sit and wait as sports editors clamoured for my signature, I toiled over the typewriter and got out a piece on How to Train For a Fight. Straight to the sports editor of the Evening Herald I sent it, and to my astonishment, he accepted it, published it, gave me a by-line, and sent me a guinea.
Nearly one euro in today’s money mightn’t sound like much but it gave Andrews the validation and confidence to explore a career in the media further. That guinea meant he was a participant in the game. Emboldened, at just 16 years of age Andrews wrote to Radio Eireann looking for work and presented himself as a boxing expert. The Dublin 8 teenager was successful upon his try-out and would go on to commentate on boxing, rugby and soccer throughout the 1940s.
Upon leaving Synge Street, Andrews obtained work as a junior clerk with the Hibernian Insurance Company earning £1 a week which was enhanced by his broadcasting duties. In 1944, Andrews entered the Junior Middleweight Championship when he was 21 years old. However, the same evening he was on commentary duties for Radio Eireann who were covering the finals. This created a predicament as Andrews now had two important tasks on the night of covering the bouts while participating in one himself. After covering the other contests, Andrews changed into his pugilistic attire in four minutes and won the final, which was not broadcast as the assigned commentator was in the ring rather than at the radio microphone. Talk about a Superman-like effort! At least Clark Kent didn’t have to account for airtime as a photographer when taking snaps for the Daily Bugle.
That December Saturday night at the National Stadium was covered in the Irish Press with:
Eamon Andrews (St. Andrew’s), who after defeating J. Killeen (Corinthians) in the middleweight semi-final, conducted a forty-minutes running commentary for Radio Eireann on the other contests, stepped back into the ring and won the title by a fine victory over Pte. P. Fitzgerald (5th Brig.).
Aside from his feats in the ring, Andrews was becoming well-known for his slick boxing commentaries. A man of many talents, March 1945 saw him perform in the play ‘The Moon is Black’ at the Peacock Theatre. Andrews wasn’t the first and certainly not the last fighter to trade the ring for treading the boards. Though this effort with the Peacock would suggest Andrews’ sights were far beyond the expected norm of an amateur athlete. Though some believe Radio Eireann weren’t happy with the predicament created by Andrews commentating and fighting at the same event and it appears that this brought his boxing career to a premature end. While his pursuits in print were wonderfully illustrated in the publication ‘Amateur Boxing Spotlight’ which contained 80 pages filled with history, profiles and noting clubs across the island of Ireland in March 1946. The same year Andrews took over the hosting duties of ‘Question Time’ which further enhanced his ever expanding reputation.
Having worked as a full-time freelance sports commentator for nearly ten years in Ireland, Andrews made the move across the Irish Sea to present programmes for the BBC, firstly as a boxing commentator and later becoming a popular presenter of the game show What’s My Line? Of his newfound fame in Britain, Andrews commented:
I became, almost overnight, a face. I acquired that new, meaningless description for people who can neither sing nor dance nor juggle nor play the harp – a personality. Television personality.
Andrews was the voice for many British heavyweight fights throughout the 50’s on the BBC Light Programme and presented the Sports Report from 1955 to 1964. Around the same time as beginning his role with Sports Report, Andrews began to present the show for which he became most well-known This Is Your Life. Having developed an impressive career on British television, Andrews returned to the Emerald Isle to play an important role in the development of the small screen industry in Ireland. The early ‘60s saw Andrews return to Ireland to chair the Radio Eireann Authority to oversee the introduction of state television in the Republic of Ireland.
One of the most notable guests on the This Is Your Life programme was the legendary Muhammed Ali. It was retold by Andrews daughter Emma upon her father’s death that Ali would ask British visitors to the United States: “How is Henry Cooper – and how is Eamonn Andrews?” However the relationship was not always as cordial. A US TV crew in Saudi Arabia asked Ali to film a segment for the show but was disgruntled upon finding out that ITV often flew participants to London for the programme but weren’t extending the same invitation for his brief participation. The original clip which was heavily edited before being broadcast contained Ali saying:
I’m down here in Saudi Arabia…and somebody told me Eamonn Andrews is having a This Is Your Life. So I says I’ll do it, but is it on pay? No. Same cheap Eamonn Andrews.
So I thank you for letting me be on your show. I hope that you get this…that you don’t erase none of what I’m saying so the people can find out how cheap you really are.
Though this slight would appear to be Ali’s attempt to be snide towards the TV crew rather than a personal gripe with the Dubliner. Nevertheless Andrews was upset by the comments that one of boxing’s greats had made. Andrews never turned his back on his connections to the Sweet Science and regularly attended and read at a special Mass for retired boxers at the Church of Adam & Eve on Merchant’s Quay in Dublin.
Andrews died in November 1987 aged 64. It would be true that the well-known television personality lived the words of ‘The Boxers Prayer’ that he fought well and proved himself to be a sportsman ‘at the final bell’.