Michael was born in London. He was evacuated during World War II, for four-and-a-half years, to Chard in Somerset. He worked as a tea boy at William Collins publishers and completed his National Service in the ranks of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (1951 – 1953). He began his distinguished broadcasting career in 1955 as a radio actor on Children’s Hour, appearing in a serial called Counterspy. In 1957 he took on a newsreader role at BBC Wales. A short time later, he moved back to London as a BBC TV network in-vision announcer (1957 – 1960); he also presented children’s programme For Deaf Children (1956). He later moved back to newsreading (October 1960 – June 1968), anchoring on virtually every weekday and weekend news programme brand at some point, including News Review for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (BBC Two).
Michael presented Come Dancing (1959 – 1967), Miss World (he covered the annual beauty pageant fourteen times) and A Song for Europe (1969 and 1976). He guest-starred twice in the comedy series The Goodies – notably the episode Kitten Kong – and appeared twice on The Morecambe and Wise Show – once with fellow male newsreaders/presenters dressed as sailors in a song and dance routine re-enacting There Ain’t Nothing Like a Dame (1977) and on another occasion was referred to as Michael Aspirin. He also provided narration for the BBC nuclear war drama documentary The War Game, which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 1966 but was not shown on British television until 1985.
He also presented two classic children’s programmes – Crackerjack (13th September 1968 – 13th February 1970 and 7th January 1972 – 29th March 1974) and his own named series Ask Aspel (1970 – 1973 and 1976 – 1981). Some younger viewers thought his first name was ‘Ask’! He joined LWT as the main anchor of regional show The 6 o’Clock Show (1982 – 1988) and was a guest presenter on LWT’s Six o’Clock Live (1990 and 1991). He presented networked shows Child’s Play (1984 – 1988) and the chat show Aspel and Company (1984 – 1993), which included memorable appearances by the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor and a very drunk Oliver Reed. He also hosted Thames TV’s Give Us a Clue (1979 – 1984) and TVS’s Ultra Quiz (1983). He returned to BBC TV to present versions of Blockbusters (1987), This is Your Life (1988 – 2003), The Antiques Roadshow (2000 – 2008) and guest-hosted the topical quiz show Have I Got News for You on two occasions (October 2005 and November 2007). In 2008, he filmed a five-part documentary for ITV called Evacuees Revisited. In 2014, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway featured a return of This is Your Life to celebrate Ant and Dec’s 25 years together, quizzing them on life and career as part of ‘Ant vs Dec’ (series 11, episode 6) with Michael returning as host, alongside Ashley Roberts.
He was also a constant voice on radio, presenting Family Favourites and Housewives Choice (1968 – 1972) on the BBC Light Programme and BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 4’s Today on Saturdays and Bank Holidays (1970 – 1974). From September 1974 until July 1984, he presented a three-hour weekday, mid-morning music and chat programme on Capital Radio; and from July until December 1984, he occupied a Sunday slot. He then switched to LBC for the remainder of the decade. He also later presented weekend shows on BBC Radio 2 (late-1980s and again in the 1990s). In 2006, he toured the UK playing the role of the narrator in Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show.
Aspel married three times. His second wife, from 1977 – 1994, was actress Lizzie Power (Christine Hewitt in EastEnders) and since 1994 his partner has been Irene Clarke, who he worked with at Thames TV on This is Your Life. As a supporter of the charity Cancer Research UK, he was made a Freeman of the Borough of Elmbridge, Surrey in April 2008. He is also: vice-president of The Children’s Trust, a UK charity for children with brain injury; patron and long-time supporter of Princess Alice Hospice, Esher; and one of nine presidents of The Young People’s Trust for the Environment.
Paul R. Jackson sent a note to Michael’s agent and asked if it might be possible to pass on a few questions to him. He was thrilled a few days later to receive an unexpected call from the great man himself, on 6th September 2017.
Do You Mind Talking About Programmes You Were Involved in from Early in Your Career?
“Not at all. I have just met up with some ex-colleagues from the Six o’Clock Live days. I remember we were all – men and ladies – in-vision at BBC TV at Lime Grove Studios and the men all shared a communal dinner jacket. And with me being the shortest, I had to have a peg in the back of the jacket. At Christmas 1959, I stood in for Dickie Baker, reading the BBC TV news and the news bosses liked me, so asked me to join in late-1960.” Paul reminded Michael about being kidnapped by students from Kensington College of Estate Management, who held him hostage for a donation to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, on 22nd November 1965. Aspel paid his own donation and was released in time to read the evening news. Michael added: “They wanted a £10 ransom and the news editor said ‘F**k them. They can keep him!'”
Paul sent Michael a copy of an early BBC publicity photo: “Yes, that would have been the 1950s – 1957 at the latest, I should think, when I joined BBC Presentation at Lime Grove. Judith Chalmers and I were selected, as you know, to be the ‘young faces’ of the BBC – although we never did much screen work together.”
Any Particular Memories of Your Lime Grove Announcer Colleagues?
“I recall Martin Muncaster and Alex Macintosh on the mens’ side and I’d forgotten that Kenneth Kendall had done his stint with continuity before newsreading. Polly Elwes was very aristocratic – but nice with it. People used to ask if we were related, which pleased me more than it did her and Judith Chalmers – the one I’ve kept in touch with over the years. Someone had the idea at the time that we should be offered up to the public as a sort of ‘Ken and Barbie’, representing the bright young things of the fifties.”
Video Clips on the Internet
Here we present a selection of video clips featuring Michael which we found on social media sites or have made available from our own archive. The clips are presented here for additional reference. Inclusion of a video does not constitute an endorsement of the hosting site/channel/user. If you find any broken links below or are aware of an additional clip(s) which you believe may be a useful addition to this profile, please get in touch with us via our Contact page.
Aspel & Company (1988). Michael Aspel's guests were David Frost, Anita Dobson and Chuck Berry.
PICTURED: Michael Aspel. SUPPLIED BY: Paul R. Jackson. COPYRIGHT: BBC.