What's My Line?



Gilbert Harding (host of first show, then regular panelist)

Eamonn Andrews (original full-time host)

Ron Randall (substitute)

Jerry Desmonde (substitute)

Elizabeth Allen (substitute)

David Jacobs (1970s)

Eamonn Andrews again (1984-87)

Penelope Keith (1988)

Angela Rippon (1989-90)

Emma Forbes (1994-97)

Hugh Dennis (2005)


Panellists included: David Nixon, Lady Isobel Barnett, Barbara Kelly, Gilbert Harding, Ted Moult, Bob Monkhouse, Elizabeth Allen, Marghanita Laski, Jerry Desmonde, Dawn Addams, Cyril Fletcher, Alan Melville, Kenneth Williams, William Franklyn, Jilly Cooper, George Gale, Ernie Wise, Roy Hudd, June Whitfield, Peter Smith, Kate Robbins, Jeffrey Archer.

Voiceover: John Benson (80s version)


BBC-tv, 16 July 1951 to May? 1963

BBC 2, 23 August 1973 to 18 May 1974

Thames for ITV, 26 March 1984 to 28 August 1990

HTV and Meridian, 1994-7

BBC Four, 2005 (one-off)


Classic panel game. Contestants with unusual occupations sign in, perform a mime of the job that they do, then field yes-or-no questions from four celebrities aiming to work out the contestant's job.

A typical panel - Lady Isobel Barnett, unidentified (possibly actor Michael Dennison), actress luvvie Barbara Kelly, and grump-in-chief Gilbert Harding.

Questions answered with a "no" cause the next celeb to pick up the inquisition; ten such "no" answers meant the panel lost and the contestant won - a certificate, in fact. There was very little skill involved on the contestant's part apart from recognising when they had an unusual enough job to stand a good chance at stumping the four wise men (and women).

Three-quarters of the way through the show, a celebrity guest would appear with the trade of being, er, a celebrity guest; the panel would be wearing blindfolds and have to identify the celebrity by name from the Yes/No answers alone - often they would put on a funny accent to disguise their voice!

The original host was Gilbert Harding (see Trivia below) before Eamonn Andrews was brought in to replace him. However, Harding soon returned to the show as a regular panelist and stayed with the programme until his death in November 1960.

The programme was brought back for a one-off by BBC Four in 2005 as part of a season on British culture of the 1940s/50s. Hugh "The Grin" Dennis hosted, with a faux posh panel of Brian "Yeeees...." Sewell, Amanda "Think of the children" Platell, Amy "Cake" Lamé and Dave "Dave" Gorman.

Key moments

Inadvertent innuendo aplenty: "Does your job involve animals?" to someone who runs a dating agency, that sort of thing.

They once held a one-off version of this on Children In Need with one guest celebrity, a Margaret Thatcher PM (as she then was). No reason why this happened apart from "just because they could".

On the original series, a 'frogman' who appeared on the show was recognised to be a fraudster. The manager of the bank had seen the programme, called the police and the contestant was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Lady Isobel Barnett had a "lucky streak" at getting many of the answers right. When Bob Monkhouse sat in her chair one week, he realised that he could see a reflection of the answer (shown on a card for the audience) in the window.


"And will our next guest sign in please..."

"That's one gone!"


Bob Bach, Mark Goodson and Bill Todman. WML? was the first US import of a Goodson and Todman show, and was Britain's first successful game show (as opposed to quiz show). Further Goodson/Todman imports included The Price is Right and Blockbusters.

Theme music

A music clip from one of the older series is available from the Vintage TV themes site.


The weirdest occupation on the programme is widely believed to be a "saggar maker's bottom knocker". Saggars are used to hold and protect pottery during kiln-firing, and by placing various substances in a saggar it is possible to produce dramatic visual effects on the finished pottery. Don't go away, this is highly educational and nearly interesting. Producing saggars to the precise specifications required is a skilled job and needs a master craftsman - the saggar maker. However, making the bases of the saggars is a less skilled job which can be left to a lesser craftsman, namely the saggar maker's bottom knocker, who makes the bottom of the saggar by placing clay in a metal hoop and literally knocking it into shape. So now you know. Why not amaze your friends with this fascinating fact?

Interestingly, the show that featured the Saggar Maker's Bottom Knocker was actually hosted by Gilbert Harding. He was originally signed up to host the programme in rotation with Andrews, but someone behind the scenes sent out the guests in a different order to the cards that Gilbert had on his desk. This led to all sorts of confusion when the challenger was saying YES to answers that Gilbert - thinking of another occupation - swore the answer was NO. Harding became frustrated at the mixup and afterwards declared that he'd never host the show again. This was the cue for boxing commentator Eamonn Andrews to take up the chairman's role full-time.

Web links

Wikipedia entry


Picture 1 - One of the show's more recent hosts, Angela Rippon.


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