W E 'Billy' BUTLIN MBE (1899-1980)

Billy Butlin This Is Your Life
  • The first subject surprised on their wedding day

programme details...

  • Edition No: 102
  • Subject No: 102
  • Broadcast live: Mon 21 Sep 1959
  • Broadcast time: 7.30-8.05pm
  • Venue: BBC Television Theatre
  • Series: 5
  • Edition: 4

on the guest list...

  • Cliff Joste
  • Liza Hill
  • Marshall Hill
  • Jean Rose
  • Howard Roberts
  • Norman Bradford
  • Lt Col Basil Brown
  • Canon Tom Pugh
  • Norah - wife
  • Rex North
  • Linda Joyce
  • Mantovani
  • Godfrey Evans
  • Albert Whelan
  • Mrs Albert Whelan
  • C J Latta
  • Jack Goodlatte
  • Mike Frankovitch
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Eric Heathcote
  • Ethelbert Brooks
  • William Leyland

production team...

  • Researcher: Ken Smith
  • Writer: Ken Smith
  • Director: unknown
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

That's Entertainment

there's no business like it


the show's fifty year history


Eamonn Andrews previews the programme's relaunch

Albert Whelan

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Photographs and screenshots of Billy Butlin This Is Your Life

Billy Butlin's autobiography

Billy Butlin recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, The Billy Butlin Story...

When I was at last free to marry Norah, the woman who had lived with me as my wife for 20 years, it seemed a happy ending to the long years of frustration. We had been unable to marry because my wife Dolly, who was Norah's sister, refused to give me a divorce – though I asked her many times. But in 1958, Dolly dies and, though it was not the way I would have wished, the unfortunate situation was resolved.

In the preceding years my relations with Norah had become very tense. To my utter despair she, like her sister, had begun to drink heavily – though she had tried to hide it. We had begun to quarrel frequently and had been on the point of separating several times. Free to marry, we talked it over again. Norah promised to stop drinking and for the sake of our three children Bobby, Cherry and Sandra we decided to make a fresh start in marriage.

All wedding days are memorable, and mine and Norah's proved to be even more memorable than I could possibly have imagined. For as we left Caxton Hall, I was handed a message saying that an emergency meeting of the Crew (Committee) of the Variety Club of Great Britain was being held early that evening. 'What a time to hold a meeting, on my wedding day,' I thought. But we were not going away on honeymoon and as that year I was Chief Barker (President and head fund raiser) of the Club I felt it was important I should attend. So while Norah went home to write thank you letters, I returned to the office and later attended the Variety Club meeting which was being held in the offices of Associated British Pictures. Everybody was very sorry that my wedding day had been interrupted, but they said: 'Never mind, it gives us a chance to have a celebratory drink before the meeting.'

We were having that drink when the door opened, and in walked Eamonn Andrews with his famous red book. 'Billy Butlin,' he said, 'This is your life.'

Quickly, I was whisked away by car to the theatre in Shepherd's Bush, where the show was then put on by the BBC. Knowing my friends in the Variety Club I still thought it was some kind of joke. I kept saying to Eamonn, 'You really do mean this, do you?' But I was finally convinced when we reached the theatre and I found Norah already there. She had been in the secret all along. It was a moving experience meeting old friends – my first girl friend, Joan Coombes, now Mrs Rose, was flown in from Canada – but though I am a showman at heart I found the public display of sentiment a bit embarrassing.

The Mirror 27 November 1997


BYLINE: Tony Purnell

Fortunately Sir Billy Butlin's grave is shaped like a big double bed.

It meant he had plenty of room to toss and turn during his character assassination in Secret Lives (C4).

The vicious documentary put the holiday camp king on a par with Al Capone, which was a bit much.

They did have lots in common - such as a passion for cigars and a wardrobe full of double-breasted suits and wide-brimmed hats. Not to mention a liking for women and a reluctance to pay taxes.

But whereas gangster Al was held responsible for countless murders, the worst they could level at showman Billy was a spot of criminal damage in a penny arcade.

I leap to his defence as an ex-Butlin Beaver and one of the millions who have fond memories of his seaside holiday camps.

Those who shot their mouths off about him 17 years after his death from cancer would not have said boo to him when he was alive. He may have ruled with a rod of iron and paid peanuts, but it did not stop youngsters like William G Stewart pulling on the famous red coat.

"I was in my early 20s and partly there for the girls," admitted William who now hosts the TV quiz Fifteen To One.

Someone else crawled out of the woodwork to say there was intense competition for the title of Redcoat Of The Week.

A trophy of a ram's head went to the man who bedded the most women, with 10 points for the Holiday Princess, 15 points for the Glamorous Granny and 20 points for the General Manager's wife. They had to bring back knickers as proof.

Butlin's was made out to be a hotbed of sex for campers as well, but I reckon the claims were grossly exaggerated.

Either that or when I went to Pwllheli with a bunch of lads as a teenager, we managed to find the only girls in Wales who would rather die than lose their lingerie.

It was not only Sir Billy's good name that was dragged in the mud. The reputation of the staff was tarnished as well - they were said to be on the fiddle or on the game.

Now I am sure Billy was no angel. No one goes from rags to riches in business without stepping on toes.

He wed three times, drove two of his wives to drink and had many mistresses.

He used charities such as the Variety Club to gain friends in showbusiness and influence people in high places.

Vera Lynn and Eric Morecambe were among the crowds at his funeral.

The rotter even used Eamonn Andrews on This Is Your Life. Butlin pretended to be surprised when he was the subject of the show on the day he married second wife Nora.

But he had carefully orchestrated it himself and the marriage was just a sham to legitimise their two children and pave the way for his knighthood.

If Eamonn had known he would have thrown the big red book at him.

Series 5 subjects

Evelyn Laye | Donald Caskie | Eva Turner | Billy Butlin | James Slater | Edmund Arbuthnott | Louis Langford | O P Jones
Richard Hearne | Francoise Rigby | John Barclay | Thomas Drake | William Merrilees | John Lord | Russ Conway | Stanley Bishop
Leonard Stanmore | Arthur Askey | Robert Oldfield | Alicia Markova | Frederic Morena | Hilda Rowcliffe | Thomas Salmon
Harry Welchman | Harry Webb | Nat Gonella | David Barclay | Richard Todd | Thomas Bodkin | Gracie Fields | Michael Ansell