The Reverend James BUTTERWORTH (1897-1977)

James Butterworth This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 4
  • Subject No: 4
  • Broadcast live: Sun 20 Nov 1955
  • Broadcast time: 7.45-8.15pm
  • Venue: BBC Television Theatre
  • Series: 1
  • Edition: 4

on the guest list...

  • Jerry Desmonde
  • Jack Blundell
  • Lexey Dewhurst
  • Dora Jacques
  • Rev George H Simpson
  • Ted Bowyer
  • Bill Whiles
  • Harry Richards
  • Doris Richards
  • Anna - wife
  • Madeline Driscoll
  • Billy Childs

production team...

  • Researchers: Peter Moore, Nigel Ward
  • Writer: Gale Pedrick
  • Director: unknown
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

Life's Vocation

celebrating the 'men of God'

'This Is Your Life' But It Dominates MINE!

Producer Leslie Jackson recalls some heart-stopping moments

further reading...
James Butterworth This Is Your Life James Butterworth This Is Your Life James Butterworth This Is Your Life James Butterworth This Is Your Life James Butterworth This Is Your Life James Butterworth This Is Your Life James Butterworth This Is Your Life James Butterworth This Is Your Life James Butterworth This Is Your Life

Photographs of James Butterworth This Is Your Life

James Butterworth's biography

John Butterworth, the son of James Butterworth, and co-author Jenny Waine, recall this edition of This Is Your Life in their book, The Temple of Youth, Jimmy Butterworth and Clubland, reproduced here with kind permission of the authors...

In June 1955 JB again left Clubland on his third US tour, leaving Ken and Bunty Randall in charge of the clubs until his return at the beginning of October. Whilst he was away a new television show, imported from America and heavily trailed, arrived on UK screens. It was This Is Your Life, hosted by Eamonn Andrews. The format is now very familiar: each episode tells the life story of a well-known or celebrated individual by bringing friends and family, some from distant times and places, to provide the biographical profile of the subject. This had made the programme a hit in the States and would keep it so in Britain for decades to come. But the real hook for viewers, in those days, was the shock and surprise of each guest as he or she walked unsuspectingly on to stage, to be met with the words '...This Is Your Life'. To this end a huge amount of preparation and collusion was needed, under a cloak of strict secrecy. If the subject found out, the episode would be cancelled, as it sometimes was. Indeed that is exactly what happened in the run-up to the very first show. The intended victim was the football legend Stanley Matthews, but his name was leaked to the press. Instead of cancelling the programme altogether, the producers turned the tables on Andrews himself, and made him the first unsuspecting guest.

The first scheduled subject was Yvonne Bailey, better known by her Special Operations Service code name, 'Odette', during the Second World War, when she was parachuted into occupied territory for undercover action. She was followed on the show a month later by the band leader, Ted Ray [ editor: Ted Ray was a comedian]. Then around the beginning of November, Anna Butterworth, and Reg Turtle the Clubland Treasurer, were approached by the producers to set JB up for the fourth episode on Sunday the 20th, and to assist with the job of contacting who would step out to greet him.

The invitation presented Anna with something of a dilemma. As she well knew, Jimmy had an ambivalent attitude towards the media, and there was no way of predicting exactly how he would react if and when he found himself in front of the cameras. Although he welcomed any opportunity to maximise financial support for the Club, he dreaded publicity that might be interpreted as commercialising Clubland or exploiting its members, and had turned down at least one offer of a feature film about the Club for that reason. However it became clear to Anna that the television proposal held great potential for attracting donations, of which the Club was endlessly and desperately in need. The problem was that the arguments for and against were fairly equally balanced – how an unwitting JB might respond to being put into the spotlight was anybody's guess. Much would depend, too, on how the press reacted to the event, especially the local south London papers which could not always be relied upon for support in Clubland matters. It was true that JB had been feted for his appearances on quizzes and talk shows in the States, but that was far away from home, and the culture was different there.

There were also logical problems. A major one was that the programme went out live at 7pm on a Sunday [ editor: the programme was broadcast at 7.30pm], just when JB would be starting the evening service – so there was a big question around how he might be got to the studio without telling him why. That was one of the toughest obstacles, but after a consultation with governors Gordon Lyle and Reg Turtle, the three decided it could be done and gave the producers the go-ahead to start preparing the script. A period of subterfuge and outright lies followed. Nobody but those chosen to be on the show were permitted to know the secret. Ricky Elliott was primed to take the service on the night without being told why, other than that JB would be 'away' for that evening. Meanwhile it fell to Reg Turtle to find some way to persuade his old friend to abandon his pulpit when the time came, and to go with him to the studio. Anna and Reg had to contrive ways to meet almost daily to organise the details. Since JB was always at the Club, they resorted to passing notes arranging times to meet, and were fearful that suspicions of a rather different sort might be aroused if one of these should be intercepted.

Despite some tense moments, the lid was kept on until the last minute. Reg's rather flimsy ruse was to arrive at the Club around 6pm and tell JB that his help was needed over some life-or-death problem that he would explain in a car that was waiting out in the street. But instead of finding JB in his study as expected Reg discovered him in the entrance hall, talking in rather irritable tones to an understandably bemused Ricky who, like JB, had a sermon in his pocket that he was expecting to deliver around an hour later. Reg's sudden appearance – a rare occurrence on a Sunday as he lived in Orpington – caused even more perplexity. Somehow he managed to talk JB into the chauffeured car, and spin out his unlikely fiction long enough to get them to the Earl's Court venue [ editor: the BBC Television Theatre was in Shepherd's Bush] – where Jerry Desmonde stepped out to meet them with yet another bogus tale involving Bob Hope, and on that pretext led JB into the theatre and up onto the stage.

It was at this moment of drama that the penny was supposed to drop, when the guest realised where he was and why. If still in doubt the presence of Eamonn Andrews and the Big Red Book would be enough to reveal the secret. Not for this guest, though. When Andrews pronounced the magic words 'This Is Your Life', JB had no idea what he was talking about. He never watched television, and wouldn't have one at home or in the Club, and he didn't read the entertainment sections in the papers – apart from football reports. Eventually though it became evident to him that he was going to hear his own life story via a string of friends and family from his childhood to the present day. As this personal history unfolded JB was greatly moved and delighted, when one after another figure from his past came out and said their piece. As well as Jerry Desmonde, they included: Jack Blundell (a boyhood friend from Oswaldtwistle who remembered Jimmy sitting up every night until midnight, learning Greek after a day in the spinning shed); Mrs Dewhust with her daughter Dora (whose home, Willow Cottage, was a haven to Jimmy when he was growing up, and who heard him, still in khaki, preach his trial sermon in 1919); the Reverend G H Simpson (fellow student at Didsbury); Ted Bowyer (one of the first 'six boys' in 1922); Billy Whiles (a medical student at Kings and one of the first Clubland officers); Harry and Doris Richards (from evacuation days in Shropshire); and Anna (looking happy and relieved). Last, wearing their gowns and symbolising the progress of Club development during the previous eighteen months, came the head girl and boy of the Premiers, Madeline Driscoll and Billy Childs.

Back on Camberwell Road, and with the Head safely spirited away, the evening service was postponed and the theatre hurriedly transformed into an auditorium. BBC technicians set up monitors so that the programme could be watched on a number of giant screens, by the members and officers – minus Anna and two excited Premiers who went off in a second car to make their appearances. The episode had excellent reviews – the programme was immensely popular anyway and attracted big audiences. A snowstorm of letters followed from old acquaintances and complete strangers who had seen the programme, many sending donations for the Club. There are too many to list, but one that stood out most poignantly was from Annie Morris:

My Dear Jimmy

What a thrill to see you on This Is Your Life. I thought 'that's my Jimmy'. My little pupil has climbed so high – you still have that habit of running your finger behind your ear and up into your hair. Hearty congrats and lots of love to you and yours from your old teacher of long ago.

Leicester Mercury article: James Butterworth This Is Your Life

Leicester Mercury 21 November 1955


THE time is bound to come if it has not already arrived - when anyone who accepts an invitation to television's This Is Your Life feature must reckon with the probability of being drawn out from the audience by Eamonn Andrews and put under the spotlight.

But so long as the producer and his associates can think up dodges and ruses for averting suspicion, the chances are that the victim will continue to walk unsuspectingly into the principle role.

Last night, for instance, the Rev. James Butterworth's arrival was delayed according to plan and with the cooperation of Jerry Desmonde. With the show already underway, Mr Butterworth might well be excused for thinking, "Well, it can't be me - I'm late."

But Mr. Desmonde, of course, could not be sure about himself. His job as escort might well have been camouflage except that that trick had already been worked on Ted Ray.

It was, however, with genuine surprise that "Jimmy" Butterworth learned that this was to be, after all, his life.

And surprise, I suppose will always be an inevitable reaction of the personality selected for the centre spot in This Is Your Life? A pretty accurate analogy is the fairground raffle in which a revolving pointer finally decides the winner of a prize. Possession of a ticket puts one among a small group of possibilities and the chance of success - compared to that of winning a football pool fortune - is extremely high.

But for all that, if one's number is on the ticket, the reaction - that mixture of joy, pride and flushed embarrassment is undiminished.

Of this mixture, pride would have been in justifiable high proportion in the case of the Rev. James Butterworth, whose life was well worth the telling. He is a man in whom unbending determination and modesty go uncommonly hand in hand; but, for all that, he must look back on his achievements with something more than satisfaction.

He was one of those fortunate people, so we were told, whose life's purpose is made clear to them at an early age. "Jimmy" Butterworth's desire to preach and to help children and young people in need of somewhere to pray and play was implanted in him at an early age and his ideals, somehow, thrived on disappoint and lack of means.

He founded Clubland with six boys and £1 in the kitty. Four years later he visualised a building that was estimated to cost £28,000. He decided to go for the target... but his bank balance was only eight-pence over that original £1.

And as the credit grew, so did his ambition; for when Clubland was built, it was built at a cost of £100,000.

"Jimmy" Butterworth himself told viewers of the Bob Hope 'miracle' which provided £11,500 towards the restoration of Clubland after its demolition by bombs.

"I thought he was crackers" said Mr. Butterworth, recalling their first meeting in Hollywood. He recalled, too, Bob Hope's promise and his sham annoyance when it was suggested that the promise might be forgotten.

"Hey there, Little Reverend, I'll have you know my job is teaching elephants not to forget!"

Evening Times article: James Butterworth This Is Your Life

Evening Times 23 November 1955

Eamonn Andrews writes

No Hope for Mr Butterworth

At 7.47 on Sunday night at the Television Theatre the spot-lights hit a small man in a clerical collar and I said:

"This Is Your Life, James Butterworth."

The founder of Camberwell's Clubland looked bewildered; and as person followed person from the "life" that had started near a Lancashire mill 58 years ago, Jimmy Butterworth stayed a little bewildered and much caught up by his emotions.

Gradually, however, he began to focus again and by 8.5 he had come right back to the fighting form that has made him famous among the young people of South East London.


When he talked about how he had met Bob Hope in Hollywood and how the great comedian had promised to help to rebuild the blitzed club that had taken 20 years to build and 20 seconds for the Germans to destroy, Jimmy Butterworth showed how near to tears is all the best laughter.

In simple, straightforward talking, he had the audience rocking one moment and reaching for their handkerchiefs the next.

It was a night of surprises for the Rev. James Butterworth. But now I can tell you of one more surprise we had in store for him that didn't materialise.

Right behind Mr Butterworth - although he never knew it - was a telephone. Six thousand or so miles away in Hollywood Bob Hope was sitting beside another telephone.

At approximately 8.10 the phone behind our guest of honour should have rung and he would have found himself talking to Hope, the man who had so well remembered a promise made to "the little Reverend" so many years ago.

But it was not to be. Shortly after eight o'clock, producer Leslie Jackson flashed a signal to stage manager Ronnie Marsh, who in turn and in mime broke to me that no telephone call was possible.

Conditions over the Atlantic had severed all radio connections.

By the way, This Is Your Life still maintains a sort of wartime secrecy about the subject to be portrayed - locked doors, heavily sealed envelopes, surreptitious phone calls, dropped voices - everything except invisible ink.

How, then, was Mr Butterworth persuaded to leave a service at Clubland and come to the Theatre? Three of his closest and most trusted colleagues, the three treasurers, arranged it - Reg Turtle, Alec Reed and Dr Gordon Lyall.

Reg called on him late in the evening, appealed to his trust and thirty years of friendship and asked him to do something for him without any questions.

A worried clergyman agreed, entered a waiting car and was whisked across London. Afterwards he told me:

"I was quite upset. I thought my treasurers must be in really serious trouble."

Methodist Recorder article: James Butterworth This Is Your Life

Methodist Recorder 24 November 1955

Unexpectedly a TV 'Star'


MANY television viewers who switched on their sets somewhat listlessly before the This Is Your Life programme on Sunday evening with the expectation that it would probably be another record of the career of a stage star had a startling surprise. There was the usual Eamonn Andrews with his combination of bonhomie and blarney welcoming his audience and making his mystery more complex. When he announced the name of Jerry Desmond, anticipation seemed justified, but Jerry had with him a companion, and this companion was none other than the Rev. James Butterworth of Clubland, and that the programme was to be his, writes a correspondent.

The idea of this programme is that the victim shall be confronted by incidents and people who have played a formative part in his past life and perhaps never since the idea first came from America has any subject looked quite so shyly bewildered as Mr Butterworth. Quickly we were back with the newspaper seller from Oswaldtwistle, his old teachers, and those who encouraged him. Mrs Dewhurst, of "Willow Cottage," now a beaming old lady in the mid-seventies came full of reminiscence of the aspiring boy preacher who had styled himself "Chaplain to Willow Cottage."

There was the interlude when Jimmy was in the "bantam" battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers on grim business in France and then the Didsbury student. The Methodist ministry was not forgotten with the Rev. George H. Simpson as its representative, to joke about the three hassocks which the diminutive preacher was said to have taken into the pulpit. We were then brought to the fight for Clubland and there appeared one of the first boys and one of the first helpers, middle-aged now, but still with obvious hero-worship for the "Head." Films showed scenes of the building and the work attempted, culminating in that royal opening just before the war.

WE THEN had the sorry tale of disaster, with the heroic devotion of the Clublanders who tried to save their building in the raids and the Butterworth experiment in moving the aged and infirm to Shropshire and the way in which the good people there were cajoled and commanded into helping Mrs Butterworth taking up some of the story here.

Then came the record of those money-raising trips to America and the encounter with Bob Hope and all that came from it. By this the bewildered Mr Butterworth was more familiar with his surroundings and was able to recount the story himself all the more joyously because of being told that Bob Hope knew of the programme and would have been there if he could.

When two present Clublanders appeared in "gowns of honour." television knew the right moment for climax and the whimsical little minister, so shy, so perky, and yet so humanly defiant, was left standing with them. Television has had few richer moments. The inherent kindliness of those in "show business" was linked with the Church in a piece of practical philanthropy, all made possible by an unconventional little man with a vision strong enough to make him take his own way with courage.

Whoever chose this programme had a moment of inspiration, It was interesting, challenging, and warming. Once the surprise had passed, the subject appeared to enjoy himself and one had the feeling that there would be a rollicking party after the show was over.

Mr Butterworth, in subsequent conversation, has confirmed that the whole business was a complete surprise. He received a message to come in a taxi at the urgent request of a friend. Mrs Butterworth and the rest had naturally known before but kept their counsel.

Methodism might well be proud of so spontaneous a tribute to one of its outstanding personalities.

Accrington Observer unknown date


'Jimmy' Butterworth's story made touching television programme

MANY local people had the TV thrill of their lives on Sunday evening.

They saw, among others, an Accrington mother and daughter meet an old friend, a little man with winning ways, a man who was born in Oswaldtwistle, went to "the Chapel on the Hill," at Green Haworth, and became a Methodist minister, and perhaps the country's best known leader of a youth club, after working as a half-timer at Church, and selling newspapers to buy books for his self-education.

Yet those local people fortunate to be looking in with millions of viewers throughout the country, saw Eamonn Andrews introduce the Rev. James Butterworth as the principal character in a This Is Your Life programme screened at 7.45 for half an hour on Sunday evening.

You know the programme. Eamonn goes amongst an audience of people and picks at random a person from it. That person was Jimmy Butterworth, and to put it mildly, Jimmy seemed very surprised indeed, and was certainly a convincing answer to any of the sceptics who are of the opinion that the whole thing is rehearsed, and "the victim" knows his fate beforehand.


In fact Mr Butterworth seemed a little bewildered by it all, and it was only towards the closing stages, and when his wife joined him on the stage, that he appeared to recover from his initial surprise, and relate in humorous vein how he met his great benefactor, film and radio star Bob Hope.

He was asked by Andrews did he remember a certain incident or phrase, and that phrase was said off-stage by the person who had uttered or heard it, perhaps many years ago. In this fashion he met Mrs Lexey Dewhurt, who knew Mr Butterworth as a youth, and her daughter Mrs Dora Jacques, who live at 26 Ramsbottom Street, Accrington. Mrs Jacques recalled how Mr Butterworth on one occasion brought a party of poor Manchester boys to camp at Green Haworth. Pitching tents at the foot of the hill, the poor boys were flooded out.

"Jimmy told me then he would always remember to camp at the top of the hill," Mrs Jacques told listeners.

Mother and daughter did not return from London until late last night.

And talking of hills and cliffs, Mr Butterworth had another phrase which one of his old colleagues and followers voiced off stage as a down-memory-lane re-introduction: "A dance at the top of the cliff is better than an ambulance at the bottom."


Mr Butterworth's life story, of course, has a fairy tale touch: he has mixed with queens and dukes, yet ne'er lost that common touch in creating his "university for working boys and girls."

The son of a cotton weaver, Jimmy was born at Rough Hey in 1897 and was left fatherless when twelve years of age, the eldest of five children. Naturally his chances of education were meagre indeed, but Jimmy so early in life had decided to equip himself for the ministry.

Working as a half-timer at Messers. F. Steiner and Co.'s Church Works, he added to his small earnings and obtained money for the purchase of books by selling newspapers. Later he became a full-timer at Stone Bridge and Vine Spinning Mills. Connected with Green Haworth Wesleyan School from childhood (a photo was shown on TV), he became a Sunday school teacher when 15 years of age and preached his first sermon in the Wesleyan Chapel when only 16. [missing sentence]

Two wars have greatly affected Mr Butterworth's life and work. At the outbreak of the first World War he volunteered for the Army before he had reached his eighteenth birthday but was refused. He later joined the Lancashire Fusiliers serving for three years as a private, as a youthful photograph on TV also revealed. At the end of the war he entered Didsbury College where in passing the college examination he gained the London University certificate awarded in connection with the Government grant for higher education.

Whilst at college he offered his spare time services to a little Chapel in Chorlton in which preaching services had been given up for some years and which it was proposed to sell owing to lack of interest. The result of the efforts of Mr Butterworth and other students from the college was the Beech Road Mission composed of non-church and non-chapelgoers with boys' clubs, girls' clubs, boys holiday camps, a full preaching service every Sunday and a strong Methodist Society in place of the once derelict cause.

Mr Butterworth preached a farewell sermon in the Accrington Circuit at Union Street Chapel on a Sunday evening in 1922.


It was in that year that Clubland began - with just six boys in one room. Later he took an old warehouse to accommodate the boys whose numbers had risen to 100.

About 18 years later - shortly before the Second World War - Queen Mary declared open the new £100,000 Clubland, the "Temple of Youth" in Camberwell Road, situated in London's East End.

Three of the foundation stones commemorated visits of Queen Mary, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Windsor, while others laying stones as representatives of youths of other nations were Jean Daladier (son of the Premier of France), Robert Kennedy (son of the American Ambassador), Jean-Marie de Clercq (son of Belgian Consul-General), Malle Kari Colban (daughter of the Norwegian Minister), Mlle. Paravicini (daughter of the Swiss Minister), Miss Kano for Japan, Miss Doris Sienfen Tan (niece of the Chinese Ambassador) and Amar Sindhi Mallick for India.

The premises, "a college and cathedral for London's working girls and boys" consisted of church and clubs, theatre, gymnasium, handicraft workshops, art studios, music and drama rooms, roof playgrounds and garden, canteen and mixed clubs.

"It took 20 years to build," Eamonn Andrews told viewers on Sunday night. "And bombs destroyed it on May 10th 1941 in as many seconds," he dramatically added.

Yes, in as many seconds 20 years of hard, unremitting toil crumbled in the dust.

The years passed, then Mr Butterworth decided on what he himself described as "a crazy and desperate tour across America from the Atlantic to the Pacific to address anywhere on behalf of my girls and boys' clubs."

With no pre-arranged engagements and only the £5 allowed to be taken out of England, Mr Butterworth was "broke" long before he reached California. The failure of his plans found him aimlessly wandering around Paramount when he should have been elsewhere.


By the strangest of circumstances he chanced to be standing at a lucky spot 6,000 miles from home when American comedian Bob Hope spotted him.

"Seconds difference either way would have made all the difference," Mr Butterworth told viewers. "Maybe it was the sight of a parson too small in stature to see what was going on in the crush, which made Mr Hope beckon me to a seat on the set. Then came three wonderful days at the closing rehearsals when I was too bewildered to do more than answer Mr Hope's questions about my job."

When Bob told Mr Butterworth he would give Clubland a "benefit" when he came to England. Mr Butterworth teased him that he would soon forget.

"I teach elephants to remember," wisecracked Bob.

And Bob did remember...

He later gave the proceeds of a fortnight's show at the Prince of Wales Theatre, and his salary to his friend. That amounted to £20,000.

Wisecracking Bob Hope is famous for his "Road to..." film series.

Commented Mr Butterworth: "The Road to Clubland has been more wonderful than the road to anywhere on the film or stage."

Too true Mr Butterworth, too true. And at the end of that road is a monument to your work for the youngsters of London's East End - Clubland, in which their happy, merry laughter will long continue to ring out.

An apt title indeed, "THIS IS YOUR LIFE."

Series 1 subjects

Eamonn Andrews | Yvonne Bailey | Ted Ray | James Butterworth | C B Fry | Johanna Harris | Donald Campbell | Joe Brannelly
Stanley Matthews | Henry Starling | Ida Cook | Lupino Lane | Hugh Oloff de Wet | Elizabeth Wilde | Robert Stanford Tuck