Matt BUSBY (1909-1994)

Matt Busby This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 49
  • Subject No: 49
  • Broadcast live: Mon 6 Jan 1958
  • Broadcast time: 8.15-8.45pm
  • Venue: BBC Studios, Manchester
  • Series: 3
  • Edition: 15

on the guest list...

  • Nellie - mother
  • Frank Rodgers
  • James McGuire
  • Sam Smith
  • Jimmy McMullan
  • Jean - wife
  • Len Langford
  • Sheena - daughter
  • Don Gibson - son-in-law
  • Sandy - son
  • Frank Swift
  • Billy Liddell
  • Edward Bennett
  • David McKechnie
  • Arthur Rowe
  • Bert Sproston
  • Willie Watson
  • Cliff Britton
  • George Smith
  • Joe Mercer
  • Johnny Aston
  • Delia - aunt
  • Walter Crickmer
  • Mr Gilmore
  • Mr Dalton
  • Roger Byrne
  • Dennis Viollet

production team...

  • Researchers: Ray Marler, George Bruce
  • Writer: Ken Smith
  • Director: unknown
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
  • with thanks to Mark Wylie, Curator at Manchester United, for his contribution to this page
related pages...

Matt Busby

second tribute

The Theatre of Dreams

Manchester United's finest

Match of the Day

tackling football's top names

Life Second Time Around

surprised again!

This Is Your Life by Eamonn Andrews

Weekend Magazine reports from behind-the-scenes

The Secret Life of Eamonn Andrews

Weekend Magazine feature on the show's popularity

Joe Mercer

Matt Busby This Is Your Life Matt Busby This Is Your Life

Photographs of Matt Busby This Is Your Life

Matt Busby's biography

Patrick Barclay recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, Sir Matt Busby, The Definitive Biography...

When television in Britain had only two channels, some programmes commanded huge audiences, appearing to bring the country together. One was This Is Your Life, in which famous personalities were confronted with family and friends, some from the distant past, and their stories told. Busby was the first to be featured twice.

It was on a Monday morning in early January, after the survival of a Cup trip to Workington, that Busby was reminded of his place in society. Having supervised such training as was necessary and completed his office work, he went home for his evening meal. He then kissed Jean goodbye and left for the BBC Manchester studio, a converted church in Dickenson Road, Rusholme, to take part in the recording of a sports panel discussion with Claude Harrison, a horse-racing broadcaster, the cricket statistician Arthur Wrigley and Harry Sunderland, an Australian rugby-league administrator and journalist.

Almost as soon as Busby's car had left the house, another, sent by the BBC, arrived to collect Jean. Her daughter Sheena then joined the gathering along with Matt's mother - Nellie was now 73 - who had come down from Lanarkshire and stayed with her granddaughter amid conditions of top security. Nellie had to be kept away from her son at all costs. At one stage Busby had suggested to Jean that they drop in on Sheena - and must have been surprised by his wife's reluctance. Meanwhile, Aunt Delia had flown from Pittsburgh. Another secret visitor to Manchester was Busby's boyhood pal Frank Rodgers.

As the 'sports panel' got under way, a member of the audience asked Busby about his days in Scottish Junior football. Before he could answer, a familiar voice, a resonant Irish brogue, boomed out from behind a curtain: 'That's my question!' And on to the stage, with the famous red book that meant This Is Your Life, strode Eamonn Andrews, to be followed by Jean, Sheena - with her brother Sandy and husband Don Gibson - Frank Rodgers, Len Langford and Jimmy McMullan from the Manchester City days, Joe Mercer and Cliff Britton, Busby's wartime aide Arthur Rowe and a host of other football figures. They included Frank Swift. Walter Crickmer, Roger Byrne and Dennis Viollet represented United.

Newspaper article - unknown source: Matt Busby This Is Your Life

Unknown source 7 January 1958


MATT BUSBY, who knows all the tricks of football, was the victim of a well-concealed hoax last night... and millions of televiewers loved every minute of it.

Busby was persuaded to go to the BBC television studios in Manchester believing he was to take part in a tele-recording of a sports panel.

When the "mock panel" was well on the way up jumped a questioner to ask Busby about his days in junior football... and at that point Eamonn Andrews called out from behind a curtain: "That's my question."

And before he knew what was happening, Busby found himself in the centre spot of the TV feature This Is Your Life.

The show was a climax to a hilarious week-end for the Busby family as they pulled out every ruse to keep from Matt that he was to be featured in the programme.

His 73-year-old mother came down from Scotland on Saturday and stayed with her grand-daughter Sheena. The Busby family had to keep watch in case Matt called unexpectedly on his daughter, for the secret would be out, of course, if he saw his mother.

In fact on Sunday he did decide to call at his daughter's house... but Mrs Busby persuaded him not to bother.

From America came the President of the American F.A., Mr James Maguire, who flew over to say how much Soccer in the U.S. owes to Busby.

From Pittsburgh came Matt's aunt, Mrs Delia O'Donnell, who bought him his football boots when he was made captain of his school team.

They were all there – Len Langford, his old buddy at Manchester City, little Jimmy McMullan, Frank Swift, Joe Mercer, Cliff Britton, Don Gibson, his son-in-law, Johnny Aston, Billy Liddell, Arthur Rowe, Bert Sproston, Willie Watson, George Smith.

A host of sports personalities helped to tell the Busby story of the little boy from Orbiston in Scotland who has risen to be the top manager in Britain and a real world figure in football.

Only yesterday morning were Walter Crickmer, secretary of Manchester United, and some of the players, like Roger Byrne and Dennis Viollet, let into the secret.

While they trained at Old Trafford they kept on their guard in case one slip of the tongue would give the game away to the Boss.

After a busy day at Old Trafford yesterday, Busby had tea at home. Then he kissed his wife Jean good night and set off to join Alan Clarke, Harry Sunderland, Arthur Wrigley and Claude Harrison on the sports panel.

None of them knew the secret behind the show. But as soon as Matt had left home a car waiting round the corner pulled up to take Mrs Busby and the rest of the family to the studios.

Busby, the man on the inside of so many Soccer secrets didn't know a thing about this secret until the cameras focused on him alone and Eamonn Andrews boomed out?: THIS IS YOUR LIFE.

And then we were all in on the life of a man who used to share his football boots with Alex James and ended up, like James, as one of the best loved figures in football.


THIS IS YOUR LIFE, MATT BUSBY... and here, grouped around the Manchester United manager after the BBC TV feature from Manchester last night are some of the men and women who have played a big part in Busby's life. They are Johnny Aston, former United full-back, Walter Crickmer, United's secretary, Frank Swift, former Manchester City goalkeeper, Busby's aunt from America, Mrs Delia O'Donnell, his wife Jean, Len Langford, former Manchester City goalkeeper, his mother, James Maguire, president of the American F.A., daughter Sheena, son Sandy, son-in-law Don Gibson, Sheffield Wednesday player, Jimmy McMullan and Bert Sproston, two former Manchester City players.

Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter article: Matt Busby This Is Your Life

Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter 7 January 1958

Matt Busby will see Reporter-bound copy of his life

A SPECIALLY - BOUND copy of the script of This Is Your Life which was used for the BBC television programme about Manchester United manager Matt Busby in January, has been prepared at the Reporter Office, Ashton, by J Andrew and Co. Ltd., and will be flown out to Munich this weekend for Matt himself to inspect. Later, Matt will be sending it on to his aunt, Mrs Delai O'Donnell, in Pittsburgh, America, who was flown over specially by the BBC for the This Is Your Life programme.

Poor Matt could never have known when he appeared in the programme, that had his life story been continued for a few weeks it would have included a chapter filled with the tragedy resulting from the Munich air crash. He must have little thought that the team he had worked so hard to build up into a soccer legend would be so badly hit in so short a time. Nor could he have guessed that he himself would be lying at the point of death within a few weeks of the programme which retold some of the many adventures of his incident-packed life.

One of the victims of the Munich disaster, Frank Swift, was amongst those who appeared in the programme.

Bound in the United colours of red, with attractive gold lettering, the book is similar to the one presented to Matt in the television programme. It includes a full copy of the script and about 40 still photographs from the production.

It was whilst lying ill in hospital at Munich that Matt, through his wife Jean, suggested to Mr J Day, production assistant at the BBC television studios in Dickenson Road, Manchester, that his aunt would love to have a copy of the tape recording made of the programme. This, unfortunately, was impossible, as only a day or two before the tape had been "wiped", having already been kept for several weeks.

To be flown out

Mr Day felt that the next best thing would be for Mrs O'Donnell to receive a bound copy of the script with some of the still photographs and he approached J Andrew and Co Ltd to see if they could tackle the job. The firm complied and the binding has been successfully carried out under the supervision of Mr Walter Chapman. The result will be seen by Matt this weekend when he is handed the book by Mr Tom Appleby, manager of Manchester Opera House, who is a personal friend of Matt's and is flying over to Munich to see him.

Matt Busby's life story was told by Eamonn Andrews in This Is Your Life on January 6th and the important part played in Matt's life by his aunt, Mrs O'Donnell, was clearly shown. It seemed a small thing at the time – she just bought him a pair of football boots – but it was the beginning of Matt's climb to the top.

It was when Matt had become captain of his school team in Motherwell. He badly needed a pair of football boots, but cash was short in his family at the time. The pits had been on strike for 13 weeks and there was hardly a penny in the village for food, much less for boots.

Luckily, Matt still had a friend in Mrs O'Donnell, who was also his godmother, and her husband was in a job. She scraped up the price of a pair of boots, and not only was Matt able to play, but his team also went on to win the local championship.

Priceless boots

Matt received a great surprise in the programme when he was told by Eamonn Andrews that he was going to have another chance to say thank you to his aunt for that priceless pair of boots, and as they greeted each other both were overcome by emotion for a few moments before they could speak properly.

Also appearing in the programme were several famous personalities of the soccer world – Bert Sproston, England and Manchester City full-back, now trainer with Bolton Wanderers; Joe Mercer, of Arsenal, now manager of Sheffield United; and Manchester City's Frank Swift, killed in the tragic Munich air crash.

Daily Mail article: Matt Busby This Is Your Life

Daily Mail 7 March 1958


I HEAR that a bound volume of the BBC TV programme This Is Your Life is to be flown out to Matt Busby in Munich.

Eamonn Andrews gave Matt a copy of the script when he was the subject of the programme in January, but Matt handed it over to his godmother, Mrs Delai O'Donnel, who had come over specially from Pittsburg in the United States to take part.

Now a new "edition" is being specially prepared and will be taken soon to Matt by Mr Francis Appleby, the manager of Manchester Opera House, who is a personal friend.

Series 3 subjects

Albert Whelan | Colin Hodgkinson | Vera Lynn | Arthur Christiansen | John Logie Baird | Richard Carr-Gomm | Jack Train
Edith Powell | Anne Brusselmans | Norman Wisdom | Victor Silvester | Jack Petersen | Lucy Jane Dobson
David Bell | Matt Busby | Minnie Barnard | Gordon Steele | Louie Ramsay | Tubby Clayton | Daniel Angel
Anna Neagle | 'Dapper' Channon | Frederick Stone | Paul Field | Noel Purcell | Barbara Cartland
Harry Secombe | Archie Rowe | Humphrey Lyttelton | Francis Cammaerts | A E Matthews