Sir Matt BUSBY (1909-1994)

Matt Busby This Is Your Life
  • The first subject to be honoured twice

programme details...

  • Edition No: 308
  • Subject No: second timer
  • Broadcast date: Wed 12 May 1971
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Wed 5 May 1971
  • Venue: Piccadilly Hotel Ballroom, Manchester
  • Series: 11
  • Edition: 26

on the guest list...

  • members of the Manchester United FC team
  • Sam Smith
  • Len Langford
  • David McKechnie
  • Jean - wife
  • Sheena - daughter
  • Sandy - son
  • Helen - mother
  • Jimmy Murphy
  • Harry Gregg - in audience
  • Dennis Viollet - in audience
  • Bobby Charlton
  • Bill Foulkes
  • Denis Law
  • Alfredo Di Stefano
  • Pat Crerand
  • Joe Mercer
  • Louis Edwards
  • George Best
  • Delia - sister
  • Margaret - sister
  • Helen - sister
  • Katy - sister
  • Jimmy - brother
  • Santiago Bernabéu
  • Gustav Wiederkehr
  • Roland Endler
  • Jimmy McGuire
  • Prof Dr Georg Maurer
  • Filmed tributes:
  • medical staff from the Rechts der Isar Hospital, Munich
  • Jane - granddaughter
  • Sandra - granddaughter
  • Donna - granddaughter
  • Alison - granddaughter
  • Jeannette - granddaughter
  • Alexandra - granddaughter

production team...

  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

Matt Busby

first tribute

Match of the Day

tackling football's top names

The Theatre of Dreams

Manchester United's finest

Life Second Time Around

surprised again!

A Life Remembered

tributes to the original presenter


the show's fifty year history

The secret life of Eamonn Andrews

Weekend Magazine feature on the show's popularity

This is his life …

Irish magazine RTE Guide reveals some behind-the-scenes secrets

This Is Your Life

The Daily Mail profiles the programme's history

Biggest night of all for the big red book

Press coverage for The Night of 1000 Lives

George Best

Bobby Charlton

Denis Law

Joe Mercer

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

Screenshots of Matt Busby This Is Your Life

Matt Busby's biography

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

Now a more benign spirit of football could surface at Busby's final farewell to management, which fate had decreed would be at Maine Road, on 5 May 1971. It proved a suitably exhilarating match. But there was an allied event of which Busby knew nothing until just before kick-off.

Never had This Is Your Life honoured the same subject twice. It was discussed and, despite a worry that Busby would be wise to all the usual subterfuges - he had been instrumental in keeping Bobby Charlton unprepared for ambush 18 months earlier - the decision was taken to go ahead. The idea was to lure him by announcing the presentation of an inscribed clock on the pitch, the ceremony to be conducted by his friend Mercer. He naturally agreed to cooperate; after he had finished his final team-talk, he would meet Mercer in the tunnel.

The end-of-season pitch was as it would have been in his debut season 40 years earlier: caked mud with mere tinges of green, crying out for a summer's rest. But the surrounding atmosphere was different, Seventies edgy. Mounted policemen guarded the tunnel mouth. For every ten yards of the perimeter an officer stood facing the crowd. And suddenly their supervisors had second thoughts; fearing a pitch invasion and violence, they withdrew permission for the celebration. The producers, aghast, pleaded with Mercer to intervene and the City manager rescued the situation by promising the police he would take personal responsibility for any mishap.

He hurried off and met Busby in the tunnel. They could see the teams waiting either side of a table on the halfway line. On it were the clock, nestling in tissue paper, and a flat box. Out strode Busby with Mercer, who, after wisely reminding the crowd of the coincidence that Busby should be finishing his career where it had begun, announced that the presentation would in fact be made by 'a mutual friend of ours, Eamonn Andrews', who skipped from the tunnel, took the microphone and proclaimed: 'For the first time ever, I'm saying for the second time, this is your life...' Busby looked bemused. Mercer, whom Andrews had surprised a year earlier, grinned broadly.

The programme was recorded later in the ballroom of the Piccadilly Hotel. Nellie, her white hair tightly permed, looking fit in her 80th and penultimate year, was shown film of her son being introduced to the future King George VI before the 1933 FA Cup final, and bowing more deeply than any other City player in the line. Andrews turned to her: 'Helen, did you notice the bow?' She smiled and replied: 'I was expecting him to do that.' Jean, immaculate, sat next to her husband, with Sandy, and Sheena, and Busby's sisters and half-brother, Mercer, Len Langford, Jimmy Murphy, players past and present, old pals from the Lanarkshire coalfield and the wartime troopships, Alfredo Di Stefano and Santiago Bernabéu, Louis Edwards, Jimmy McGuire from America and Professor Georg Maurer from Munich.

For much of the time, Busby looked unusually nervous, rubbing his thumb and index finger together, licking his lips, but he relaxed and smiled warmly at a film of his six grand-daughters - for whom the recording was too late on a school night - singing the Clive Dunn song 'Grandad' and then waving as they chorused:

'Goodnight God bless, Matt!'

Surprise Of Your Life book

Presenter Eamonn Andrews and producer Jack Crawshaw recall this edition of This Is Your Life in their book, Surprise Of Your Life...

It was a Thursday morning after the Wednesday programme night before. We sipped coffee as we discussed the business on the agenda at our weekly production meeting. As always only key members of the production team were present. As always, doors – and even windows – were fastened securely.

We had discussed the events of the previous night's show. What went right? What went wrong? What had we learned? We had discussed in detail plans for the following week's show. Even probable programmes for six weeks hence.

In the newspapers that morning had been a brief announcement that at the end of the current football season Sir Matt Busby would be retiring from his post as team manager of Manchester United. In a production team that sports an element not exactly unbiased in its enthusiasm for that famous football club it was a natural topic of conversation. And anyway, as everyone knew, Sir Matt and I were old friends. He had been one of the first subjects of This is Your Life in the BBC days.

"Why not go for Sir Matt again", said Roy Bottomley, with an enthusiasm that did nothing to belie the aforementioned bias.

At first the idea seemed a little crazy. It had never been done before. And anyway how could you say This Is Your Life to someone twice? How could you? Any other business?

It was one of those intriguing ideas that just would not lie down. For the rest of the week and into the next the idea remained as news filtered through about celebrations being planned to mark Sir Matt's retirement. A retirement that was to come after 25 years in which he had created a great team, only to see it destroyed in the tragic Munich air disaster. A quarter century of devotion in which he went on to re-build a new team that attained even greater glory than the first.

It had been the irony of ironies that Munich had come just four short weeks after the fun we had shared when I told Matt's remarkable life story early in 1958.

My own family had been among the millions throughout the world who had prayed for Matt as he lay critically injured after the plane flying him and his team back from a European Cup game in Belgrade crashed on take-off.

Twice he was given the last rites by a priest at his bedside before, mercifully, he was spared to pick up the threads of a second life. And it was to that second life that we decided, if his wife Jean, Lady Busby agreed, to pay our own special tribute. But one thing we knew for sure was that it would be no easy task to pull it off without Sir Matt finding out.

He was a recognised friend of the programme. As well as we knew him, he knew us. He was the man who, when we paid tribute to that other great gentleman of soccer, Bobby Charlton, had been our greatest ally. For weeks he had helped Jack research Bobby's life. He had even come to the rescue when Jack – a former Fleet Street reporter who at one time worked in Manchester – was in danger of being spotted at the famous Old Trafford ground by a group of his former newspaper colleagues who knew exactly what his new job in television was. Sir Matt actually got his second in command, Jimmy Murphy, to hide him in one of the directors' loos while he kept the reporters talking in his office down the corridor before seeing them safely off the premises.

On the day of Bobby's show – a live outside broadcast from the Sportsman Club in Tottenham Court Road – Sir Matt kept Bobby under wraps while we laid our final plans to surprise him as he stepped on stage to receive an award. He knew only too well the kind of scheme we got up to, so it was understandable that Jack should be feeling a little nervous as he drove north to meet Lady Busby to discuss turning the tables on her husband.

He had arranged a secret meeting with her at the Busby home in the Manchester suburb of Chorlton. Being doubly conscious of the need for security he got United's chairman, Louis Edwards, to invite Sir Matt out to lunch away from his office at Old Trafford.

As Lady Busby greeted him at the door shortly before noon he was comforted by the knowledge that Sir Matt would not return home before 2.15pm. You can imagine, then, how he must have felt just over two hours later when, having cut it a bit fine, he hurried out of the house and got into his car. It wouldn't start. Panic! All it needed now was Sir Matt to drive up and the secret would be blown. Not only would he be instantly recognised by Sir Matt. So would his car. It was the same one he had used on his last visit to the house to see Sir Matt himself about the Bobby Charlton story.

Fear being the great motivator, Jack was able to push the car down the road and around a corner out of sight. As he pushed, he realised he was approaching another road where, fortuitously, another friend of This Is Your Life lived – Sir Matt's lifelong rival and friend, Manchester City manager, Joe Mercer.

As Jack sped off to his next secret appointment by taxi, Joe's wife, Nora, awaited the arrival of the AA. A friend in need...

And that wasn't the only time the Mercer family came to our rescue. The next time was on the crucial day of the show. We had arranged with Joe to surprise Sir Matt by interrupting a presentation to mark his retirement, just before the historic match between Manchester United and Manchester City.

With Joe as our main ally it had all been planned to the second and was to take place on the pitch. Thirty minutes before kick-off I crept out of the Piccadilly Hotel in the centre of Manchester and drove out towards Moss Side.

As we approached the City ground we slowly made our way through throngs of cheering fans. Half of them were wearing the sky blue and white colours of Joe's City team, the other the red and white of United. To avoid being spotted I sat in the back of the car, head bowed and holding a handkerchief to my face. I couldn't enter the ground until the last possible moment, so we arranged with Joe to park and wait in his own specially-reserved place in the official car park. The only problem was that no one told the car park attendant. As we drove into the space he rushed towards us waving his arms and shouting that it was the manager's space and that we would have to move.

We didn't argue. We just drove off mumbling apologies and heading as fast as possible to the nearest of our control vans. Normally there's just room in there for the director, production assistant and the vital technicians needed to perform their technical miracles. But now there just had to be room for one more.

Once in there we were dealt another blow with the shattering news that the police, worried about safety of the ever-growing local derby crowd, had banned our presentation from taking place on the pitch. No amount of persuasion could get them to change their minds. And there was no time left to find anyone with police authority to overrule the decision. It was only minutes before the teams were due to be led out on to the pitch by Sir Matt and Joe. On the pitch was a table. And on that table were two boxes. One contained an inscribed clock. The other contained The Book.

The tension mounted with the knowledge that we were involved in something that we could not go back on. Once it was lost, it was lost forever. If Sir Matt came out of that stadium without being "hit" then he was bound to find out what we had been planning. There was no way of keeping the secret. It had to happen while he was in there. We radioed a message to our man inside the ground and asked him to alert Joe Mercer to the crisis.

Only Joe would have done what he did next. He persuaded the police to change their minds by taking full responsibility on his own shoulders for anything that might happen. I realised the enormity of the risk he was taking. Joe was sticking his neck out as he's been sticking it out all his life as a player and a manager. Quietly, but very definitely.

The police accepted his offer and the ban was lifted. I came out of that control van like a Derby greyhound out of a trap. As I dashed down the players' tunnel towards the pitch I could hear the roar of 50,000 soccer fans chanting Busby... Busby... Busby...

Matt Busby This Is Your Life

Then I heard Joe announce to Sir Matt that he was calling on a friend to make the presentation for him. Then he called out my name. Matt seemed quite pleased with Joe's surprise. Typical of Joe, I could almost hear him thinking, to get me as an old friend to present the clock on so important and emotional occasion. Out there on the pitch the atmosphere was electric. I'll never forget the look on Matt's face when I opened the second box and told him: "For the first time, for the second time This Is Your Life".

Matt Busby This Is Your Life
Roy Bottomley This Is Your Life book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

If anyone could be said to have lived a second life it has to be the world's greatest football manager, Sir Matt Busby.

That he survived when a plane carrying Manchester United back from a European Cup game in Belgrade crashed on take-off from Munich in 1958, has been described as a miracle. Twenty-three people were killed, including eight of his famous 'Busby Babes'.

The disaster came just four weeks after he had been presented with the Big Red Book. But as the 1971 season came to a close I read on the sports pages that Sir Matt was about to retire after twenty-five years as Manchester United's team manager.

At the production meeting that morning I couldn't wait for the right moment to suggest, 'Why not do Sir Matt a second time?' Not everyone was quite so enthusiastic; after all, presenting the book for a second time had never been done before.

But, with a strong element of Northern football fans on my team, the idea simply would not go away. Had Sir Matt not been given the last rites after the Munich air disaster? Surely it could be said, in all honesty, 'Sir Matt Busby, This Is Your Second Life'? What is more, he had lived to build a Manchester United side which went on to achieve even greater glory, becoming the first English club to win the European Cup.

One immediate snag was that United would not be at home at Old Trafford on the day of the programme – for the last game of the season, and Sir Matt's last as manager, their fixture list took them to Maine Road, 'away' to rivals Manchester City.

But Matt, who started his working life down the pits in Scotland, had once been a City player. The manager was his old pal Joe Mercer, who would agree to a special presentation on the pitch before the kick-off.

Assigned to the project was researcher Jack Crawshaw, later a Life producer, who was born within a crowd's roar of Old Trafford, and who had delivered such a great job on our live transmission of the Life of United star Bobby Charlton.

Sir Matt had given Jack every assistance possible on that story in the first season of the Life at Thames. Now, on a day he knew Matt would be out at lunch with the club chairman, Jack drove up to Manchester for a meeting with Lady Busby at their home.

But Jack was driving the same car he owned when he worked on Bobby's Life. It would be instantly recognisable if Matt arrived back home too early. Jack thought he had given himself enough time for the interview with Lady Busby, closed the front door behind him and climbed in his car to make his get-away.

It wouldn't start. He pushed the car around a corner so Matt would not spot it, and found himself in the very road where Joe Mercer lived. He left the car in charge of Joe's wife, Nora, who was obviously in on our secret, and called a taxi.

So Jack left Manchester without the man they called 'the Father of Football' realising that back in London a book had been ordered with his name on it.

Came 5 May 1971, and a crowd of fifty thousand pack Maine Road. In the centre circle we had arranged for a table to be set up, and on it were two boxes. In one box was an inscribed clock for Matt. In the other was the Big Red Book. Over the PA system Joe Mercer announced to the derby-game crowd what was about to happen: the presentation to Sir Matt, reminding City supporters that Matt had played for the club in the 1933 Cup Final.

Eamonn Andrews had been hidden in the locker room. But it was the Life team who were threatened with a 'booking'. We almost got the final whistle before we had kicked off. At the last minute the police at the ground decided that special permission should have been sought for this presentation in front of rival supporters. They did not want to take responsibility for a possible pitch invasion.

Back at the Piccadilly Hotel we had guests flown in from all over the world, including the Real Madrid star Sir Matt rated 'the greatest player I have ever seen', Alfredo Di Stefano. Waiting in the tunnel at Maine Road we had George Best and Bobby Charlton. And disaster was staring us in the face.

It was Joe Mercer who saved the day, as he'd done so often in his playing days. He told the police, after our team had made every effort to contact the Chief Constable, that he would take full responsibility on his own shoulders.

It was agreed. Out on the pitch, with two rival Manchester teams gathered, and fifty thousand people calling Sir Matt's name, Joe Mercer announced that a friend of Matt's was there to make the presentation.

Out came Eamonn Andrews. He presented the inscribed clock, then for the second box. Inside was the Big Red Book.

It was This Is Your Life for the second time – for the first time.

We made the programme in the ballroom of the Piccadilly Hotel, and as the story reached its emotional 'second life' climax, Sir Matt's own words were quoted: 'I will never forget the man who saved my life. The fact that I am here today is due to his skill.'

He was referring to the Munich surgeon who brought him back from the last rites, Professor Georg Maurer. When Professor Maurer walked on at the close and Sir Matt flung his arms around his shoulders, no further words were needed.

Eamonn Andrews' autobiography

Eamonn Andrews recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, For Ever and Ever, Eamonn...

Many people said they thought we caught certain This Is Your Life subjects too young – Tommy Steele, Barry Sheene, Bonnie Langford, for example. But there were moments when we arrived too late, when the proposed subject had outlived contemporaries who could have illuminated the achievements of his or her life and been happy surprises to boot.

On the other hand, some of our younger researchers came bubbling to the conference table with a great idea only to be told: 'We've done that story already.' It was always sad to see the faces fall. The resilient ones – and most of them are just that and more – often come back and say: 'Well, it's worth doing again.' One such case was Sir Matt Busby, the legendary soccer boss. We were happy to 'do' him again because he had, almost literally, had a second life. The Munich air crash had destroyed his beloved Manchester United team and he, himself, had barely survived.

As the world of football and beyond knows, Matt not only picked up the threads of his own life courageously and doggedly, but rebuilt United to another world force. Obviously, it was a delicate area, but well worth trying. And after months of careful investigation and personal soul-searching – he was a dear friend – we decided to go ahead. It was a warm and wonderful show, but at almost the last moment we almost failed to pull it off. We had planned to spring the surprise on Manchester City's Maine Road pitch immediately after a game against United. City boss Joe Mercer arranged for Matt to make some presentations from the centre circle, after the final whistle. The plan was for a small table to be set up, a microphone placed in position and Matt come on to the cheers of the crowd. [ editor: the pick-up actually took place before the match]

I was to sprint – well, canter – from the tunnel, flanked by covering officials and players, and get to Matt before he knew what was happening. You can imagine the reaction we expected from the crowd.

Minutes before the final whistle, I was outside in the scanner van, watching the game on monitors and checking all those potential last-minute frighteners that lurk around before every programme – when, suddenly, the really big one hit us: the police superintendant in charge of operations decided it was too risky; he could not guarantee the safety of all concerned if the crowd erupted on to the pitch and, reluctantly, he was not going to let our programme go ahead. We were shell-shocked. Maybe someone had slipped up and he hadn't been briefed properly. Maybe we had stood on his dignified toes. Maybe, for that matter, he felt the fans had become so excited that it was now a danger he hadn't envisaged earlier. One way or another, we were in trouble.

We tried to locate the Chief Constable of Manchester. But it was impossible, given the time available and the conditions we were working under.

Once again, it was that lovable lion-heart Joe Mercer who came to the rescue. He told the superintendent he would take full responsibility – and we got the go-ahead.

I made it down to the touchline just in time and started heading for Matt. The crowd did erupt, but, thankfully, Matt was cheered to the echo – by United and City fans. When it comes to someone like Matt, rivalries didn't count.

Gus Smith biography of Eamonn Andrews

Gus Smith recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, Eamonn Andrews His Life...

In the case of the most famous football manager in Britain, Sir Matt Busby, his appearance on This Is Your Life coincided with his impending retirement as Manchester United boss.

Eamonn had first surprised him in 1958. Four weeks later the manager would have a miraculous escape from death in the Munich crash that saw star members of the United team perish.

It was decided on this occasion to surprise Sir Matt at a match between Manchester United and Manchester City at the latter's ground. To avoid being spotted Eamonn sat head downwards in the back of the car on his way to the ground. It was an emotional moment for everyone - Eamonn, Sir Matt and the 50,000 fans, - when Eamonn, standing in the middle of the pitch, presented the red book to a smiling Sir Matt. As he recalled, 'Out there on the pitch the atmosphere was electric. I'll never forget the look on Matt's face when I opened the second box and told him, "For the first time, for the second time This Is Your Life!"'

Series 11 subjects

Bob Hope | Vidal Sassoon | Talbot Rothwell | Mike and Bernie Winters | Joe Brown | Patrick Campbell | Bobby Moore
Robert Soutter | Graham Hill | Sandy Powell | Edward Woodward | Moira Lister | Dickie Henderson | Wilfred Pickles
Kenny Ball | Marjorie Proops | Basil D'Oliveira | Clive Dunn | Peter Noone | Monica Dickens | Jon Pertwee
Lionel Jeffries | Adam Faith | Googie Withers | Matt Busby