Matthew LETHBRIDGE MBE, BEM (1924-2010)

Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 637
  • Subject No: 630
  • Broadcast live: Wed 11 Jan 1984
  • Broadcast time: 8.00-8.30pm
  • Venue: Royalty Theatre
  • Series: 24
  • Edition: 12
  • Code name: Gospel

on the guest list...

  • Pat - wife
  • Roy Guy
  • Bill Burrow
  • Rodney Terry
  • Lucille Langley-Williams
  • Megan Smith
  • Lucy - daughter
  • Jean - daughter
  • Bob - son-in-law
  • Harry - brother
  • Pamela - sister-in-law
  • Richard - brother
  • June - sister-in-law
  • Peter Bond
  • Alan Tingay
  • Peter Collins
  • Bill Smith
  • Nils Nilsson
  • Neil Mooney
  • crew members of the Festina Tertia
  • Ellen Hanslow
  • Howard Goddard
  • George - brother
  • Filmed tribute:
  • Jemma - granddaughter

production team...

  • Researcher: unknown
  • Writers: Tom Brennand, Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Terry Yarwood, Michael D Kent
  • Associate Producer: Brian Klein
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
related page...

Life Savers

heroes of the emergency services

Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life

Screenshots of Matthew Lethbridge 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...

Matthew Lethbridge BEM, cox of the St Mary's boat in the Isles of Scilly, had three silver medals and had been part of a string of international headline-making missions, including the Torrey Canyon disaster, the Fastnet race and the BA helicopter crash in July 1983, in which twenty people died.

Survivors said it was 'a miracle' when Matt Lethbridge steered his boat through swirling fog to rescue them from the freezing water. Said one of his admiring crew: 'It was as though Matt had some sort of built-in radar system.'

The Lifeboat: Journal of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution Spring 1984

This is Your Life

Coxswain Matthew Lethbridge, BEM, of St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, was the subject of a This Is Your Life Thames Television programme on January 11. Eamonn Andrews surprised Coxswain Lethbridge at the London International Boat Show and then rushed him across London to the television studios where he met relatives, members of his lifeboat crew and people he had rescued. A member of St Mary's crew since 1946 and coxswain since 1956, Matt Lethbridge has been awarded three silver medals for gallantry. The programme was seen by more than 14 million viewers and was number four in the top ten programmes for the week.

Matthew Lethbridge This Is Your Life

The moment of truth! Eamonn Andrews waylays Coxswain Matt Lethbridge in the London Boat Show, Earls Court, to say 'This is Your Life'. (Look into the background, above, and you will also see Emergency Mechanic John 'Chick' Robilliard of St Peter Port lifeboat).

The Cornishman 19 August 2010

'Boy' Matt a legendary figure in lifeboat service

A legendary figure in the lifeboat service, whose fame was not confined to the small world of the Isles of Scilly, has died aged 86, writes Clive Mumford.

Matt Lethbridge ("Boy" Matt to distinguish him from his father "Father" Matt) served with the RNLI's St Mary's boat for almost 40 years and was coxswain for 29. He was one of a number of Lethbridges who served in various island lifeboats down the years and became the most celebrated.

For 75 years there was a continuous Lethbridge coxswainship of successive St Mary's lifeboats. Once there were six of the clan on board and for close to 100 years there was always a Lethbridge.

His grandfather was coxswain from 1914 to 1925, "Father Matt" from 1925 to 1956 and "Boy Matt" from 1956 to 1985.

Andy Howells, current St Mary's station coxswain, said: "Matt was a true seafarer who was respected by all those who went to sea with him, including fellow coxswains all around the coast of the south west. No words will adequately describe the calibre of the man but he will be sorely missed."

Tommy Cocking, from St Ives RNLI, said: "Matt and I go a long way back as he was coxswain at the same time as my father."


"Back when I worked as a fisherman, if I was ever stopping at St Mary's I would visit his house for a cup of tea and listen to the yarns about the bad weather that the islands used to experience. I admired him greatly."

Mike England, mechanic at Padstow RNLI and son of the late Trevor England, another famous coxswain said: "Matt was a great man for whom I have a huge amount of respect, In fact my son, who is 12, was named after him. He was a first-class boatman and coxswain and a fine leader of men."

"Boy Matt", of St Eia, Hugh Street and island-educated, saw war service at 17 aboard the RAF air sea rescue boats at times serving in West Africa.

Returning to Scilly on demob, he worked variously as a farm labourer, butcher's delivery boy, stevedore and launch hand before settling on what was to be a lifetime's occupation, fishing first with his uncle, then with a brother and latterly solo.

But it was as a lifeboatman that he will always be remembered.

There was the service to the tanker Torrey Canyon in 1967 when the lifeboat, Guy and Clare Hunter, logged 32 continuous hours at sea at the scene of the world's first great maritime oil spillage.

The lifeboat stood by as the unfolding drama involved bombing aircraft, the rumour all Scilly feared that she would be beached in the islands, Prime Minister, Harold Wilson holidaying in Scilly at the time.

He is remembered for the slow, skilful tow in the same year in Force Nine conditions of the yacht Braemar, chartered by ITN journalists awaiting the homecoming of round-the-world yachtsman Francis Chichester's Gypsy Moth, when 19 were taken off. The tow took 13 and a half hours, with the line parting five times.

The 450-ton Swedish vessel Nordenhav - listing badly 22 miles off the islands because her wheat cargo had shifted in heavy seas - was another notable service in 1970 when the lifeboat, with Matt at the helm, took ten crew off. The ship was later towed to Mount's Bay.

Other services included the carnage of the 1979 Fastnet race when 15 died as the fleet was savaged by a Force 10 gale, with 60-knot winds and 40ft breaking waves and the Penlee disaster in 1981 of the lifeboat Solomon Browne.

He was one of the RNLI's most honoured lifeboatmen, holding three Silver Medals (Braemar, Nordenhav and Enfant de Bretagne), four Vellums and other meritorious addenda. In 1975 he was given the British Empire Medal in the New Year's Honours and on statutory retirement in 1985 (he was honoured with an extra year's dispensation), the tributes flooded in.

"Your very distinguished career will stand as an example to all," said Prince Charles at the time.

"All stations salute you," said Admiral Graham, RNLI then director and former skipper of the Ark Royal.

"The words 'Matt will come' has become part of RNLI language," said Lady Wilson, who was president of the islands' Ladies Lifeboat Guild.

The entire population of St Agnes subscribed to present him with a gold watch and the islands' council held a party in his honour.

The 1983 crash of the helicopter serving the islands from Penzance was yet another memorable service. Only six passengers of a full helicopter survived, with Matt and the relief lifeboat taking them off.

One of them wrote to him later: "Thank you for being there when I needed you." The crash had occurred in dense fog, which made locating the scene of the disaster virtually impossible. With time of the essence, Matt's skill enabled the lifeboat to find it.

Said an RNLI spokesman later: "Only a very high standard of seamanship and a most professional approach ... ensured those who got free of the helicopter did not die."

In 1984, Matt - in London for the Boat Show - was the unsuspecting, embarrassed but so-natural subject of Eamonn Andrews' popular This Is Your Life television programme.

Wife Pat and family had somehow had to keep knowledge of the pending encounter away from him.

The programme was memorable in that instead of the spotlight been shone on a so-called "celebrity", it was focussed on an engagingly modest man who never lost the common touch. Guests included the Master of the aforementioned Nordenhav and two rescued youngsters orphaned in the helicopter crash.

One service always saddened Matt. In 1977, the lifeboat went to the aid of a French trawler, Enfant De Bretagne in trouble among the rugged western rocks to the west of the islands.

Despite desperate efforts in appalling conditions to save the crew, the efforts were unsuccessful. The coxswain manoeuvred the boat through narrow rock-bound channels, showing amazing skill and seamanship. "We were so close," he said. "They were washed away before our eyes. Nothing was left of the boat or its crew - just pieces. You always remember failure more than success."

The man who never failed to emphasise the merits of his crew later remarked he thought all of them were going to lose their lives that night.


On retirement Matt, who in his lifeboat career answered over 150 callouts, was, for a time, a trustee of the then islands' Environmental Trust and pursued his hobby as a model-maker and self-taught marine artist.

He died in St Mary's Hospital after a short illness. The Methodist Church only just coped with the volume of mourners at his funeral on Friday. Such was the singing of such old hymns such as Will Your Anchor Hold? that the minister, the Rev Charlie Gibbs, called for a reprise and the congregation obliged. One son-in-law, Ken Wilkins, read a tribute, with the other, John Goody, read the Pilot's Psalm. The service was conducted by the Rev Charlie Gibbs. Among those present was the council chairman.

A close family man, he leaves a widow Pat (nee Taylor) whom he married in 1949 and to whom he was utterly devoted, daughters Jean Goody and Lucy Wilkins and grandchildren Jemma, Rebecca and Thomas.

The funeral service was held in St Mary's Methodist Church and the coffin was carried by lifeboatmen in relays to Old Town Churchyard where he was interred.

Series 24 subjects

John Mills | Norman Parkinson | Chaim Topol | Pat Jennings | Susannah York | Stuart Henry | George Thomas | Richard Noble
Matthew Kelly | Gloria Cameron | Geraint Evans | Matthew Lethbridge | Liza Goddard | Terry Lawless | Jim Davidson
Chris Gittins | Bob Todd | Nerys Hughes | Mike Spring | Eddie Macken | Freddie Starr | Kathy Staff
Jenny Pitman | Brian Blessed | Laddie Lucas | Danny La Rue