Stanley MATTHEWS (1915-2000)

Stanley Matthews This Is Your Life
  • The first pre-recorded edition of This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 9
  • Subject No: 9
  • Broadcast date: Sun 12 Feb 1956
  • Broadcast time: 7.45-8.15pm
  • Recorded: Mon 23 Jan 1956 3.30pm
  • Venue: BBC Television Theatre
  • Series: 1
  • Edition: 9

on the guest list...

  • Bill Latto
  • Titch Connorn
  • Jack - brother
  • Arthur - brother
  • Ronnie - brother
  • Ada - mother
  • Harry Bishop
  • Tommy Wainwright
  • Tom Mather
  • Jimmy Vallance - father-in-law
  • Roy John
  • Betty - wife
  • Jean - daughter
  • Stanley Jr - son
  • Stanley Mortensen
  • Walley Barnes
  • Eddie Hapgood
  • Harry Johnston
  • Tommy Lawton
  • Stan Cullis

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...

Match of the Day

tackling football's top names

Birth of Life

the genesis of the programme

Eamonn Andrews

a brief biography

Eamonn Looks Back

first-hand recollections


the show's fifty year history

This Is My Life

John Bull Magazine interview with Eamonn Andrews

This Is Your Life: The Show that can never be fully rehearsed

TV Mirror goes behind-the-scenes of the first series

This is Leslie Jackson's Life

Interview with the first producer of This Is Your Life

This Is Your Life by Eamonn Andrews

Weekend Magazine reports from behind-the-scenes

Stanley Matthews should have been on the first This Is Your Life

Look and Learn magazine feature

Somewhere, Someone - This Is Your Life

Talk of Thames feature on the programme's 1969 relaunch

Secrets Of 'Life': The ones who got away

Producer Malcolm Morris exposes some production secrets to TV Times

BBC harks back to a previous life

The Guardian reports on the return to the BBC

This Was Your Life!

Press coverage on the uncertain future of This Is Your Life

BBC axes This Is Your Life

Press coverage of the BBC's announcement


Jean Gough, daughter of Stanley Matthews, recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in an exclusive interview recorded in April 2013

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Photographs of Stanley Matthews This Is Your Life

Stanley Matthews's autobiography

Stanley Matthews recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, The Stanley Matthews Story...

It was during this winter that television was making its presence felt all over the country. The advent of commercial television had made us all very television minded, and new television sets were making their way into homes all over the country by their thousands each week. Television had come to stay, and indeed it was going to prove itself to be the number-one entertainer in most homes in the country. The B.B.C. and the commercial companies were vying with each other to sign up big names in the entertainment world to attract the biggest viewing audience. I received several offers from both parties, but I did not take advantage of any of them. During the previous summer it had been arranged, unknown to me, for me to appear on the popular B.B.C. television feature This Is Your Life. However, some newspaper managed to get someone in Stoke to talk, and they published it in the newspaper. I, of course, read this, so the programme was off because the element of surprise on my part was lost.

It was in the early part of 1956 that I was approached by the B.B.C. television to take part in a new series dealing with ball control and dribbling. I was told that I would be assisted by Wally Barnes, the ex-Arsenal full-back, who is now a B.B.C. sports commentator. I asked to see the script. I liked the idea and I liked the script so I accepted. It was arranged that I should go to London by sleeper from Preston one week-night, rehearse early the following morning with Wally Barnes, and a telerecording would be made of the quarter-hour script at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, which is a B.B.C. studio, at 3.30 p.m. Any suspicions I had in my mind that this was a cover for another attempt to make me appear in This Is Your Life were dispelled because I knew that this programme was broadcast — or rather televised — direct from London on a Sunday evening and that it was a live show.

I said goodbye to Betty and the children, got in the car and motored to Preston. I left the car in a garage, caught the train to London, and enjoyed a good night's sleep. After breakfast next morning I reported to the rehearsal studio, which I remember was well out in North London. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. I rehearsed with Wally Barnes. The producer took great pains to get everything just so. I went through routines time and time again so that he could get the cameras just right for the close-ups and the long shots. I worked really hard for three hours, and just as I thought we had finished the producer decided to go right through the whole thing again for timing. Although somewhat tired, I was pleased to see that great pains had been taken to ensure the success of the first spot in the new series, and I thanked the producer for the trouble he had taken to get it perfect.

Wally Barnes, the scriptwriter, myself, and the rest of the party piled into a couple of cars and made for the centre of London's West End. In a well-known restaurant we all sat down and enjoyed a well-earned lunch. I shall never forget that meal. Everybody was so relaxed, and the conversation was light and covered all kinds of subjects. At last the producer remarked that it was time we got going. I glanced at the wall clock and saw that it was just five minutes past three. Laughing and chatting, we left the restaurant and entered the cars. We were back in Shepherd's Bush at 3.25 p.m., and when I passed through the stage door I noticed the corridors were empty. Then the producer, who had slipped in before us, came tearing down some steps. He said, "Quick, change as soon as you can. I have left it a bit late; we are due on the set in a few minutes!" I was hurried off to a dressing-room, and quickly changed into my track suit. A knock came on the door and I called out, "Come in." A man in charge of make-up entered and he quickly but deftly made me up. Just as he had finished the door opened and a call-boy came in. He said, "You are on in half a minute." I dashed down on to the stage. The curtain was down. I took a football from someone and placed it at my feet, then the announcer walked to the mike and made the opening announcement. Suddenly the lights blazed on and with my head in a whirl I started to chase round the chalked circle on the stage with the ball in front of me. I heard applause, but I hadn't any idea what was happening. I had been rushed about so much since I entered the theatre that my brain just wouldn't function. I broke out in a sweat. I thought, What do I do after this? Then the music stopped, the applause stopped, and the lights all over the theatre went on. I stopped dead in my tracks and gazed around me. I saw the audience in a gallery and a lot of television cameras in front of me. I thought, Somebody has messed this up, then someone walked up to me. It was Eamonn Andrews. He smiled at me, patted me on the shoulder, and said. "Stanley Matthews, this is your life."

I don't know up to this day why I didn't drop down on the stage in a dead faint. I just couldn't believe my own eyes and ears. By the time I'd gathered my wits together I found myself on a couch, with Eamonn Andrews by my side talking to me. As I listened to Eamonn Andrews I began to get a grip of myself, but no sooner had I done so, than someone would appear, as if by magic, from behind the backcloth, and I would start up from my seat in surprise. One of the biggest shocks was when Betty appeared with Jean and Stanley. I could only think of how they had got there. They had, of course, caught the eight-o'clock from Blackpool that morning, and had been met at Euston Station by car and whisked down here and hidden from sight. They hadn't been in the theatre long before I arrived. Then my mother appeared. I had only been in Stoke to visit her a few days before, but she never gave me the slightest inkling that she knew about this programme. So they came on one after another as my life was laid before me, surprise followed surprise, and by the time the programme finished I didn't know whether I was standing on my head or my feet. In all my life I had never experienced so great a shock. The thing that had put me off, of course, was the painstaking rehearsal in the morning for a show the producer knew wasn't going on, and also the fact that this was the first This Is Your Life show to be tele-recorded.

The following week I was able to relax in an armchair at home and see it all on my television set. I really appreciated seeing it, because when it was tele-recorded I missed a number of things. And I got another surprise when I saw the televised programme. On the screen I looked rather calm, but I can assure you I didn't feel calm at all. Anyway, it was a wonderful experience. I know a lot of people say that these programmes are faked. I am asking you now not to believe that talk, because from my own experience I am convinced that the B.B.C. would never stoop so low as to fake anything; they are too proud of the tradition they have to live up to to even think of attempting to fake the smallest programme.

Stanley Matthews biography

Jon Henderson recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, The Wizard, The Life of Stanley Matthews...

A rather better, little-told story than the one that wasn't even true was an unfortunate first attempt to feature Matthews on This Is Your Life, the TV programme that had just been imported from the United States.

Matthews was to be the first to appear on the British version in July 1955, most of the arrangements having been done while he was away in South Africa.

At the last moment the programme was postponed after a national newspaper leaked the story. This broke the code of secrecy that was considered sacrosanct. Elaborate plans that included flying the 1953 FA Cup-winning team to London had to be scrapped.

The programme's producers waited only a few months before successfully snaring the nation's favourite footballer at the second attempt. This time Matthews himself nearly rumbled what was going on.

He said he noticed knowing winks between members of his family and then was surprised to see his mother with her hair permed: '"What's all that about," I asked her and quick as a flash she replied, "I won it in a raffle"'.

Guests on the programme, screened in February 1956, included his immediate family, his father-in-law Jimmy Vallance, footballers Stan Cullis, Tommy Lawton and Eddie Hapgood and a schoolteacher and newspaper vendor from Stoke.

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