Emlyn – Star Of Stage And Screen
Special Anniversary Of Defender’s Big Night
It was some guest list…….George Best, Billy Wright, Bill Shankly, Joe Mercer, Gareth Edwards, John Toshack, Jack Taylor, Andy Gray and the rest of the Wolves team, even legendary triple Grand National winner Red Rum.
Various members of one of the most successful Liverpool sides of all time were also in the audience – but not all of them.
Emlyn Hughes, as has been stated before, was not liked by all his playing colleagues, so one or two stars from Bob Paisley’s squad opted to remain absent when the cameras rolled for the filming of the heroic captain’s This Is Your Life programme in the Molineux Social Club 40 years ago tonight.
What a show they missed! This was quite a coup for the programme’s makers Thames TV, who agreed that episode 14 of series 20 (codename Horse) of this unmissable long-runner was one of the most successful as well as the most ambitious.
An hour earlier, the gold-shirted England defender – the man the Liverpool match programme has no hesitation in calling the most successful Anfield skipper of all time – had headed a David Fairclough shot off the line to secure maximum points for Wolves by ensuring that John Richards’s sweetly-struck 71st minute shot was the only goal of an epic night.
Hughes was already beaming as he left the pitch, supposedly destined for the customary post-match chats and back-slaps. But Eamonn Andrews appeared from the Waterloo Road Stand shadows and lit up the player’s face even further by brandishing his famous red book under a microphone that was plugged into the tanoy system to let the 36,693 crowd in on the big moment.
The show, which started in 1955 and commanded 10million viewers a week in its peak, had ‘secrecy’ and ‘surprise ambush’ as its key elements.
Not that the famous ‘This Is Your Life’ utterance was new to the Liverpool contingent. Shankly had been greeted by Andrews on the platform of Euston Station on a match day in 1973 and, even more elaborately, the Irish presenter had been smuggled through the emergency door of the team coach so he could shock Bob Paisley after a game at QPR four years later.
Come the recording on the night of Wolves 1 Liverpool 0 on February 26, 1980, Billy Wright was a high-ranking figure in ATV Sport, whose presumed presence for a sports forum in the Social Club provided a plausible excuse for the TV cameras to be there.
Billy was twice the show’s unsuspecting ‘victim’, in 1961 and 1987, but could eventually be much more relaxed on Emlyn’s memorable night as he marvelled at the carefully-assembled set.
The backcloth to the stage were giant goal-posts, with netting behind shields that were made in the colours of Wolves, England and Liverpool.
Wolves Heroes’ two co-owners and hundreds of Wolves fans were among the biggest live audience the show had ever had, Richards rightly taking a VIP seat among his delighted team-mates while David Instone (then a young Dudley Herald sports editor) joined work colleagues much nearer the back after passes had been handed out in the press box at the end of the game.
“I’ve seen photos of the night on the Internet and seen myself and lads like Geoff Palmer, Peter Daniel, Paul Bradshaw and Willie Carr in a line, with Red Rum and Jonjo Neill in the foreground,” Richards said today.
“It was quite an occasion, all the more so as everyone was in high spirits after we had just beaten Liverpool for the first time in quite a few years.
“We could see quite a few of their lads in the hall but were aware that one or two might have stayed on the bus (Gary Newbon subsequently used his Express & Star column to name Ray Clemence and Phil Neal as absentees). I just remember this succession of stars from different sports appearing before us – it was tremendous.”
Apart from those named above, there were filmed tributes from Kevin Keegan and Red Rum’s owner and jockey, Ginger McCain and Jonjo O’Neill.
Richards recalls Shankly attending Wolves games while Hughes was at the club but added: “He didn’t have any input. I think he was just a guest due to the connection with Emlyn.
“He would sit at the front of the coach with Barney if it was an away match and didn’t say much as he would have known it wasn’t his place to.
“I got on ok with Emlyn but didn’t know him well socially and was aware he hadn’t hit it off with all the Liverpool players.
“He stayed mainly at The Mount Hotel and was closest here to Andy and Paul Bradshaw – the ones who shared his passion for horse racing. He loved all those different personalities turning up on stage to honour him, including Red Rum!”