Scene from Munich Air Crash [photo: BBC]
Munich '58: TV drama
For 50 years, Manchester felt the pain of the Munich air crash. United’s legendary Busby Babes team was torn apart one snowy February night in 1958. The first dramatic portrayal of the disaster was shown on BBC One in 2006.
February 6th 1958 is etched into the consciousness of every Mancunian of a certain age. No single tragedy in Manchester’s modern history – bar the IRA bomb – has been so keenly felt and at the time, the entire city went into mourning.
A BBC series – Surviving Disaster – recreated the events in a drama documentary broadcast on 10 January 2006.
The first episode - Munich Air Crash - featured actors playing the roles of players and reporters celebrating on the plane journey home after winning a second leg tie against Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup.
On board was the finest collection of young talent ever assembled in one team: Bobby Charlton, Dennis Violet, Tommy Taylor and the legendary Duncan Edwards are all shown joking nervously as the plane stopped to refuel in Munich.
But after two aborted take-offs, cold fear replaced the teammates’ laughter as the plane mad its third - and ill-fated - attempt to take-off in a blizzard.
Munich clock at Old Trafford
Series Producer Greg Lanning remembered Munich as a boy and said he was all too aware of emotions it could still evoked.
"I’m old enough to remember the actual event and I remember the impact it had on Manchester and the rest of the world so it’s part of my growing up to appreciate the impact of it. And it’s part of the myth of Manchester United."
Twenty-three people died in the crash including eight United players - Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Geoff Bent, Liam Whelan and Duncan Edwards.
Many Manchester press journalists also perished in the crash. Manager Sir Matt Busby was seriously injured. So was Bobby Charlton.
Maurice Roeves as Sir Matt Busby
The programme makers spoke to eye witnesses, former players, airport and medical staff who are still living to help recreate the exact mood on board. The result is very powerful indeed.
"I wouldn’t say that every line and every word is true to life," says Greg Lanning.
"But we were told by the people on the plane that the atmosphere was very relaxed for the first two take-offs. Nobody thought anything of it. It was only on the third take off when there was a little bit more worry."
"But I think when you’re travelling as a team there is a camaraderie even in a moment of tension when you might crack jokes. We weren’t there, we can’t say for sure, but we understand this is true to the spirit of what went on."
keeper Harry Gregg (Branwell Donaghey)
The programme also examined the subsequent air accident investigation which eventually showed that it was slush on the runway slowing the aircraft down, rather than ice on the wings, which caused the crash.
Drama v documentary
The producer also defended the decision to make the first dramatic portrayal of the crash – even though Manchester United and Bobby Charlton refused to be part of it.
"It’s clearly a drama, it isn’t a documentary. And the moment we reconstruct events and put actors and actresses in them, means that it isn’t an absolutely faithful reproduction of the actual event because that’s not possible.
"What I think the archive does is to remind you that it’s actually based on fact. So the fact that you see the real Duncan Edwards, the real Matt Busby and so on in the course of the film is to remind you that the story we’re telling you is based on a true event."
last updated: 16/01/2008 at 14:30