He was born in Taunton, Somerset and educated at Taunton School. After working for a number of regional newspapers, he joined the News Chronicle shortly before its closure in 1960, soon moving to The Daily Telegraph. Around this time, he also started reporting football matches for the BBC, and in 1968 became a radio commentator and the Corporation's football correspondent. He was well known for his crisp, eloquent, precise style, with a distinctive West Country undertone to his voice. Although he often did not actually commentate on the very big occasions, frequently taking a side role as summariser (in earlier years) or presenter or reporter (in later years), he commentated on a number of World Cup finals, as well as the famous quarter-final between England and Argentina in 1986. He frequently worked alongside Maurice Edelston, Peter Jones, Alan Parry and, latterly, Alan Green and Mike Ingham.
Alongside his football writing, Butler also wrote for the Daily Telegraph on cricket. He wrote or co-wrote a number of football books, and in 1991 he retired as the BBC's football correspondent to concentrate on his writing career. He also gave up commentary around this time, but continued to report matches for BBC Radio 5 Live until 1997. He also presented Sport on 4 on BBC Radio 4. On his death in 2001, he was widely mourned as a representative of a bygone era of sports broadcasting, arguably less brash and more eloquent than the present.