Sir Garfield SOBERS (1936-)

Garfield Sobers
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THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Garfield Sobers, cricketer, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews while attending a reception at the Barbados High Commission in London to celebrate his recent knighthood.

Born in Bridgetown, Barbados, Gary made his first-class debut for the Barbados cricket team at the age of 16 in 1953, and his Test debut for the West Indies the following year. Originally playing mainly as a bowler, he was soon promoted up the batting order.

Gary scored his maiden Test century against Pakistan in 1958, progressing to 365 not out and establishing a new record for the highest individual score in an innings. He was made captain of the West Indies in 1965, a role he held until 1972. He would also captain a Rest of the World XI during their 1970 tour of England.

Photographs of Garfield Sobers This Is Your Life

Surprise of your Life book

Eamonn Andrews and producer Jack Crawshaw recall the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in their book Surprise Of Your Life...

The proud mum was, of course, Mrs Thelma Sobers. Her epic flight was the first time in her life that she had left the sunny shores of her native Barbados in the West Indies. And by making that nine-hour journey across the Atlantic she ended what for us had been a six-year quest.

From the very first series of This Is Your Life on ITV we had wanted to tell the story of the unknown youngster from Bridgetown who became the best player in the history of cricket. A brilliant all-rounder who went on to play in a record 93 Test matches, captain his country a record 39 times, score 8,032 Test runs, take 235 Test wickets and notch up the world record for the highest Test innings … 365 not out in Sabina Park, Jamaica, in 1957.

It was frustrating that our seasons on air never coincided with his in this country. When we wanted him he was always in the air travelling the world, breaking all those records. We had almost given up hope. Then in April 1975, as we neared the end of our own series, we heard that the newly-honoured Sir Garfield was coming to London, and that on his itinerary was a reception at the Barbados High Commission to celebrate his knighthood.

After contacting Gary’s Australian-born wife, Prudence, for the go ahead, we went to see Mr Cameron Tudor, the High Commissioner for Barbados, at his office in Belgravia.

We knew that Mr Tudor had invited a number of Gary’s friends to toast his health in champagne and asked if, in the nicest possible way, we could gatecrash the party to pay our own tribute. Without a moment’s hesitation the affable Mr Tudor agreed with delight. But there was still a long way to go – for all of us.

The next step was to have more detailed talks with Lady Sobers. She was in the West Indies with Gary. The difficulty was getting to her without Gary knowing. But luck was on our side.

In a talk with Geoffrey Irvine, a young director of the Bagenal Harvey Organisation which handles Gary’s business affairs in London, we discovered that Trevor Bailey, the former Essex and England all-rounder, was planning to visit Gary in the West Indies to discuss a book about his former rival.

Once in the West Indies, Trevor – Gary’s first victim as a 17-year old Test match bowler – helped us “catch him out” by keeping him busy while we talked to his wife and Mum. And it was the first talks with Mrs Sobers Senior that we were most nervous about because Mr Irvine had told us that when, in the past, Gary had asked his mother to come to England she had always refused. She didn’t like flying. And, anyway, she just didn’t want to travel to “that cold country”.

Would she change her mind after all these years? Just this once? For her son? The answer of course was yes. But it was with some butterflies in her tummy that, a few weeks later, she took a forty-minute car ride from her home in St Michael, driving close to the spot where she had so recently seen her son knighted, and on to the airport.

Shortly before 6.30 in the evening she stepped aboard a British West Indian Airways Boening 707 bound for London. The plane taxied along the runway of the airport that is flanked on one side by sugar cane plantations and on the other by a pink cast, palm-fringed beach. Then it soared out over a white coral reef in a clear blue ocean, taking Mrs Sobers on her first ever trip from her native shores. Nine hours later we met her as she stepped on to the tarmac at Heathrow in the early light of an April morning. She was smiling – a warm smile that was to stay with her for the next few days. Certainly it was a smile that gave me some confidence and comfort as we chatted together in the minutes before I left the studios to head for the High Commission.

She told me that she had made the journey because she felt that this was going to be the biggest night of her son’s Life. As I pulled up outside the High Commission in Upper Belgravia Street I could only hope she was going to be right.

But as I hurried in through the door on to what is technically foreign soil I was given the shock of my life … I was told that Gary and Prue had arrived fifteen minutes earlier than planned and had left. Nearly six years of waiting and we had lost him.

Then we got good news. When Sir Garfield arrived, the quick-thinking Mr Tudor had brilliantly improvised and told him Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret was expected at the reception and that it would be absolutely wrong for Sir Garfield to arrive before her.

The situation was saved – at least temporarily. Now I had to hide before he returned. And I’ll never forget my hiding place: an open balcony high above Belgravia outside the room where now scores of guests were milling.

When Sir Garfield and Lady Sobers arrived – minutes later at the door below – I was crouching down behind a balustrade so that he couldn’t see me. And within minutes of his entering the adjoining room I was out there with him.

As I handed him the book I couldn’t help thinking of the wonderful surprise he was going to get when he discovered that his mother had made the trip.

In front of me was this mammoth figure, Sir Garfield Sobers. A sporting giant. A man of teak. And just by meeting his mother, and subsequently his brothers and sisters, I discovered about Gary what one constantly discovers about famous men. He was just another boy in another family. If they were proud of his success, fair enough. He was their boy first and a hero second.

Back at the studio Gary, to use one of his own terms, was absolutely bowled over when he saw Thelma, followed by his three brothers and two sisters. Last on was his sister Elise who we flew from the United States where she lives with her American-born husband.

And I can tell you that since that programme Elise has had a very special first-time visitor to her home in Kansas City. Yes, Thelma Sobers took another trip from Barbados … by plane.

The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his book This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

Another proud cricketing parent was the mother of the world’s greatest all-rounder of his time, Sir Garfield Sobers. She was at the Garrison Racecourse in Bridgetown, Barbados, to see her son knighted by the Queen in 1975. It was the first ceremony of its kind to be held outside the British Isles.

Gary was celebrating his knighthood at the Barbados High Commission in London when we surprised him, and got an even bigger surprise when his mother, Thelma, walked in. She had boarded a plane for the first time in her life to take the nine-hour flight to London. She had always said, ‘I don’t want to travel to that cold country.’

Gary Sober's biography

In his biography of Gary Sobers - Sir Gary - writer Trevor Bailey briefly discusses this particular edition of This Is Your Life...

When I was in Barbados gathering material on Gary’s life, I called to see her (his mother) with Gary and later went back with Gary’s wife, Pru. This visit had to be done with considerable secrecy and without Gary’s knowledge. ITV had asked me to do some research for their programme, This Is Your Life, in which they intended to feature Gary. It was vital for his mother to come to England. Pru was worried that she might not be willing to make the journey, because she had never been out of Barbados in her life, and had never flown. Although Gary had often asked her to come to stay with him in England, she had always declined. Fortunately she agreed to our request – Pru is very persuasive – and she also managed to keep quiet about the whole project. This cannot have been easy for a normally chatty individual who was about to embark on what was a real adventure into the unknown. One wrong word and the whole story would have spread through that little island with the speed of a bush-fire. A remarkable woman.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 414
  • Subject No: 411
  • Broadcast date: Wed 7 May 1975
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Tue 29 Apr 1975
  • Venue: Euston Road Studios
  • Series: 15
  • Edition: 27
  • Code Name: Bat

on the guest list...

  • Prudence - wife
  • Thelma - mother
  • Greta - sister
  • George - brother
  • Gerry - brother
  • Cecil - brother
  • Garnett Ashby
  • Elise - sister
  • Please note: this is an incomplete list

external links...

production team...

  • Researcher:
  • Writer:
  • Director: Robert Reed
  • Producer: Jack Crawshaw
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 15 subjects: Jack Ashley > John Conteh > Jack Howarth > Chay Blyth > Bill Maynard > Richard O'Sullivan > Dick Francis > Arthur Askey > Jean Kent > Geoff Love > Ray Cooney > Queenie Watts > Harry Johnson > Leonard Rossiter > John Hanson > Denis Law > Ted Ray > Peter Butterworth > Nina Baden-Semper > Dickie Davies > Moira Anderson > Precious McKenzie > Mollie Sugden > Michael Bates > Willie John McBride > Petula Clark > Garfield Sobers