George BEST (1946-2005)

George Best This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 1115
  • Subject No: second timer
  • Broadcast date: Thu 6 Mar 2003
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Mon 17 Feb 2003 6.00pm
  • Venue: Teddington Studios
  • Series: 43
  • Edition: 10
  • Code name: Sunday

on the guest list...

  • Eamonn Holmes
  • Prof Roger Williams
  • Barbara - sister
  • Julia - sister
  • Grace - sister
  • Ian - brother
  • Alex - wife
  • Dickie - father
  • Eric McMordie
  • Barry Fry
  • Bill Wyman
  • Pat Jennings
  • Barry McGuigan
  • Paul Young
  • Alex Stepney
  • Bill Foulkes
  • Tony Dunne
  • David Sadler
  • Sandy Busby
  • Bobby McAlinden
  • Hugh McIlvanney
  • Nigel Heaton
  • Patrick Kielty
  • Liz Brennan
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Bobby Charlton
  • Calum - son
  • Michael Parkinson

production team...

  • Researchers: Deborah Cowan, Ian Skelton
  • Writer: Joe Steeples
  • Director: John Gorman
  • Associate Producer: Helen Gordon-Smith
  • Series Producer: Jack Crawshaw
  • Producer: Sue Green
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

George Best

first tribute

Match of the Day

tackling football's top names

The Theatre of Dreams

Manchester United's finest

Life Second Time Around

surprised again!

Bobby Charlton

Barry McGuigan

Paul Young

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Screenshots of George Best This Is Your Life

George Best's autobiography

George Best recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, Scoring at Half-Time...

Perhaps the most rewarding television I have ever done has been the two This Is Your Lifes where I have been the subject. The first was in 1971 when I was only twenty-five and the second was thirty-two years later, in 2003. I had no idea either time that anything was afoot. In fact only a few weeks before the second one I was sitting at home watching Michael Aspel pounce on someone with his red book when I remarked to Alex's family, 'They'll never catch me with that one again.'

Of course, at that time everyone in the room except me knew I was about to be captured. They caught me very easily by simply asking me to film an appeal for the Liver Foundation with Professor Williams, something they knew I would not turn down, and therefore I went to them and a waiting audience and guests at Teddington Studios. It was a lovely day and I thoroughly enjoyed it although I did reflect poignantly afterwards on those who featured in 1971 who were not around this time. My mum most obviously and painfully, but also my nans, my old landlady Mrs Fullaway, Sir Matt Busby and not forgetting presenter Eamonn Andrews himself. I was astounded though that the producer Jack Crawshaw who was on the first one was still there thirty-two years later. And they say there is no job security in this day and age. I am particularly pleased about the second one because, rather than making a programme celebrating my life, I'm sure plenty of television companies had my obituaries ready to use at very short notice – a sort of This Was Your Life.

The first programme though caused everyone except me a great deal of stress. At the time I was knocking around Manchester with a clothes designer named Harold Tillman. Like me he enjoyed the night-life and we drank, played and did bits of business together. It amuses me that people think Manchester only became fashionable with the advent of the Gallagher brothers, Madchester and the 1990s nightclubbing scene. Rubbish. Manchester in the 1960s and 1970s was the in-place, more so than London even. Harold had working for him a certain Paul Smith, now Sir Paul Smith, whose name has become one of the biggest shirt brands of all time. The fashion house they worked for was called Kilgore, French and Stanberry and in the knowledge that I was going to be targeted for This Is Your Life they made me a beautiful suit which was going to be the centrepiece of their latest range. They co-operated in setting me up but at the same time they were ensuring that their product would be showcased on prime-time television. I was told that the new range was being launched to the press following a party at a penthouse flat in London. The idea was that the press launch they took me to the morning after the party would really be the Teddington Studios [ editor: George was actually surprised in a West End restaurant]. I was assured of plenty of gorgeous women and even more booze at the party. They knew that was the only sure way of making me turn up.

They got me down to the flat near Park Lane in London and I tried the suit on before the party got swinging. There is nothing like a well-cut, made-to-measure, quality suit to make you feel good and once I put it on I did not want to take it off. 'Come on, George, hang it up and leave it fresh for the morning,' urged Harold, mindful though not to arose my suspicions.

I would have none of it and by now guests had began arriving and the champagne was beginning to flow. My boredom threshold has always been low and I also had a fear of enclosed spaces, so before long I was itching to leave the party. I fancied going to Tramps. Whenever I was in London I liked to go there. Johnny Gold, the owner, was good to me and tolerated my more drunken moments and you were always sure to bump into someone interesting. It might be a Beatle, a Stone or a Kink or a Sean Connery or a visiting Hollywood star. Never a dull moment. A girl at the party had a car. It was probably a Mini and she agreed to drive us both to the club. I didn't know it then but as I eased out of the door a look of horror spread across Harold Tillman's face. A great deal of effort and expense had gone into preparing the programme and Harold and others had given Thames Television all sorts of assurances about being able to ensure they'd deliver me. Once I was out in that night air they knew that like a Smith's crisp packet I could blow anywhere. With this unpalatable eventuality in mind they had two private detectives waiting in a car who were watching the door and they followed the young lady and myself to the club. I spotted them but remember thinking to myself that the press should have better things to do.

I cannot recall who was in that night but I do know that shortly before dawn broke, and now incapable of anything, the girl agreed to drop me back at the penthouse. Outside, the private detectives who I thought were press were waiting and followed us. Out of devilment I got the girl to lose them and this she did with ease. I hope the TV people didn't pay too much for them because those 'detectives' couldn't follow a bus. At the flat the party had long finished and even Harold had given up waiting for me. So as not to disturb anyone I flopped on to a sofa and went to sleep.

We all overslept, although in those days none of us kept to conventional sleeping patterns. Harold was up and rushing around, pleading for me to come to the car for the 'launch'. I remember him fussing around my jacket and trousers and worrying about creases. He seemed unusually worried. The upshot was that they got me to Teddington, where Eamonn pounced, [ editor: George was actually surprised in a West End restaurant] and then promptly kept me locked in a room until the evening when the programme was going to be shot. It crossed my mind to escape if I could, not so much because I didn't want to do the programme, but because I needed the hair of the dog. I did it and enjoyed it but the suit looks terrible. Unfortunately no videos were available then but I do have the commemorative album that the production team present to you and my suit looks like it had been slept in, which of course, it had.

I suppose I'm like anyone else when I watch This Is Your Life. It is a great programme and a durable idea but I am often left wondering why it is so short. Covering someone's life in less than half an hour is difficult. These days I often wonder too just who the person is whose life is being celebrated. I think it's a shame how guests are graded by the size of their celebrity and not by their relevance to the subject, meaning that the final guest is often a big star now who may have appeared briefly in panto with the subject twenty years earlier. (And is Lionel Blair really the great friend of every single person in show business?) In the old days it would be a long lost brother, or dear school friend not seen in quarter of a century. I love it though when a voice comes over the speakers and it is obvious that the subject does not have the foggiest idea who the person is. I was terrified this would happen to me. On the first one it did.

When Nurse Ruth Anderson spoke I went cold and thought I was going to have to pretend to know her but as she recounted her story it all came back to me. As a young child I had to go to hospital to have my tonsils removed and Nurse Ruth took a shine to me. My favourite TV programme at the time was Quatermass and the Pit and she allowed me to stay up and watch it. One night as she tucked me in she gave me a little kiss on the forehead and to my horror this was witnessed by the other boys on the ward who did not leave me alone thereafter. At that age you wouldn't admit to still being kissed good night by your parents let alone a nurse on a general hospital ward and I thanked God the boys who had witnessed this terrible incident were not from my school or my estate. Ironically I need never have been in the hospital in the first place. At the time I was unhappy at school and I tried to kid my mum that I was sick. I used to buy red gobstoppers from the penny sweetshop and suck them until my throat area was visibly red and then complain of a sore throat. Because it happened so regularly my mum became genuinely concerned and took me to the doctor. The doctor, who couldn't identify a malingerer when he saw one, referred me to the hospital and the throat specialist. When she decided I needed an operation to have them removed I was tempted to come clean. But events had overtaken me and I judged going into hospital for two weeks and having an unnecessary operation a lesser evil than confessing to my mum (and then my dad) that I had been deceiving them all this time.

George Best's autobiography

George Best recalls a similar experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, Blessed...

Things got even more surreal a few weeks after the death threat incident when Eamonn Andrews jumped out at me with his little red book on This Is Your Life. I was involved with a clothing company called Lincroft, who had designed a new range of suits which I had agreed to put my name to and we were to announce the deal at a press conference.

That, of course, was where Eamonn was to make his move. And to make sure that I didn't go missing on the day in question – as if – the company arranged a party the night before at a flat in London, with endless champagne and pretty girls with endless legs. The idea was that with everything I might possibly need on tap, there was no reason for me to leave the flat. As an extra precaution, however, they stationed a couple of private detectives outside.

The best laid plans and all that, or in this case the Best-laid plans. Around one in the morning, I decided to take one of the girls to Tramp and, wanting to look good, I put on this new cream suit, which Lincroft had made specially for me to wear at the launch and then the This Is Your Life programme.

When I came out of the flat, I spotted the two 'tecs in their car and thought they were press men.

'Do you think you can lose them?' I said to the girl, who was driving.

She did but lost herself as well before we eventually got to Tramp and spent a few hours there.

Luckily for the detectives, I returned to the flat, with the suit a lot worse for wear. It wasn't the only one.

I was so knackered that I just crashed out, still wearing the suit, which was a real lightweight number that creased easily. The Lincroft people threw a fit when they saw me, wearing something that looked more like a washed-out dishcloth than a new line. Someone got busy with an iron before we got into the studio with Eamonn and, having heard about my exploits the night before, they put someone on every exit door during the recording.

Like most of those programmes, it was a pretty tame show, though I thought they should have called it These Are Your Lives because I felt that I'd lived through a few in the previous 25 years. My family were all there, despite vowing never to go in front of the cameras again after the Cookstown sausages advert. Like everyone else, they were on tenderhooks until I walked in and I remember at the end of the programme, as a final surprise, my little brother Ian walked on, who was just five.

George Best's biography

Barbara Best recalls this and George Best's first edition of This Is Your Life in her book, Our George...

On 17 November 1971 (just six months after Sir Matt Busby was honoured in the same way), George was caught by Eamonn Andrews and his famous red book for the television programme, This Is Your Life.

George often used to boast that he would never be caught out by that particular programme. He used to argue: 'How can someone not find out?' In fact, he himself was caught not once, but twice! That first time, he was lured to the studios on the pretext of doing a fashion show. The entire family had been flown over – and by that I mean the entire family: Mum, Dad, Granny and Granda Best, Granny Withers and, of course, all of us. Carol was twenty-four, I was nineteen, Julie and Grace were eight and Ian just five.

I remember the researcher Jack Crawshaw coming over to Belfast to chat to us all. At first, I didn't want to go. I had just got engaged and didn't want to be separated from my fiancé, Jim. But in the end I gave in as it was such a special occasion.

Carol had to ask for time off from her job, explaining that she had to go to London. When her boss asked her why, Carol, who because of her Christian principles wouldn't lie, just said, 'I can't tell you.'

He replied, 'Well, if I write it down, will that be okay?'

On a piece of paper he wrote the words, 'This Is Your Life'. Carol just nodded. He was great about it and promised not to breathe a word, and to his credit he didn't.

To be flown to London and put up in a posh hotel for a couple of nights was exciting. We were booked into the hotel under the name of Grant, obviously to try to keep the secret. However, I don't think that it took the staff long to figure it out, especially when my fiancé phoned the hotel and asked to speak to Barbara Best!

The adults were each given £20 expenses, which in those days was a fortune. We weren't really allowed to go very far on our own, though. It was all a bit cloak and dagger. For rehearsals, we were transported to and from the television studios by car, and sneaked in and out, especially on the day of the show when George was in the same building. We even had to be escorted to the toilets.

Anyway, George was caught good and proper. It was such an honour to have been there and so poignant that all of his family were together. That was the last time that he was with us all, together with our grandparents. And after that, it was twenty-eight more years before we were all able to get together again.

One of my favourite memories is of the This Is Your Life programme in which George featured, in March 2003. It was the second time that George was caught out by the show.

Norman and I had told him that we were coming over to visit but had given him the date of our arrival as the day after the show was to be recorded. In fact, we were already in London. Apparently he kept saying to Alex things like: 'When are Barbara and Norman coming? I thought it was today. Give them a ring to see what's happening.' And Alex would pretend to ring and then say our phones must be switched off.

He had been lured to the studio on the pretence of speaking about his transplant with Professor Williams, so you can imagine his complete surprise yet again when he walked out on to the set and we were all there. I'll never forget his face. He just wagged his finger at me, but I think he was really pleased.

The rest of the family were staying in a hotel in London, but Norman and I were going back with George and Alex for a couple of days. When we arrived back at 'The Barn' Alex's mum and dad, Cheryl and Adrian, were there and everyone was in high spirits after such a successful evening. Alex cracked open a bottle of wine. I must admit I was sorely tempted to join her. But Norman and I both thought it wouldn't be fair to George, so instead I made some tea for us and for Cheryl and Adrian.

Unknown to George we had a surprise for him. As he was drinking his tea, Norman said, 'George, I'm sure not many people get presented with two red books in one evening', and handed him the original This Is Your Life book from 1971. We had brought it from Belfast. After that first show, our mum and dad had kept it and treasured it. George was like a child leafing through that book, looking at all the photos of the family. Yet another very proud and moving memory etched in my mind.

Sadly, the two This Is Your Life books, as well as George's certificate from his honorary doctorate at Queen's University and a beautiful scroll which was commissioned for the Freedom of the Borough of Castlereagh ceremony, have since become part of a legal wrangle. They are such an important part of George's history, especially the original book, which contains lots of very special photos of family, many of whom, like my mum and our grandparents, have passed away. We dearly want to bring them back to Northern Ireland.

George Best's biography

Christopher Hilton and Ian Cole recall this edition of This Is Your Life in their book, Memories of George Best...

No appearance: it was a constant fear amongst those waiting for him.

'I did his This Is Your Life, and he did my This Is Your Life, Pat Jennings says. 'I didn't realise at the time, but the producers had made other plans in case George didn't turn up. We'd played a match at Tottenham against Arsenal - I was with Arsenal in those days - and after the match we went back to the studios in London. I think it was about one o'clock in the morning before the show started, but George was there, fresh as a daisy, never had a drink, even.'

Professor Roger Williams is a world-renowned liver disease expert and Director of the Institute of Hepatology at University College Hospital, London. A reluctant Best was taken by his wife Alex to see Professor Williams at his clinic at the Cromwell Hospital in Chelsea and in 2002 underwent the operation.

'What always impressed me about him was his ability to mix with people at all levels and that resulted in the friendship they showed him. I remember being with him at a House of Commons reception. They were launching an all-party parliamentary group on liver disease. He came as a VIP as it were, not drinking, and talked about the problems of alcohol and was just easy with everyone - he had a very easy manner. People liked him, and they responded to him. He was never superior. I always thought whenever I saw him on television that he handled it by being absolutely natural, himself. That came through when they did the This Is Your Life programme.'

'Whenever I was out with him I was always - well, not amazed but absolutely delighted by the way he dealt with things. A very good human being, really.'

The Mirror 3 March 2003

This Is Your Life George


MANCHESTER United legend George Best has revealed he is to star in This Is Your Life this week.

The Northern Ireland star told how he fell for the plot to catch him out for the show.

Best, 57, thought he was being interviewed by Eamonn Holmes of GMTV about the British Liver Trust when Michael Aspel walked in on the filming.

He said: "I got totally fooled, mainly because I never realised my wife Alex was able to keep a secret for more than a second, let alone the two months she had to."

"Halfway through one of Eamonn's questions, Michael Aspel walked on."

"Before I twigged, I almost told him for interrupting. Thankfully, I kept my mouth shut."

Writing in his weekly Sunday magazine column, he added: "All my family turned up - even my dad - some of the Manchester United team of 1968, Sir Matt Busby's son, Sandy, Barry McGuigan and Pat Jennings."

"The whole programme was so touching and I'm not ashamed to say I was a bit tearful."

This Is Your Life is on BBC1 on Thursday at 7pm

The Independent 10 March 2003

Brian Viner: Best never needed any Flick Colby routines

George Best was the subject of This Is Your Life last week. Rarely has Michael Aspel's big red book, or Eamonn Andrews' before it, told us so little that we didn't already know. Best's life has been an open book, big and red or otherwise, for nigh on 40 years. And if we've heard it all before, imagine how he feels.

"Then you scored this goal in the 1968 European Cup final," said Aspel. Best nodded, wistfully. "And then you went to jail for a drink-driving offence." Best nodded, wistfully. "And then, told that one more drink would kill you, you had a liver transplant." More wistful nodding.

Happily, the wistfully nodding head looked in pretty good shape. There are times, and this could have been one of them, when the show should be called 'This Is Your Life But For How Much Longer?' Yet there was colour in the great man's cheeks, and for the first time in months it wasn't mustard yellow. The Grim Reaper will beat him to life's byline one day, but – if he can stay off the bottle, which is an "if" the size of the Empire State Building – probably not one day soon.

As in any programme about Best, the most enjoyable bits of This Is Your Life were the clips of him playing football. Like most footie enthusiasts of my age, I am practically a PhD on the subject of old TV footage of George Best, on and off the pitch. But there was one I didn't remember seeing before, in which – in a blur of miraculous footwork – he stopped the ball going into touch, controlled it, nutmegged an opponent and skipped round him. It was like watching Rodin chiselling, or Einstein thinking. Genius at work.

And not least of the qualities of genius, is that it doesn't need to draw attention to itself. When Best scored a goal, which for Manchester United he did 149 times, he invariably raised one arm and trotted contentedly back to the centre-circle. Of those footballers today who deserve to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Best, if not the same breath, Thierry Henry is similarly restrained. And thank heavens for it. Because carefully choreographed goal celebrations, featuring routines so cheesy that Flick Colby would have hesitated to give them to Pan's People, have reached a place quite a long way beyond a joke.

Indeed, I was downright depressed to hear from a friend who looks after a team of eight-year-olds, that when an opposing player scored against them – a thunderbolt from almost 35 centimetres out – his euphoric team-mates joined him at the corner flag, where they performed some dance moves in the style of Eminem. Or was it Craig David?

Whatever, it is not only in kiddies' football that goals are beginning to look like means to an end, rather than ends in themselves, the apotheosis of which came in the World Cup, when the South Korean players celebrated Ahn Jung-Hwan's equaliser against the United States by pretending to be speed skaters. This, we learnt, was to avenge a perceived outrage perpetrated in the Winter Olympics, when the South Korean speed skater Kim Dong-Sung was disqualified and the gold medal given instead to an American. Clearly, the celebration had been practised at least as much as the move which led to the goal.

There are dozens of examples of this, some of which were briefly witty (such as Jürgen Klinsmann and his Spurs team-mates diving) or even sweet (such as the Brazilian players pretending to cradle a baby following goals in the 1994 World Cup by Romario, whose partner had just given birth). But when there is more teamwork after the ball has hit the back of the net than before, it is time for coaches, if not referees, to call a halt.

I am more able to stomach the idiosyncratic goal celebrations of particular individuals. As annoying as they can be, on balance they probably enhance the game. Besides, who could deny Peter Beagrie, for example, who was celebrated for bugger all else, the distinction that came with being able to turn a back somersault? How far back does this phenomenon stretch?

Some weeks ago I posed exactly that question, remarking that I was not aware of unusual goal celebrations in English football before Mick Channon's whirling arm and Charlie George lying flat, looking at his toes. Martin Young, however, e-mailed me to say that Duffy, who scored the winner for Charlton against Burnley in the 1947 FA Cup final, "ran around with his arms outstretched taking his team-mates and the whole crowd completely by surprise. Nothing like that had been seen at Wembley before".

I also received an intriguing e-mail from P McGrath, referring to Charlie George's curious celebration in the 1971 Cup final. "I think that if you examine what he's staring at, it's not his toes," wrote Mr McGrath. "In his state of excitement Mr George does seem to have become somewhat aroused."

Have any other players become similarly excited upon scoring a goal?' If they have, George Best was not among them. He was not only one of the planet's greatest footballers, he also reputedly slept with three Miss Worlds. Clearly, he knew which kicks he could best get where.

Belfast Telegraph 16 February 2012

Souvenirs that will spark a scramble amongst collectors


The extensive collection of items set to go up for auction read like a treasure chest of George Best memorabilia for fans.

Among the items up for grabs are some sure to be prized by collectors and investors alike, including an old passport and This Is Your Life books.

The famous red leather-bound books were presented to the east Belfast football legend on two separate shows, one in 1971 and the other in 2003.

The 1971 book is signed by then host Eamonn Andrews, who wrote inside it: 'Best is best -- hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.'

The collection of artefacts reveals just some of the mountain of memorabilia George collected and was given throughout his career.

Among the collection are dozens of photographs, signed prints, paintings and sketches, certificates, trophies and football shirts, as well as other items signed by fellow footballers David Beckham and Paul Gascoigne.

Limited edition Ben Sherman trainers, signed by George Best, and two leather jackets are among the clothing which could soon be displayed by lucky fans. The collection of 52 items has been put up for sale by the footballer's ex-wife Alex Best, and is expected to raise upwards of £20,670.

The former model consigned the large collection of sports memorabilia to a Chester auctioneers.

It is set to go under the hammer next Wednesday.

Christopher Hayes, from Bonhams Auctioneers, said that the collection has already garnered some interest.

He said that the "match-worn" items and trophies are expected to generate the most attention from prospective buyers, but also said the This Is Your Life books are likely to be popular.

"These aren't as high value as items in the past -- these are lesser items from his career -- but with George Best as soon as you mention his name it puts the price of items up straight away and increases bidding," he said.

"There are lots of good items in the sale."

"It's quite a mixed collection. The items from former players are what buyers (and investors) are looking for, and obviously the individual collectors as well will be trying to purchase items for themselves."

The Mirror Ulster Edition 24 February 2012



GEORGE Best's sister has failed in a desperate bid to buy a one-off book dedicated to the star.

Now Barbara McNarry wants Daily Mirror readers to help her track down the mystery buyer of the 1971 edition of the This Is Your Life tome.

The leather-bound book was given to the Bonham's auctions last week by the football legend's ex-wife Alex as part of a 52-item sale, and it sold for £6,000 on Wednesday.

Mrs McNarry, who believes she was the rightful owner of the property, told the Daily Mirror: "I feel down and depressed that this book has gone to a new owner."

"It's a very precious thing to me and our family, not for financial reasons but for sheer sentimentality."

"Neither of the books should have been sold and now we're very anxious to find the new owner of the 1971 edition so we can at least get a copy of some of the photos inside it."

"So many of the people we loved and lost are in there, including my parents and grandparents and Matt Busby."

"I'm gutted our bidding failed but it went way over the limit that we could afford. I am hoping Daily Mirror readers might be able to help us make contact with the new owner."

"I would be satisfied with a digital copy of the photos if nothing else."

The big red book was one of two created for the TV show that honoured Bestie, in 1971 and again in 2003.

It was one of 11 items that sold at the top-end London auction house after Mrs McNarry successfully managed to have an injunction placed on 41 other lots of memorabilia.

The sale totalled almost £20,000, half of which Mrs Best had previously said she wanted to give to her ex-husband's son Calum.

But now sources say the money will have be used to pay court costs following the injunction.

Mrs McNarry was the sole inheritor of her brother's estate after he died in 2005 aged 59.

She said: "Alex told my sister Carol on February 3 she would withdraw both of the books from the auction."

"But she went ahead and sold them. Now we're in the mess hoping to find the new owner."

Mrs McNarry had a friend bid by telephone for the books but they had to drop out when the offers reached £2,000 on each of them.

The auction items fetched a total of £17,263, more than £10,000 over the estimated minimum price.

Series 43 subjects

David Dickinson | Mo Mowlam | Gillian Taylforth | Mike Rutherford | John McArdle | Elmer Bernstein | Charles Collingwood
Jonathan Davies | Elizabeth Pescops | George Best | Lisa Maxwell | Roger Cook | Bob Monkhouse | Nicholas Winton
Anthony Andrews | Alex Norton | John Bardon | Simon Cowell | Alec Stewart | Vic Armstrong | Chris Bonington
John Middleton | Bob Harris | Gyles Brandreth | Aled Jones