By David Banks
WHAT MADE George Best’s life and death such a
great story? I’ve been asked that question a dozen times or more in the
past seven days. But a man in a pub, a Guardian reader he said he was,
eventually got my goat to the point where I needed to shape a reply.
the hell was so important about Best, he demanded, that TV and radio
and all of Fleet Street came to a petrified standstill at the news of
his death, impending and actual? He wasn’t a royal or a Sir Winston
Churchill, insisted my drinking companion. He hadn’t even been a
footballer for the past 20 years or so, had he?
More to the point, argued the barfly (eyeing his own fourth or fifth pint) he had been the architect of his own downfall.
implication was clear: the press was guilty of whipping up national
hysteria such as had not been seen since the death of Diana.
bedside-to-graveside overkill, radio news programmes swamped with
sombre coverage, forests of pages – both tabloid and broadsheet –
devoted to a dead drunkard.
But this, in my view, was an occasion when the judgment of the press as a whole was spot on.
wayward genius, was not a media invention, but a folk hero raised to a
sad sort of sainthood by public subscription because of, not despite,
the obvious flaws in his character – just like Diana.
He was admired, adored even, not just by the press, but by the public, who saw something mirrored in Best’s feats and foibles.
more thing: throughout his and my life (I’m almost the same age) I
never knew his religion nor wondered about it. Through the worst years
of the Troubles the background of the most prominent Anglo-Irishman in
these isles remained, thank God, a mystery to me.
Of how many
other politicians, priests and pundits can that be said? Even in our
own industry it would come as a shock to learn that Tony O’Reilly wore
the sash or that David Montgomery was once an altar boy at Our Lady’s
Sepulchre of the Perpetual Martyrs in Fleet Street.
For the very ordinariness of an extraordinary man, the media’s tribute to George Best was overdue and entirely justified.
YOU see The Sunday Telegraph’s front last weekend? And the business
section splash? And, come to that, the business section’s comment lead?
so (and provided you’re an old fart like me) you too would have asked
yourself the question, whatever happened to the separation of ads and
promotions from that other, rather old-fashioned commodityâ€¦ news?
alphabet stipple that editors jam between wall-to-wall Dixons and PC
World ads might no longer sell papers with the confident certainty of a
DVD or a greatest hits CD compilation, but it was once, believe it or
not, a fairly important part of our papers.
So what the deuce was
editor Sarah Sands thinking of, allowing a somewhat partial (some might
say arse-kissing) splash on Sir Richard Branson’s challenge to Rupert
Murdoch’s media monopoly right beneath a broadsheet-wide, 5cm-deep
promotion highlighting the virtues of Virgin products?