BBC 2 drama Best – His Mother’s Son, about George Best, his mother and their futile battles with alcoholism, touched a number of raw nerves for anyone with alcoholism in the family. I say “alcoholism”. Others might say liking a drink or three. It’s all a bit of a blur – that’s the nature of the condition.
You could tell if Ann Best, superbly played by Michelle Fairley, was drunk or not. It was all in the hair. Bouffant at the best of times, it just went slightly skew-whiff when she was under the influence of drink. One of the most upsetting scenes was the one where she distractedly switched channels on the 1960s black and white TV set in front of two young children. She thinks, in her drunken state, that the family’s too soft on them and they need toughening up. An older sister ushers them out of the room. Another sister asks mam Best to go and lie down. “I’m not drunk,” she hisses, between clenched teeth. A terrifyingly accurate portrayal of how families try and fail to cope with an alcoholic in their midst.
Apart from George Best’s celebrity, what is really stunning about his mother’s death from alcohol-related heart disease at the age of 54 is the fact that she was teetotal until she was 44. In just 10 years she succumbed to the addiction and died. Best himself lived for more than 30 years as an alcoholic after retiring from professional football aged 27. Doctors would probably tell us this says something about women’s and men’s relative tolerance for toxins.
All in all, a fantastic drama albeit an uncomfortable one. I, like many, knew nothing of Ann Best’s life. I believed while watching the drama that she’d kicked the drink. Until we saw her in the final scene unpacking her shopping and routinely hiding another bottle of sherry wine under the formica kitchen table. The closing credits, revealing she carried on drinking until her death, said it all.