Better to be Sean and not heard

Remembering the 1966 World Cup finals being staged in England, plain NORMAN GILLER goes in for a touch of name dropping

I was on scriptwriting duty for the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monte Carlo, sitting with Sir Sean Connery, recalling when we had first met during the 1966 World Cup finals.

Sir Sean was in Monte Carlo making a presentation in honour of the memory of Kiwi yachting legend Sir Peter Blake, who had been murdered by pirates while leading an environmental expedition on the Amazon in 2001.

I tested Sir Sean’s trademark James Bond lisp by giving him John Masefield’s Sea Fever to narrate:

I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

Sir Sean delivered it beautifully, and there was not a dry eye in the glitzy Grimaldi Forum.

During rehearsals I reminded him of the visit of England’s World Cup footballers to the Pinewood set when he was filming his James Bond role in You Only Live Twice.

It was the Monday after England’s opening goalless bore of a match against Uruguay at Wembley on July 11, and a tour of the studios had been arranged as a diversion from the pressures of the World Cup.

Connery — then plain Sean — showed us (the footballers, officials and media) around, along with Yul Brynner and Norman Wisdom, who were both also making films at the sprawling studios. Our photo shows Jimmy Greaves entertaining Sean Connery, Yul Brynner and Bobby Moore with his inimitable humour that was later to make him a television personality.

At the end of the tour, Alf Ramsey — then plain Alf — stepped forward to make a short thank you speech. “I would like to thank,” he said, in that distinct, clipped posh-Cockney accent of his, “everybody at Pinewood Studios and in particular Mr Seen Connery …”

I was standing with best mates Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves, and Mooro — out of sight and hearing of Alf — said: “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever shawn or heard.”

Sean had a good laugh when I reminded him of the moment, and insisted on sharing the story with former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick, who was in the theatre with us. They spent the rest of the day calling each other Seen.

I share this story with you as a prelude to what Wilfred Pickles would have called “My most embarrassing moment”. And if you can remember that catchphrase from the days of wireless entertainment on the BBC Light programme, you must be from my creaking generation.

During the star-studded Laureus Awards show I scripted words for a range of sporting icons, including John McEnroe, Bobby Charlton, Gary Player, Ian Botham, Ed Moses, Dawn Fraser, Seb Coe and Tanni Grey-Thompson.

Each award was presented by a combination of sports star and show business celebrity, and the likes of Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, David Hasselhoff and Rod Stewart all read my Autocued words.

For the rehearsal, Rod Stewart came on stage with his soon-to-be-wife Penny Lancaster. Just to complicate matters his previous wife, Rachel Hunter, was also making a presentation, and I was charged by the show producer with keeping the two stunning ladies apart.

With this in mind, I was not giving total concentration when Penny introduced me to her father while the rehearsals were in full swing.

I was quite a sight to behold. On the first day in preparing for the show I had managed to fall through the stage and had damaged my size 8 right foot so badly that I had to borrow a size 13 sports shoe to cover the swelling. I was hobbling around like Quasimodo and got no sympathy whatsoever from Ian Botham, who inspected my wound in front of the gathered Laureus members and announced: “Think it may need an amputation.”

Three days later and still hobbling on my size 13 shoe, I was at Nice Airport ready for the flight home when I spotted the show’s producer/director Paul Kirrage talking to, so I thought, Penny Lancaster’s father.

Now Penny just happens to have the most gorgeous legs that go on and on for ever, and I limped up to the side of Paul and took an exaggerated long view of what I thought was her quite short father. “Well,” I declared like an old-time music hall comedian, “I see she doesn’t get her legs from you.”

Two stony faces turned to me, with no hint of even a smile. I was obviously not welcome and so limped heavily away. I presumed I had interrupted a business conversation.

Five minutes later I was grabbed by Paul Kirrage and pushed into a corner. He never usually swears, but for this occasion dropped his standards. “What the fucking hell were you thinking of, saying that …?”

“Saying what?” I asked, innocently.

“About her legs. Who do you think you were talking to?”

“Penny Lancaster’s dad,” I replied.

“That,” said Paul with one of those sentences that remain etched into your memory for life, “is Tanni Grey-Thompson’s manager.”

Oh dear. What a pillock. I can now never look at Dame Tanni (or Penny Stewart) without getting a red tide creeping up my face. And I feel a pain in my foot.

Footnote: I sued the hugely wealthy owners of the Laureus concept for my injury, but after lots of side stepping I found myself in a legal showdown with a pair of British stage builders. I tried to pull out but was told by my legal team that if I did I would have to pay the £14,000 costs accrued to date. I finished up settling out of court for £6,000, with the solicitors’ bill somewhere up around the £25,000 mark.

Next time around, I’m going to be a lawyer – that’s a profession with legs.

Help Giller to meet future legal bills by buying his latest book, Lane of Dreams, now available at £18.95 in the Spurs shop, or for £25 and signed by Jimmy Greaves and Steve Perryman, at

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