100-year-old who helped found the NHS still hardly needs it

Sir George Godber, brought up in Willington, reaches landmark birthday in good health.

On his 100th birthday, former Bedford schoolboy Sir George Godber could be described as a living testimonial to the NHS, which he helped Nye Bevan to found 60 years ago.

But, though the distinguished and remarkably youthful-looking former doctor still believes passionately in the 'free service for all' NHS principle, he rarely takes advantage of it personally – simply because he is so healthy.

Celebrating his birthday on Monday, August 4, Sir George's only burden to the NHS budget is a prescription of cheap calcium pills and occasional optical work when he loses his trusty monocle.

The monocle was the subject of a minor disagreement with Nye Bevan himself, whom Sir George described as "a good minister of health; a reformative fellow".

Sir George's son Colin Godber said: "Dad lost an eye in a childhood accident and has worn a glass one ever since.

"He and Nye were discussing eye tests and dad questioned why people could have free glasses but he couldn't have a free monocle."

When Nye gave a non-committal reply, Sir George promptly fished out his glass eye and announced: "But you gave me this on the NHS."

Another victory came over cigarette smoking, for which Sir George pioneered the health risks in the 1950s, despite the Government's revenue-induced refusal to accept medical evidence of the day.

In the 1960s Sir George took another campaigning stand to ensure contraceptive pills were prescribed free of charge.

He joined the Ministry of Health in 1939 and was tasked with inspecting wartime emergency medical services before the NHS was set up in 1948.

The self-confessed workaholic who married a nurse, Norma, rose rapidly through the ranks to become chief medical officer in 1960, a post he held for 13 years until he retired.

One of seven children brought up on a farm in Willington, Sir George believed strongly in keeping fit.

He rowed in the Boat Race twice for Oxford, where he studied at New College after leaving Bedford School, and is believed to be the oldest living Blue.

Until three years ago he drove his own car, and until he moved into a Milton Keynes care home last year he lived independently.

He only recently stopped exercising twice daily on his indoor bike.

"I feel antique now," he joked, showing his royal telegram, which bore a rare personal message from the Queen.

Sir Godber is still proud of the NHS he helped to set 60 years ago.

He said: "I think it does fairly well.

"People did not think we were going to get health services converted adequately and we did. Adequate means not as far as one would like but it means it's still useful at the moment."

The centenarian will now celebrate his birthday again this Sunday at a party organised by his daughter Bridget Burman at her Maulden home, involving his three children, eight grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.