In passing, I note that Cynthia excuses much of John’s bad behaviour on his childhood, but I don’t think so. John lived in comfort in Menlove Avenue and effectively had two mothers who loved him – Aunt Mimi and Julia. Sure, Mimi was strict but, in my view, not strict enough as he fared poorly at school – in fact, he did so badly that his behaviour seems deliberate. Why I don’t know, but hopefully Philip Norman’s forthcoming biography will explain why an intelligent boy should prefer to be taught with the thickies.
We are led to believe that John was written by Cynthia Lennon, but there are indications that a ghost writer was involved. Sooner or later, ghost-written books are going to get their comeuppance. I would love to see a court case where a purchaser says that he paid £20 in good faith for a book written by so-and-so and it turns out to be the work of someone else. Victoria Beckham memorably confessed that she had never read a book and this was after she had written her autobiography, or rather had it written for her. By implication, she never bothered to check the text. If she wasn’t bothered, was anyone else?
In all the Beatle books, John Lennon emerges as the most unpredictable character. If you put Paul, George or Ringo in any given situation, you can make a good guess as to how they will act. That is not so with John Lennon as his decisions often depended on which side of the bed he got out of that morning (or indeed whose bed he got out of that morning). He enjoyed acting perversely and so this, too, made him irrational. This is evident from Cynthia Lennon’s John.
In 1985, Pete Best wrote his first autobiography, Beatle! The Pete Best Story, with the hard-drinking journalist, Patrick Doncaster. Not a good choice as Doncaster, who was of no mind to probe, died before publication. Pete Best retold his story for The Best Years Of The Beatles! in 1997, this time with the editor of Mersey Beat, Bill Harry but amazingly he ignored some incidents in the first account. More recently, Pete has combined with his brothers, Rory and Roag, for a history of the Casbah club in the basement of their family home, The Beatles – The True Beginnings. The book features double-paged colour plates of microphone leads and plugs and the text is designed to launch the Bests’ mum, Mona, as the “Mother of Merseybeat”.
Remember though that Pete Best doesn’t know why he was sacked: Epstein didn’t tell him and he wasn’t a party to the discussions about whether he should go. However, a book should contain the full story as known to the author, and Pete Best can be accused of holding back. His mother, Mona, gave birth to their roadie’s son in 1962, and the fact that Neil Aspinall was living in the house must have been a significant factor in some way at the time of Pete’s sacking.
Stuart Sutcliffe, a fellow student with John Lennon at the College of Art, played bass with the Beatles but he left them to study art in Hamburg and died of a brain haemorrhage in April 1962. Art critics have praised his legacy and commented on his potential. The film, Backbeat (1994), concentrated on the Sutcliffe story and being a film, it can be allowed some latitude for its inaccuracies. The companion book, Backbeat: Stuart Sutcliffe, The Lost Beatle, was written by his sister, Pauline with Alan Clayson. This was followed the next year a lavish Genesis publication, which reproduced his letters and his sketchbooks, Stuart: The Life And Art Of Stuart Sutcliffe, written by Pauline with Kay Williams.
Pauline Sutcliffe denounced the Beatle biographer, Geoffrey Giuliano for suggesting that a fight with John Lennon caused the injury which led to Stuart’s death. However, in her third biography, The Beatles’ Shadow; Stuart Sutcliffe’s Lonely Hearts Club (2001), written with Douglas Thompson, she repeats Giuliano’s story as her own and substantiates it with comments from her dead brother. She states that Stuart’s contribution to the Beatles has been overlooked, but this isn’t true. He is well represented in all the books and his work is highly regarded in the art world, but Pauline now wants to knock John, Paul and George.
I am sorry that I have already mentioned Geoffrey Giuliano as he does the craft of the biographer no good at all. Giuliano, to my mind, has produced several Beatle books, all of which expound his own theories and have little merit. Quite out of character, he collaborated with Julia Baird on her biography, John Lennon: My Brother (1988). John Lennon: My Half-Brother would be more accurate and although her picture of those around John Lennon are captivating, namely his mother Julia and her lover, Bobby Dykins, she tells the same stories at conventions and I suspect that she did not see John as much as she suggests.
The Aunt Mimi side of John Lennon’s family was totally opposed to his father, Alf, but his second wife’s memoir, Daddy Come Home, is more positive about his character, as you would expect. Still, Pauline Lennon lacks the skills to write more than an affectionate memoir. Knowing John’s Uncle Charlie led me to believe that Alf’s side deserved to be told. Uncle Charlie is dead now but the biography about him, Charlie Lennon: Uncle To A Beatle (2005), is the most uninformative of all Beatle books. There is nothing new in its 430 pages and most of the time, the author Scott Wheeler is telling us about his own tribute act to the Beatles: very strange. The Cavern DJ Bob Wooler told me that he had never heard of Uncle Charlie until John’s assassination and he regarded him as a death-watch Beatle. There’s a lot of them about.
There are other contenders for the most flimsy Beatle books. The then Silver Beatles did a short tour of Scotland backing the Liverpool singer, Johnny Gentle, but it is clear from his autobiography, First Ever Tour (1998), that he didn’t regard it as significant as he has recalled so little. The book, written with Ian Forsyth, is the worst proof-read of all Beatle publications. Similarly, Beryl Adams should have a unique story being Brian Epstein’s secretary, then the secretary at the Cavern Club and the wife of its DJ, Bob Wooler, but she gave little away to Lew Baxter and her autobiography, My Beatles Hell, was published posthumously in 2004. Reading the book is curiously unnerving, akin to watching Groundhog Day, as I kept reading passages that I had read earlier – the author presumably was filling out his word quota by repeating himself. There is nothing to suggest the Beatles hell of the title, except perhaps the book itself, and published by Barge Pole press, I wouldn’t touch it.
One of the Quarry Men, Len Garry wrote John, Paul And Me: Before The Beatles (1997), and he knew them for just a few teenage years. His memory is the reverse of Beryl Adams’ as he can recall complete conversations in total detail. Len is very pleasant but this is hard to accept. He had no idea that John and Paul would be world famous, so why should have he have committed inconsequential conversations to memory? The book is, however, better than I suspected. For a while, Len and his wife belonged to a Pentecostal sect which preached about the wickedness of pop groups so he destroyed any memorabilia relating to his past life. Hence, the book relies totally on his memory.
Another Quarry Man, Pete Shotton, had been a close friend to John Lennon during his Beatlemania days. He was as rebellious as John and encouraged his wayward tendencies. He told his story to Nicholas Schaffner for In My Life (1983), but his own remarkable life was only beginning. He became a multi-millionaire through the Fatty Arbuckle chain of restaurants, and when you go through the Fabs’ story, you realise how many others fared well, but not directly through the Beatles. Len Garry and Pete Shotton’s stories were retold by Hunter Davies when he returned to Beatle territory for the engaging The Quarrymen (2001). Although the book did not sell well, it is intriguing to read what happened to the other Quarry Men and how being in that group affected their lives.
Brian Epstein died in 1967 so we don’t know how he would have set the record straight in a second book, but several key employees at NEMS Enterprises have written their memoirs. With the help of Steven Gaines, Peter Brown wrote a scurrilous biography of the group, The Love You Make (1983). Brown maintained that Lennon and Epstein had had a homosexual relationship, but how did he know and wasn’t it handy that the suspected participants had conveniently died? Did Brian tell him? Did John tell him? Brown tells us that Epstein was not given an MBE with the Beatles because he was Jewish and homosexual – how could he possibly know this? Under the 30 year rule, I have tried to view the Cabinet papers relating to the MBEs, but I was told that they remain private.
As Brown was working in Liverpool at NEMS record store and not in London until 1965, he asked insiders to help with his project, presented as an affectionate tribute, but as he often resorts to indirect quotations, we don’t know what was really said. This may be to suggest that he was more an insider than he was. Upon publication, several interviewees rejected the book, feeling betrayed by Brown. It is Paul, not John, who is presented as having an impossible ego and the book’s worst fault had to be the sidelining of their entire musical output.
Brian Epstein’s “Mr Fix-It”, Alistair Taylor, was one employee who felt betrayed. He wrote his own story in Yesterday: The Beatles Remembered (1988) but his ghost, Martin Roberts, had an appalling idea. The book was written as a series of fictional, then contemporary letters to a female fan. It was utterly contrived and yet Taylor had a story to tell. He repeated it to Stafford Hildred in A Secret History (2001), but little of it was secret as he had told it before. The following year he was recounting the same stories to George Gunby in Hello Goodbye. His most notable story is of buying a Greek island for the Beatles, which, a few months later, was resold, unvisited.
Rather like Sam Leach, I feel that Alistair is justifying his place in the Beatles’ story and this is his primary motive for writing his books. The fact that he complains at the start of A Secret History about his omission from the Beatles’ Anthology emphasises this. Like Sam Leach, he claims to be the Raymond Jones who turned Brian Epstein onto the Beatles by going into NEMS in 1961 and requesting their German single with Tony Sheridan, My Bonnie. This is nonsense as I have Raymond Jones’ phone number and can call him today. I don’t deny that Alistair Taylor was around as a lot of this happened but was he so central to the story? Couldn’t anyone have been “Mr Fix-It” and his claim that he helped Paul McCartney to write Hello Goodbye is as unconvincing as Pete Shotton’s boast that he assisted with Eleanor Rigby.
Tony Barrow, the Beatles’ first press officer and the man who coined the phrase “the Fab Four”, had been telling snippets of his autobiography for years in the monthly Beatles Book and in a 1998 series in the Daily Mail. He put it in book form with John, Paul, George, Ringo And Me – The Real Beatles Story (2005). I doubt if it is The Real Beatles Story as if anyone knows a secret history, it is him. It is a good read by a seasoned author, but a little too positive as though he is still their PR man. There is one exception: when Paul wanted to swop Jane Asher for Linda Eastman, he befriended “an unsophisticated, unspectacular little brunette” and played with her affection. This girl, Francie, was at Paul’s home when Jane came round and “having served her purpose, Francie was packed off home to New Jersey.” Most odd – and implausible human behaviour, though it may be true.
In 1965, Tony Barrow was among the few at the meeting of Elvis Presley and the Beatles and his comments on Elvis, with whom he was not impressed, are worth reading. Chris Hutchins, who was also there, spun it out for the book, Elvis Meets The Beatles (1994), but the meeting was too short and inconsequential to merit this attention.
Tony Barrow is sometimes confused with another NEMS employee, Tony Bramwell and quite coincidentally, they published memoirs at the same time, Bramwell’s with the help of Rosemary Kingsland. His book, Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles, is just that as his anecdotes do not stack up. According to the book, he won a competition to see Buddy Holly at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool in 1958 and went to both houses, meeting Holly in the interval. John, Paul and George, who were also there, were envious of him. If you turn to the Beatles’ own Anthology (2000), you will find that they did not go to the concert.
The Beatles’ chauffeur, Alf Bicknell, has written his story a few times, the first occasion being Baby, You Can Drive My Car with Garry Marsh in 1989. (You see how useful those Beatle song titles are.) The book is written in the form of a faked diary, an even worse format than Alistair Taylor’s. Like Tony Barrow, Alf was someone who did not want to say anything bad about his employer.
Although they had often been interviewed, the remaining Beatles told their story in Anthology (2000) and the book was compiled under their joint imprimatur by Derek Taylor from their interviews for the TV series. Only a few, selected other voices are heard in the book – Derek Taylor, Neil Aspinall and George Martin being amongst them – and the book suffers as a result. When they were touring, the Beatles were closeted in hotel rooms and they missed a lot of the action; in other words, they were too busy being Beatles. As George Harrison, the interviewee with the best insight, remarks, “In 1964 we seemed to fit a week into every day.” They comment on the extensive security when they were in Japan, but other biographies will tell you that this was because death threats.
Of course there can be no new testimony from John Lennon, Stu Sutcliffe (who was never interviewed about his Beatle life) or Brian Epstein. It does, however, have Paul talking, for the first time and circumspectly, about Jane Asher. George Harrison revealed that once they started to make it, Brian Epstein offered them each £50 a week for life in lieu of royalties but having faith in their talent, they turned it down.
Anthology is an extensive and very detailed book but it is only heavyweight through its bulk. It is a whitewash and not definitive. It has a very irritating habit of printing text over absorbing illustrations. This may be to prevent copyright violation but it is cheating the readers.
Also with Derek Taylor, George Harrison reproduced his song lyrics and told something of his life in I Me Mine (1980). This pleasant, modest book enraged John Lennon, who commented to Playboy, “He put a book out privately on his life, that, by glaring omission, says that my influence on his life in absolutely zilch and nil. In his book, which is purportedly this clarity of vision of influence on each song he wrote, he remembers every two-bit sax player or guitarist he met in subsequent years. I’m not in the book.” Well, yes you are, John. There are 11 passing references.
With a large helping of sour grapes, Paul McCartney told his story to Barry Miles in Many Years From Now (1997). His comments on the authorship of his songs were questionable and at variance with some of John Lennon’s comments. McCartney knew that John Lennon was classed as the key Beatle, perhaps as a result of his assassination, and he knew it had not been like that. Miles himself knew the Beatles well during the mid-Sixties and his own memories are also in the book. Miles wrote the top-selling, The Beatles: A Diary, a day to day account of the Beatles’ lives. This and Keith Badman’s books of Beatle interviews – The Beatles: After The Break-Up (1999) and The Beatles: Off The Record (2000) – are big sellers, but Badman’s books are handicapped by the lack of indices.
Paul’s brother, Mike, a member of Scaffold, was always taking photographs and his books, Thank U Very Much (1981) and Remember (1992), include his reminiscences. His relations with his brother may have been strained from time to time but he presents a very positive picture of his brother and the other Beatles in all his work. There are also some pleasant Beatle recollections in Roger McGough’s autobiography, Said And Done (2005), but I would have liked to have known if John and Roger had ever discussed their love of wordplay.
Continuing with the pro-Beatle books, George Martin’s memoirs are to be trusted but they are primarily concerned with the making of the records. There is the appallingly-titled All You Need Is Ears with Jeremy Hornsby in 1979 and the more specific Summer Of Love – The Making Of Sgt Pepper (1994). There is also another highly expensive Genesis book, Playback – The Illustrated Autobiography of George Martin (2003). Their books are investments so it may be unwise to unseal them. Even if there were revelations, did anyone read them? In any event, Martin’s account will be judicious and assured and the only revelations will relate to recording techniques.