Spencer Leigh remembers VICTOR SPINETTI, who remembers the Beatles
Victor Spinetti, who died on 19 June 2012 at the age of 82, was a versatile character actor but he will be chiefly remembered for his supporting roles in the Beatles’ films, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). Like many Welshmen, he was a wonderful raconteur, both in one-man shows and on appearances at Beatle Conventions. His stories were all true but viewed from his perspective and embellished with frequent retelling.
There’s no doubt that Victor Spinetti loved the Beatles. “I fucking hate these songs that are full of hate – kill the fag, kill the Jew – and there is none of that in the Beatles’ music,” he told an audience at the Liverpool Convention in 2008, “It is an avalanche of poetry and melody and it is all about love. I once asked John what was his best lyric and he said, ‘That’s easy, Vic, ‘All You Need Is Love’.’ Bear that in mind, my darlings. If you love the Beatles, if you love their music, you have to live up to that. It is a great burden to carry but it is a joyous burden.”
Vittorio Spinetti was born in Wales on 2 September 1929 to a Welsh mother and an Italian father. His father owned a fish’n’chip shop but was interned in the Isle of Man during the Second World War. In the 1950s Spinetti became a leading actor in Joan Littlewood’s radical theatre company, which had a mainstream success with Oh What A Lovely War, both in the West End and on Broadway. “People ask me did I mind being in A Hard Day’s Night when the Beatles weren’t professional actors,” he once told me, “but it didn’t bother me at all. Sometimes Joan would say to someone, ‘You play Victor’s part tonight and he can play yours.’ Nothing bothered me after that.”
Another of Spinetti’s West End runs was in Expresso Bongo, later made into a film with Cliff Richard. “That was a musical about how pop stars were made, which was all fakery, and that’s how the business was back then. Then the Beatles came along with their Colgate Ring of Truth. It has come back to fakery now with those boy bands and TV talent shows.”
According to Spinetti, George Harrison told him that he would have to appear in their films because “my mum fancies you”. This may be an accurate quote but it is hard to see how Mrs Harrison knew about him. He had only played minor roles on TV and was more associated with the West End.