Friday, 22 April 2022

Prime Minister says 'No' to well-wishing peace campaigners

Liverpool Beatles Museum,
23 Mathew Street
L2 6RE


‘War is Over’ card sent from John Lennon to Harold Wilson goes on display at Liverpool Beatles Museum

The latest addition to Roag and Pete Best's ever-expanding museum was revealed this morning by former NEMS and Apple employee, the Beatles' friend Tony Bramwell.


Although threatened, a 2022 reshoot of the cover for John and Yoko’s 1968 LP Two Virgins (for which Tony set up the camera, and then had the dubious honour of trying to find somebody to develop the roll of film) was thankfully NOT what was he was there to unveil. 

The new addition is a 1969 "War Is Over" Christmas card from John and Yoko, one of hundreds which they sent out to various world leaders and other dignitaries as part of their peace campaign. 

This particular card was sent to the then UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He was the member of Parliament for Huyton (where I grew up) from 1950 to 1983 and Prime Minister from October 1964 to June 1970, and again from March 1974 to April 1976. 

The card is signed “with love to the Wilsons from the Lennons.”

John with Harold 'Wilsod' as he called him.

Never one to miss a photo opportunity or to court the approval of the masses, Wilson was photographed with the Beatles in 1964 and, while Prime Minister in 1965, recommended to the Queen that the Beatles be awarded the MBE.

As George Harrison recalled in Anthology:  Probably it was Harold Wilson that put us up for it. He was Prime Minister and was from Liverpool, Huyton - 'two dogs fightin', one is black and the other's a white un'.

After all we did for Great Britain, selling all that corduroy and making it swing, they gave us that bloody old leather medal with wooden string through it. But my initial reaction was, 'Oh, how nice, how nice.' And John's was, 'How nice, how nice.'

Four years later and John had a change of heart. In November 1969 he sent his MBE back to attract attention to his causes: I had been mulling it over for a few years. Even as I received it, I was mulling it over. I gave it to my auntie who proudly had it over the mantelpiece, which is understandable - she was very proud of it. She won't understand this move I've made probably, but I can't not do it because of my auntie's feelings. So I took it a few months back and didn't tell her what I was going to do with it - no doubt she knows now - and I'm sorry Mimi, but that's the way it goes. 

Anyway, I sold out, so it was always worrying me, and then the last few years I'd been thinking, 'I must get rid of that, must get rid of that.' I was thinking how to do it, and I thought if I did it privately the press would know anyway, and it would come out; so instead of hiding it, just make an event of the whole situation. So I did it with the MBE. I was waiting for some event to tie it up with, but I realise that this is the event, this is the next peace event going on now. 

The MBE was returned directly to Buckingham Palace but it can’t have been long before Wilson's ministers in Downing Street got wind of Lennon’s gesture, and the possible embarrassment it had caused Her Majesty. If the Lennon’s antics over the previous 12 months (from Two Virgins and their drug bust onwards) hadn’t made them persons of interest in the eyes of the establishment already, from this point on their card was definitely marked, and in this case literally. 

The Lennon’s Christmas card was placed with the rest of the ‘strange’ post that came into No.10 into what was referred to as the “nutty filing” cabinet. It was rescued by secretary and Beatles fan Ruth Ferenczy, who kept the card at home until her daughter Alex Rowe decided to loan it to The Liverpool Beatles Museum. 

Speaking to the press today, Mrs Rowe said “My mum was filing one day and came across this card so she said to her boss: ‘Look at this, the Prime Minister doesn’t want it, can I keep it?’ and the boss said yes she could. Apparently Harold Wilson would write in green pen and if he was going to respond to mail he would write ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

“There’s a little green ‘no’ on this card (see top right) which means he didn’t want to respond.” 

Clearly Wilson no longer wanted to be associated with the moptops. 

Mrs Ferenczy, now 81 and living in Spain, took the card home where it was displayed on a shelf, her daughter said.  Mrs Rowe added: It’s just been sitting on a shelf all my life, nobody else has seen it as far as I know. It’s literally gone from No 10 into our possession and it’s gone through lots and lots of countries, it’s been round the world because we lived abroad. One day we were looking at it, at home in Manchester, and just said why have we not shared this, somebody else needs to see it.


Tony Bramwell, originally from Hillfoot Avenue, Hunts Cross, was one of the few of the Beatles’ Liverpool gang who was with them from the start, initially working as an office boy for Brian Epstein at Nems and remaining with them through the madness of the Apple years, much of which Tony believes was of John and Yoko’s own making.

Tony with the Beatles in 1963 (above) and 1965 (below)



With John Lennon during the 'Sgt. Pepper' sessions, 1967. 


Tony (left) slightly covering Neil Aspinall, John and Peter Goldmann during the making of the 'Strawberry Fields Forever' promotional film (above) and sat with Paul and Ringo during a 1967 session (probably during the preparations for the 'All You Need Is Love' satellite broadcast). 

Tony during the preparations for 'Our World', June 1967, with Brian Epstein (above), and Tony King and Patti Harrison (below). The rag doll Patti is holding now lives in the Liverpool Beatles Museum and is visible in the cabinet over Tony's shoulder in today's photos.



Tony (in blue) with Paul and the Black Dyke Mills Band in Saltaire, near Bradford, 30 June 1968. 




Tony on 'Apple Business'. Watch out Ladies!!

Before the unveiling special guest Tony Bramwell spoke to the specially invited audience.

Tony told the Museum’s invited audience that as part of the War is Over! campaign he was tasked with organising for huge billboards bearing the slogan to be displayed at locations across the world, as well as sending out cards with the message on. 

He said: There were thousands of those Christmas cards, we sent them to everybody in the address book. John and Yoko would send them specifically to people they wanted to wind up, well who John wanted to wind up and Yoko thought would bring world peace. Anything aimed at Harold Wilson was a dig. John had just sent back his MBE in protest. 

Tony said that Mr Wilson (of 'Taxman' fame) had previously met The Beatles and posed with them for pictures but said he wasn’t surprised the politician had chosen not to respond to the card. In fact he would probably have said no even if he was offered a box of Beatles records.

"3-6-9, the goose drank wine..."  Roag Best warms the audience up before Tony's speech. 


The card is the latest little gem to on display in the museum on Mathew Street, which houses one of the largest collections of Beatles memorabilia in the world. I can’t imagine what treasure might be unveiled next!

A great morning catching up with fellow fans, historians, and tour guides on the Liverpool Beatles Scene, many of them members of this blog’s Facebook group.    

Oh yeah, Top Tip: When you take a book with you to get signed by the special guest at an event, it’s a good idea to take it out of your bag while you're still at the event!

My treasured unsigned copy of Tony Bramwell's book.  Tony has a new book out soon which he promises contains even 'more shit'. One to put on your Christmas wish-list then.

Until next time....

Thursday, 10 March 2022

'I'm The Drummer!' - A born Lever-puller makes his debut

Hulme Hall
Bolton Road
Port Sunlight
Birkenhead
Wirral


Last Sunday I visited the Wirral Guitar show, held in the beautiful village of Port Sunlight on the Wirral with several friends from my Facebook page.

The beautiful self-contained garden village of Port Sunlight was built at the end of the 19th century by Lord William Hesketh Lever as a home for 3,500 workers and their families at his soap factory, Lever Brothers, which eventually became the global giant Unilever.


Lever's aims were "to socialise and Christianise business relations and get back to that close family brotherhood that existed in the good old days of hand labour." 

He claimed that Port Sunlight was an exercise in profit sharing, but rather than share profits directly, he invested them in the village. He said, "It would not do you much good if you send it down your throats in the form of bottles of whisky, bags of sweets, or fat geese at Christmas. On the other hand, if you leave the money with me, I shall use it to provide for you everything that makes life pleasant – nice houses, comfortable homes, and healthy recreation.


Lever was a philanthropist with a passion for art and architecture and Port Sunlight, where his employees enjoyed the closest idealistic promise to harmonious lives, is an enduring testament to the achievements of this remarkable man. The sheer scale of his philanthropy was unprecedented. 


Lever engaged over 30 different architects during the building of Port Sunlight, named after the Lever Brothers' most popular brand of cleaning agent, Sunlight. As a result the village is an intoxicating mix of architectural styles set within 130 acres of beautifully maintained parks and tranquil gardens. The garden village had allotments and public buildings including the Lady Lever Art Gallery, a cottage hospital, schools, a concert hall, open air swimming pool, church, and a temperance hotel. Lever introduced welfare schemes and provided for the education and entertainment of his workforce, encouraging recreation and organisations which promoted art, literature, science or music.

It is the finest surviving example of early urban planning the UK.  90 years after its construction the whole of Port Sunlight was declared a conservation area in 1978 with 900 Grade II Listed buildings.

Add to this some excellent public sculpture, a fascinating museum, and one of the finest and largest war memorials in the UK.

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Pete Best Reveals All

Liverpool Beatles Museum
23 Mathew Street
Liverpool
L2 6RE

 

On Tuesday I was invited to a special ticket only unveiling at the Liverpool Beatles Museum on Mathew Street

The museum was created by Roag Best, son of the Beatles’ road manager / head of Apple Neil Aspinall and Mona Best, and the half-brother of Pete Best. 

As reported in my blog last September, with Covid restrictions hopefully easing for good,  Roag is planning on holding a number of ‘reveals’ during the year as important new pieces of memorabilia are added to the collection.


A good sized crowd had assembled in Mathew Street ahead of the 9am opening. Once inside we were directed upstairs to the first floor of the museum where we were offered breakfast pastries, tea and coffee.  After 15 minutes or so of eating, drinking and catching up with fellow Beatle fans, historians and musicians it was time for Roag to open the proceedings.


There was a running gag throughout the morning which started when Roag  mentioned his son’s had recently started referring to him as ‘Pete Best’s brother’ after they decided to test their Amazon Alexa:

 

Q: Alexa, who is Roag Best?   

Alexa: I’m sorry I don’t know that one.

 

Q: Alexa, who is Pete Best?

Alexa: Pete Best is the former drummer in the Beatles. He joined the group in August 1960...


Q: Alexa, who is Mona Best?

Alexa: Mona Best is the mother of Pete Best. She founded the Casbah Club and was the first female booking agent...

 

Q: Alexa, who is Leanne Best?

Alexa: Leanne Best is a famous British Actress who has starred in such shows as Line of Duty, Four Lives..... She is the niece of Beatle Pete Best.....

 

Q: Alexa, who is Pete Best’s brother?

Alexa: Roag Best is Pete Best’s brother!

 

After much hilarity it was time to introduce the special guest for the morning.


Ladies and gentleman, the man who put the beat in the Beatles: Pete Best!!!


After receiving a warm welcome from the crowd Pete said his hellos, thanked everyone for coming and commented on how nice it was to see everyone’s faces after an absence of about 2 1/2 years.



Before ‘revealing the reveal’ Pete said,  ‘I’ll tell you a little story’:

 

As you all know, I joined the band in August 1960 and we went out to Germany. We were playing at the Indra Club. We closed that one down after a month because we were playing too loud, and then we got moved to the Kaiserkeller.

 

We should have been there a month but Bruno Koschmider, who was the manager of the Kaiserkeller, kept extending the contract....and extending the contract. And we didn’t mind because we were getting booze, and birds, and women. We were loving it!  We were 17-18 year olds and it was another education for us.

 

But what we did talk about between ourselves was that regardless of what was going on in Germany, we wanted to be home for Christmas. We’d been there since August and this was now getting to be the middle of November. So, I was like ok, regardless of whether we get extended again we’re going home for Christmas and then we’ll see what happens. So I said I’m going to start promoting the Beatles in Liverpool, and I wrote to Neil (Aspinall) and said keep it under your hat, but we’re going to be coming home for Christmas, and I want you to do some posters. I said just basically tease the public. Don’t let them know who the Beatles are, just say they are coming, watch out for them. So he did.


It’s important to remember at this point that before the Beatles went to Hamburg they were, to use their agent Allan Williams’ immortal words, a ‘bum group’. Nobody knew who they were in Liverpool, before going to Germany most of the bookings Williams’ got for them were on the Wirral. When they’d last played at the Casbah Club, ran by Pete’s mother Mo, they were still using the Quarry Men name.       

 

Pete: We had gone away a mediocre band and now we were coming back a powerhouse.

 

It was a lot of fun. We didn’t know what possible reception we were going to get back in Liverpool. We knew we’d basically become kings of Hamburg but coming back to Liverpool no one had really heard of us.

We  got back a lot quicker than we anticipated because when we told Bruno Koschmider that we were going to the Top Ten Club he said ‘you will never work Germany again’, to which we went [mimes sticking up two fingers] ‘We will sir’....  that was the last thing we ever did.

 

All of a sudden George was sent home for being underage. Pete and Paul got sent home for allegedly trying to burn the Bambi Kino down. We didn’t succeed, thank God, and a couple of days after that John said to hell with this I’m going home. The only one who was happy to stay was Stu cost he’d fallen in love with Astrid, the beautiful Astrid Kirchherr.  The mysterious and lovely woman.

 

Anyway we landed back home. Neil had started making posters like I’d said. He’d made two of each. He hadn’t started to put them up in the Casbah yet because we took them all by surprise (by returning early). I came back home and saw them and the complete set (of three) was there in duplicate so I took one complete set and I kept them for my scrapbook. That was 1960, and I’ve had them ever since. So what happened was, I kept them, and I kept looking at them up to today, and I said to Roag, it’s no good letting me look at them in my little vault, where I’ve got my other little bits and pieces. It’s about time we broke this out into the world.

 

So I’m very proud to say that this is the only complete set of posters promoting the Beatles for the very first time, for their very first gig in Liverpool after the return from Hamburg.  And it is, I’m very proud to say again, the only complete set in the whole wide world Ok? Now I’ve kept them for 60 odd years,  I’m not going to keep them anymore I’m going to reveal them to you, and I think as I reveal them you’ll  see the importance of them. And then afterwards you can get up closer and see what I was talking about.


The first one. The Beatles are coming.  

 


Pete invited his brother to tell a story to tell about that.

 

Roag - The funny thing about that The Beatles are coming, as those of you who know, you Beatle historians and Beatles fans, when they first went to America in 1964 this was used as their tagline, The Beatles Are Coming. The first time that had been used was in Liverpool to promote their first show at the Casbah, so somewhere in their heads they’d remembered that and decided to use it again for the USA. Anyway, just adding that in! 


Roag’s world famous re-enactment of the Beatles remembering something in their heads. Uncanny. It's obvious who Leanne got her talent from. 



Pete: That's something I didn’t know. He’s the font of knowledge is Pete Best’s brother!

 

1964 promotional item ahead of the Beatles First US Visit




Here Soon. The Beatles.

 

Pete: Right.  Another tease OK.  The curiosity among the Casbah membership was building.  It was working.  

 

The the final one you'll find it a bit difficult to read from far off. The Fabulous Beatles direct from Hamburg, Germany.  Wait for it! Admission price: one shilling. In today’s money 5p. Now who wouldn’t want to see the Beatles for 5p?  I’d even spend 10p!  


 

But a couple of things about this and then I’ll let you have a look,  The Fabulous Beatles. We were the first to use it and this got diluted own. It went in many different formats and used during the whole advent of the Beatle era It’s even still getting used today. It went from the Fabulous Beatles to the Fab Four to the Fab Beatles, the Fabulous Four, you name it. But it originated at a humble coffee club called the Casbah on 19 December 1960.

 

The other thing about it was this. I’ll tell you a little story about this particular poster. A lot of people don’t realise that with (The Beatles) being advertised as direct from Germany, when Mo gave us that first gig (the audience were expecting a German group).

 

John, George and Paul were going into the cellar to start the set and they went down and the kids in the Casbah turned round and went hang on a minute, they’re supposed to be The Beatles.  That’s  John, George and Paul, who used to be in the Quarrymen.  'Ey?  What’s going on? 


Next minute Pete and Chas Newby, who was standing in for Stu Sutcliffe who’d stayed behind a while (in Hamburg) because of Astrid Kirchherr.... and who wouldn’t stay behind?  Again it was the same thing, ‘hang on a minute, that’s Pete and Chas from the Blackjacks. Mona! Who are these Beatles? 

 

And Mona said ‘be patient, be patient, I’ve heard great things about them. Listen to them play’.  So we did and we kicked off and played the first number and at the end there was quiet, and we looked at them (the audience) and went My God, what’s happened?’ The next minute the place erupted they all rushed to the back to see Mona, they were saying Mo! They’re absolutely fabulous, you’ve got to book them again. She said I will do be patient.

 

The next gig we played was at Litherland Town Hall. Now just to put you in the picture and rectify a myth, if I’m allowed to do that. (Roag confirmed that we were totally into rectifying myths) So it’s always been put down in books and on social media that Beatlemania started at Litherland Town Hall on December the 26th. It didn’t. It started at the Casbah on December 19th and the reason I stress this is because Mo opened the Casbah on December 26th and the place was empty. The whole Casbah audience, and membership, had gone to watch us perform at Litherland Town Hall.  


So Beatlemania didn’t start at Litherland Town Hall, it started at the Casbah,  and it went on to sweep the world and that really is the history of these three posters. The complete set, the only set that still remains in the whole wide world today.    



Now 80, Pete was sharp, charming, full of fun and happy to accommodate everyone’s request’s for photographs and autographs. I asked him how big the personal archive he'd mentioned was, were we talking a cupboard under the stairs, or a shipping container?  He said 'that would be telling!'


Pete with my friend and fellow historian Angela Leighton-Jones






There was also a little surprise for him, a one off, custom made snare drum featuring portraits of his Pete, his mother, and the Beatles during the time that he was their drummer.  He seemed genuinely touched by the presentation.  




Pete Best and Roag 'Pete Best's Brother' Best


There was no rush to get off afterwards, the guests were permitted to have a look around the museum or just stand around and chat.  I did both and took the opportunity to photograph some of the ‘Best’ items on display. [ba-dum tish!]

Other highlights in the collection include the Beatles’ first drumkits.  Pete’s iconic Premier kit which was captured in many photos taken in Hamburg and Liverpool and his  Ludwig kit which he bought about a month before he was replaced by Ringo Starr.

Receipts from Hessy's and Cranes for Pete's drumsticks



Pete's leather trousers from Hamburg


Pete's cowboy boots from Hamburg


Pete's pink cap from Hamburg.  The whole ensemble can be seen in the group photo below.


George, Paul and John on the roof of the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, Spring 1961

Roag’s daughter, the actress Leanne Best.

 

I like Roag and I like Pete. But which one is Best?
There's only one way to find out...

 

Thanks:

Roag and Pete Best and everyone at the Liverpool Beatles Museum,  Angela Leighton-Jones for letting me use some of her photos, Brian Lewis for taking the photos of me with the various guests, Chrisse Usenius, Jackie Holmes and Dave 'Jamo' Jamieson.