Thursday 12 November 2009

Remember.....when you were small?

Mosspits Lane Primary School, 
Moss Pits Lane,
Liverpool, L15 6UN

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so ****ing crazy you can't follow their rules
- "Working Class Hero" by John Lennon (1970)

John was enrolled as a pupil here in September 1945 whilst still living a short walk away in Newcastle Road.

"The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatle Years" says that he started here on November 12 1945. His mother Julia walked him there in the morning and picked him up in the afternoon after she'd worked the lunchtime shift at the nearby Coffee House public house in Church Road. 

Even at that early age John Lennon knew he was different from the other kids. From the moment he started nursery class at the age of five he was exceptional at reading, writing and art.

In a 1980 interview with David Sheff for Playboy magazine John recalled his time at Mosspits: I was always hip. I was hip in kindergarten (nursery)... I was different from the others. I seem to see things other people don't see... I would say "But this is what's going on!" and everybody would look at me as if I'm crazy. So, therefore that self doubt was always there: "Am I crazy? Or am I a genius?.  

Whilst working at the Coffee House, Julia had become friendly with a local man, John "Bobby" Dykins and she began seeing him around December 1945, her husband Alf away at sea and his whereabouts unknown. 

Alf finally returned to Liverpool at the end of March 1946 seemingly blissfully unaware that Julia had moved on in his absence.     

Julia left her husband and their house in Newcastle Road and went to live with her new lover in a one-bedroom flat in Gateacre, Liverpool 25. The one-bedroom flat was literally that - it only had one bed, a less than suitable set up for a new couple and a five year old boy. Julia's older sister Mimi had no hesitation in visiting the flat to express her disapproval.  Through her repeated intervention, eventually bringing in the Liverpool Public Assistance Committee (the Social Services of 1946) Mimi found herself made John's primary carer. In a move which was not intended to be permanent, John went to live with Mimi and her husband George at "Mendips", 251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton. 

For reasons still not entirely clear to this day, Mimi's first act was to remove John from Mosspits and enrol him in Dovedale where he began on 6 May 1946. 

There are stories that John bullied a young girl at school, a Polly Hipshaw, who also happened to live in Newcastle Road. 

In his book "The Lives of John Lennon" the author Albert Goldman makes the suggestion that John was expelled from Mosspits for "disruptive behaviour". 

Given the constant emotional turmoil going on around him there may be some truth to this. How could he not have been affected in some way?

The change of schools may also have resulted from John leaving the area (though in reality Dovedale school is about the same distance from "Mendips") and Mimi's hopes that it would hive him a chance to make a fresh start.

The original wooden school building

Mosspits Lane Primary School today



The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatle Years (Barry Miles)

The Lives Of John Lennon (Albert Goldman)

The Beatles: Tune In (Mark Lewisohn)


A Wondrous Place

When I was a little boy, way back home in Liverpool...

St Silas Primary School,
High Park Street,
L8 3TR

Original school building (above) and St. Silas today (below)

Ringo attended this school, a few hundred yards from Admiral Grove between 1945 and 1950. When he was 6 years old he was hospitalised suffering from peritonitis and having undergone two operations ended up staying in hospital for twelve months.

Young Richy started on 25 August 1945, his mother Elsie walking him there from Madryn Street that first day. 

Unfortunately he hated it from the moment he arrived:

School is an event in my memory. St Silas's School. I'm not sure if I actually remember my first day, or if it's because my mother has told me so many times. She took me to the gate that first morning - it was just up the road, a couple of minutes' walk. In those days your parents took you to the gate and then just said, 'Well, on your way.' (There was no sitting with you in class, getting you settled, like we did with our kids.) And I have a vision to this day of a huge building - the biggest building on the planet - with about a million kids in the playground, and me. I was pretty fearful.*

He walked home at dinner-time announcing to a surprised Elsie that they had finished for the day.  I walked home for lunch - as kids we could walk anywhere we liked back then; there was no danger. Supposedly, I came home and said, 'We've got a holiday.' In my little way I said, 'That's it for today, mum.' She believed me until she saw all the other kids walking by the window going back to school after lunch and said, 'Get out of here.' I don't remember ever enjoying school. I was always sagging off; I was only in school for about five years in all*.  It would certainly not be the last time he tricked her.

The school had four teachers and a head, between them teaching 200 children aged between five and eleven. The number of children to each class was ridiculous, Richy's teacher at the time Tom Cross later recalling he had a class of 42 pupils and "on the other side of an eight foot high curtain Mrs Martin had 46".+

From 1944 school children aged 11 were entered into the Eleven Plus examination, and their test results determined the sort of secondary education they received until the age of 15. In the late Forties the choice was either a technical college, a secondary modern or, for those bright enough, a grammar school.

Unfortunately there was little expectation that any of the pupils from St Silas would go on to a grammar school and few actually sat the test. Tom Cross "This was not high-grade teaching of interested pupils. We were trying to give them the best, most rounded education we could manage but there was no expectation we'd get them through the Eleven-Plus. The (children) lacked any real stimulus at home: it was clear that education was not taken seriously there (in the Dingle). These were solidly working class Liverpool homes and most of their fathers were good honest sons of toil. In some cases the mothers also worked"

Most of the children from St. Silas went on to Dingle Vale, the large secondary modern school at the Aigburth end of the Dingle.

In the summer of 1947 Richy Starkey fell ill. Suffering from fever and a pain in his stomach which caused vomiting he was taken by ambulance to the Royal Liverpool Children's hospital with suspected appendicitis. It was actually far worse. His inflamed appendix had burst spreading bacteria throughout his abdomen - peritonitis. he doctors treating him discovered upon opening him up that his appendix had actually burst: At six and a half I was very ill with peritonitis; it was a huge drama. We were all at home and I was dying with pain, so there were quite a few of the family around. The doctor came and suddenly these people were lifting me up, putting me on a stretcher and carrying me out of the house. I was put in an ambulance and whisked away. When we got to the hospital, a woman doctor examined me, pressing on my side, and it was the worst pain I've ever felt.

As they went to put me to sleep for my operation, they said, 'Is there anything you want?' I said, 'Can I have a cup of tea?' They said, 'You can have a cup of tea when you come out of the theatre.' It was ten weeks later that they gave me the cup of tea, because that's how long it took for me to come round. They'd gone in and found I had peritonitis. That was a heavy operation, especially then. They told my mother three times that I'd be dead in the morning. That was hard for her, and I realised later why she was so possessive. I was very lucky to survive. Even after coming round, I was barely conscious for long periods.

Hospital was a boring place. It becomes your world when you're in for a long time - and I spent two years in there (the second year was when I was thirteen). Suddenly that's your life. You get in a routine. You have all these friends who are ill as well, and then you start getting on your feet and you lose touch with them. My mum would come in practically every day, and my grandparents.* 
Elsie with Richy during his hospitalisation
Richy even received a visit from his estranged father: I'll never forget my dad coming in: he stood there with a notebook, because my birthday was coming up (I was six years old, going on seven), and he asked me 'What do you want, son?' and he wrote it all down in this notebook! I never saw him for years - he never bought me a damn thing. He wasn't in my good books.

I was put in a cot, so I got very good at picking things up with my feet: pennies, bits of paper, anything that fell out of the cot. When I'd been in the hospital about six months, I was really getting better and could have come home in a couple of weeks. I'd got a little toy bus for my birthday. The cot had sides on, and the kid in the next bed wanted to see the bus so I leaned over to get it. It was about four feet off the ground and I leaned too far, fell right out and ripped open all the surgery scars. That was a dangerous time. They kept me in for another six months for that.

I was in hospital for about a year and after that I was convalescing, so I didn't go back to school for two years. There was no catching up at school in those days. I was always behind at least a year. No teacher put his arm round me, saying, 'Well, let me deal with you, son.' I was just stuck in a class, always behind. I was the joker, and would make friends with the biggest boy in class for protection. I started to hate school even more, and it became easier to stay off. My mother would pack me off to school, but I'd just walk around the park with a couple of school friends. We'd write little excuse note.... but always get caught because we couldn't spell.*

Unsurprisingly, his schooling suffered, badly, and when he returned to St Silas he was way behind all the other children: I didn't learn to read until I was nine. My mother couldn't take much interest in that because she had to go to work, but I was taught by a girl who used to look after me, Marie Maguire. She was the daughter of my mother's friend Annie, and she used to mind me when my mum went to the pub or the pictures. Marie taught me to read with Dobbin the Horse. (I can read, but I can't spell - I spell phonetically.) I regret not learning earlier: it means that your knowledge is so limited. I never took Latin. John (Lennon) took the Latin and the painting.*

During his research for "Tune In" the Beatles' historian Mark Lewisohn discovered a note dated 21.11.47 regarding Richy in the St. Silas school records, which may indicate that the school thought he had actually left, through "sickness".  But return he did, in summer 1948, after a year away, and in time to be photographed with the rest of his classmates. The photograph of him at school only surfaced in 2009.

St. Silas class III (?), 1948-9. Richard Starkey is seated bottom left.

Ronald Wycherley was a classmate of Richy. He achieved stardom as Billy Fury, managed by pop impresario Larry Parnes. Liverpool's earliest rock and roll (and film) star, he equalled the Beatles' record of 24 hits in the 1960s, and spent 332 weeks on the UK chart, despite never having a chart-topping single or album.

Wycherley had come to the attention of Larry Parnes when he attended a concert in Birkenhead hoping to interest one of Parnes' artists, the singer Marty Wilde, in some of the songs he had written. Instead, in an episode that has become pop music legend, Parnes pushed young Wycherley up on stage right away. He was such an immediate success that Parnes signed him, added him to the tour, and renamed him 'Billy Fury'. 

It has been suggested that Fury's rapid rise to prominence was due to his "Elvis Presley-influenced, hip-swivelling" and at times overtly sexual and provocative stage performances which he was ultimately forced to tone down. In October 1959, the UK music magazine, NME, commented that Fury's stage antics had been drawing much press criticism.

Interestingly, I recently came across the St Silas school class photograph on a website dedicated to Fury. The photograph attracted media attention because of the Ringo connection but Fury fan Jean Todd suggests that the photo could also include the eight year old Ronnie Wycherley. Jean wonders if the young Billy could be the boy in the dark shirt, fourth from the left on the back row. Nobody appears to have confirmed this to date.

After jettisoning Fury's backing band the Blue Flames, Parnes held auditions in Liverpool for a new group at the Wyvern Club (later known as the Blue Angel) in Seel Street on Tuesday 10 May 1960. The pre-Ringo Beatles were one of the groups who auditioned and remarkably, we have a visual record of the audition thanks to local photographer, Cheniston Roland:

Stuart Sutcliffe, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Johnny "Hutch" Hutchinson and George Harrison at the audition for Larry Parnes, Tuesday 10 May 1960.

Billy Fury (center) and Larry Parnes (right) watch The SiIver Beatles audition.

Long John and The Silver Beatles, as they called themselves on this day, impressed Parnes enough to be offered the job for £20 a week, reportedly on the condition that they sacked their bassist Stuart Sutcliffe.

John Lennon refused and the band left after Lennon, apparently slightly awed by the presence of a genuine star, had secured Fury's autograph (John's head can be seen top right of the photo above).

In May, Larry Parnes came to town, auditioning. He was the big London agent. His acts nearly always had a violent surname. There was Ronnie Wycherley who became Billy Fury; and a less furious guy you have yet to meet. A sweet Liverpool guy - the first local man who made it, in our eyes. (Paul McCartney)*

This was not the first time their paths had crossed. In 1958 the pop impressario Carroll Levis held an audition in Manchester, promising the winners a spot on his weekly ATV show and the Quarry Men - at this point just John, Paul and George - renamed themselves Johnny and the Moondogs, seemingly on a whim, and decided to have a go. Waiting their turn to audition George spotted another Liverpool lad who'd made the journey, Ronnie Wycherley and chatted with him. Ronnie was the cousin of George's best mate Arthur Kelly so they may have met previously.  

The poster above advertising Billy Fury's summer season at Great Yarmouth features two support acts who would later be able to call The Beatles their backing group, Johnny Gentle (1960) and Davy Jones (1961).

Three years on: Ronnie Wycherley with former classmate Richard Starkey and the other Beatles at the start of their own rise to fame in 1963.

In 1973, Fury appeared as 'Stormy Tempest' in the excellent film "That'll Be The Day" starring David Essex and Ringo Starr. The film was roughly based on the early days of The Beatles and, particularly in the holiday camp scenes, Ringo's other former group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (whom the Stormy Tempest group were said to be modelled upon). Fury can be seen bottom left on the poster below.

Rheumatic fever, which Billy first contracted as a child, damaged his heart and ultimately contributed to his untimely death. He was plagued with heart problems through the later part of the seventies. After returning from a recording session in London in the early hours of 28 January 1983, Fury collapsed in his home in London during the night. His manager Tony Read found him unconscious the next morning. He was rushed to a hospital, but died later in the afternoon at 2.10pm. He was only 42 years old.

As always, the city of Liverpool was slow to honour one of its greatest sons and it was not until twenty years after Billy's death that recognition came. In 2003 a bronze statue was unveiled at the National Museum of Liverpool Life. The sculpture, by Liverpool artist Tom Murphy, was donated by 'The Sound of Fury' fan club after the money was raised by fans. Today, the statue can be seen alongside the Dock Traffic Office at Liverpool's Albert Dock complex on the waterfront.

Billy Fury's guitar in the National Museum of 
Liverpool Life, Pier Head, Liverpool (photo left).


Updated with quotes from the following books in 2016:

+"Tune In" by Mark Lewisohn

* "The Beatles Anthology" by the Beatles



Billy Fury:

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Sentimental Journey

The Empress Public House, 
High Park Street, 
Liverpool 8

Ringo's local pub was certainly that, just 20 yards from his front door in the adjoining Admiral Grove (seen on the right of the photo above).

When Ringo released his first solo album Sentimental Journey in 1970 he immortalised the Empress by putting a photograph of it on the front cover.

The front and rear covers of the LP photographed by Richard Pola

The rear cover shows the Grocer's shop W. Gorry,  formerly situated at 126 High Park Street (corner of Kinmel Street) which faces Admiral Grove. For a time Ringo's mother Elsie worked as a barmaid at the Empress. She is also known to have worked at a Grocers store (possibly Bennet's) in the area. 

Was Ringo giving a private thanks to his Mum's employers for giving her a job when times were tough?

Comparing the 2010 photograph of The Empress with the 1970 counterpart you can see that very little has changed. The large building at the end of Admiral Grove has gone and the pub itself has a nicer paint job and a sign which was added in the 1990's acknowledging the Ringo connection (which I understand had to be quickly repainted as his name was mis-spelt “Star”)

The text over the main window explaining the building's significance has changed over the years. The photo above is how it looks today. Previously the inscription looked it does in the photo below:

Some shots of Ringo at the Talk of Town Club, Cranbourn Street, London on 15 March 1970 filming a promotional film for "Sentimental Journey" in front of a backdrop of the Empress Pub and Admiral Grove.

"Said Goodbye to Madryn Street..."

10 Admiral Grove
Liverpool 8

Admiral Grove

Young Richy Starkey, Elsie Starkey and a friend

Ringo's parents separated when he was three years old. His dad, Richy Starkey, left their home at 9 Madryn Street in 1943 and moved back in with his parents who lived further along the same road at number 59, the house where he had began his married life with Elsie in 1936. 

Richy eventually moved away from the area. Elsie was left to bring up young Richy with the help of her friends and in-laws with whom she remained on good terms. 

Ringo: Now my dad had gone, I was brought up by my grandparents and my mother. It was strange because the grandparents were the parents of my father; they weren't my mother's parents. They really loved me and looked after me. They were great. They'd take me on holiday, too.

Ringo Starr - Anthology

Receiving little or no money from her former husband, Elsie found the rent on number 9 (number 9, number 9) hard to manage so they moved into a smaller house in Admiral Grove on the other side of High Park Street.

Ringo: We lived at first in a huge palatial house with three bedrooms. It was too big and we couldn’t afford it now my dad had stopped supporting my mother. We were working class, and in Liverpool when your dad left you suddenly became lower working class. So we moved to a smaller, two bedroom place (they were both rented – houses always were). 

The move was from one street to the next, from Madryn Street to Admiral Grove – people around us didn’t move very far. It was only 300 yards.
Ringo Starr - Anthology

Indeed Ringo would recall that when he was sitting on the back of the removal van they didn’t even put the back up, so short was the distance to their new house.

Actually, there was little new about the property. The house in Admiral Grove “had been condemned as derelict ten years before we moved in, but we lived in it for twenty years.”

Admiral Grove in 1964. The rear of the Empress pub is on the right

This would be where Ringo grew up, where his childhood memories were formed, the place he would call home until he moved to London in late 1963.   

I don't remember the inside of our house in Madryn Street - I know we never had a garden - but a lot of my pals grew up on the same street and I went into their houses. I remember the Admiral Grove house, and that didn't have a garden either. It had a toilet down the yard; we never had a bathroom. But it was home, and it was fine. We had two bedrooms: one for my mum, and one for me.

Ringo Starr - Anthology

No. 10 Admiral Grove, 70 years on and still displaying a Second World War relic - the "V" for Victory sign over the front door.

Ringo Starr in Admiral Grove

As he got older he began to understand the tough realities of living an impoverished life in the Dingle: From about thirteen, things came into focus a little. I felt Liverpool was dark and dirty; I wanted to get out, to live somewhere there was a little garden. I wanted to escape Admiral Grove. I didn't need to move very far - just somewhere like Aigburth where there was some green. I used to love the park; we'd sag off school and go to Sefton Park and Princes Park. I have an affinity with green, the sea and space. In my life I have had houses with lots of land, but it's the view that I need.
Ringo Starr - Anthology

The backyard of no. 10 on 30 August 1963: Paul, Elsie, Ringo and Harry Graves taken during a break from filming the BBC documentary 'The Mersey Sound'

Harry, my stepfather, came into the picture when I was eleven. He worked as a painter and decorator up at Burtonwood, which was an American army base. He made me laugh, he bought me DC comics; and he was great with music. He used to lay music on me, but would never force any of it. He was into big bands and jazz and Sarah Vaughan, while I'd be listening to stupid people. He'd say, 'Have you heard this?' That was always his line: 'Have you heard this?' He was a really sweet guy; all animals and children loved him. I learnt gentleness from Harry. 

I loved Harry, and my mum loved him - and then she said they were going to get married. She asked me, 'What do you think?' I was pretty angry for a while, because I was thirteen; but I knew if I said 'no', she wouldn't have got married. It was a terrible position to be put in as a kid. But I said, 'Sure, great,' because he was a good guy.

Ringo Starr - Anthology

I had the pleasure to meet and pass the time of day with Harry many times. Before he passed away in 1994 we were both quite a regular visitors to the Beatles Shop in Mathew Street. I never asked him about his famous stepson, although inevitably he would come up in conversation from time to time, and I never asked him to try and get me an autograph or anything else. It didn't seem right to do so. He was a nice, quiet man and it's clear that Ringo thought the world of him.

Talking about this photo when publicising his new e-pub book "Photograph" he admitted  “This picture blows me away. I mean, it’s just me with my mum and my step-dad – Elsie and Harry – outside our house in Admiral Grove, Liverpool. But I’m wearing Birkenstocks sandals! How cool am I? Birkenstocks, ha ha ha ha! In those days! When I saw that picture I was like, ‘What? Where did you get them?!’ Anyway, there they are. We were just having a bit of fun outside the house. We moved in there in 1945 and I lived there until I was 23 and moved to London.”

There are not only more photographs of Ringo both inside and outside his house than any of the other Beatles, uniquely, there's also film. 

From Tuesday 27 until Friday 30 August 1963 the Beatles filmed a number of scenes for inclusion in a new documentary being made by the Manchester based BBC producer Don Haworth. The Beatles had their first meeting with Haworth in Blackpool on 21 July 1963 and were impressed with his idea to capture the spirit of the Mersey Beat boom on camera, especially when he promised them the opportunity to discuss their rise to the top more seriously than they would be allowed on the usual pop programmes of the day. With the Beatles consent he signed a contract with Brian Epstein on 6 August, granting him exclusive access for a time (which also prevented them from appearing in a similar documentary being made by ATV at roughly the same time, "Beat City").

On Friday 30 August 1963 the final day of filming took place outside 10 Admiral Grove. To illustrate how life had changed for them since becoming household names (at least on Merseyside) the BBC filmed Ringo leaving his home, valiantly fighting through a swarm of fans and reaching the questionable safety of George's open top sports car, George seemingly unnoticed and unmolested by the screaming horde, even though he was only parked a few doors down.

Of course, the whole thing was staged for the cameras, many people in the years since pointing out that the majority of the "fans" look like local kids from St. Silas School, closed for the summer holidays, enjoying the novelty of being on the telly.

Why has nobody noticed me?

The Beatles also had members of their inner circle on hand. Tony Bramwell was there to ensure Ringo could get in and out of his house. He's pictured in the dark suit and tie directly above George in this photo.

Ringo surrounded by neighbours, watched by mother Elsie from the front door

Outtake photographs indicate that Ringo was clearly not under any real threat and he spent time chatting to the neighbours gathered outside his house while Elsie looked on. John and Paul were also present, sitting in the back of George’s car, but this was not shown in the final film.

Mal Evans was also there making sure the fans didn't get out of hand. He's to the left of Paul, towering over the kids surrounding the car, and labelled in the photo below which also captures Tony Bramwell, standing top centre.

The fantastic photo above shows crowds gathering outside the Empress Pub, High Park Street during the filming.

The building displaying the Admiral Grove street sign is the co-op, visible on the right hand side of the front cover of Ringo's "Sentimental Journey" LP (1970) but long since demolished. On the right of High Park Street is number 126, the premises of W. Gorry (grocer) where Elsie worked and featured on the rear cover of the same record.

"The Mersey Sound" was first broadcast on John Lennon's 23rd birthday, 9 October 1963, from 10.10-10.40pm, in the London and northern England regions. Its first nationwide broadcast took place on 13 November from 7.10pm and clips from the programme have featured heavily in most documentaries made about the group since.

Viewed today, this 36 minute BBC special succinctly captures one of the most magical moments in musical history: the birth of Beatlemania. This fuelled the Mersey Sound, which turned into the full-scale British Invasion that changed the world in 1964.

More stills from 'The Mersey Sound' 1963. Where are they now?


Liverpool I Left you

Said goodbye to Admiral Grove

I always followed my heart

So I took it on the road


Destiny was calling

I just couldn’t stick around

Liverpool I left you

But I never let you down


Liverpool 8 by Ringo Starr

(written by Richard Starkey, Dave Stewart)

Ringo's Wedding, 27 April 1981

I've recently found the above photograph of Paul with Harry and Elsie at Ringo’s wedding in 1981. It's nice to see the families all remained on good terms. Compare this photo with the one of them in the backyard in 1963. None of them could have guessed then to what extent their lives would all be changed.


o   The Complete Beatles Chronicle (Mark Lewisohn)

o   Anthology (The Beatles)

Photograph (Ringo Starr) - an epub version of Ringo's book can be downloaded here: