Thursday, 8 April 2021

John Lennon: A childhood in photographs



The inspiration for this latest blog is a superb book I received for Christmas - John and Yoko / Plastic Ono Band, a near 300 page hardback volume which traces the evolution of perhaps John's finest solo album through first-hand commentary by John, Yoko and members of the Plastic Ono Band, archive material, and hundreds of fascinating and largely unseen photographs. It was released last October and intended as a companion piece to the new Deluxe Plastic Ono Band CD/DVD box which was unfortunately delayed due to the current pandemic. It's finally due out this month.

Each track on the album has its own section where you can read about the genesis and recording of the song and see John's handwritten lyrics and appropriate photographs.

Naturally, to illustrate the song 'Mother' the compilers of the book have used a number of John's childhood photos, none previously unseen but all in absolutely superb quality. They look beautiful, as do the pictures in the rest of the book. Seriously, this is like the sort of book that Genesis publications would produce but at a tenth of the price.

So, while admiring the book I started wondering, just how many childhood photos of John Lennon are there? 

I started by going through all the folders on my computer and then checked a number of books just on the off chance they might contain a photo that hadn't been scanned by someone and uploaded a thousand times. They didn't. 

I grouped together every different photo I had and deleted all the duplicates, keeping only the best quality copy of each.  Then I tried to arrange them in chronological order.

This is the result.  I'm sure I've not got the order completely right and so any constructive feedback is welcomed.  I've deliberately not included any photos of John as a member of the Quarry Men or at Art School, choosing instead to focus on his family and childhood friends. I've also put some commentary in from interviews, primarily with John, to provide some context.   


9 Newcastle Road (the author, 2020)

John Lennon: Penny Lane is a suburban district where I lived with my mother and father (although my father was a sailor, always at sea), and my grandfather. I lived on a street called Newcastle Road. 

That's the first place I remember. It's a good way to start - red brick; front room never used, always curtains drawn, picture of a horse and carriage on the wall. There were only three bedrooms upstairs, one on the front of the street, one in the back, and one teeny little room in the middle.

[Julia] My mother was a housewife, I suppose. She was a comedienne and a singer. Not professional, but she used to get up in pubs and things like that. She had a good voice. She could do Kay Starr. She used to do this little tune when I was just a one - or two-year-old. The tune was from the Disney movie - 'Want to know a secret? Promise not to tell. You are standing by a wishing well.' 

The earliest two photos date from circa 1941-44 when John was still with his mother Julia. The first is a typical photographer's studio shot of the day the sort of print you'd get done for your relatives, and perhaps dates from around John's first birthday in 1941 or Christmas that same year.  This was John's contribution to the four childhood photos of  the Beatles which appeared on the sleeve of their 1967 Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane single. A cropped version was later used as the rear cover of John's Plastic Ono Band album in 1970.





During 1943 John lived with both parents at the Dairy Cottage, 120a Allerton Road, Woolton.
(photo by the author) 

My mother and father split when I was four. Then my father split. He was a merchant seaman and it was the Forties in the war and I guess she couldn't live without somebody. She was the youngest and she couldn't cope with me and I ended up living with her elder sister, Mimi.

Julia's sister Harriet was actually the youngest of the five Stanley girls.

John: Mimi told me my parents had fallen out of love. She never said anything directly against my father and mother. I soon forgot my father. It was like he was dead. But I did see my mother now and again and my feeling never died off for her. I often thought about her, though I'd never realized for a long time that she was living no more than five or ten miles away.

It was more like three miles!

1946

In December 1946, John spent his first Christmas with Mimi and George. They all took the bus into town and sat for Polyfoto portraits in Lewis's Department Store



The cap with the "SF" emblem John is wearing in the Lewis's photos has caused much debate on the Facebook page for this blog and elsewhere. It's sometimes described as John's school cap and yet none of the three schools he attended - Mosspits, Dovedale and Quarry Bank had cap badges that matched this one. The letters don't stand for "Strawberry Field" (and why would he be wearing a cap from there anyway? At the time this photo was taken the home only took in girls). The font does match the badge of the San Francisco Seals baseball team and while its nice to imagine that Alf Lennon picked it up as a gift for John during one of his voyages it's unlikely the Seals logo would have found its way onto a school cap as team branded souvenirs probably didn't exist then. It's more likely a school cap from the photographer's prop box.  Of the Liverpool 'Saint' schools it doesn't match the school badge of St. Francis de Sales, St Francis of Assisi or St Francis Xavier. A mystery never to be solved perhaps. 

If the cap is John's, it may be the same cap he's wearing in the photo below. This photo has only ever been seen on the sideboard in Aunt Mimi's house in Sandbanks, caught on camera during a 1981 TV interview.  Alternatively this may be John's school cap from Dovedale Juniors and date from 1952.        



'Mendips', 251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton, Liverpool (photo by the author) 

John: I moved in with my auntie, who lived in the suburbs in a nice semi-detached place (251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton) with a small garden and doctors and lawyers and that ilk living around, nor the poor, slummy image that was projected. I was a nice clean-cut suburban boy, and in the class system that was about a half a niche higher-class than Paul, George and Ringo who lived in council houses. We owned our own house, had our own garden, they didn't have anything like that. So I was a bit of a fruit compared to them, in a way. 

Paul McCartney:  I suppose John was the nearest to middle-class. The other three of us weren't. We were quite definitely working-class. We were in a posh area but the council bit of the posh area. John was actually in one of the almost posh houses in the posh area. They had lived there for quite a while; in fact, John once told me that the family had once owned Woolton, the whole village! John had a relative in the BBC, and somebody who was a dentist. His uncle Cissy Smith taught me handwriting and English at the Liverpool Institute. He was actually quite nice, quite charming, looking back on him, but we thought he was a total berk at the time. 

His was Aunt Mimi, ours were all called Aunty: Aunty Edie, Aunty Jin, Aunty Milly, Aunty Flo. John had an Aunt Harriet, and Harriet was not a name we came across, especially when they called her Harrie! We never knew women called Mimi, she would have been called Mary. But Aunt Mary became Mimi, which is very sophisticated, very twenties and thirties, very jazz era. So it was Harriet and Mimi: I can imagine them with long cigarette holders. It was like Richmal Crompton's Just William books to me. You read Just William books because you like that world. I'm not ashamed of it, I'm attracted by that. I think it's a rich world, the world of Varsity, the Racquet Club sort of thing. So John was a particularly attractive character in that kind of world. And John was the all-important year and a half older than me.

1947

According to the new John and Yoko/Plastic Ono Band book this photo of John with Sally, his beloved Smooth Collie puppy was taken in the back garden at 'Mendips', the home of his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George in winter 1947.


I've put these next two photos here as well. John's hairstyle looks the same and his clothing is very similar, if not identical (I think he has different socks). As with many boys in the 1940s (and certainly the case in contemporary photos of Paul, George and Ringo), their 'playing out' clothes was often their school uniform.  



   

John at the front door to 'Mendips' before the enclosed porch was built. 


There's also this one which seems to fit the same time-frame.


John: There were two famous houses [in Woolton]. One was owned by Gladstone - a reformatory for boys, which I could see out my window. And Strawberry Field, just around the corner from that, an old Victorian house converted for Salvation Army orphans. (Apparently, it used to be a farm that made strawberries.) As a kid I used to go to their garden parties with my friends Ivan, Nigel and Pete. We'd all go up there and hang out and sell lemonade bottles. We always had fun at Strawberry Field


1948

Dovedale Road Primary School, June 1948


A school photo in front of the air raid shelter. John (aged 7) is on the back row, 8th from left. His friend Mike Hill is 11th from left (shown in close up below). This was taken during John's third and final year in the infants. The following year he would move up to the junior school and the girls would be gone, moved out to girls-only schools. 

John: I did fight all the way through Dovedale [primary school], winning by psychological means if ever anyone looked bigger than me. I threatened them in a strong enough way that I would beat them, so they thought I could.




Fleetwood, Summer 1948

John spent several childhood summer holidays between 1947 and 1949 at Fleetwood, a fishing port in the Wyre district of Lancashire, nine miles north of Blackpool. Note: I've seen this dated as 1949 elsewhere.


In the front garden of 90 The Esplanade, Fleetwood, a large corner house facing the marina. John's Aunt Elizabeth 'Mater' Parkes was just widowed and working here as a live-in housekeeper with her son Stanley, John's cousin and 'big brother'. On at least one visit John was accompanied by his cousin Liela. Photo here above shows Stan (about 15), Liela (about 11) and John (about 7).

This photo was put up for sale with John's inscription on the back: Me at Fleetwood the year I lost my trunks, in Mr Shipway's garden. It fetched £2200 at auction.



What are you hiding behind your back John? I've placed this photo here between the Fleetwood and Ardmore photos. It seems to fit. 

1949

The next group of photographs date from the summer of 1949 and show a Stanley family get-together at 'Ardmore', 486 Old Chester Road, Birkenhead (the home of Anne 'Nanny' Cadwallader). Notably the only extant photo of John and his mum Julia was taken on this day.

John: There were five women that were my family. Five strong, intelligent, beautiful women; five sisters. One happened to be my mother. My mother just couldn't deal with life. She was the youngest and she couldn't cope with me and I ended up living with her elder sister.

Those women were fantastic. One day I might do a kind of Forsyte Saga about them, because they dominated the situation in the family.

The men were invisible. I was always with the women. I always heard them talk about men and talk about life, and they always knew what was going on. The men never ever knew. That was my first feminist education.


John Lennon, aged 8, being tickled by his mother Julia. At the time this was taken Julia was pregnant with her fourth child, Jackie.


John's aunt Mary 'Mimi' Smith, Julia's eldest sister. John had been living with Mimi for several years at this point. 


John's cousin Liela Birch (age twelve), aunt Harriet 'Harrie' Birch (Liela's mum), mother Julia 'Judy' Lennon, and aunt Anne 'Nanny' Cadwallader. It's clear that more than one person was taking photographs at the same time.


John's fourth aunt, Elizabeth 'Mater' Parkes with whom he would enjoy several summer holidays in Scotland.  

John with his cousins Michael Cadwallader (twenty months), David Birch (seventeen months), Liela Birch (twelve), and his half-sister Julia Dykins (two years, four months).

Michael, John, David, Liela and Julia (a much sharper version, unfortunately cropped is shown below). There's no question that John and Liela are related in this photo. They could be brother and sister.


Clearly this photo was a less successful attempt with only Liela 'watching the birdy'.

John's aunt Anne 'Nanny' Cadwallader. Nanny and her husband Sidney had bought 'Ardmore' from 'Mater' and Charles Parkes.


Harriet, her husband Norman Birch and Anne.

1949-50


John, David and Liela. John keeps a restraining hand on David who looks like he's spotted somewhere he'd rather be. This looks to have been taken around the same time as the 'Ardmore' photos, probably at 'Mendips'.

John: I was always a homebody, I think that a lot of musicians are - you write and you play in the house. When I was wanting to be a painter when I was younger, or write poetry, it was always in the house. I spent a lot of time reading. Hanging around the home never bothered me. I enjoy it. I love it. I thought it was because I was an only child. Although I had half-sisters, I lived alone. I always tripped out on my own or in books.

John's youngest sister Jacqueline 'Jackie' Dykins was born 26 October 1949.

1950

Aunt Anne 'Nanny' and cousin Michael from 'over the water' visit 'Mendips'. John pulls Michael's toy car along Menlove Avenue while Nanny watches from the gate. Note: The new John and Yoko/Plastic Ono Band book dates these photos as 1948 and says this is cousin David. 




This third photo doesn't circulate in quite as good quality as the other two. I've taken the opportunity to do a blend with a present day photo of 'Mendips' to bring it to life. Thankfully the originals remain in the safe custody of David Birch.



From around the same time is this photo of a happy looking John on his bike which the John and Yoko/Plastic Ono Band book again dates as 1947.

John: As a kid I had a dream - I wanted to own my own bicycle. When I got the bike I must have been the happiest boy in Liverpool, maybe the world. I lived for that bike. 

John's eldest cousin, Charles Stanley Parkes, son of Aunt Mater and her first husband Charles Parkes. Known by his cousins as Stan, he was born in 1933 and John looked up to him as a big brother figure. The Parkes family lived in a bungalow in Halewood, and later in 'Ardmore', the big house on the Wirral. Charles Parkes sadly died and after a spell working as a housekeeper in Fleetwood, Mater eventually remarried and resettled in Edinburgh in 1949. Stan was responsible for bringing John back into regular contact with his mother Julia, taking him to her house in Springwood against Mimi's wishes. Photographed on the doorstep of 'Mendips', before the porch was built during one of his visits back to Liverpool.

Here's another photo of John, Mimi and Sally outside 'Mendips'. If John is wearing a school uniform the obvious conclusion would be that it's for Dovedale juniors, and thus date from 1949 - 1950. However, I've seen a photograph of Michael Hill's Dovedale Junior's blazer which is black with a green school badge on the left breast pocket so perhaps John and Mimi were just going out somewhere in their posh clothes.

This photo (above) first appeared in Pete Shotton's book in 1983 (Globe Photos)


1951

During the summer of 1951 John went on school trip to Douglas, Isle of Man with his Dovedale Road classmates including Ivan Vaughan, Michael Hill, future entertainer Jimmy Tarbuck, and future Everton captain Brian Labone.

The photos were taken by their teacher Fred Bolt.
John is second from left, Jimmy Tarbuck third from left and next to him is Ivan Vaughan who would later introduce John to Paul McCartney. Michael Hill towers behind them.

Shortly after Christmas 1951 John wrote a thank you letter to aunt Harrie at the Cottage:


Dear Harrie, 

Thankyou for the book that you sent to me for Christmas and for the towel with my name on it, And I think it is the best towel I have ever seen.

 The book that you sent to me is a very interesting one. I am at the bottom of page 18 at the moment. The story is famous Ships it’s all about a man called Captain Kidd the pirate.

I am on the second chapter, the first chapter is called the Victory and the second chapter is called the Mary Celeste. 

Thankyou for the red jumper that you sent to me. 

I hope you have a happy new year. Love from 

John x


1952


John's final photo at Dovedale Juniors was taken in the summer of 1952. 



John is on the back row, 5th from the left. Michael Hill is on the end of the 2nd row from the top in the striped sweater. 

John's primary school education came to an end on 10 July 1952. He passed his Eleven Plus examination and was accepted at Quarry Bank High School in Allerton.

John:  There's an exam in England that they hang over your head from age five, called the Eleven Plus: 'If you don't pass the Eleven Plus, you're finished in life.' So that was the only exam that I ever passed, because I was terrified.


The Mendips deck chair photos, summer 1952?


Liela, John and Uncle George. I'm not sure where this photo originated but it's only ever appeared in this quality unfortunately.  John's cousin David Birch told me he was unfamiliar with the picture. One of only two photos of John with his beloved Uncle George.  


Aunt Mimi and Uncle George enjoy the sunshine. An uncropped version is posted below.



Circa 1951-52

John with Mimi and George and their Collie, Sally. The John and Yoko/Plastic Ono Band book dates these as 1947, despite Sally no longer looking like a puppy


John on the 'Tip', a patch of waste ground between Vale Road and Menlove Avenue.  The houses of Vale Road can be seen running across the back. In the distance, top right is the roof of Fern Lea, an impressive property on Quarry Street. c.1951


Around 1951 Mimi and George started taking in student lodgers at Mendips to help pay the bills. Liela and John are photographed above at the front door to Mendips with one of the lodgers. On the photo below they're joined by another student lodger, Michael Fishwick.



1952, 'Mendips'


Another visit from cousin Stanley. Note that 'Mendips' now has the porch familiar to the thousands of tourists who have visited the property.

As a reward for his exam success, John's Uncle George bought him a new bike, a Raleigh Lenton Sports model (with 3-speed Sturmey Archer gears, no less). 































































Aunt Mimi, John and Michael Fishwick.  Fishwick was a 19 years old Liverpool University scholar who arrived at Mendips in October 1951 and stayed until December 1958. In late 1956 he began a relationship with the by then widowed Mimi which lasted about 18 months. Fishwick only admitted this some 50 years after the event. John never knew.
        

1952

The Cottage, 120a Allerton Road, Woolton.  This was the home of John's Aunt Harriet, husband Norman, and John's cousins Liela and David. Posing with Harriet in their new school uniforms: David was about to start at Childwall Church of England primary,  John at Quarry Bank. 



John left Dovedale Juniors in July 1952, and as usual went to Scotland during the summer break. In later years he would consider his long summers spent in Scotland among his happiest childhood memories and describe Edinburgh as one of his favourite cities.  On 4 September 1952 he started at Quarry Bank High School.



Another photo of John posing in his uniform with Aunt Harrie, this time at Mendips. Does John look younger on this photo than the previous one? 


September 1952, Quarry Bank High School


John's first school photo taken when he started at Quarry Bank school. Stood next to John is the white-blonde Pete Shotton. They would remain inseparable during their time at Quarry Bank, dragging themselves down to the bottom of the class in each successive year.  

Observing the masses of boys milling around the school on their first day, most of them older and bigger than he was John thought 'Christ, I'm going to have to fight my way up through all this lot'. 

John: There was some real heavies there. The first fight I got in, I lost. I lost my nerve when I got really hurt. Not that there was much real fighting; I did a lot of swearing and shouting, then got a quick punch. If there was a bit of blood, then you packed in. After that, if I thought someone could punch harder than me, I said, 'OK, we'll have wrestling instead.'

I was aggressive because I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be the leader. It seemed more attractive than just being one of the toffees. I wanted everybody to do what I told them to do, to laugh at my jokes and let me be the boss. I suppose I did try to do a bit of school work at first, as I often did at Dovedale. I'd been honest at Dovedale, if nothing else, always owning up. But I began to realise that was foolish; they just got you. So I started lying about everything.




As mentioned previously,  John spent several family holidays with his cousins up in Scotland staying with his Aunt Mater's family.  This photo, c. 1954, was taken by Mater's son, Stanley Parkes, and shows John, Mater, her husband Bert Sutherland, and cousin Liela, with cousin's Michael and David in front. John's already in the habit of making 'crip' faces. The three and a half year age gap between John and Liela is starting to show. (c) David Birch.



John: Edinburgh is one of my favourite dreams. The Edinburgh Festival and the Tattoo in the castle. All the bands of the world's armies would come and march and play. The favourites were the Americans, because they swung like sh*t - apart from the Scots, who were really the favourites. I always remember feeling very emotional about it, especially at the end where they put all the lights out and there's just one guy playing the bagpipes, lit by a lone spotlight. Och aye.

I was obviously musical from very early, and I wonder why nobody ever did anything about it - maybe because they couldn't afford it. [When I was young] I was traveling to Edinburgh on my own to see my auntie, and I played the mouth organ all the way up on the bus. The driver liked it and told me to meet him at a place in Edinburgh the next morning and he'd give me a fantastic one. It really got me going. I also had a little accordion which I used to play - only the right hand - and I played the same things on this that I played on mouth organ, things like 'Swedish Rhapsody', 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Greensleeves'.

1 Blomfield Road, Springwood, Liverpool 19 (photo by the author)

After Stan reunited John with his mother he would make frequent visits to see her and his two half-sisters at their house in Blomfield Road, Springwood, especially after he started at Quarry Bank school.  As he got older he began staying over at weekends and during holidays.

Julia's partner John 'Twitchy' Dykins, as John called him, gave him weekly pocket money, and John enjoyed being with his younger half-sisters Julia and Jacqui. John and his mother were close and loving, but though he adored her, observers say that their relationship was a slightly uneasy one because he couldn't escape the feeling that she had abandoned him.

Paul: His mum lived right near where I lived. I had lost my mum, that's one thing, but for your mum to actually be living somewhere else and for you to be a teenage boy and not living with her is very sad. It's horrible. I remember him not liking it at all. John and I would go and visit her and she'd be very nice but when we left there was always a tinge of sadness about John. On the way back I could always tell that he loved the visit and he loved her but was very sad that he didn't live with her. Being John, he didn't admit to it much unless it was a very quiet or drunken moment when he felt he could let his guard down. He loved his Aunt Mimi, I know he did, but she was always the surrogate.


1955

On Saturday 4 June 1955 John's uncle George Smith collapsed at 'Mendips' while making his way downstairs. Mimi and Michael Fishwick found him at the bottom bleeding from the mouth. He was rushed to Sefton General Hospital where he died the following day from a cirrhosis of the liver (non-alcoholic). He was 52.  At the time John (then 14) was playing out somewhere around Woolton village. He was not in Scotland as some sources would have you believe - school didn't finish until July. 

John: We [Uncle George and I] got on fine. He was nice and kind. [When] he died, I didn't know how to be sad publicly - what you did or said - so I went upstairs. Then my cousin [Liela] arrived and she came upstairs as well. We both had hysterics. We just laughed and laughed. I felt very guilty afterwards.

Although he didn't show it outwardly, George's death hit John hard. He wasn't only a loving uncle, he'd become a surrogate father to him since John had moved into 'Mendips' nine years earlier.


Quarry Bank High School For Boys, July 1955













































The month after Uncle George passed away John and Pete posed for their second Quarry Bank School photo. Rock 'n' Roll and Skiffle were still two years away.  

John: If I look through my report card, it's the same thing. 'Too content to get a cheap laugh hiding behind this,' or, 'Daydreaming his life away.' I daydreamed my way through the whole school. I absolutely was in a trance for twenty years because it was absolutely boring. If I wasn't in a trance, I wasn't there - I was at the movies, or running around. 

I used to embarrass authority by chanting out a weird version of 'The Happy Wanderer' at inappropriate moments. I was suspended for a spell. I think it was for eating chocolate in prayers or ducking a swimming instructor; something daft like that.

One maths master wrote, 'He's on the road to failure if he carries on this way.' Most of them disliked me, but there was always one teacher in each school, usually an art teacher or English language or literature. If it was anything to do with art or writing, I was OK, but if it was anything to do with science or maths, I couldn't get it in.


John Lennon and friends 1955-7

This batch of photos came from Pete Shotton. They show John and his Woolton mates - his childhood gang from Vale Road - plus later additions Len Garry (who came through Ivan Vaughan) and Bill Turner, Len's Liverpool Institute classmate.

Pete Shotton, Billy Turner, John Lennon and Len Garry probably at Pete's house. 



Pete Shotton, Ivan Vaughan and Len Garry in Woolton.



Ivan Vaughan and Pete Shotton on Vale Road.

John: I was fairly tough at school, but I could organise it so is seemed like I was tough. It used to get me into trouble. I used to dress tough like a Teddy boy, but if I went into the tough districts and came across other Teddy boys, I was in danger. At school it was easier because I could control it with my head so they thought I was tougher than I was. It was a game. I mean, we used to shoplift and all those things, but nothing really heavy. Liverpool's quite a tough city. A lot of the real Teddy boys were actually in their early twenties. They were dockers. We were only fifteen, we were only kids - they had hatchets, belts, bicycle chains and real weapons. We never really got into that, and if somebody came in front of us we ran, me and my gang. 

The sort of gang I led went in for things like shoplifting and pulling girls' knickers down. When the bomb fell and everyone got caught, I was always the one they missed. I was scared at the time, but Mimi was the only parent who never found out. Most of the masters hated me like sh*t. As I got older, we'd go on from just stuffing rubbish like sweets in our pockets from shops, and progressed to getting enough to sell to others, like ciggies

John: I had no idea about doing music as a way of life until Rock 'n' Roll hit me. That's the music that inspired me to play music.

When I was sixteen my mother taught me music. She first taught me how to play banjo chords - that's why in very early photos of the group I'm playing funny chords - and from that I progressed to guitar.

I remember the first guitar I ever saw. It belonged to a guy in a cowboy suit in a province of Liverpool, with stars and a cowboy hat and a big Dobro. They were real cowboys, and they took it seriously. There had been cowboys long before there was Rock 'n' Roll. 

I used to borrow a guitar at first. I couldn't play, but my mother bought me one from one of those mail-order firms. It was a bit crummy, but I played it all the time and got a lot of practice. I played the guitar like a banjo, with the sixth string hanging loose. My first guitar cost £10. All I ever wanted to do was to vamp; I only learnt to play to back myself.

When I got the guitar I'd play it for a bit then give it up, then take it up again. It took me about two years, on and off, to be able to strum tunes without thinking. I think I had one lesson, but it was so much like school I gave up. I learnt mostly by picking up bits here and there. One of the first things I learnt was 'Ain't That A Shame' and it has a lot of memories for me. Then I learnt 'That'll Be The Day'. I learned the solos on 'Johnny B. Goode' and 'Carol', but I couldn't play the one on 'Blue Suede Shoes'. In those days I was very much influenced by Chuck Berry, Scotty Moore and Carl Perkins.

The best quote Mimi ever said was: 'The guitar's all right for a hobby, John, but you'll never make a living at it.'  


Quarry Bank High School For Boys, May 1957

John's final Quarry Bank school photo, 1957. John, now sixteen years old, and his mates occupy the third row from the top. Third from left, next to Pete Shotton is Bill Smith, the original tea chest bass player in the Quarry Men, who couldn't be bothered turning up for rehearsals / was always trying to fight Pete Shotton depending on which story you believe..... Don Beattie (looking down) is sixth from left, next to John and next to Don is Michael Hill.   

John: This fella I knew called Don Beattie showed me the name Elvis Presley in the New Musical Express and said he was great. It was 'Heartbreak Hotel'. I thought it sounded a bit phoney: 'Heart-break Hotel'.

The music papers were saying that Presley was fantastic, and at first I expected someone like Perry Como or Sinatra. 'Heartbreak Hotel' seemed a corny title and his name seemed strange in those days. But then, when I heard it, it was the end for me. I first heard it on Radio Luxembourg. He turned out to be fantastic. I remember rushing home with the record and saying, 'He sounds like Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray and Tennessee Ernie Ford!'

John: Little Richard was one of the all-time greats. The first time I heard him a friend of mine [Michael Hill] had been to Holland and brought back a 78 with 'Long Tall Sally' on one side, and 'Slippin' And Slidin'' on the other. It blew our heads - we'd never heard anybody sing like that in our lives, and all those saxes playing like crazy.

Shotton and Lennon. Within weeks of this photo John would meet Paul McCartney.

John: Anyway, we always failed the exams and never did any work and Pete was always worried about his future. I would say, 'Don't worry, it'll work out,' to him and the gang that was around me then. I always had a group of three or four or five guys around with me who would play various roles in my life, supportive and subservient. In general, me being the bully boy. The Beatles became my new gang.

I always believed that something would turn up. I didn't make plans for the future. I didn't study for the exam. I didn't put a little bit on the side, I wasn't capable. Therefore I was the one that all the other boys' parents would say, 'Keep away from him.' Because they knew what I was. The parents instinctively recognized I was a troublemaker, meaning I did not conform and I would influence their children, which I did. I did my best to disrupt every friend's home. Partly out of envy that I didn't have this so-called home. (But I did. I had an auntie and an uncle and a nice suburban home. This image of me being the orphan is garbage because I was well protected by my auntie and my uncle, and they looked after me very well.)

I think I went a bit wild. I was just drifting. I wouldn't study at school, and when I was put in for nine GCEs I was a hopeless failure. Even in the mock I got English and art, but in the real one I didn't even get art. 

I was disappointed at not getting art at GCE, but I'd given up. All they were interested in was neatness. I was never heat. I used to mix all the colours together. We had one question which said do a picture of 'travel'. I drew a picture of a hunchback with warts all over him. They obviously didn't dig that. 

We knew that the GCE wasn't the opening to anything. We could have ground through all that and gone further, but not me. I believed something was going to happen which I'd have to get through - and I knew it wasn't GCE.

The headmaster [of Quarry Bank], Pobjoy, recommended me to go to art school. He said, 'If he doesn't go there he may as well just pack up life.' So he arranged for me to go. I developed a great sense of humour and met some great people and had a laugh and played Rock 'n' Roll. (Of course, I was playing Rock 'n' Roll during all this time at grammar school, developing the basic form of the music.)

I wasn't really keen. I thought it would be a crowd of old men, but I should make the effort to try and make something of myself. I stayed for five years doing commercial art.  

I went because there didn't seem to be any hope for me in any other field and it was about the only thing I could do, possibly. But I didn't do very well there either, because I'm lazy.

1958


John and Nigel Walley photographed on Lime Street outside no. 25, the Sterling Boot company, on a bank holiday in May 1958. This is the only non-Quarry Men photo of John to have surfaced from the 1957-8 period. As everyone left school and found work, which for some necessitated a move away from Liverpool, John included, it was harder to keep in touch.  

John: I think sometimes of the friends who left school at the same time as me, when I made up my mind to go to art school. Some of them went straight to nine-to-five jobs and within three months they looked like old men. Fat chance of that ever happening to me. The great thing is never having to be in an office - or anywhere. I like to live on the spur of the moment; I hate to make forward plans.

There appear to be no further photos of John with his original mates until 1963 when Pete and Nigel finally caught up with him in London after the Beatles Christmas show.

John: I had a happy, healthy childhood in Liverpool and I like it. It doesn't stop you living somewhere else or going somewhere else, it's still my home town.

Sources:

John's quotes are taken from The Beatles Anthology,  Paul's from Many Years From Now.

Additional information taken from John Lennon In My Life by Pete Shotton, John Lennon My Brother by Julia Baird, and John Lennon: The Boy Who Became A Legend by Michael A. Hill.

Thanks to Thorsten Knublauch for letting me use his cleaned up photo of John with Julia.

Thanks to David Birch for his invaluable help.

Photos sourced from the internet.  Copyright holders credited where known.

The Lewis's polyphotos and the Summer 1949 'Ardmore' photos are credited to Yoko Ono Lennon in the new John and Yoko/Plastic Ono Band book (2020).

This beautiful book is highly recommended for all John Lennon fans and is now available for around half the original cover price.

5 comments:

  1. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Even though I have an extensive main Beatles / Lennon book collection there were a couple of new ones for me.
    Comment - I would estimate that John was at, or near 2, and so around summer / autumn 1942 in those first two photos.
    Question - I'm going to do a search and check right now, but I know Leila died around the time Tune In was published in 2013. She was only in her mid-70s which is a bit young for an educated female, and a medical doctor to boot. Do you have any inside information?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comments James. I don't have any 'inside information' on Liela but she does fascinate me. Clearly she was John's favourite cousin, nearest to him in age and as I note in the blog, in some photos they look like brother and sister. Going by the photo of her in Scotland with Mater etc she must have been a stunning looking girl in her late teens. Mind you, every lady back then looked like a film star! Her father was half-Egyptian, half-Turkish and I often wonder whether she had to endure any of the prejudice of that time for being 'mixed race'. Hopefully not, she certainly always looks a happy child in the photos here at least. If you read the John Lennon letters book by Hunter Davies there are numerous letters and postcards sent between John and Liela right through the 1970s. She seems to have got on with her own life and not given interviews about John - none that I've come across anyway. Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Michael Fishwick looks as 30 not 19. Great work, Mark.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great article thank you. So much detail to see in those pictures - like what looks like an unpavemented Menlove Avenue in 1948/50. Thanks also for convincing me to buy that book.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Liela (and I made the usual mistake of misspelling it) gave at least one (short) interview with Giulliano in 1986 which thankfully is still available here: http://geoffrey-giuliano.blogspot.com/2009/08/dr-leila-harvey-and-julia-baird.html

    There was very little discussion of her death, but there is still this post from Beatle Links that mentions it. I suspect that the family wanted minimal publicity because as the poster mentions, there was not even an obituary. http://beatlemail.com/forums/showthread.php?t=47827

    I agree that she was a stunning looking girl and that there are so many intriguing things about her. There have a been a few hints that John had some kind of 'romantic' relationship with her. As you note, they were certainly very close. Then there is the the upwardly mobile aspect of the Stanleys: Stanley Parkes went to a private school; Liela became a doctor (still a very prestigious achievement for any individual or family); Mater married a dentist and moved to Edinburgh, etc, etc. One can understand why some critics have emphasised John's MC pretentions. Although, to be fair, as all Beatlemaniacs know, John's individual circumstances were very far from advantaged.

    As someone who has no first cousins, I am always intrigued by this relationship. My wife is very close to her cousins. My children treat some of their cousins as close as siblings. Sometimes, it seems, there is no relationship at all. But although we know of John's first cousins because of his immense fame, there is much less known about his first cousins once removed. What about Liela's children? Did they ever meet John? It so happens that one of my closest relatives is my mum's first cousin, so sometimes the closeness can transcend the normal links.

    Thanks for the reminder about the letters book; that's one I failed to buy at the time.

    James

    ReplyDelete