Oxford Dictionary Of Humorous Quotations

‘Listening to Warren Beatty being interviewed is like waiting for speech to finish being invented.’ Surprised to find this comment about how slowly film stars speak in order to sound profound – from my Hollywood novel Shadows On A Wall.

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God Bless Our Love

My radio play God Bless Our Love (a slimmed down adaptation of my novel Love Out Of Season), which is about a priest and nun who leave their orders to get married, can be heard again next Tuesday, September 23 at 11.15 am and 9.15 pm on BBC Radio 4 Extra.


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Prince George and the Butterfly

You didn’t have to listen very hard this week to hear the cynics mocking when newspapers showed photographs of one year old Prince George reaching to touch the folded wings of a butterfly.

‘Baby looks at butterfly!!’ they scorned. ‘So what?’

So everything, I would retort. So perfectly human. It doesn’t matter that this toddler is a prince. He’s a little boy. To a mother or father every child is a prince or a princess. And there is nothing as interesting as watching a baby get to know the world around him or her, to see the child enraptured at what we take for granted, fascinated by things we don’t notice anymore.

‘Heaven lies about us in our infancy,’ wrote William Wordsworth in 1807 in his ode Intimations Of Immortality, compressing into one line that childhood age of perpetual wonder.

Stop, we want to shout to every one year old we see, boy or girl. Keep on looking about you. Don’t let them hurry you into trains or cars or dolls yet. They will all come quickly enough in your race through childhood. You’ll find nothing in your years to come as beautiful or fascinating as the world that is before you at this very moment.

Wait a while in your toddling days. There’s no hurry.  Crawl in the grass, eat the sand, paddle in the stream, and feel on your skin and in the creases of your little body the warmth and reality of the earth of which you’re now a part.

Your innocence won’t last long. Even before the ‘shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy’ as school and responsibilities inevitably race towards you, the rainbow that is nature is already fading.

Soon it will be artificially coloured out as television pictures replace experience, and games are created by clever adults in Silicon Valley instead of  children in gardens and parks.

I’m not one of those people who decry everything that is new. Far from it. The inventions of the modern age dazzle and please me more with every passing day.

But though computers can apparently continue to be developed and redeveloped into eternity, we can’t make the innocence and first joys of the child. Only birth can do that. And we can’t remake that innocence when, and perhaps with the best of intentions, we’ve taken it away.

So, to those who don’t understand why a photograph of a baby and a butterfly should have been published on so many front pages, and who carp that there’s nothing special about this child other than that he’s a new member of the Royal Family, let me just say this.

You’re right. As a child he really is special only to his parents and grandparents.

But through him, we all see once again those glorious first years when the world was new and the adventure of a young life just beginning. And there’s no time in life quite like that.

‘Nothing can bring back the hour of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower,’ wrote Wordsworth about the lost innocence of infancy towards the end of his poem.

He’s right. But watching a mesmerised toddler, any toddler, reaching to touch the pretty, coloured wings of a butterfly can be the next best thing.

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In The Best Sellers

Some things you never expect – to check on the sales of Love Out Of Season and see it at number 6 in the Amazon eBook bestsellers this week. Very nice though.

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“Sorry, Boys, You Failed The Audition” – the radio play

I spent  Thursday and Friday at the BBC’s new studios in Manchester as my radio play, “Sorry, Boys,You Failed The Audition”, was recorded. Based on my rather long short story of the same title (and available Amazon) it asks the question – what would have happened to the Beatles if they’d failed their audition at EMI in 1962. I suppose it’s really a case of the path not taken for them, a “sliding doors” situation. But although the play is about the Beatles, it’s much more about Freda, their fan club secretary, and what happens to her after the Beatles break up in 1963, as they may well have done.

And luckily we have a terrific young actress called Sara Bahadori playing Freda.  She made me laugh and she made me cry. The play will be broadcast on November 14 on BBC Radio 4.

That the play should have been recorded at this very moment is a huge coincidence, because a documentary made about the real Freda Kelly, the person who really was the Beatles fan club secretary, is due to be shown at the London Film Festival next Saturday (October 19). It will be available later on a DVD.  Freda (the real one) is a terrific person and has been nothing less than helpful to me in writing my play – which is, of course, total fiction, albeit about some living people.

Enjoy the autumn.

R

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France And Me – a memoir

At high tide the waves from the Atlantic really rush in at Beg Legeur in Brittany’s Bay of Lannion. It’s a pretty little out of the way place, with its yellow gorse and scattered groups of French families; a good spot for a holiday. But, as I watch my grandchildren play in the surf, I look along the beach and wonder where it was exactly that two young brothers found my father’s body in 1944.

It was quite early in the morning, I’ve been told, and the boys were playing “shipwrecks”, when they came across his corpse, left behind by the receding tide. It wouldn’t have been a good sight. His body had drifted something like 150 miles from the Western Approaches where the Royal Navy craft on which he’d been a passenger had been sunk in a storm.

The authorities, I imagine, would have been quickly notified, and, after a mass for the dead, the body was buried at the nearest churchyard in the village of Servel, half a mile away. Then my father’s wallet, with its sea-stained photographs of me, aged 3, and my sister, 6, was sent to the War Office in London, to eventually be forwarded to our house in Lancashire.

I have half a memory of the day it reached us. We’d been staying with my aunt in Manchester, and, on arriving home, my mother discovered that she couldn’t open the front door. Eventually a young girl neighbour was able to scramble through an unlocked window and let us in – to  find the wallet (and with it the final certainty that my mother was a war widow at 30) jammed under the door. It must have been delivered while we’d been away.

My mother had never been to France, neither had my father until his body was washed up there – much of his war having been spent with the Royal Navy in the United States. But, as the decades have passed, I’ve begun to wonder if that little beach at Beg Legeur was subconsciously the trigger for my lifetime’s love affair with the mysteries of France. Perhaps my sister felt the same. She and her family have lived in France, just over the border from Geneva, since the early Seventies.

Certainly, like millions of fellow Britons who every year visit France more than any other country in Europe, I’ve seen much more of France than I have of England, be it the wheat prairies near Auxerre, the mountains of Haute-Savoie, the Lot or Corsica. At one time I wrote half a novel in Paris, and, later on, another in Provence; while much earlier I dabbed the holy waters of Lourdes on my tongue in the teenage hope of a miracle cure for my stammer.

That happened when I was sixteen and on a school trip that involved sitting for days on a coach, and stopping off to say a Hail Mary at what seemed like every other church between Calais and the Pyrenees.

The son et lumière at Lisieux left little impression and the magic of Lourdes didn’t work, but I met a girl in the hotel where we were staying who became a pen friend. “Christiane, qui pense bien à vous”, she would formally sign off her weekly letters, before eventually I got a “Christiane, qui pense bien à tu”. Not much going on there, you might think. But to me the shift in familiarity was virtually epistolary heavy petting.

I failed O-level French at first – I was in love with the idea of France: not obsessed with its language – but I improved a bit two years later after I’d been hitch-hiking down to the Riviera with an older medical student who was keen on my sister. You don’t see many people hitch-hiking these days, and it’s a shame. There was something almost medieval about the way you would link up with people on the roads in those days.

On this occasion a couple of newly-weds, he in his forties, she her twenties, picked us up in an old Land Rover outside Arras and took us to Nice, the first night of their honeymoon being spent in a meadow in a double sleeping bag. I parked mine a discreet distance away, and woke up to a sparkling day, soaked with dew, and then cadged a breakfast of a glass of milk still warm from a cow’s udder at a local farm.

Then on we rolled between avenues of poplars and horsechestnut trees in those pre-autoroute days, Chalons-sur-Marne, Lyons, down the Rhone Valley and into the paradise that was and remains Provence. I’d never seen a vineyard before, and scarcely ever drunk wine. We had tea with every meal in our house.

The newly weds were on their way to Australia overland, though whether the marriage, let alone the Land Rover, lasted the trip, I rather doubt. When we finally hit Nice the young bride burst into tears when her husband told her that he would be sleeping with us in a men’s only hostel and she would have to go in one for women.

“Sorry, lads,” he apologised, when she refused to be consoled. “I’m going to have to find a b and b for her and me.”

Reluctantly we said our goodbyes. He was a jolly good bloke. It seemed to me that, even if it was her honeymoon, she was being a bit unreasonable. I was very young.

For a boy from grey and rainy Lancashire, who had only just become aware of the French Riviera while watching Grace Kelly not quite seduce Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief, discovering the South of France with its vanilla light, its lavender patches and its parasol pines, was like encountering Technicolor for the first time. Whenever I now land at Nice or Marseilles, I still have the feeling that an extra light has been turned on in the sky.

A couple of weeks after saying goodbye to our newly weds, there was no light anywhere when, a hundred miles south of Paris, my travelling companion, ditched me when the first car to stop all day could only take one of us. So, there I was at midnight one Saturday night wondering what adventure might be facing me.

Several hours later I was sitting in the cab of a milk truck being given an early morning guided tour as we swept past the Louvre and along the empty Champs Elysées. What a perfect way to discover Paris at 18.

Interestingly my mother, who, by the way, gave my selfish travelling companion a roasting when she heard how he’d abandoned me, only finally asked to be taken to my father’s grave when she was nearly ninety. It would have been virtually impossible for a woman in her circumstances to have visited the grave in the years after the war, and her focus of attention, like that of so many others at that time, had to be on the present, the future and her children.

In fact the war was rarely mentioned when I was a boy, and her initial reaction to France, when I drove her for a holiday in Italy in 1960, was directly the opposite of mine. I was nineteen, and her astonishment at seeing so many buildings still war damaged turned into disappointment as we drove out of Calais and down the road to St Omer. A greater horror was to follow with her discovery of the French unisex lavatories. After that, her centime would, as often as not, be spent behind roadside hedges.

Nothing, however, could come between France and me, not even when a little later a French girl friend broke my heart when she began sleeping with someone else while continuing to write me passionate letters. I understood then why insouciance is a French word.

As a student, French movies of the nouvelle vague suggested the life I thought I should be living, particularly those directed by François Truffaut. And if anyone ever wondered why the first movie I wrote, That’ll Be The Day, ended on a frozen frame of David Essex taking hold of his first guitar, it’s because Truffaut’s Quatre Cents Coups (Four Hundred Blows) had ended on a similar frozen moment involving the young teenager Jean-Pierre Léaud.

And how did I spend the first flush of decent money I made from That’ll Be The Day? I bought a beautiful white Citroën DS, the car with the extraordinary suspension that all French directors used for seemingly floating over the Parisian cobbles while filming. I was married by this time, Plum and I naturally having spent our honeymoon in Paris.  And, yes, I still drive a Citroën.

For decades most of our family holidays were spent either in Corsica or in Provence, where, in a large house deep in a valley in the forest, my mother and aunt would usually join us. My pipe dream was to buy the house and have our three children and their partners and then our grandchildren spend every summer there, but when the time to buy came, I couldn’t afford it. Instead the happy fantasy has turned into a recurrent and sad dream about loss.

Inexplicably, and somehow rather shamingly, because it wouldn’t have been a difficult task, until my early-fifties I didn’t actually know where my father was buried, only that it was somewhere on the French Atlantic coast. Then in 1994 a BBC television producer asked me to present a programme about World War 2 casualties, and took me to the grave so that he could film me there.

Is it possible to cry for someone you never knew? I don’t think so. But as the television camera focused on me at the graveside and I talked into the microphone about the pain of war, I finally gave in to tears, not for my father but for my mother and his parents whose lives had been broken by his death.

Now we go to Brittany nearly every year, Plum and me, some of our grown up children and our grandchildren, and we visit the grave in Servel, spotlessly maintained as the only Commonwealth war grave in the little cemetery. And then we drive down the lane a little way and sit on the beach at Beg Legeur and I watch the waves and the incoming tide, and think about how it must have been in 1944.

****

Ray Connolly’s novel about the Sixties, Sunday Morning, is now available as an eBook from Amazon.

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The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, 1969

July 6, 2013: There had never been a rock concert like it. With up to half a million fans picnicking by London’s Serpentine, rumours circulating of a murder,  an ad hoc security force of Hells Angels, and on stage three thousand dead or dying butterflies being crunched under foot by the lead singer, it had everything.

That lead singer was Mick Jagger, who wearing a frilly dress with a leather collar around his neck, started the performance by reading a poem in remembrance of the Stones’ recently sacked guitarist Brian Jones. Jones had mysteriously drowned in his own swimming pool two days earlier.  Hence the murder rumours.

Inevitably, too, there was sex in the air. While Jagger’s out-going girl friend, Marianne Faithful, huddled in the celebs’ enclosure, his incoming girl friend, Marsha Hunt, lately famous for her nude appearance in the musical Hair, and now statuesque in skin tight white leather, stood high on the scaffolding for the multitude to appreciate.

All this and more happened at the Rolling Stones free rock concert in London’s Hyde Park on July 5, 1969, in a moment that, 44 years ago, caught the group at the zenith of their “outlaw” status.

Now, no longer an outlaw but respectably, if surprisingly, knighted, Jagger is to lead the Stones back to Hyde Park this afternoon – albeit in very different circumstances.

Back in 1969 the show was, in the Sixties ethos of “peace and love”, free to everyone, the cost of the performance being met by Granada Television who television who filmed it. This year the crowd is limited to 65,000, and, with the show sponsored by Barclaycard, very “un-free”.

Indeed with the cheapest tickets on sale at £95, the likelihood is that many have found their way on to the black market where scalpers have been demanding anything up to £300 so that fans could say “I was there”.  That’s corporate Britain, 2013, where the self styled “greatest rock and roll band in the world” can still mine money that would make a banker blush.

As it happens I was at Hyde Park the first time round, when as a young journalist for the Evening Standard, I wrote an entire four page supplement to celebrate the moment as well as covering the events of the day as they happened, edition by edition.

And what a day! In fact, what a month.

Just over three weeks earlier rock fans had been astonished, not to say disappointed, to learn that Jagger and Keith Richard had driven down to Brian Jones’s home in Sussex and told the guitarist that he was being kicked out of the Rolling Stones – the group he’d started.

For years the rest of the band had put up with Jones’s drug problems. Although illegal substances were not exactly unknown to some of the others, Jones’s intake had caused problems. Talented though he was, he’d sometimes been so comatose at recording sessions he’d been unable to play.

Now, after becoming increasingly side-tracked by Jagger and Richards, he’d become a liability, and a replacement had been found in the shape of Mick Taylor, a virtuoso guitarist.

The Hyde Park concert would be Taylor’s first appearance in the Stones. Would the fans take to him? No-one knew. It was a risky decision.

Publically, and despite immediate fan outrage, Jones took his sacking well, claiming that musical differences between him and the rest of the group were to blame. But when, just two days before the concert, he was found dead on the bottom of his pool after a late night party, suspicions were raised.

Had Allen Klein, the Stones’ much distrusted and disliked new American manager, had him killed during some horseplay in the pool, ran the silliest and wildest rumours? Or, had Brian committed suicide after being sacked? And how could a strong swimmer like Jones have died at the age of 27?

Eventually a coroner would decide that a combination of illegal drugs and asthma had been the most likely cause of death. But early in July 1969 conspiracy theories were much more fun.

For a day those of us following the story thought the concert would have to be cancelled. But it was too late. Despite drummer Charlie Watts’ tears, and fears of a hostile reception for the new guitarist, the show would go on.

The set was already constructed and at ten feet high, it was believed that it would enable up to 75,000 fans to see the act. No-one had envisaged that by eleven o’clock on the Saturday morning of the concert over 20,000 would already be on the Hyde Park grass, or that the streets of West London would be turning into rivers of hippy pilgrimage as hundreds of thousands of sandled young feet padded their way towards the venue. By the time I got there in early afternoon, the ocean of faces stretched as far as anyone could see. And the crowds just kept on coming.

A few years earlier, in the mid-Sixties, there had been riots as the Stones had toured the world. But that had been before the hippy summer of 1967. Now the crowd was docile and good spirited – some no doubt encouraged to this benign state by the scent of marijuana on the summer air. What they didn’t know was that Jagger was so nervous of appearing with an under-rehearsed band and the new replacement guitarist, that he’d had a psychosomatic fit and lost his voice that morning.

Would I be writing about the concert that never was and the wrath of half a million unhappy fans, I wondered as, back stage, we waited for bulletins on his condition.

Then, at just before five thirty, a miracle occurred, and there they were on stage – the little dress that Jagger had had specially designed for him by Mr Fish, a fashionable couturier of the time, bringing much amusement among the crowd around where I was sitting.

Not that Mick was in the mood for amusement. “Quiet, I want to read a poem for Brian by Percy Bysshe Shelley,” he ordered, before beginning to solemnly recite from an anthology of poetry that Marianne Faithfull had given him.

“Peace, peace! He is not dead, he doth not sleep, he hath awakened from the dream of life…”

You don’t get Shelley at many other rock concerts, not then or now.

Then there was another surprise. As the poem finished and the potted palms on stage waved gently (Mick had wanted parakeets but couldn’t find any), three thousand cabbage white butterflies provided by a Cambridge researcher of invertebrates were set free from boxes around the musicians.

The idea might, I imagine, have been to symbolise the flight of Brian Jones’s soul into the rock hereafter. Unfortunately, being cooped up in cardboard boxes for too long as they waited their appearance had already done for many of the butterflies. With few making it out beyond the stage, a gentle blizzard of white, dead gossamer fell around the band as they began to play.

So, were the Rolling Stones any good that afternoon. Well, I’ve seen them much better. Stadium acoustics were then in their infancy, and Charlie Watts drumming and Bill Wyman’s bass playing became somewhat lost, while new boy, Mick Taylor kept his expressionless head down and simply tried to fit in. Nor were there those big screens that now appear at huge rock festivals, which meant that those at the back couldn’t see anything at all of the stage.

Not that it mattered. No one was there for a musical experience, as they won’t be this afternoon when the Stones return to Hyde Park. The joy was, and will be, in sharing the experience with so many thousands of others.

It was only one concert, but much changed for fans after that day. Soon rock festivals would be regularly drawing hundreds of thousands, at first to Woodstock in the US and then to the Isle of Wight in Britain and on through the years as the annual Glastonbury events (where the Stones finally appeared this summer) just got bigger and bigger. And with the festivals would come better amplifiers and more extravagant acts.

On a personal front there was a change, too. Shortly after the concert Marianne Faithfull left Jagger to star in a movie in Australia. While she was there she suffered a drugs overdose, and Marsha Hunt became, for a time, the new lady of choice for the singer.

The experiment in employing Hells Angels had seemed a zany one, but it worked. The Angels looked ferocious, but turned out to be quite harmless. Unfortunately this led the Stones to believe that they could recruit Hells Angels to police a concert at Altamont in California the following December at the end of a US tour. It ended in the murder of a spectator by some of the Angels.  The experiment wouldn’t be repeated.

For the Stones, 1969 was a turning point. As good as they were, they’d been in the shadow of the Beatles up to that point. With Hyde Park they raised their profile beyond that of the Liverpool band who’d given up performing and were only a few months away from breaking up. From now on they would have no equals as a touring group. Arguably they still don’t.

The Ray Connolly Beatles Archive is now available as an eBook on Amazon.

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October 5, 1962…And All That

As dates go October 5, 1962, isn’t famous. They don’t mention it in schools, nobody very important was born or died then and no world changing events made the headlines. Perhaps the most newsworthy event of that day was the London premiere of the first James Bond film, Dr No.

But, fifty years ago next Friday, and unnoticed by all but a couple of hundred teenagers in Liverpool, the Beatles’ first single, Love Me Do, was released. And, in that moment, it seemed that the torch was passed from one generation to the next. Nearly three years late, the Sixties, as we think of them, had begun.

Obviously few of the changes, for good or bad, which that decade brought were as a direct consequence of the Beatles. But, by reflecting their time so famously, the Beatles put to music the attitudes of a new and confident youth that appeared to overnight brush aside the staid Britain of their parents.

And the funny thing was, no one saw it coming, least of all the Beatles.

The conception of a new era hadn’t been how the future had looked just three weeks earlier on September 11 when the group had driven down from Liverpool in their van to London’s Abbey Road studios. It hadn’t seemed that way to their record producer, George Martin, either, when he’d agreed to pay each of them the union minimum of seven pounds ten shillings (£7.50) for the session and a royalty of one fifth of an old penny each for every disc sold.

Martin wasn’t taking much of a risk, but, as every other record label in London had already rejected the group, why should he?

Nor was the record welcomed with any excitement outside Merseyside, where the day after its release the band had a reality check when they found themselves performing at a local horticultural society dance in Port Sunlight. It’s been said that to increase sales their manager, Brian Epstein, ordered 10,000 copies himself, but even that could only push Love Me Do to number seventeen in the charts. And it certainly wasn’t played on TV’s Juke Box Jury.

All the same, the breakthrough had been made. The Beatles’ next record, Please Please Me, recorded just seven weeks later, would top charts around the world.

But what was the world like half a century ago, back then on October 5, 1962? What else was happening? Who were the stars? What were ordinary people reading, watching? What were they talking about?

Well, nothing too outlandish that was for sure. While ripples of change may already have been stirring, they were largely unnoticed.

Two months after the death of 36 year old Marilyn Monroe in August, Marlon Brando was playing a fat Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty and Elvis Presley was committing career suicide in cheap Hollywood beach movies with terrible songs – carelessly leaving a vast musical vacuum in his wake.

Most of the big films of the year were backward glances, like the D-day epic The Longest Day and Lawrence of Arabia; and although Len Deighton’s new nameless hero in his first spy novel The Ipcress File was born then, it wouldn’t be until 1965 when Michael Caine put flesh on him in the cinema version that the character would become a Sixties icon. Meanwhile solid Agatha Christie thrillers like The Mirror Crack’d plodded on in the libraries, which was where most people got their books.

Altogether it seemed a quiet, insular time, with a global population of around three billion, which is slightly less than half of what it is today, in which Eastern Europe was a far-off place of grey, grim Communism where few people from the West ventured, and where East German border guards shot anyone who tried to escape over the wall built the previous year to divide Berlin.

And when Nelson Mandela went on trial accused of treason in Johannesburg on October 11, 1962, the moment was largely overlooked outside South Africa. He would stay in prison until 1990.

As for a Britain approaching the end of Empire, the average UK house was worth £2,670, the average annual salary was £800 and a Ford Cortina, the flashiest new family car of the time, cost £591.

With almost full employment, the austerity of the Fifties might have been over, but there was still an ingrained unfairness and waste in the education system, especially if you were a girl.

With only four young people in a hundred getting into university, three were boys, with many bright girls being encouraged to go to teachers training colleges – whether teaching was their vocation or not.

So, all in all, things only looked modestly exciting for the young in 1962.

But there’s something else, and this cannot be stressed too strongly. 1962 was a million miles from the image of the swinging Sixties we’ve come to know.

Some teenagers in a few clubs would have tried amphetamines, known then as purple hearts, but, with cannabis rare, heroin and cocaine the habit of a tiny, invisible few, and LSD unknown, there was no big drugs problem.

And although smoking was common, binge drinking was hardly known, certainly among teenagers. With a shorthand typist just out of secretarial college in a provincial town lucky to earn £5 a week, and a London bedsitter considered expensive at £4 a week, few young people could afford much more than a couple of halves of bitter.

The fabled, or perhaps even mythical, Sixties decade of sex, drugs and rock and roll was as yet nowhere in sight.

Nor were the clothes as daring, revolutionary and colourful as they would very quickly become. This was pre-mini skirts time, when, despite Mary Quant’s best Kings Road efforts, college girls around the country dressed like frumps, and fans at Liverpool’s Cavern would wear curlers in their hair all day at work, to take them out just before the Beatles came on stage at night.

London’s Carnaby Street had, as I recall, a couple of shops which sold relatively brightly coloured, and thus daring, clothes for boys, but V-necked Marks and Spencers sweaters were what most young blades wore on a night out, and everyone had  a sports coat and flannels in the wardrobe.

Musically, the world was even straighter. Cliff Richard had started the year withThe Young Ones, but the biggest hit that summer was I Remember You-who by a yodelling Australian called Frank Ifield. Not a record that is remembered much any more by anyone.

As for sex, although the Pill had gone on sale a year earlier, it wouldn’t be available for some years for single girls, who would even then have to run the gauntlet of some fierce questioning by moralising GPs.

Attitudes were very different. When John Lennon’s girl friend, Cynthia, had told him in June that she was pregnant, his instant response had been to marry her. On the cusp of fame, the timing was hardly opportune for him, and, worried about adverse reactions from fans, the fiction that he was single was maintained for a year. But marriage had been “the decent thing to do”.

Early Sixties Britain was, therefore, still tied by tradition and conformity.  It was also a very stratified “know your place” country, where Civil Service type rules of politeness, decorum and respect for one’s seniors ruled. At the Abbey Road studios, for instance, musicians, the people who actually made the music recorded there, had to use the tradesmen’s entrance.

Such general deference was, however, about to be burst. Just three weeks after Love Me Do was recorded a new programme was aired for the first time on the BBC. It was called That Was The Week That Was, and with satirical impudence it made fun of the great, the good and the pompous.

Not only did TW3 (as it became known) make David Frost an overnight star, it marked a sea change in attitudes towards politicians, which grew to hilarity when the ministerial sexual hanky-panky of the Profumo Affair began to leak a few months later.

Until then, still in black and white and the only channels being the BBC and ITV, television had vacillated between being cautious, worthy and dull, the most popular programmes being Dixon Of Dock Green and the Western series Bonanza. So it’s no surprise, that apart from one short, solitary piece of film by Manchester’s Granada-TV, there is no footage of the Beatles playing at the Cavern  - although they appeared there 292 times.

Ground-breaking technological change for television had, however, already arrived. When the Soviet Union had thrown its first Sputnik into orbit in 1957, Cold War defence worries had been the most common reaction. But, if the Beatles had gone home to watch a special late night programme after their Cavern appearance on July 11, 1962, they would have seen the future in the shape of the first live images from America.

Relayed to Britain through the satellite tracking station at Goonhilly Downs in Cornwall, and with the voice of Richard Dimbleby lilting in excitement, the nation watched and waited for a satellite called Telstar to come over the horizon and show us – what? A car, I think, driving along a road over three thousand miles a way. It might have been mundane, but it was mesmerising, too.

And what was top of the charts three months later on the day Love Me Do was released? Telstar, played by the Tornados.

The Beatles didn’t know it, but all through that autumn they were living the last three private months of their lives before impossible fame would overtake them in 1963. Soon, however, in moments of black humour, it may have occurred to them that they might be living the last few months of their lives altogether

It certainly crossed my mind when on October 22  President Kennedy went on television and announced to the world that the Soviet Union had installed intercontinental nuclear missiles on Cuba, and that the US Navy would now blockade that island until they were taken away.

It was a confrontation that, it was agreed later, came rather too close to a nuclear war. I was a student in London at the time and marked Kennedy’s sabre rattling television speech by putting up warnings around the Georgian hall of residence where I lived, saying that missile watching from the balconies was not allowed as they were structurally unsafe.

There were many other such jokes, but I remember being quite pleased the following morning to discover that I hadn’t been vapourised overnight in an atomic holocaust. With black CND (Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament) badges pinned to many student scarves, there were demonstrations outside the US Embassy that week – even some outside the Soviet embassy.

What other memories of that autumn? Well, it was a time when people wrote lots of letters, hence the flip side of Love Me Do being PS I Love You, and, although it’s unlikely any of the Beatles would have noticed, the season when Liverpool Football Club rejoined the First Division under their new manager Bill Shankly. Then in December there was a simply unbelievable smog, in which you couldn’t see a lamp post until you walked into it, and which killed sixty people.

I’d like to be able to write that I’d been one of the Beatles first fans who went out and bought Love Me Do on the day it was released. But I can’t. In fact it wasn’t until the start of the long frozen winter of 1963, when in January I heard Please Please Me on the Light Programme’s Housewives Choice for the first time, that I realised what I’d been missing.  And by then, so did everybody else.

Looking back at that following year of 1963 as the Sixties began to flower, it seemed to me that the world I was living in was changing from black and white to dazzling colour. Perhaps, later, as drugs began to permeate through society, it became too dazzling. But, all the same, it was an astonishing and often exhilarating time as class barriers tumbled and opportunities multiplied. Suddenly the future looked exciting.

As I say, the Beatles weren’t responsible for most of the changes of the Sixties, but from October 5, 1962, they proved a terrific musical accompaniment to them.

www.rayconnolly.co.uk

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Magical Mystery Tour – Forty Five Years Later

“We goofed,” Paul McCartney said half-jokingly on the morning of December 27th, 1967, trying unsuccessfully to make light of the Beatles’ first disaster. His father, who was staying with him for Christmas, had just brought him the morning papers and the Beatle was sitting in bed reading venomous reviews of the group’s television film which had been shown the previous night. I, a young reporter at the time, was on the other end of a phone asking for his reaction.

The film was Magical Mystery Tour, and, written and directed by the Beatles themselves, it had been intended by the BBC as perfect Christmas entertainment. It hadn’t worked out like that. And now a large section of 15 million viewers who had looked forward to seeing an hour of innocent Beatles banter and songs in the style of A Hard Day’s Night, felt they’d been cheated out of their Boxing Day treat by a gang of millionaire, druggy pop stars.

Difficult to follow with wrestling dwarfs, priests playing blind man’s buff, a fat lady, a sinister looking eccentric who called himself Mr Blood Vessel, a stripper in a nightclub, a recruiting sergeant, outtakes of Greenland from the film Dr Strangelove, a working class sing-song and the Beatles wearing either bald, egg shaped wigs or a walrus suit, the film remains the only failure the group ever encountered.

“Many viewers seemed upset and mystified,” a BBC presenter said diplomatically a couple of hours after it had been transmitted and protests were jamming the switchboards. Indeed they were. Quickly plans to sell the film to America were shelved when the anticipated US network took fright and Magical Mystery Tour was consigned to the vaults…where it was to remain until now.

This coming Saturday(October 6), accompanied by an Arena special documenting the times and the outrage of 45 years ago, the BBC will give it another try, while a DVD, with a commentary by McCartney, will go on sale next week.

But was it really as bad as the critics suggested? I thought so at the time, which didn’t go down very well when McCartney asked for my honest opinion that morning after all those years ago. I was, he told me, the only person he knew who hadn’t enjoyed it.

I didn’t say it, but I remember wondering at the time whether that was one of the minor problems of being a Beatle.

Anyway, you can judge for yourselves, but, having just taken another look, it seems to me that while it’s still a filmic dog’s dinner and a perplexing choice of entertainment for a family Boxing Day, criticism now will almost certainly be more muted.

This isn’t only because as viewers we’ve been softened, or maybe hardened, by decades of equally incomprehensible pop videos on YouTube since then, or because in its anarchic style it seemed to predate the Monty Python sketches. But also because it shows us things about the Beatles we’d never seen before.

At the time we viewed the Beatles as supremely confident musicians and brilliant song writers, whether they were the cheeky mop-tops of She Loves You or the fancy dressed loons of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the album that was topping the charts when the filming of Magical Mystery Tour had begun the previous September.

They, however, wanted to see themselves more in the tradition of glorified art school students who’d been given a camera and a few rolls of film with which to play. Lennon and McCartney had enjoyed some Fellini films, and, both admirers of Magritte, off they’d gone into the avant garde in a psychedelically painted charabanc.

And, yes, maybe the hallucinogenic drug LSD had played a part, too, although probably less than critics imagined.

From the beginning the project was only half thought through. And as the coach, with its stars, comics, friends and eccentrics, led the way down to Cornwall, like the cultural Pied Pipers the Beatles had become, I joined a following half- mile-long tail of cars containing newsreel teams, fans, photographers and other reporters.

I didn’t know anything about film making then, but I did know that a script was pretty important. Unfortunately that was something that hadn’t been written.

“We pooled ideas and memories often from our Liverpool childhood,” McCartney says now in the Arena programme, “and then made it up as we went along”.

In practise it became cinema verite style verging on an expensive home movie as I watched him march enthusiastically around a Newquay beach, always busy as the de facto director, while the coach’s puzzled passengers and excited holidaymakers gaped at the merry confusion.

Not surprisingly, such was the excitement whenever a Beatle was spotted, filming in public had to be abandoned within a week, and the rest of the tour took place on a disused but private airfield.

Only Ringo had ever actually been on a coach mystery tour – when he’d been to see the Blackpool Illuminations as a boy on an outing from Liverpool. So the others simply dreamed up scenes of vague anarchism.

Of course there were some interesting sequences, one of the best being a romantic interlude on a beach between the Fat Lady and Mr Blood Vessel to an orchestrated All My Loving. This was the romantic heart of the film, but somewhat puzzlingly, the BBC considered it “weird”, says McCartney, and ordered it to be cut before the film could be transmitted. Even the Beatles didn’t get all their own way.

With a writer to provide decent dialogue, some kind of narrative structure, and more time to prepare Magical Mystery Tour might have stood a chance, because it was potentially a good idea. But that wasn’t the Beatles way at that moment in their careers. They wanted to have control over whatever they did. And they wanted to do it instantly.

After so much success did they feel artistically omnipotent after the overwhelming praise they’d received for their Sergeant Pepper album? Probably. But, as it turned out, although several of their biggest hits were still to come, Magical Mystery Tour marked the beginning of the end for them. The innocence and fun of the early years was gone.

Their manager, Brian Epstein, had died from a drugs overdose shortly before filming had begun, and in his absence, and with McCartney taking a more central role in the band’s direction, cracks were beginning to show in their friendship. Years later John Lennon would blame Paul, whose idea it had been, for the debacle, but that was unfair. It was a joint venture.

The high point for both the public and the Beatles was, of course, the songs. Though there were only five, two became classics, McCartney’s dreamy Fool On the Hill, which was shot like a pop video a few weeks later in the South of France and then shoe-horned into the film, and Lennon’s I Am The Walrus, which was to become a classic.

After all these years you might think that the set-back would have been forgotten, but clearly it still bothers its director. “It got hammered mightily,” says McCartney, adding that Steven Spielberg told him they still show it at film schools in California as an approach to a “different way of film making”. Which it was…

As for the reception it received the first time it was shown the, still prickily, ex-Beatle adds: “And thank you to the critics for such kind reviews.”

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The Great Olympic Smile

This may be tempting fate, but the great thing about the Olympics is the Big Smile that seems to have settled on London. Last Thursday afternoon the torch was carried down the Fulham Road and as it was only about 100 yards from where we live I felt I just had to make the effort and find out what all the fuss was about.

I could see immediately what it was – it was about shared happiness. The whole street was packed with smiling faces. “It’s just wonderful,” said a very old lady, tears in her eyes. “I haven’t seen anything like this since the end of the war.”

She wasn’t talking about the torch but the people who had come out to see it. A contagion of smiles, politeness and generosity of spirit seemed to have caught hold. It was there all weekend, too, as people flocked laughing in the pouring rain to see the women cyclists.

Mass emotions are always interesting. Sometimes sad, as when Princess Diana died,  and sometimes  frightening and dangerous. But with no riots or looting, no rival fans in fights, no drunkeness this mood is more than welcome. Let’s hope it continues until the end of the Games.

***

There’s endless talk about digital publishing at the moment, as no-one seems to know what to charge for an eBbook, and self-publishers are starved of the oxgen of marketing. My self-published  “Ray Connolly Beatles Archive” sells steadily on Amazon, but I’ve just been surprised to see Bloomsbury have reduced the price of “Stardust Memories”, a collection of interviews that were mainly written for the Evening Standard over thirty years ago, to 0.99 pence. The result? It’s my best selling Kindle book.

Exciting? Well, let’s see. As I get 35% of the retail price that means I’ll be earning just under 0.35p per book sold. Sell five and I’ll be almost able to buy a cup of coffee. Who says there’s no money in publishing!

***

Talking with the son of a friend this week I was surprised to be told that he’d always thought I was from a very poor Northern working class background.

“Not really,” I said, amused, though, I’m afraid, my poor late mother would have been horrified.

As the generations march on, it seems the old Southern perceptions of the North are still with us. Namely that anyone from the North probably grew up with coal in the bath.

It wasn’t quite that grim. Honestly.

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Posted in Ray Connolly Blog | 2 Comments