My Dad broke up The Beatles!
OK, so maybe that statement isn’t wholly true but I can state as fact that my Dad had a conversation with John Lennon in 1969 and only six months later Lennon announced that he was leaving The Beatles! What on earth did my Dad say to him??
The story goes like this. In 1969 my father was working for the Birmingham Mail, the Midlands’ top-selling newspaper. He was the political editor and has since told me many times that he had no real interest in The Beatles. Don’t get me wrong, I think he liked and admired them but he just wasn’t into ‘pop music’. He was a classically trained pianist and classical music was his bag. My Mum liked a bit of rock ‘n roll, but she was a Stones fan. You were one or the other in those days, so she tells me.
In fact, my Dad is so blasé about his encounter with the man who thirty-eight years later his son would start dressing up as on a regular basis*, that he can only recall one detail about their conversation. I’ll tell you about that in a bit.
So how did my Dad get to interview Lennon? Well, on Friday 28th March 1969 he was having a quiet morning in the Mail newsroom. There were very few breaking political stories but the Editor wanted something from one of his team to compete with the front page headline they were currently running with about the top section of Solihull church steeple being unsafe:
Experts Go Aloft, find steeple is unsafe
The Editor knew he needed a better headline than this if he was going to shift any papers. He also wanted a more interesting picture than Solihull Parish church on the front page.
Sometime late in the morning, the news broke that John Lennon was in the Amsterdam Hilton making statements about ATV’s takeover offer for Northern Songs (who owned the publishing for the majority of Lennon/McCartney’s song catalogue). The Editor wanted to try and get an interview with John to get some exclusive quotes and find a winning headline. There was nobody else available in the newsroom at that time to take the story so he assigned the task to my Dad. Slightly perplexed, the old man (he was thirty at the time, actually, one year older than Lennon) made a call to Derek Taylor, the Beatles’ press officer and, after a brief wait, found himself on the line to one of the four most famous people in the world.
John and Yoko had been ensconced in the hotel since Tuesday staging their famous ‘bed-in for peace’ in their pyjamas. It was an attempt to use the publicity generated by their honeymoon to get across their anti-war message to world leaders. The press had been hoping the couple might do something exciting like have sex but instead they just kept banging on about giving peace a chance and long hair. However, reading the newspaper in bed that Friday morning, Lennon discovered that Dick James – the founder of Northern Songs – was selling his 32% holding in the company to ATV and that a complete takeover bid by the latter was being offered. With this news, John realised that he and Paul were in danger of losing the publishing rights to their songs forever.
John needed to get a message out to the shareholders in a City consortium, who had quietly racked up a 15% share in Northern Songs (John and Paul’s share was 30% combined), that he and Paul would not be selling their stake in the company and that they would put in an offer of £1million Northern Songs shares at a better share price than was being offered by ATV. If they could get the consortium to sell their shares to them, or at least agree to co-operate, The Beatles would control over 50% of the share capital (George and Ringo were also shareholders in Northern Songs).
“I am not selling” Lennon told my Dad emphatically. My Dad asked John if Paul felt the same way, to which he replied, “I have a pretty good idea that Paul feels the same way. After all these years I can guess what he is thinking.”
However, my Dad also reported Lennon making the following remark, which, in hindsight, gives a good indication of an attitude which would eventually cost The Beatles the rights to their songs and which was, perhaps, the episode that cost Lennon and McCartney their friendship:
“I don’t care who buys the rest, but I’m hanging on to my share.”
Lennon, apparently, was in no mood to do what other people told him to do. He had had enough of being Beatle John and his bed-in stunt was later seen as an attempt to entirely shed his Beatle persona in public. Now he wanted to control conversations with the press instead of talking through the filter of a press officer. However, this was to have drastic consequences when, the next month, in reaction to terms that the City consortium proposed about the running of Northern Songs should they accept The Beatles’ offer, he uttered this unguarded remark:
"I'm sick to death of being f**ked about by men in suits sitting on their fat arses in the City!"
This threw the consortium investors on to ATV’s side and Lennon and McCartney were forced to sell their shares in the company. John was incensed to discover that Paul had been buying shares in Northern Songs secretly and now owned significantly more than him and so received a greater pay-out. On 20th September 1969 John announced to the other Beatles that he was leaving the group. The rest, as they say, is history.
Still, the Editor got his headline:
‘I am not selling’ ... Beatle John tells reporter Pugsley
He used a picture of John and Yoko in their hotel bed for the front page accompanied by, hilariously, a smaller photo of my Dad talking on the phone. They still kept the photo of Solihull Parish church though, presumably for local ‘colour’.
Did my Dad break up The Beatles? Nah. But it’s a good story and a great headline. Better than the one about the church steeple, at any rate.
And what was the one detail my Dad remembers about the momentous call? The only thing about it he has ever been able to recount to his Beatles-obsessed son directly? John coming on the line and saying “Hello Birmingham!” in a Brummie accent.
* As well as being a musician in my own right, I also play the role of John Lennon in Beatles tribute band ‘All You Need Is The Beatles’