Let it be (geddit?) said at the outset: I am and have always been a great Fab Four fan, to the extent of being one of those poor lost souls whom Craig Brown in this kaleidoscopically joyous book is gently poking fun at for collecting original 1960s memorabilia such as Beatles talcum tins, hair spray and bubble bath: I know — it’s too sad for words. I have lost track of how many books and films on The Beatles I have read and seen, but it sure ain’t as many as Brown: at the end of this surprisingly hefty book, he lists seven full pages of “sources”.
I have always marvelled at the fact that the fans (and who else will be buying this book?) never tire of reading and seeing the same old reheated facts and clips time and time again — but still I did wonder whether there could possibly be room for a new 600-page thumper. But actually, although Hunter Davies will always be the original biographer and Mark Lewisohn the definitive gospeller, Brown’s book shoots straight to number one in the charts: because he is such an easy and very funny writer, it is far and away the most readable and enjoyable of all of them — this due not least to his refreshingly scattergun approach to the thing.
Chapters are of utterly random length, and he skips around the chronology like a gambolling lamb. One minute he is talking about John’s first meeting with Paul, and then suddenly he is recounting his own very droll experiences when he took the Liverpool Beatles tour. This was the pioneering approach to biography he exercised in Ma’am Darling, his rendering of Princess Margaret — or, as Lennon referred to her in his first book In His Own Write, Priceless Margarine.
The book begins and ends with Brian Epstein cautiously descending the 18 steep and Days in the life of the Fab Four Joseph Connolly greasy steps down to the Cavern and seeing The Beatles for the very first time. “They are awful,” he said to a friend, “but I also think they’re fabulous.” The whole of the book is really a cornucopia of plums — every page charged with wonderful aperçus and nuggets. Such as the surprising fact that it was George, of all people, who was the most determined to get rid of Pete Best, the original drummer, though no one will ever know the full and true reasons for his ousting. Or that there are more than 1,000 tribute bands in the world.
The whole book is a cornucopia of plums — every page charged with wonderful aperçus and nuggets
That at the end of early British concerts, after all the Beatlemaniacal screaming, the entire audience would stand stock still and in silence for the National Anthem. Or that Cliff Richard is five days younger than Lennon, and to this day it still rankles with him how the group so very quickly supplanted him as toppermost of the poppermost. Or the girl fan who fantasised about Paul in all manner of elaborate and romantic scenarios, but at the end of each of them his girlfriend Jane Asher had to die.
Or how about this: Ringo spent a night with Christine Keeler — and “ringo” in Japanese means apple . . . Then there is the driver who accidentally ran over and killed John’s mother; he was a trainee policeman who then left the force to become a postman, and found himself delivering sackfuls of fanmail to Paul. A half-inch long single strand of John’s hair was sold for £399, and one of his teeth for £19,000.
throughout this book Paul comes across as meticulous, professional, kind and considerate, George as rather grumpy and dogmatic, Ringo the most easy-going and cheerful of the lot. Whereas John, oh my Lord — his attitude, temper, cruelty and violence render him quite terrifying, the antithesis of nice and occasionally even unhinged.
There are one or two quibbles: a fully signed photo would not fetch £29,000, as Brown asserts — at the very most half of that, if it is perfect. Rather surprisingly he puts the shortlived Apple boutique in Savile Row along with Apple headquarters, whereas it was in Baker Street: tiny slips, amid an endless sea of wonder. Although only born in 1957, Brown really does get the sheer thrill of it all, and the fans will really love him for all he has done here.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe