Beatles’ Biggest Secrets


review by Andrew Darlington

"The inside story of the world's greatest-ever pop group" it says. And, as everyone knows, it's a great story. Here, there are stills and non-copyright newsreel footage, and it's always good to see those familiar waving-at-the-airport clips, the quick-fire press conference sight-gags, the gurning at the cameras, and the Harold Wilson 'purple-hearts' quips at the Variety Club awards. In the gaps between there are some poor 'reconstructions' by some Beatles wannabes (The Prellies), a voiceover that pretends to be Ringo, but isn't (it's Bernard Hill), and no real Beatles music.

That was 'withheld' as damage-limitation, because "every image is policed by the company they created." In other words, this formerly screened TV documentary is another in the growing proliferation of non-authorised Fabs product. And secrets? Well - not exactly. Mostly it's fairly routine stuff to anyone who's read a few biographies, spiced up with some thrown-in conjecture. There was sex at Hamburg, apparently. Cue some gratuitous red-lit film of a pole-dancer. And penury. Allan Williams, who first booked the five Beatles there talks about how "Paul used to argue with John Lennon because it was one penny extra to have jam on your toast." ... "Look at all the jam he's got now, the bastard," he adds straight-faced. "He owes me £15, by the way, don't know how he can sleep," perhaps unconsciously quoting Lennon's own How Do You Sleep? Mc-attack on the Imagine album? He then relates how he directed the young pre-Fabs to the Seamen's Dispensary when they pick up their first dose of the clap. Brian Epstein was gay, and had a thing for John Lennon. Hardly a revelation... Even their weekend together in Barcelona is fairly common knowledge, someone even wrote a play about it. Admittedly, what happened there is less certain, but Tony Barrow - the first "press officer to the Fab Four," suggests only that Lennon was "an intrepid sexual adventurer," a description poet Royston Ellis - who claims to have shared a three-in-a-bed romp with Lennon, extends to "ambi-sexual."

There are no scurrilous revelations beyond that. They dabbled with drugs too. Ellis claims to have turned them on to getting high, like the Beat poets used to, by chewing on lint from prescription inhalers. Later, Epstein's chauffeur talks of picking up mysterious packages of hash at Archer Street. Stuff like that. There are talking-head interviews with participants, including Tony Crane of the Merseybeats, posing stylishly with his guitar. And Klaus Voorman, who designed the Revolver sleeve, now contributes his own perceptive wash-art sketches. Long-time friend Tony Bramwell talks about Paul first meeting George upstairs on the #86 bus. Both Bill Harry of Mersey Beat magazine, and Tony Barrow have told their stories before, at greater length, in fact Barrow's book is pretty much a standard Beatles text (John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me: The Real Beatles Story, Andre Deutsch, 2005). Tony Sheridan recalls how they stole socks from C&A, but later 'sold-out' when Epstein buffed up their image. And as their career takes off chart-wise Alistair Taylor, Epstein's assistant, talks about buying off paternity or sexual claims with NEMS money, and speculates about the trail of unacknowledged Beatles-brats, who maintain their anonymity.

"Beatlemania grips Gotham" like "a collision of planets" says the newsreel voiceover as they hit New York. But everyone already knows that. They toured America - according to Barrow, under conditions of "five-star house arrest." Albert Maysles, who has his own Beatles tour documentary DVD jostling for space at the megastore, adds his own insider contributions. Nudging the story further, into the studio years, and what the newsreel voice calls the "psychedelic Garden of Eden," which was Apple - "the company they created." Chauffeur Bryan Barrett talks about Epstein's early suicide attempts. Paul's stepsister Ruth McCartney describes fannish excess. A raddled Francie Schwartz talks about shagging Paul. But that incident is more widely discussed in Tony Barrow's book anyway. Finally, May Pang repeats her oft-repeated story about how Yoko Ono even masterminded Lennon's adultery, adding little to what was already widely known. There's an on-going need for stories to re-told and reinterpreted, for the benefit of newly evolving audiences, or with new slightly titillating twists. So yes, this is "The inside story of the world's greatest-ever pop group." The problem is, it's a great story, as everyone already knows.