Notes on John and Cynthia Lennon, Epstein and Alma Cogan

April 2015

Much has been written in newspapers in the aftermath of the sad death of Cynthia Lennon at 75. My attention was drawn to the pieces published in the British Daily Mail which demonised Lennon for his role in wrecking his marriage to Cynthia, his beautiful, and dutiful if somewhat hapless consort for many years.

Simon Heffer followed up the paper’s damning reportage with a hatchet-job which sought to demean the artistic output of the Beatles leader and to rubbish many of the pre-conceptions about his character and personality. In the same rag, Cynthia was quoted as saying how it was the late Alma Cogan who actually stole Lennon away from her.

My attention was drawn to this by a Facebook entry by an online Beatles jock and all-round ranter who gleefully featured these articles on his timeline. What I added to it was a bit much for his Tory party sensibilities to take, so I am repeating it here for your edification.

They used to say about New York that everything said about it, good or bad, is all true. The same applies to John Lennon. If we are to believe his personal assistant Fred Seaman, he ended up a forlorn character that depended on his wife for just about everything and was ruthlessly manipulated in the process. What is hard to imagine is Lennon allowing this to develop. However, the truth is always different from the mythology, and stranger than fiction.

John Lennon carved his name into virtually every desk in Quarry Bank Grammar School before he was shown the windows, the door before finally the street. By Woolton standards his behaviour was uncouth and rebellious. He was an outsider and probably made to feel one too. Too many people would have had an idea of his background and too many would be expecting him to amount to nothing That's the way they though in the 1950s in places like Woolton. By actual Liverpool standards, he was nothing more than a naughty boy. What he had, through his life experience and his forebears, was heart and soul and was, throughout his life, an excellent judge of character. This would stand him in good stead in his chosen career, pop star, musician and writer.

The first great stroke of Lennon’s genius was with Brian Epstein. Lennon identified Epstein’s essential decency. He knew he was an honourable man in business and in friendship. The family of Brian Epstein had provided low cost furniture and employment in warehouses and workshops for several generations of Liverpool citizens. Though it existed, anti-Semitism was the elephant in the room of Tory-voting middle classes, not the impecunious working class who recognised the commitment of the Epstein family to the aspirational Scotland Road families who bought furniture from them on reasonable terms and at reasonable prices from their store on Walton Road.

Lennon had no doubts about Brian Epstein though others around the band might have. Lennon recognised that Brian had all the attributes which would open doors in London with the likes of booking agents Tito Burns and Bunney Lewis, TV magnates like Sir Joseph Lockwood and the young Grade brothers and publishers like Dick James. He also recognised a decent man from a decent background with a dream in his heart, just like him. All the players in this drama, including Lennon, had shared the experience of the icy hand of rejection whether it be outright racism, or its displaced cousin, class contempt. That’s why no matter what, Epstein was the Beatles’ man.

For this, the five Liverpool young Prometheans would be liked and respected within the Jewish theatrical and show business community and welcome at parties like those thrown by Alma Cogan and her family. Everyone at those parties was on the up, from Michael Caine, to Anthony Newley and everyone would have known who and what the opposition looked like – mediocrity. Mediocrity in television, music, radio, theatre and sport ruled in the late fifties. Heroes were American. Not for Lennon and his pals and not for the rest of the showbiz crowd at Alma’s post–Palladium soirees.

The young Helen Shapiro fell rapturously in love with Lennon and by all accounts he was most gallant. He even wrote the song “Misery” for her in an attempt to let her down easy. There must have been eyes watching his behaviour and Lennon had the luck, good judgement or good fortune to realise that there was a line of propriety within the Jewish community which you crossed at your peril. Lennon was sufficiently well-schooled in manners to realise it. Not everyone does. Crucially he did, because had he not the Beatles would most certainly not have conquered America. The Sid Bernsteins and Ed Sullivans would have said, "Beatles, Schmeetle’s" at the very suggestion of their taking over. In the event they trusted their English friends' advice and the rest is history.

As for Lennon and Alma. Why not? Alma was a beautiful, strong woman cut from the same cloth (appropriately) as Liverpool women. Whether it went further is a private matter. Personally, I can't see it. Lennon was "not her type" as they used to say, and if it did, I think "Norwegian Wood" can give us some sort of idea of the outcome. We can deduce with this some certainty now because we all are a little older and wiser.

What is sad is that it seems, in the scramble for prurient tittle-tattle, nobody can see the love that is there between the two of them and the love that flowed throughout those beautiful days of the first flowering of truly popular culture in the UK. Without it songs could not be written, deals could not be made nor artists championed selflessly and honestly. Brian paid with his life to get Cilla Black, Billy J. and the Fab Four a career they could be proud of. It wasn't all about money. Despite appearances, Lennon must have loved him for it, in a real way and fraternal way. It was not Epstein who discovered the Beatles, it was the other way around, they who discovered him.

And Cynthia? She was spotted in head to toe in Hamburg black leather chatting to Brian on the night of the 22nd July 1961 at St John’s Youth Club in Tuebrook, Liverpool. This was the earliest recorded meeting between Epstein and the band though it is not recorded whether he made any approach. They were fresh from their second trip to Germany and probably played the finest rock show ever seen in the UK that night. They had the full set together including "Standing There" and "A Taste of Honey" were in the set. Epstein must have been blown away. He saw the potential for the Shea Stadium on those parochial hall stages, not in the Cavern lunchtime sessions when the band would eat, drink coke and smoke onstage.

Cynthia would have recognised a true gentleman in Epstein and one that she could recommend to John. At the time, Cynthia meant everything to him and any friend of Cynthia’s….

The moral to the tale? The world works in non-mysterious ways, what goes around comes around and in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make. Obvious really.

Gerry's article in the Liverpool Echo on the Beatles at Brockman Hall
August 25th 2014
April 2015
August 25 2014: Liverpool Echo

The Beatles historian claims Fab Four were discovered in Tuebrook - not The Cavern

Gerry Murphy hopes to start project to find out more about history of St John's youth club.

The Beatles historian has claimed manager Brian Epstein first spotted the Fab Four when they performed in a youth club in Tuebrook. Gerry Murphy, who was a co-founder of the Cavern City Tours, claims to have discovered that the group was first seen by the manager who helped them to international success at St John’s Youth Centre on Snaefell Avenue, Tuebrook. And he said the club, also known as Brockman Hall and now home to disability charity Daisy Inclusive, was the setting for the “best rock and roll ever seen”. Mr Murphy said he was studying for an MA in the Beatles when he came across the information. He now believes Epstein came to a Beatles concert in July 1961 and spotted the group months before his first reported gig at the Cavern in November that year. Mr Murphy said: “In 2011 I staged a 50th anniversary event at Brockman Hall and told the audience the Beatles had played there just months before Brian Epstein saw them for the first time at the Cavern and signed them up on the spot.

“Afterwards a woman said to me ‘it’s wrong what you said about Brian Epstein - because he was standing just there’. She said they recognised him from NEMS record shop.” Mr Murphy said her description of John Lennon’s wife Cynthia in an all leather outfit, which would have been bought on the group’s recent trip to Hamburg, convinced him she was right. He later spoke to her friend,who was with her on the night and backed up the story. Last month he spotted apicture in the ECHO of fans with the group, which then included Pete Best, at the gig in question. He said: “My belief is that Epstein went to see the group in late July, kept in contact with them and formally went to see them and make a proposal in the November that year.” He added: “I think he watched the audience at the gig in Brockman Hall, not just the band, and realised if they could get 200 kids jiving like that in that hall, they could get the world jiving.”

But Cavern Club director Bill Heckle disputed the claim. He said Epstein’s first sighting of the group was well documented in his own autobiography and was not at Brockman Hall. Mr Heckle added: “What is possible is that he was there but did not remember seeing the Beatles or being impressed, because his first memory and encounter is obviously irrefutably at the Cavern.” Mr Murphy and Dave Kelly, of Daisy Inclusive, now hope to start a project to uncover more about the hall’s connections with the band. They are appealing for people to share their memories. To get in touch

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