The Beatles and Bournemouth

Here’s a question, would there have been a ‘Beat Boom’ without The Beatles? It’s one of those imponderables that can never be answered, but one thing is for sure, the sixties would have been a damn sight duller and less adventurous place without them. In the eight years they were active as a globe straddling colossus, they released twelve albums, twenty-two singles, including seventeen number ones and starred in four films. They influenced music and fashion, becoming cultural icons, leading the way like modern Pied Pipers as the world happily followed in their wake. They were the first truly progressive band, who else could have written a simple ditty such as “Love Me Do” in 1962 and then composed the complex “A Day in the Life” a mere five years later? Lesser groups would have made a whole album out of the ideas crammed into that one song. Along with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, they blazed a trail that changed the world forever.

As their star swiftly ascended, The Beatles became frequent visitors to Bournemouth and over a fourteen-month period played more concerts in the town than any other town or city in the world apart from London, Liverpool and Hamburg. A six-day residency at the Gaumont in August 1963, a one-night stand three months later at the Winter Gardens plus a further two nights at The Gaumont in August and October 1964, at two performances a night that made eighteen shows in total.

The Winter Gardens, Monday 19th August to Saturday 24th August 1963

Their first concerts, a six night run at the Gaumont Cinema in Westover Road, started on Monday 19th August and ran through to Saturday 24th August 1963. The group had already logged two number ones that year with “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You”, but full scale Beatlemania had yet to take a grip. That would come a few weeks later with the release of their fourth 45, “She Loves You”. The quartet topped a bill that included fellow Brian Epstein artists Tommy Quickly, a Liverpudlian who failed to score a hit in his short career despite being handed a Lennon & McCartney song, “Tip of my Tongue” and Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, who had a number two hit with “Do You Want to Know a Secret” and a number one with “Bad to Me”, both Lennon and McCartney compositions. The rest of the bill felt like a throw-back to the days of music hall with The Sons of the Piltdown Men, a little known instrumental quintet from Manchester, Tommy Wallis and Beryl, a novelty act featuring a xylophone and tap dancing, The Glamorous Lana Sisters, the singing duo Gary and Lee and compere Billy Baxter, a club comedian from Liverpool. Ticket prices ranged from four shillings and sixpence up in the gods to eight shillings and sixpence in the front stalls, with performances twice nightly at 7.00 pm and 9.15 pm.

The Gaumont in Westover Road, the Palace Court Hotel to the right and the Ice Rink to the left

Song list for the August 1963 shows:

  • Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry)
  • Thank You Girl (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • Chains (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  • From Me To You (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • A Taste of Honey (Bobby Scott & Ric Marlow)
  • I Saw Her Standing There (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • Baby It’s You (Burt Bacharach & Luther Dixon & Mack David)
  • Boys (Luther Dixon & Wes Farrell)
  • She Loves You (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • Twist and Shout (Phil Medley & Bert Berns)
The Beatles programme for the Gaumont shows, August 1963
The Palace Court Hotel where The Beatles stayed whenever they played the Gaumont
The Beatles backstage at the Gaumont celebrating support act Bill J Kramer’s 20th birthday

During the residency George Harrison wrote his first solo song “Don’t Bother Me” while languishing in bed at The Palace Court Hotel (now a Premier Inn) while suffering from a bout of flu. Harrison wasn’t too fond of the number and stated that it was just an exercise to see if he could write a song. He also said it was a ‘crappy song’ and he forgot about it once it had been recorded. Liverpool journalist Bill Harry insists it came about because he used to badger George whenever he saw him to see if he’d written anything since his first joint composition with Paul McCartney, “In Spite of all the Danger”, which The Quarrymen recorded in Liverpool on an acetate in 1958, along with a cover of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll be the Day”. George also received a co-write credit along with John Lennon for “Cry for A Shadow”, a Shadows parody recorded in Hamburg as The Beat Brothers in 1961. “Don’t Bother Me” appeared on their second album With the Beatles released on 22nd November 1963.

The Beatles Rock
The balcony of the Palace Court Hotel in August 1963 (Photograph Bournemouth Echo)
The Beatles Gaunont (2)
Waiting for their cue to go on stage at the Gaumont in 1963 (Photograph Bournemouth Echo)

With time on their hands during the day, the iconic photograph that adorned the cover of their second UK album With the Beatles and first US long player, Meet the Beatles, was shot by Robert Freeman, a well-known photographer who made his name working for the Sunday Times and on the first Pirelli calendar. He submitted a portfolio of black and white photographs featuring several jazz musicians including John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley and Elvin Jones taken at a jazz festival in London to Brian Epstein, who was impressed enough to show them to The Beatles. The group agreed with Brian’s assessment that Freeman should be commissioned to photograph the group for their next album cover. He arrived at The Palace Court Hotel on August 22nd and recalls Neil Aspinall organised The Beatles to turn up at midday wearing their black polo-necked sweaters. The photographer posed them in front of a maroon curtain with their faces half lit by a nearby window and arranged them to fit the square format of the cover rather than have them all in a line. He put Ringo in the bottom right corner as he was the last to join the group. Even though he was the shortest, he still had to kneel on a stool to get in the right position. Paul McCartney’s recollection concurs with Freeman’s on the ease of the session, as he remembers the photographer positioning them in a dark room and using the natural light from a window negating the use of any artificial lighting. The pictures were reminiscent of photographs taken by their friend Astrid Kirchherr back in their Hamburg days, but Freeman insists it was an extension of his black and white jazz photographs. In 1995 Kirchherr was asked about the album sleeve’s obvious links with her own work and she said The Beatles loved the half-shadow pictures because it made them look moody. George mentions in The Beatles Anthology book that they showed Freeman the pictures Astrid had taken in Hamburg and asked him if he could do the same thing. So take your pick.

The original design for the sleeve was to align the picture edge to edge with no logos or lettering, but EMI vetoed the idea because The Beatles were not famous enough to carry a nameless cover. The record company also tried to pull the photograph because the group were not smiling and it was only after an intervention from George Martin that they won the day. Also Freeman was not happy with the quality of the photograph’s reproduction, stating that it turned out much darker than expected and that the final sleeve looked like “four white faces in a coal cellar”. He received £75 for his work, three times his normal fee. After With the Beatles he became The Beatles favoured photographer shooting a further four Beatle album covers; 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles for Sale and 1965’s Help and Rubber Soul. He also designed and snapped the cover for John’s second book, A Spaniard in the Works.

The Beatles pose on the roof of the Palace Court Hotel, August 1963

Earlier in the day of the photo shoot, The Beatles had driven up to the Southern Independent Television Centre in Northam, Southampton to record a mimed version of “She Loves You” for the Day By Day news programme due to be aired later that evening. Released the following day on 23rd August with “I’ll Get You” on the flip side, “She Loves You” shot straight to number one on the 31st August and stayed in the UK charts for thirty-one consecutive weeks, eighteen of those in the top three. It was the biggest selling single of 1963 and remains the best-selling Beatles single in Britain, shifting 1.9 million copies. In America the record gained a release on the small Swan label on 16th September to a lukewarm response. However, with the success of their breakthrough 45 “I Want to Hold Your Hand” it re-entered the charts on 25th January 1964, enjoying a fifteen-week run eventually making number one for two weeks on 21st March.

The Winter Gardens, Saturday 16th November 1963

As part of their autumn UK tour, The Beatles returned to Bournemouth on Saturday 16th November 1963, only this time they descended on the Winter Gardens, just a stone’s throw across the lower gardens. With a line-up of Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers, a Joe Meek group from London, The Vernon Girls who were formed at the Vernon Football Pools Company in Liverpool in the fifties, The Brook Brothers from Winchester, The Kestrels, a vocal harmony group from Bristol, The Rhythm and Blues Quartet and the comedian / actor Frank Berry acting as compere, what began as a routine one-night stand turned out to be of more significance than anyone could have imagined.

Winter Gardens outside
The Winter Gardens, now sadly demolished

Song list for the November 1963 shows:

  • I Saw He Standing There (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • From Me To You (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • All My Loving (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • You Really Got A Hold On Me (Smokey Robinson)
  • Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry)
  • Boys (Luther Dixon & Wes Farrell)
  • Till There Was You (Meredith Wilson)
  • She Loves You (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • Money (That’s What I Want) (Berry Gordy & Janie Bradford)
  • Twist and Shout (Phil Medley & Bert Berns)
The Beatles programme for the Winter Gardens, November 1963
Old Echo Print. The Beatles. Scanned 9.11.06.
The Beatles backstage at the Winter Gardens in 1963 (Photograph Bournemouth Echo)

As ‘Beatlemania’ gripped Great Britain, three rival American television networks, NBC, CBS and ABC, received permission from Brian Epstein to film part of the show for news items covering the new phenomenon. The first airing in America of the film captured in Bournemouth, was broadcast on the NBC evening news programme The Huntley-Brinkley Report on 18th November 1963. The condescending four minute segment presented by Edwin Newman containing a short snippet of the group performing “From Me to You”, proved to be the first time The Beatles appeared on American TV, pre-empting their Ed Sullivan Show debut on Sunday February 9th 1964 by nearly three months. The CBS network followed up with a story on Morning News with Mike Wallace on 22nd November 1963, this piece reported by the then London bureau chief Alexander Kendrick, included an interview with The Beatles by Josh Darsa. The same item was to be repeated on the Walter Cronkite Show that evening, but breaking news of the John F. Kennedy assassination in Dallas, Texas understandably took precedence and the segment was shelved until 10th December 1963 when it was aired on Walter Cronkite’s CBS Evening News.

The heavy police presence form a barrier to keep the audience from rushing the stage

Another story that unfolded on the day involved photographer Terence Spencer and Life magazine. After a heads up from his thirteen-year old daughter Cara, Spencer arrived with his chauffeur and assistant Frank Allen at their hotel, the grand, but now demolished Branksome Towers at Branksome Chine, expecting to carry out a photo shoot that would give them the cover story for the January 31st 1964 issue. Brian Epstein was keen on the publicity that a spread in Life would produce, however, for whatever reason, The Beatles failed to turn up and the cover went to Geraldine Chaplin instead. Spencer later said that The Beatles must be the only people in showbiz ever to turn down a Life cover, although they got an eight-page spread in the same issue entitled ‘Four Screaming Mopheads Break up England – Here Comes Those Beatles’. With a text by Timothy Green and photographs by Spencer, the article warned Americans to brace themselves for the invasion and reported on the lines of English bobbies needed to control the crowds and how schools had banned the ‘Mop Top’ hair style. Despite the setback of a missing cover story, Terence received an invitation to follow the group around, but not before a typically acerbic Lennon commented “You’re a bloody nuisance, I can’t stand the sight of you”, but then invited him up to Liverpool for a story. By the end of the project they had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and become such a massive success in America, that they made the biggest showbiz story Life magazine ever ran. They finally made the cover on 28th August 1964 with the headline ‘The Beatles – They’re here again and what a ruckus’, plus a seven-page article documenting their rise to fame.

The Beatles first Life magazine cover, 28th August 1964
The Branksome Towers Hotel where The Beatles stayed after their date at the Winter Gardens
The Gaumont, Sunday 2nd August 1964

The Beatles visited Bournemouth twice in 1964 returning to the Gaumont Cinema. The Sunday 2nd August shows were part of a short seven date UK tour coming off the back of their first visits to Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong and prior to their first full concert tour of America. On the night, they were joined by The Kinks who were about to release their breakthrough single and first number one, “You Really Got Me”. According to Ray Davies autobiography X-Ray, there was a tense rivalry between Lennon and the author and a spot of one-upmanship. The Kinks front-man reckons they went down so well in the first show in the slot just before The Beatles, that they were relegated to closing the first half in the second show. His brother Dave goes further by stating that they closed the second show going on after The Beatles, but that sounds highly unlikely and has never been substantiated, it sounds more like Dave re-writing history. The remaining acts included The Hearts who had just dropped the Purple from their name due to adverse publicity, the singer cum actress Adrienne Poster before her name change to Posta in 1966, Mike Berry and The Innocents and compere Tony Marsh. They played two shows at 6.15 pm and 8.30 pm and charged a top price of fifteen shillings to sit in the front stalls.

Song list for the August 1964 tour:

  • Twist and Shout (Phil Medley & Bert Berns)
  • I Want to Hold Your Hand (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • I Saw Her Standing There (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • You Can’t Do That (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • All My Loving (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • I Wanna Be Your Man (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • She Loves You (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • Till There Was You (Meredith Wilson)
  • Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry)
  • Can’t Buy Me Love (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • This Boy (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • Long Tall Sally (Robert ‘Bumps’ Blackwell & Little Richard & Enotris Johnnson)    
The Beatles programme for the Gaumont shows, August 1964
The Beatles backstage at the Gaumont Theatre, August 1964 (Photographs Bournemouth Echo)
The Gaumont, Friday 30th October 1964

For The Beatles final visit to the town on Friday 30th October 1964, they brought along Motown songstress Mary Wells to close the first half of the show backed by Sounds Incorporated. The bill also included minor Epstein acts The Remo Four, Michael Haslam and The Rustiks, plus compere Bob Bain. Tommy Quickly was also due to appear but was ‘indisposed’ on the night, which left a slot for the Scottish country singer Lorne Gibson to step in and carry out the unenviable task of filling the spot prior to The Beatles entrance. With the release of A Hard Day’s Night in early July, the set list had changed to accommodate the new songs from the soundtrack album, but they kept in a handful of older, up tempo crowd-pleasers to keep the fans in a heightened state of delirium.

Song list for the October show:   

  • Twist and Shout (Phil Medley & Bert Berns)
  • Money (That’s What I Want) (Berry Gordy & Janie Bradford)
  • Can’t Buy Me Love (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • Things We Said Today (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • I’m Happy Just to Dance With You (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • I Should  Have Known Better (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • If I Fell (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)                                         
  • I Wanna Be Your Man  (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)                 
  • A Hard Day’s Night (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • Long Tall Sally (Robert ‘Bumps’ Blackwell & Little Richard & Enotris Johnnson)   
The Beatles programme for the Gaumont shows, October 1964
The Beatles and Mary Wells team up for their autumn tour in October 1964

By the time The Beatles came to Bournemouth in October 1964, their world domination was complete. I had just turned twelve years old and had been a fan for just over a year. Initially, I resisted their first four singles, (I’m still not keen on “She Loves You”) but all that changed with the release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in November 1963, when along with millions of American kids I finally succumbed. The single eventually landed in my eager hands on Christmas day morning, however, I had to wait impatiently until my dad had gone down the pub for his pre-lunch skinfull before I could play it, which I did over and over again driving the rest of the household crazy. From then on I waited with bated breath for every utterance, recording, TV appearance, radio show or mention in the tabloids for my Beatle fix, much to my dad’s annoyance. He hated them with a vengeance and berated me about their lack of talent and how they would be a flash in the pan. Given the opportunity, he would have turned off the television the moment they appeared, but I would stand my ground and watch enthralled. No amount of his negativity could shake my belief, as I followed them into this exciting new world and left him to his dusty old Semprini and Charlie Kunz records. I don’t know what my mother thought of them, as I never thought to ask, but she was malleable. With her helping to feed my habit by supplying scrapbooks for newspaper cuttings, placing a regular order at the newsagents for the Beatle Book Monthly’s and subsidising my meagre earnings from a paper round for the latest 45’s, I could just about keep up with the flood of Beatle related merchandising. Although she drew the line at a pair of Cuban healed Beatle boots and the more expensive albums had to wait until Christmas or birthdays.

One afternoon in July 1964, I and a small gang of mates, descended on the Gaumont cinema to see A Hard Day’s Night and stayed for two showings. For the next of couple weeks we talked of nothing else. Their appearance on the big screen and the sound of all those great songs at such a loud volume was mind blowing. I didn’t care whether they could act or not, or if the plot was weak, the critics and nay-sayers missed the point, it had a freshness and naturalism that captured a time and place that still stands up today. I loved that film and still do. When the group visited the Gaumont in person the following month, I spent a couple of hours sat on the wall in front of the Pavilion with a mob of screaming girls trying to catch a glimpse of their heads peering above the balcony of the Palace Court Hotel, but no dice, the novelty of waving to fans had worn off by then and they stayed in the bowels of the hotel well away from the pandemonium outside. As I sat watching expectantly, an old woman said to me, “They’ve just made a film in six weeks, it took years to make Ben Hur, I bet its rubbish”. At the time I thought it was a ridiculous statement, as I had just seen the film a few weeks before and loved it, but being just eleven years old, I didn’t have the wherewithal to conjure up a come back and ignored her. Besides, I know which film I would rather watch on a wet Sunday afternoon.  

Crowds assemble across the road from the Gaumont hoping to catch a glimpse of The Beatles

Two months later my mother came up trumps when The Beatles returned to the Bournemouth Gaumont for the final time in October 1964. Without prior knowledge to me, she had bought a pair of tickets for the first house and press-ganged my older sister in to taking me to my first ever pop concert. By this time my sister was seventeen and a trad jazz fan. She must have been one of the few female teenagers in the country who needed to be coerced into going to a Beatles gig, but I didn’t care I was too excited to worry about her procrastinations. On the night we caught the number six yellow bus into town, entered the cinema and found our seats in the balcony, fairly near the front with a good view of the chaos unfolding around us. The first half of the show went by in a blur. Does anyone remember The Rustiks and Michael Haslam, no me neither. The compere Bob Bain, an annoying chubby man in a too tight suit, kept popping up between acts and ratcheting up the frenzy meter a notch or two by merely mentioning The Beatles loud and often. To close the first half, Mary Wells added a touch of glamour and class as she sang her three song set including her recent chart topper “My Guy” backed by Sounds Incorporated. The curtain fell for the intermission, while everybody caught their breath and bought an overpriced ice cream.

The second half kicked off with The Remo Four who should have supported Tommy Quickly, but he was a no show and Lorne Gibson, a Scottish country singer, stepped into the unenviable slot just before The Beatles. The poor chap did his best, but he had to battle against the intermittent screaming and chanting from the over-excited audience. As he left the stage Bob Bain entered stage right and went to town, whipping up the highly charged crowd into a state of hysteria while they prepared for the main event behind the closed curtain. Finally, it was show time and everything that had gone before was soon forgotten.    

The curtain rose to a sound reminiscent of a jet plane taking off. The piercing screams drowned out the opening bars of “Twist and Shout”, but hell, that first sighting of the four most famous people on the planet with their signature suits and ‘Mop Top’ hair was incredibly exciting. Paul stood to the left with his Hofner Violin bass, George centre stage with a Gretsch in front of Ringo’s drum riser with the legend ‘The Beatles’ emblazoned on his bass drum skin and John, legs akimbo in his recognisable stance, strummed his customary black Rickenbacker to the right. The group followed up with another cover, Barrett Strong’s “Money” from With the Beatles, before delving into the recently released A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack album with “Can’t Buy me Love” and “Things We Said Today” featuring Paul on lead vocals. All the while the audience were screaming, shouting and jumping up down, running the St John’s Ambulance volunteers ragged as they dealt with fainting, sobbing girls. Next up was George with “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” which brought on a new wave of screaming from fans trying to catch his attention. After “I Should Have Known Better”, they attempted their one slow song, “If I Fell”, which lowered the pressure cooker atmosphere for a few minutes before Ringo upped the ante by barking his way through a frantic “I Wanna Be Your Man”. Their latest single, “A Hard Day’s Night”, followed before they rounded off the evening with a rousing “Long Tall Sally” with Paul in fine Little Richard mode. What must have been barely twenty-five minutes was gone in a flash, a quick bow, a wave and they were gone, no encores.

People often ask me did you actually hear anything, and the answer is yes, I did, well some of it. By 1964 they had upgraded their Vox AC-30 amplifiers to more powerful Vox AC-50’s and an AC80/100 for Paul’s bass, plus I have read that the audiences were not so noisy by late 1964, that is maybe, all I know is it was my first gig and something I will never forget.

The Beatles final date at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Monday 29th August 1966. It would be the last time they performed in public apart from an impromptu gig on the roof of Apple in 1969

As their hectic schedule kept them busy travelling extensively throughout Europe, America and the Far East, the home fans had less of a chance of sighting their idols live in concert. In fact less than two years after their last visit to Bournemouth, the group tired of touring and pulled the plug altogether. The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred during the summer of 1966, after an off the cuff remark taken out of context about the group being more popular than Jesus by Lennon, turned a tour of America into an edgy, confrontational ordeal. That was followed by an unintentional snub of Imelda Marcos in the Philippines, which left them shaken but unbowed after they were shoved and jostled at the airport while trying to leave the country. They finally quit touring on Monday 29th August at Candlestick Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team. From then on, until their split in 1970, they only ever performed one impromptu gig on the roof of the Apple building at 3 Saville Row on 30th January 1969 for the closing scene of the film Let it Be.

Paul McCartney & Wings, Winter Gardens, Tuesday 15th May 1973

Other Beatle related sightings in Bournemouth have included a Paul McCartney and Wings performance at the Winter Gardens on Tuesday, May 15th 1973 as part of a low key nineteen date UK tour to promote the album Red Rose Speedway. The Wings line-up for the tour included Paul McCartney on bass, guitar and vocals, Linda McCartney on keyboards and vocals, guitarist Denny Laine, bassist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell. Support came from the pub rock quartet Brinsley Schwarz.

Song list for the 15th May show:

  • Soily (Paul McCartney)
  • Big Barn Bed (Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney)
  • When The Night (Paul McCartney)
  • Wild Life (Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney)
  • Seaside Woman (Linda McCartney)
  • Little Woman Love (Paul McCartney)
  • C Moon (Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney)
  • Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney)
  • Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney)
  • My Love (Paul McCartney)
  • Go Now (Larry Banks & Milton Bennett)
  • Say You Don’t Mind (Denny Laine)
  • The Mess (Paul McCartney)
  • Long Tall Sally (Robert ‘Bumps’ Blackwell & Little Richard & Enotris Johnnson)
Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band, BIC, Friday 24th June 2011

The last Beatle to play Bournemouth was Ringo Starr with his All Star Band at the Bournemouth International Centre on Friday 24th June 2011, the last night of a six date UK tour. The band comprised of Rick Derringer (The McCoys, Johnny Winter Band) on guitar and vocals, Richard Page (Mr. Mister) bass and vocals, Wally Palmar (The Romantics) guitar and vocals, Edgar Winter (Edgar Winter Band, Johnny Winter Band) saxophone, keyboards, percussion and vocals, Gary Wright (Spooky Tooth) keyboards and vocals, plus session drummer Greg Bissonette. Seven years before the concert took place, Ringo was spotted at the Poole Lighthouse on Wednesday 23rd June 2004 supporting his son Zak, as he made his debut with Oasis after replacing their previous drummer Alan White.

Song list for the 24th June show:

  • It Don’t Come Easy: Ringo Starr
  • Honey Don’t: Ringo Starr
  • Choose Love: Ringo Starr
  • Hang on Sloopy: Rick Derringer
  • Free Ride: Edgar Winter
  • Talking In Your Sleep: Wally Palmar
  • I Wanna Be Your Man: Ringo Starr
  • Dream Weaver: Gary Wright
  • Kyrie: Richard Page
  • The Other Side Of Liverpool: Ringo Starr
  • Yellow Submarine: Ringo Starr
  • Frankenstein: Edgar Winter
  • Peace Dream: Ringo Starr
  • Back Off Boogaloo: Ringo Starr
  • What I Like About You: Wally Palmar
  • Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo: Rick Derringer
  • Boys: Ringo Starr
  • Love Is Alive: Gary Wright
  • Broken Wings: Richard Page
  • Photograph: Ringo Starr
  • Act Naturally: Ringo Starr
  • With A Little Help From My Friends: Ringo Starr
  • Give Peace A Chance: Ringo Starr 
Ringo Starr (2)
Ringo Starr at the Bournemouth International Centre in  2011
John Lennon, Aunt Mimi and Sandbanks

Mary Elizabeth Smith, or ‘Aunt Mimi’ as John Lennon affectionately called her, was John’s maternal aunt, parental guardian and the eldest of five daughters in the Stanley family. John lived with Mimi and her husband George Smith in Mendips, the family home on 251 Menlove Avenue, Allerton, Liverpool. John’s mother Julia Stanley and father Alf Lennon, married on 3rd December 1938 and gave birth to John on 9th October 1940 at the Oxford Street Maternity Hospital. When the marriage ended, Julia was persuaded to hand the care of John over to Mimi and George who had no children of their own. George died of a liver haemorrhage in 1955 aged 52. Three years later John’s mother Julia was killed in a road accident on Menlove Avenue by an off-duty police officer.

A young John Lennon with Aunt Mimi and Uncle George Smith in the garden of Mendips

During The Beatles rise to fame, their success caused a problem for Mimi, as fans constantly besieged her home in Liverpool. Eventually, after much persuasion from John, she sold Mendips for £6,000 and bought Harbour’s Edge, a bungalow at 126 Panorama Road, Sandbanks, Poole for £25,000. She always liked the idea of living by the sea and had mentioned that she might look at Bournemouth, which she subsequently did with John, Cynthia and Julian in his black Rolls Royce. At first they didn’t find anything suitable and were about to return home, when an Estate Agent steered them to Harbour’s Edge. John liked it straight away and told Mimi that if she didn’t want it, he would buy it for himself. She liked it, and moved to the south coast in October 1965.

81. Mendips John's Home Liverpool November 2013 031
Mendips, John Lennon’s home in Allerton, Liverpool (Photograph John Cherry)

John would ring her every week and used to visit regularly, first with Julian and Cynthia until their divorce in November 1968 and then with Yoko Ono. On 14th March 1969, while John and Yoko were visiting Mimi in Poole, he asked his chauffeur Les Anthony to drive to Southampton to inquire if it was possible for the couple to marry at sea. John thought he and Yoko could get wed on a cross-channel ferry, but the practice of impromptu weddings at sea was not as common and easy as he believed and the plan was abandoned. On 20th March the couple flew to Gibraltar via Paris, where they were married at the British Consulate, as documented in the song “The Ballad of John and Yoko”.

Mimi Smith, John Lennon's aunt, on the steps of her house in Sandbanks
Aunt Mimi sitting on the steps at Harbour’s Edge, Sandbanks (Photograph Bournemouth Echo)

On 26th October 1965 John received an MBE from the Queen, along with the rest of The Beatles, but was always uncomfortable with the award, as he believed he sold his soul to the establishment. John always believed he was a working class socialist, albeit of the champagne variety. After he was presented with the medal at Buckingham Palace, he passed it on to Mimi who proudly displayed it on the top of her television, until 25th November 1969, when John sent his chauffeur Les to retrieve it. She passed it over requesting its safe return, but John had other ideas. With the medal back in his possession he wrote a letter to the Queen, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and Secretary of the Central Chancery saying, “Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria / Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against “Cold Turkey” slipping down the charts”, he signed it “With Love, John Lennon”. Les drove John and Yoko to the tradesman’s entrance of Buckingham Palace where he handed over the letter and medal. Unhappy at her part in embarrassing the Queen, Mimi said she would never have given it to John if she knew what he was going to do with it. Despite the gesture, John remained an MBE, as recipients can send back their gongs but cannot renounce an honour once it has been bestowed.

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John Lennon, Julian and Aunt Mimi, Sandbanks Ferry in 1967

By 1971 Lennon had moved to America and never returned to his homeland. He would keep in constant contact with Mimi by telephone and on 5th December 1980 she received some good news from John, when he called to say he was homesick and was planning a trip back to England. However, fate intervened, and he was gunned down by Mark Chapman outside the Dakota building, his residence in New York, on 8th December.

Although Mimi lived in Harbour’s Edge, she never owned it. When Lennon was murdered the ownership of the property moved to Yoko Ono, which made Mimi furious, as Ono could sell up at any time, although she never did. Mimi died at home on 6th December 1991, aged 85. Cynthia Lennon, Sean Ono Lennon and Yoko Ono attended her funeral at the Poole Crematorium on 12th December 1991. Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr all sent floral arrangements, and a wake was held at The Harbour Heights Hotel overlooking Sandbanks. Yoko put the bungalow up for sale on the day of her cremation. It was bought and then demolished in 1994, to be replaced by a four bedroom, modern, glass fronted luxury home. Ono also bought Mendips and donated it to the National Trust who renovated it in the style of the 1950s’. It is now a visitor attraction.

For an in-depth account of The Beatles connections to the town read Nick Churchill’s excellent book Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Beatles and Bournemouth. Also try Jon Kremmer’s book Bournemouth A Go Go for his story on how he and a young Al Stewart blagged their way backstage of the Gaumont in 1963 and came face to face with their heroes.

4 thoughts on “The Beatles and Bournemouth

  1. Brilliant stuff! With the Beatles photo in a Westover Road hotel – who’d have thought and how on earth do you find this stuff? You are the Sherlock Holmes (not Sheerluck!) of local music research.
    I just need another month or three to try to get through the great outcomes of your research.
    A marvelous body of work Mr Cherry.

    Like

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