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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

In-jokes, you know: Liverpudlian humor in A Hard Day's Night

12:34 PM Posted by Nicole M

Encountering A Hard Day's Night for the first time is a little like George Martin's experience of meeting The Beatles themselves for the first time, in June of 1962: the charisma and comedy of The Beatles gets your attention just as much as (if not more than) the music.

My reaction to seeing this movie for the first time was that The Beatles were every bit as funny as Monty Python's Flying Circus, and I was already a big fan of the Circus. In later years, this comparison proved to have some historical foundation: The Beatles and Python both had the same comedic wet nurse in The Goon Show (produced on record by The Beatles' producer George Martin, and directed for television by Richard Lester, director of A Hard Day's Night).

Of course the comedy was good.

However, A Hard Day's Night was meant to capture The Beatles and their personalities "in the raw," which meant capturing their very British, very Liverpudlian style of banter and joke-cracking. Script writer Alun Owen (himself a Liverpudlian) spent some time observing and interacting with The Beatles during their stay at the George V hotel in Paris, where they were booked for some 18 days of concerts at Olympia Theatre. Owen wasn't inventing character types for the film, he was drawing from real life studies.

Which means, in the end, that a fair bit of the humor in A Hard Day's Night might go over the heads of those of us who aren't as familiar with Scouse culture, slang, and word-play. At the risk of violating the principle, "a joke isn't funny if you have to explain it," here are a few of my own "a-ha!" moments (and maybe a few misheard lines) while watching this great film over the years.

"He'll cost you a fortune ..."

In the opening train scene, as Paul introduces his grandfather to the other Beatles, he admits that he's concerned about having to keep an eye on ol' Granddad, saying, "he'll cost you a fortune in Breach of Promise cases."

Breach of Promise lawsuits mean next-to-nothing to us these days, but in Britain of the early 1960s, it was a different story. A Breach of Promise lawsuit was a means of defense for a woman who had accepted a marriage proposal, only to have her beau change his mind later and possibly leave her hung out to dry, financially speaking. The Breach of Promise lawsuit was a way for her to recover monetary damages.

Paul is telling us up-front: his grandfather is a womanizer, liable to make some nuptial promises he doesn't intend to keep. (And indeed, later in the film, he gleefully announces, "congratulate me boys, I'm engaged!")

Granddad's awful French

As the band decides leave a pile of unanswered fan mail at the hotel in favor of going to the club, Paul's grandfather steals Ringo's invitation card and sneaks out to go gambling at The Circle Club, where (as Paul read from the card earlier) the game is "Chemin de Fer Baccarat."

Without going into the nitty and gritty of the game, suffice it to say that it plays a bit like Blackjack, where players are adding up card points to get as close as possible to a total (in Blackjack, it's 21, in Baccarat, it's nine). One player in each round is designated as "Banker," or "Banco" in French, and this comes up later in the scene.

The gag all throughout The Circle Club scenes is that Paul's grandfather has zero command of the French language, and keeps embarrassing himself by trying to pretend he does. Early in the game, a fellow card player tells the dealer to "suivez" (a formal instruction in the game), and on his turn, Granddad announces "souffle!" A moment later, he shouts out "Bingo!", which is nearly -- but not quite -- the proper declaration, "Banco." (The dealer wearily explains this with the line, "Pas 'Bingo,' monsieur. 'Banco.'")

Just before The Beatles arrive to collect Paul's grandfather, a waiter approaches him with a tray of champagne and asks him, "Encore du champagne, monsieur?" (Which of course means, "more champagne, sir?") Clumsy as ever, Granddad responds, "Oh, yeah ... and I'll have some more champagne as well."

Now give me money ...

As Granddad's night of gambling and carousing ends abruptly (he is forcibly dragged off by The Beatles), their manager Norm attempts to settle the bill, and is shocked at how high it is: "A hundred-and-eighty pounds?!" He is quickly corrected by the proprietor, "I beg your pardon, guineas."

First, a bit of research: £180 in 1964 was worth about $600 USD, and adjusting for inflation, that $600 in 1964 would be worth roughly $4,700 today. Norm has good reason to be shocked at the bill Granddad has run up!

To make matters worse, it's not £180, it's 180 guineas. The guinea was an old form of British currency, and worth slightly more than the pound. One guinea is the equivalent to £1.05, and therein lies the joke: £180 is bad enough -- but wait! -- it gets worse! The bill is actually £189 after converting from guineas.

That sets us up for the next joke, where Paul's grandfather is given his winnings for the night, totaling £190 -- he's up on the night, if only by a single pound. But his winnings are quickly whisked away, and his complaint, "what about me change?!", is met with the response, "cloak-room charge."

(Am I the only one who for years heard this line as "Pilgrim charge"?)

The worst kind of demotion

At the end of the movie, as The Beatles rescue Ringo from the jail and barely make it to the television studio in time for the live show, Victor Spinetti's character as the producer says, "If you hadn't come back it would have meant ... The Epilogue ... or The News in Welsh ... for life."

For years, I thought he meant "the epilogue," as in, "the end" or "the afterword," the "last page of my career." It turns out that he's referring to two actual British television shows, The Epilogue and The News in Welsh. The first was a short program that ended the broadcast day, airing late at night. The BBC web site explains that the show "initially comprised themed Bible readings but over time hymns were added."

The second show is exactly what it sounds like: another short program where news headlines and major stories were briefly read out in the Welsh language, for the benefit of Welsh viewers.

Spinetti's line is a not-so-subtle dig at British television and its weird collection of one-off programs.

Odds, ends, and misheard lines

The train arrives at the station, and Norm comes rushing in to announce, "They've gone potty out there!" Yes, potty, not "party," as I always heard it. "Potty" is British slang for "crazy."

When Ringo fails to get any fan mail at the hotel, Paul's grandfather blames it on his big nose, saying "fans are funny that way -- they'll take a dislike to things, they'll pick on a nose." I always heard that line as "they'll take it in slighter things." Blame the accent, I guess.

While out parading, Ringo stops for a sandwich, but the bread is obviously hard and stale. The shop keeper insists, "that was fresh this morning -- two and nine." The "two and nine" is not, as I misunderstood it, a reference to a time or date. (Perhaps it was the time when the bread was baked?) She's stating the price of the sandwich in common British short-hand, "two (shillings) and nine (pence)." In other words, she's not having any of Ringo's whining, and in Americanese we might say: "that was fresh this morning -- that'll be five bucks."

As they prepare to go on-stage to rehearse "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You", John grabs one of the female dancers and says, "I say, did you go to Harrods? I was there in '58, you know." It sounds like he's referring to a university, but as any "Englander" could tell you, Harrods is a department store. Silly John.

And last, but certainly not least, throughout the film various characters blurt out an exclamation that sounds like either "Come, mad!" or "Come, lad!" At the hotel, for instance, after Norm and Shake leave the boys to answer fan mail, John gets up to leave, explaining, "Well he told us to stay, didn't he? Come, mad/lad!" This one's a Scouser-ism all the way: the phrase is "come ahead!" as in "come on!", but in Scouse shorthand it becomes "come 'ead!"

All this talk about the film ... am I the only one who needs to watch it again?

Come 'ead!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Remembering The Beatles' 'First Manager' Allan Williams

11:48 AM Posted by Nicole M

ALLAN WILLIAMS by Jude Southerland Kessler, Author of The John Lennon Series

Originally published in Octopus' Garden fanzine, Volume 26, Issue #3, March 2017.

You couldn’t spend an evening with Allan Williams without getting into serious trouble. Even when he was “on the wagon,” as it were, he was mischievous. Allan always had a hidden agenda behind the glint in his eye. He was the grown-up version of the kid who was constantly in the Headmaster’s office. He was John Lennon with a bit more conviviality.

When I met Allan, he had just turned 64. Ruddy cheeks, dense curly hair, commanding voice (that flowed easily into a lovely tenor), small thick hands, and an exaggerated swagger of self-confidence. He was made of fun.

My husband, Rande, and I took Allan to dinner in one of Liverpool’s most respected Spanish restaurants, and within minutes, Allan was ordering bottles of various wine and starters. Mr. Williams took charge of our meeting from the kickoff. Rande and I were there to observe, compliment, ask Beatles questions, and bask in his glory. Allan was there to run the show.

That year, Allan was “off the wagon.” Way off! The more he drank, the more he shared about John and the others. He even pulled a handwritten letter from John to him out of his pocket and shared it with me.   I read it over and over, memorizing it for my books. (I was no dummy, either.) Then Allan tried to sell it to me for £150, which in the early Nineties was quite a sum. I would’ve loved to have purchased it, but being a “starving author,” I declined. I had, after all, gleaned the information from it by that point. And I could see in Allan’s eyes that he realized that and respected it, to a point.

The main “artifact” that Allan was promoting that night was a pair of Paul’s leather pants. He wanted me to buy them and gave us the entire story of how he’d come to have custody of them. Was his tale a true story? We’ll never know. But it was colorful…and over dessert, we laughed nonstop.

I had read Allan’s book cover to cover many times before that evening, and I knew quite a lot about his escapades, except for the parts he wanted no one to know. So I had to ask: “Who really burned down your Top Ten Club?” (I waited until after the third bottle of wine.) And without batting an eye, he said what most of us knew already. “I did! I wasn’t about to pay ransom to those fuggin’ gangs…and the setting was all wrong, anyway. The club was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” There you had it. I couldn’t believe his candor. But Allan probably figured that if I told anyone, they’d never believe me anyway. I had zero proof. I still have zero proof. It could have been an outright lie. Wink, wink.

That night, we met his current girlfriend, Beryl Adams (yes, Bob Wooler’s former wife and Brian’s assistant in the NEMS store in Whitechapel). She joined us after dinner and suggested we go dancing in Liverpool’s premiere American nightclub. It was a large upstairs warehouse (P. J. McGinty’s or something like that); it felt very much like any place we could’ve attended in Kansas City, MO (our hometown at that time). Honestly, I was a little disappointed to be in such a non-Liverpudlian atmosphere, but I realize that both Allan and Beryl were trying their best to make Rande and me feel at home. A lovely gesture.

When the band started at half-eleven, I asked Allan to dance. “No,” he spat curtly, looking another way. “Ah, c’mon, Allan! One dance!” I cajoled. “Fuck off!” he shouted back. I grinned from ear to ear. I had just been told to “fuck off” by The Beatles’ first manager!!!! It doesn’t get any better than that on any given night in Liverpool.

The next day, both Allan and Beryl joined us in our Aigburth B&B – The Grange – for drinks by the fire. We recorded the interview with Allan that graces the Second Edition of Shoulda Been There. We took photos and chatted…and had a lovely, quiet dinner without so much splash and circumstance. And then we said “goodbye.”

The next March, when we returned to Liverpool and to The Grange hotel, we arrived to a lovely bouquet of flowers in our room from Allan and Beryl. I’m sure it was all Beryl’s doing, but the card bore both their names. I still have it.

The next night, we joined them for dinner in Button Street (just around the corner from The White Star) at a lovely French restaurant sequestered away in a cozy upstairs room. I had no idea that Allan had given up drinking, and so we ordered wine. It was a big mistake.

Within three-quarters of an hour, Allan was going from table to table and inciting all sorts of interaction. He led one table of diners in singing the Welsh National Anthem. He got louder and louder…and as soon as we finished our meal, the four of us were politely asked to leave. When I suggested walking around the corner to The Grapes, Beryl informed me that Allan was not permitted there. “He’s the Welsh Bard, y’know,” she explained with a wry smile. “I mean, he’s barred from almost every place in Liverpool.” And it was true.

My very favorite story about Allan occurred in March of 1995 when we were invited to the Liverpool Premiere of the movie “Backbeat,” and to two after parties: a dinner hosted by Allan and Beryl in The John Lennon Bar in Mathew Street and a dance in The Cavern Club just across the way. After the film (attended by Cynthia Lennon and her current love, Robert Bassanini), Rande and I walked from City Center over to Mathew for Allan’s dinner.

It was held in an upstairs room of The John Lennon Bar, and many of the 1960’s glitterati were in attendance. The sister of Liverpool singer Beryl Marsden was there, and she kept putting Beryl’s record, “I Know,” on a turntable in the room. Over and over, she played the hit with great pride. And, Tony Jackson of The Searchers was in attendance as well, telling his stories of days with The Beatles. Best of all, Woody – the inimitable Lord Woodbine – was present in full force! He didn’t bother to spare my feelings as he colorfully ruminated about “that bastard,” John Lennon. (The autograph we have from him that night boasts of the Hamburg experience: “I was the boss!”)

“Hey, I love John Lennon!” I flared, countering his insults. “He’s like a brother to me!” Then laughing his broad West Indies laugh as loudly as he could, Woody yelled above my head, “Well lady, you have one strange brother!!!!!!” Everyone in the room fell out.

The high point of the evening (for me, at least) came when Rande and I excused ourselves for a few moments to pop in on the party in The Cavern Club. We thought it would be rude and remiss not to do so, since we’d been invited so graciously.

When we returned to The John Lennon Bar, the owner of the bar and his wife had taken our seats at the dinner table just beside Allan and Beryl. That was no problem at all. We had already completed dinner, and we were happy to stand over by the record player and chat with Tony Jackson. But Allan was having none of it. He turned to the two usurpers and said, “That’s Jude’s chair…get out!” To which the bar owner replied, “Look, I own this fuggin’ bar!!!! I’ll sit wherever I want.”

Long story short, Allan shoved the man, and the man shoved back. And before I knew it, they were out and out fighting…it was an out and out donnybrook! I started to be horrified and upset, when my very wise husband (who always found the best in everything) said to me, “If I had told you when you were nine years old and just falling for The Beatles that someday The Beatles’ first manager and the owner of The John Lennon Bar would be fighting over where you were sitting, would you have believed it?” That put things into perspective. I beamed!! It was truly (aside from my wedding night and the birth of my son) the unequivocal best night of my entire life! Never to be forgotten!

I miss Allan Williams. I miss him very much. Last night, I took a long, quiet walk and thought of the good times we shared…the afternoon that Allan, Bob Wooler, Rande, and I spent in Lark Lane drinking and talking about The Cavern Club days and Hamburg. Bob was a true gentleman and a lovely spirit. And Allan? Well, Allan balanced him out quite nicely. He was the fuggin’ flip side of the coin.

People don’t give Allan Williams the credit he deserves. He gave The Beatles the chance that no one else gave them. He allowed then to audition for Larry Parnes and sent them off on their first real tour…the Johnny Gentle tour of Scotland. He gave them the opportunity to go to Hamburg, despite the written threats from Derry and the Seniors that they didn’t want The Beatles there, ruining their reputations. Allan taught John, Paul, George, and Pete to mach shau. He taught them to be hard knock rockers, not just kids with guitars. He taught them to command attention, just like he did.

Allan showed them that the road to fame was paved with starvation, cold, hardship, and ignominy. And if they could endure all of that, well then, they could be famous. He taught them to be gut-tough.
I respect Brian Epstein. I know that without Brian, The Beatles could not have stepped onto the world stage. But under Allan’s tutelage, The Beatles were the band they wanted to be. They were crude, macho, angry, conceited, arrogant, self-assured, sexy, and totally magnetic. They were the band I wish I had seen. They were effin’ great.

Allan was a large part of all of that. And tonight, as I remember the man who was my dear friend, I thank him for being the wild, uncensored character he was. Allan was Allan. There will never be another. Some might say, “Thank God!” I say, “Isn’t it a pity.”

And quite honestly… I still wish he had danced with me.