Hunter Davies’ authorized Beatles biography released in the UK

Monday, September 30, 1968

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On this day, the book “The Beatles: The Authorised Biography” written by Hunter Davies was published in the UK.

From Wikipedia:

The Beatles: The Authorised Biography is a book written by British author Hunter Davies and published by Heinemann in the UK in September 1968. It was written with the full cooperation of the Beatles and chronicles the band’s career up until early 1968, two years before their break-up. It was the only authorised biography of the Beatles written during their career. Davies published revised editions of the book in 1978, 1982, 1985, 2002 and 2009.

Background

In 1966, Hunter Davies was working as the Atticus columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper and had written two books, one of which was the novel Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. Moved by the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby“, he visited Paul McCartney at the latter’s house in St John’s Wood, in September 1966, intending to make the song the focus of his newspaper column. At a subsequent meeting at the house, Davies hoped to persuade McCartney to write the theme song for the film adaptation of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. Nothing came of this idea, but the pair began discussing the possibility of an official biography of the Beatles. Recalling their conversation in 2002, Davies said that there had been just two previous books about the band, “both paperbacks, neither substantial”, and he suggested to McCartney that the publication of an official history would save the Beatles having to answer many of the usual questions put to them by the media.

Through McCartney’s introduction, Davies met with Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager. Epstein promised Davies full access to the band members and exclusivity over any other writers wishing to write a similar biography for the next two years. Signed on 25 January 1967, their contract stipulated that the Beatles had the right to make changes to the submitted manuscript. The London-based publisher Heinemann agreed an advance on the manuscript of £3000 (equivalent to £54,852 in 2019), which was divided between the author and Nemperor Holdings, a company of Epstein’s. Davies recalled that the advance was “nothing startling”, and he was surprised at the lack of excitement about the book in the publishing industry. One of the Heinemann directors told him that “the Beatles bubble would soon burst”, which was a widely held viewpoint at the time.

Writing and content

According to Davies, he spent much of the next six months researching the Beatles’ story, travelling to Liverpool, Hamburg and New York. He said that information about the group’s years on the club circuit in Hamburg in the early 1960s was hard to come by, and the band members were unable to remember much or agree on how many times they went to Hamburg. The lack of archived information, and the faulty memories of John Lennon and McCartney, led to Davies giving the wrong year for the pair’s first meeting, which took place at a Woolton church fete in July 1957. Davies said that one of the most interesting aspects of his research was meeting the Beatles’ parents, who, as a result of the band’s fame since 1963, “had been uprooted from their homes, from their cultural and social roots, and didn’t quite know what had happened to their sons, or themselves”. He also interviewed the Beatles’ school friends and teachers, as well as associates from their musical career.

Davies says that when he was with individual members of the band he wrote down their comments in his notebook, but when they were all together, he simply observed and then wrote about the occasion once he had returned home. Davies attended songwriting sessions at the Beatles’ homes and some of the recording sessions for their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which he recounted in detail in the book. With the Beatles’ permission, he would retrieve their discarded handwritten lyric sheets at the end of the sessions. He was among the crowd of friends who joined the band for their performance of “All You Need Is Love” on the Our World satellite broadcast, on 25 June 1967, and accompanied them to the Transcendental Meditation seminar they attended in Bangor in late August. He was present also for some of the filming of Magical Mystery Tour, the project that McCartney initiated as a means to rally the band in the wake of Epstein’s death during their stay in Bangor.

Davies carried out interviews at home with the band members and their wives or girlfriends, presenting a picture of normality in their domestic lives. The Beatles, particularly Lennon, were eager to downplay their artistry and influence, and Davies’ narrative similarly dismisses Beatlemania as a journalistic fad. The unity among the four band members, to the partial exclusion of their romantic partners, was a message that was consistently put forward by his interviewees. He quoted McCartney as saying: “The thing is, we’re all really the same person … If one of us, one side of the Mates, leans over one way we all go with him or we pull him back.” When Lennon’s wife, Cynthia, expressed a long-held wish to go on holiday with just her husband and their son Julian, Lennon asked, “Not even with our Beatle buddies?” – to which Cynthia replied: “They seem to need you less than you need them.”

The book also includes a passage describing Lennon at home one evening, smoking marijuana with a family friend. George Harrison recounts his first experience with the hallucinogenic drug LSD, in early 1965, saying: “It was as if I’d never tasted, talked, seen, thought or heard properly before.” Jane Asher, McCartney’s fiancée, admitted to feeling left out of his LSD experiences but trying to accommodate his new interests, while McCartney admitted to having tried to make Asher abandon her successful career as an actress. Davies completed all the interviews for the book in January 1968.

Requested alterations

After submitting his manuscript for approval by the Beatles and their families, Davies was required to make several alterations. In Beatles aide Peter Brown’s later description, this process amounted to the “wholesale censorship” of the manuscript, particularly with regard to the band’s drug taking. According to Davies, however, the Beatles made relatively few demands. He says it was his own decision to leave out any mention of the band’s exploits with groupies during their touring years. He says that this was out of consideration for the band members’ partners, and because: “Most people over the age of 25 in the 1960s were aware of what happened between rock stars and groupies. I felt no need to go into it.”

Since the Beatles had become fascinated by meditation, and at that time planned to focus on spirituality at the expense of their career, Harrison asked him to include more information on this aspect. Pattie Boyd, Harrison’s wife, explains in the book: “He’s found something stronger than the Beatles, though he still wants them to share it.” Davies was also pressed by Lennon to present a more wholesome picture of his childhood and to cut some of the profanity – to placate Lennon’s aunt and parental guardian, Mimi Smith. In addition, Epstein’s family asked that some mentions of Epstein’s homosexuality be cut from the manuscript, although he had approved the text in question. Davies recalled that he was careful to use the term “gay”, which was “still a code word” at the time.

Publication

In Britain, Heinemann published the book on 30 September 1968. McGraw-Hill acquired the US rights for $160,000 (equivalent to $1.19 million in 2020), having outbid eight other major publishing houses. McGraw-Hill decided to release copies there on 17 August to avoid losing out to a rival biography by Julian Frost, titled The Beatles: The Real Story. Signet rush-released another book titled The Beatles, written by Anthony Scaduto, in an attempt to take sales from Davies’ book. In the UK and the US, the cover of The Beatles: The Authorised Biography featured a composite photo of a human head made up of quadrants containing a portion of each of the Beatles’ faces. Excerpts from the book appeared in The Sunday Times and in the US magazine Life.

The publication coincided with the cinema run of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine animated film and the release of “Hey Jude“, the group’s first single on their Apple record label. The book furthered the theme of togetherness presented by these projects. Author Jonathan Gould comments that, on this issue, the biography was already considerably out of date, given the malaise afflicting the band after their return from India, and the fact that Lennon had left Cynthia for Japanese artist Yoko Ono, just as McCartney’s long-term relationship with Asher had ended. In addition, Ringo Starr had temporarily left the group in August, having grown tired of the bad atmosphere and McCartney’s criticism of his drumming. In an interview he gave in early December, to Keele University’s Unit arts magazine, Lennon recanted his statement that the Beatles’ success was not a matter of talent or artistry, acknowledging that “It was only last year since we were talking to Hunter Davies. I’ve changed that much since then.” Lennon also said that some of his views were “how I felt that day” when speaking to Davies, but the book was “nothing to do with what were are [now]”.

The availability of the book proved beneficial to American business manager Allen Klein in his long-held quest to secure the Beatles as his clients. Before meeting with Lennon and Ono in January 1969 to discuss a solution to Apple’s financial problems, Klein used the book to glean a picture of Lennon’s self-image and develop an argument that convinced him to place his trust in Klein.

Revised editions

The Beatles has been revised and updated several times, starting in 1978. In the 1982 edition, Davies included a report of a telephone conversation he had with McCartney in June 1981, six months after Lennon’s murder. In an outpouring that Beatles historian Erin Torkelson Weber recognises as uncharacteristically open for the singer, McCartney complained about the media’s portrayal of him as inferior to Lennon, a depiction that had been enforced by the success of Philip Norman’s acclaimed Beatles biography, Shout! McCartney also shared his hurt at comments made by Ringo Starr, Neil Aspinall and Cilla Black, at Starr’s recent wedding, that appeared to underline others’ impression of him as an insincere person. McCartney was disappointed that Davies chose to write about the conversation, which he thought was a private discussion.

The 1985 edition of the book featured a brief postscript covering more recent events. It also included further examples of what Davies described as the “strange conversations” he had with McCartney, who presented arguments that questioned the validity of his past friendship with Lennon. For the 2002 edition, published by Cassels, Davies added an introductory essay on the book’s creation and more photographs. For the 40th anniversary edition, he updated the introduction to cover Harrison’s death and McCartney’s failed marriage to Heather Mills.

Reception

According to Davies, the authorised history was initially viewed as “quite daring and revealing”, particularly in the US, and to quote the Beatles using the word “fuck” was “most unusual in a popular book at the time”. Jonathan Gould considers it to be a worthy account of the band’s history. He says that, aside from its few factual errors, the book deserves its status as an authoritative source for subsequent Beatles biographies.

In his December 1970 Rolling Stone interview (subsequently published as the book Lennon Remembers), John Lennon was scathing in his assessment of Davies’ work, along with many aspects of what he termed the Beatles “myth”. He complained that the authorised biography was part of the sanitising of the Beatles’ public image, when in reality their history comprised Satyricon-like orgies on tour, heavy LSD usage by himself and Harrison, and humiliating artistic compromises throughout the Beatlemania era. Authors and biographers were subsequently divided in their view of the book’s accuracy; Torkelson Weber writes that, as a result of the alternative “narratives” represented by Lennon Remembers and then Shout!, both of which challenged the “Fab Four” narrative, Davies’ book was “tainted by association”. According to Bob Spitz, McCartney told him that the Beatles had agreed to provide the media with “a version of the facts” when they first became famous, and Davies’ account was “65 percent” correct. For his part, Davies has often defended The Beatles as an accurate history, with only Mimi Smith’s changes representing a serious compromise.

In his review for Rough Guides, Chris Ingham says that, due to its taming down of the band’s drug use and Lennon and Epstein’s personal lives, the book’s “reputation suffered for a while” once more lurid accounts became available. He describes The Beatles as “full of riveting, first-hand stuff” and adds that Davies provides a “fascinating essay” in the 2002 revised edition. Writing in New Statesman in 2012, Davies said he was hurt at the time by Lennon’s dismissal of the book as “bullshit”, and that he was still being asked to respond to Lennon’s critique over 40 years later.

Davies’ official history remained the only authorised book about the Beatles’ career until Harrison’s 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine, and McCartney’s authorised biography, Many Years from Now, written by Barry Miles and published in 1997. Miles, who says he regularly used The Beatles as a reference work for Many Years from Now, describes it as “censored at the time” but still “the most accurate account of their career”. In 2016, Colin Fleming of Rolling Stone placed The Beatles sixth in his list of the “10 Best Beatles Books”. Fleming admired the book’s candour, saying: “clearly these were guys who needed to unburden themselves of some truths they’d been toting around for the bulk of a decade, and they pile up here.” In a 2012 article titled “The best books on the Beatles”, for The Guardian, John Harris recognised Davies’ biography as one of “only two Beatles books of any quality” at the time that Lennon made his comments in Rolling Stone. Harris described it as “admirably researched and brimming with access – but stymied by his artless prose, and the constraints of being the band’s in-house writer”.

All four Beatles read it. George moaned on that I hadn’t done enough on the spiritual side and the Indian mysticism. So, I said, ‘Well, it’s a biography on a group. It’s not your views on the subject.’ Paul liked it, Ringo liked it, and John liked it and they insisted on no changes.

Hunter Davies – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman

When I finished the book, the big thing was that I didn’t want to finish it. I was so enjoying interviewing The Beatles; I wanted the research to go on forever. I had worked on it for eighteen months and I thought I had to call it a halt. The reason was that it was changing all the time. Every day I met The Beatles they always disowned what they said yesterday. Their views were changing. The Beatles were always changing in their views. Under my deal with Brian Epstein, they, The Beatles, had to read the book to make any factual corrections. But, of course, Brian was dead. This meant that his mother, Queenie, inherited my contract. I had in the first draft that Brian was gay, but his mother denied this. I had it in that Brian was gay because it was one of the most interesting things about The Beatles, how a public schoolboy, who loved classical music, who had been to RADA, had been really fascinated by The Beatles. My theory was that it was John gyrating on stage that really attracted him to The Beatles. And Brian, roughly, admitted that in the end, but I couldn’t spell it out. I did use the phrase ‘gay bachelor.’

Hunter Davies – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman

Tony Bramwell – From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°61, August 1968

From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°57, April 1968

Interview of Hunter Davies, July 1968:

The few people I mentioned the idea to at first said: “So what, everything about them which anybody would want to know has been written. And anyway, they’re finished.” As we fans know, there’s a lot we don’t know. But in November 1966, when I started writing, many people thought like that. They’d stopped touring. Nobody knew where they were going. There was no sign of “Sgt. Pepper”. This didn’t worry me, being a fan. I just wanted to know more than Beatlemania era books and literature about them had told me.

Everything started the day I met Paul. I’d interviewed him once, as a journalist, and got on OK. I went back later, in a different capacity, to ask him to do the music for a film I was involved in. It was through chatting about that — he said no to the film — that I got to know him and put the question: once and for all, wouldn’t it be best if someone got it all down before they forgot about it? He said great, but he was just one of the four. I would have to ask Brian, but he would tell me what sort of letter to write to him.

Little did I know that if by chance I’d become friendly with one of the others, it might not have worked. Paul has always been the keeny, the one who can be bothered, and most of all, the one who goes on to make things happen. I also didn’t know at the time that Brian always went to great lengths to please Paul most of all. The reasons for this are subtle and complicated. (And all in the book, hurrah.)

After a bit of chat, I signed a contract with Nems to do the book. It is my book, written as I wanted to do it, but they had to read it and make any “reasonable suggestions”. Clever wording, that.

The so-called “authorised” biography has crept in later. It makes it sound like the King James version, but the publishers like it. I suppose it impresses the book trade, who have to sell the book after all. The advantage of being authorised, apart, of course, from them giving me centuries of their time, was that all parents, friends and business associates, who up to now have said nothing, were kind enough to tell me everything I wanted to know.

QUARRY BANK

I started by going through the saga chronologically, investigating in the order in which things occurred. I did Quarry Bank, for example, before going on to the Art College days. In one vital way this method rebounded on me. I didn’t do Brian Epstein until I’d got up to the stage where he appeared in their life, though I was meeting him constantly. We did chat now and again about the present day, but I was so busy sticking to the right sequence that I didn’t get as much of his up-to-date thoughts as I would have liked before the terrible tragedy occurred. It was a tragedy, for everyone. I am deeply indebted to him. The book is dedicated to him.

It took roughly about six months to arm myself with enough early background stuff, prising it out of mums, dads, relations, friends in the street and at school, before moving into the middle of the stage and the four main characters. Despite being so smart and thinking I had loads to tell them, so that they wouldn’t be too bored by having to talk about being a Beatle again, it often happened that I’d arrive to find they didn’t feel like speaking at all. With John, it often turned out to be one of his days for not talking. Having dragged out to Weybridge, I’d spend hours not talking. Usually, the not-talking took place in the pool, so that was all right. With Ringo, he’d decide he felt like being Ritchie and wanted to play snooker rather thar talk about being Ringo. (You might not like the book, but you should see my snooker now.)

PRACTICE

George would say he was just going to do a bit of sitar practice and that would be that for a few hours. Even when he tore himself away for a meal, and I’d get all ready to start at the table, he’d produce a midget tape recorder and play sitar exercises which Ravi Shankar had produced especially for him. I can now spell Ravi Shankar, so that time wasn’t completely wasted.

Of them all, Paul was the hardest to pin down for any length of time. John, Ringo and George did eventually set aside great chunks of time and did their utmost to tell me what I wanted to know. Yet I probably spent most time of all in Paul’s house. This was partly because it’s their London meeting place, especially when working, but mainly because I had to do Paul in little stretches, almost on the run at times, fitting in odd moments as the spirit took him. So much was done literally on the move with them all that a tape recorder would have been difficult, though I prefer a notebook and my own form of shorthand, typing it up immediately each evening while the flavour was still in my head. Anyway, Paul’s not-talking was to decide that it was time to take Martha for her walk. Off we’d go, roaring past the fans outside his house and off to Primrose Hill. Not once was he approached by fans on Primrose Hill when I was with him, which doesn’t say much for the fans’ sense of geography, or something.

But I was very impressed, nay amazed, by the fans and their incredible patience, hanging around Paul’s house or EMI for hours. When someone did turn up, there was no hysterics or screaming. Just silent watching, after a few squeaks when they were spotted in the distance. I found the reaction of middle-aged people much more unattractive. On the train up to Bangor (for the first spell with Maharishi) they were continually barging up and aggressively demanding autographs, as if it were the Beatles’ duty.

What I’ve concentrated on in the book is everything which led up to Beatlemania and everything which has happened afterwards. The stuff before is fascinating, as I hope you’ll agree, It’s still amazing to realise that they’ve been playing longer together (except Ringo, of course) as an un-famous group than they have been as a famous group. For seven years, 1956-1962, they played as nobodies. It’s still only five years that they’ve been somebodies.

CHILDISH CRAZE

During those seven years their perseverance was incredible. It started as a childish craze and became one fong slog as they desperately tried to succeed and be noticed. There’s an interesting early letter from Paul in the book, full of lies and exaggerations, written to an unknown journalist, begging for publicity. I had little inkling they tried so hard for so long, half believing the popular opinion that they were some sort of overnight phenomenon to whom success came easy. I think even they have forgotten some of the grind.

I don’t think I’ve minimised Brian’s work for them in any way, but I was amazed to find the sort of adulation they had caused on their own in Liverpool long before they were famous, with no manager, no publicity and nothing in the press. All that really happened when they made it was that the Liverpool pattern was repeated on a world scale.

Another interesting thought is that by 1962 the one who was looked upon as the cleverest Beatle was dead. Real fans will know which person this refers to. Others will have to read the book.

When I got down to the writing I found I had half-a-million words of notes, enough for six books. I got the first draft down to a quarter of a million. After that, it came down by stages to what it is now, almost 400 pages—still pretty hefty, when you think, as no doubt un-fans will think. It’s just about four lads in a beat group, after all.

I tried all the time to keep out any hero-worshipping which would be fatal, and to subdue my prejudices, but I’m sure they’ve crept in all over the place.

FOUR HEROES

When it was finished, there was no need for any arguments over “reasonable suggestions” with our four heroes. They were smashing. John sat up the first night he got the manuscript and finished it in one go and said he could have read more. Ringo took a little longer, as he’s a slow reader. (He says he was absent when they did spelling at school.) George was the only one who suggested any changes, all very reasonable as a lot of the stuff I’d written about his religious views had changed drastically in the 18 months. Paul, the one who had helped to begat it all, seemed to take weeks and weeks ploughing through it. He had no serious suggestions in the end, but I’ve a feeling he must have been taking Martha for a lot of walks instead.

ANSWER

Having finished it, the hardest thing now is to answer people who say what are they like. It either comes out all slobby or you just repeat what everyone had already said. Mal came out with the best answer. He says his favourite is always the one he’s been with last.

As individuals, they are ordinary, which is probably their nicest quality. For the last eight years I’ve been a professional interviewer of so-called famous people and their most distinctive quality is they think they’re not ordinary. They have this awareness of themselves, playing a part all the time. The Beatles have none of this. Paul came for tea one day with Jane and jumped up afterwards to get some cigarettes. He went round to the sweet shop and got some. OK, so that is very ordinary. But it was just the way he did it, with no show. They all put everyone at ease immediately, by just being themselves.

Their home life, despite some crazy exteriors, is especially ordinary. John and Ringo live almost an Andy Capp life at home. George and Paul have a few more Southern, middle-class habits, though both of them are completely classless. George ate up his ratatouille with gusto when he came for dinner, but Ringo said, you what? Where’s the baked beans, then?

But when they are together, there is something extra about them which is harder to define. When they’re working there is almost a chemical reaction taking place. There’s something between them which excludes all others, even their wives.

But perhaps most of all I’ve been impressed by their keenness. They’ve had so much that this world can give. They could have retired from life at 25, or just turned out the same old stuff. I don’t just mean their music. We all know how that has developed. But in all their interests they are continually on the move. There is a feeling around, for example, that Maharishi came along to fill up some empty minds. It was the opposite – they were actively searching for him.

KEENNESS

Apple is perhaps the best example of this keenness. There is no need for them to work so hard at it. It’s all new, difficult, annoying and with a public all ready to knock any failings, yet they have this energy and imagination from somewhere which drives them on. As George says in the book: “They haven’t done anything yet!”

Hunter Davies – From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°60, July 1968
From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°60, July 1968
From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°60, July 1968
From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°60, July 1968

Last updated on October 2, 2021

The Beatles Bible

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Have a look at https://www.beatlesbible.com/1968/09/30/hunter-davies-beatles-biography-published/

The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatles Years

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We owe a lot to Barry Miles for the creation of those pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - a day to day chronology of what happened to the four Beatles during the Beatles years!

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