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Close Encounters of the Beatles Kind
With the encouragement of the Alumni Office I contacted the alumni who had conducted the legendary interview. I got in touch with Maurice Hindle (1968) and Daniel Wiles (1970) and explained that I wanted to write an article about the story behind their interview. As I had done a small research of UNIT in the library special collections archive, it developed into the idea of contributing to Keele Oral History Project. It was very exciting to contact people who could interview one of the musical icons in the world, and also looking through all the photographs of the first generation at Keele. I could sense the feeling of being part of Keele University was generic despite the experience of each generation at Keele being different. Once people look back at the old times, it would be similar feeling for all." Aynel Tekogul (2013)
Read the UNIT Interview with John Lennon (reproduced with permission of Keele Students' Union): John Lennon Interview (PDF)
"I wondered about the whole process of the interview, how did it start? Did John Lennon really pick up Keele students from the station? Did they really share lunch? What did they really talk about? How did the interview go? What were their impressions about John Lennon? What happened when the interview ended? I set out to discover what happened that day." Aynel Tekogul (2013)
In the Independent (9 March 2008), the John Lennon interview mentioned in an article entitled “Jagger vs Lennon: London's riots of 1968 provided the backdrop to a rock'n'roll battle royale”. It referred to the 'Black Dwarf' letters which were syndicated all over the world and for many characterised the disagreement between the two emerging wings of the counterculture. On one side was the counter-cultural, drug-taking hippie rebellion and on the other side stood the Far Left and their idea that the Arts must play a part in changing the structures of society. For Lennon, the fact that the Beatles were described as “less revolutionary than the Rolling Stones" was the most galling accusation in the controversy. When Daniel and Maurice interviewed him for UNIT in December 1968, Lennon revealed that he was angry about the comparison, claiming the Stones as friends and stressing the pre-eminence of the Beatles.
“Yes, It's true that Maurice initially wrote to Lennon via the fan club, not really expecting a reply. The reason he asked me to go with him was that I had an audio cassette recorder (quite rare in 1968) to record the interview. We don’t have any photographs, but Lennon gave us each a copy of the “Two Virgins” album, signed by him and Yoko, so we do at least have a souvenir of the day. Yes, it is true that Lennon (and Yoko) collected us from Weybridge station in their black mini. We had intended to get a taxi to his house, but the taxi driver said he could not take us because the house was on the St George's Hill Estate which has closed security gates, so he couldn't drive through. That's why we phoned Lennon from the station and he said he would collect us. And yes, John and Yoko did give us lunch, but I can't remember exactly what it was. If you look at UNIT magazine in 1967 you will find an article I wrote based on an interview I did with Yoko Ono about her film making. I actually got Yoko Ono to come up to Keele to give a performance in the FY Lecture Theatre (as it was then). I remember we paid her the princely sum of £40 for her visit.” Daniel Wiles (1970)
Photo Above: Daniel Wiles at Keele 1967
“Without telling anyone about it, in mid-November 1968 I wrote a longish letter to both John and Yoko showing interest in their lives and work and asking if I could come and do an interview with them about how they saw ‘Revolution’ at that cultural moment. I was in my first term at Keele and living in one of the huts. I addressed the letter to them and put it in an envelope addressed to the Beatles fan club, c/o Beatles Monthly magazine (bought in Keele Shop), as I didn’t know where Lennon lived. I was amazed to find a reply to this about a week later in the Student Union pigeonholes with my name and address written on it in a scrawl I didn’t recognize. It was written by John Lennon, gave me his phone number, and suggesting I call him if I wanted to. I immediately gathered together as many florins as I could for the phone and rang him up there and then. I haven’t time to render the whole conversation here, but the upshot was that if I wanted to come and do an interview, it would have to be within the next three days, as he and Yoko never planned ahead doing things any longer than that. This was Friday, so I arranged for the interview the following Monday at Weybridge. John said that when I got there to call him from the station and he would come and pick me up. At that stage, he was under the impression that I would be alone. It was only then that I went to see Helen Varley, the editor of UNIT, and she suggested I take Daniel Wiles with me, as he had a cassette recorder, and had already done articles for UNIT. In the event, there were three of us standing on the M4 hard shoulder early the next Monday morning, thumbing it for a ride, as I invited along an ‘A-level’ friend of mine, Bob Cross (also in his first term at Keele). When we finally got to Weybridge rail station, I called John from the red public phone box there, and he asked me to wait. I hadn’t mentioned there were three of us, which is maybe why he and Yoko turned up ten minutes later in his Mini-Cooper rather than the psychedelic Rolls! We shook hands and he said it might be a bit cramped for three of us in the back seat. Lennon then drove off, up his house on St George’s Hill, Kenwood. St George’s Hill in those days wasn’t gated, it was just a private (therefore poorly maintained) road. So with five people in the Mini, it was quite a bumpy ride! Yoko fed us with home-baked macrobiotic bread around mid-afternoon, before John and Yoko later dropped us off in the darkness at Weybridge station." Maurice Hindle (1968)
Photo Above: Maurcie Hindle at Durham
"John and Yoko picked us up from Weybridge station. We did not think or intend to get a taxi because I had spoken to John on the phone back at Keele, in setting up the interview three days before we hitch-hiked down towards London and got the train to Weybridge. I rang him from the Student Union as soon as I received his letter (in which he gave me his Weybridge phone number to call if I wanted to do that). In that phone conversation, after he had agreed to the visit, and asked me if I knew where he lived, he said that when I got to Weybridge station I should call him, and he would come down to the station to pick me up. At that stage, neither he nor I knew there would be other people coming. So that is what I did when Daniel, Bob and I arrived at the station: I called John from the station phone box and he said he would come down to collect us. St George’s Hill became the gated estate it is today some years later. When we were driven up to Kenwood by John it was simply a private road, very badly maintained. Which was why our ride - that Dan remembers very well - was so bumpy!" Maurice Hindle (1968)
In his autobiography, Maurice adds: “When I was there, I used to hear people reminiscing about the 1950s as if it was a golden age, when students could be numbered in the hundreds.... As a late Sixties student I remember sitting with others on the edge of the woods looking and contemplating the motorway and its traffic - do people still do that? But I never set up a camp or trapped animals – I went vegetarian after meeting John Lennon! You can perhaps imagine how easy it was to do that in the Keele refectory of 1969”.
"I very clearly remember how up to the point of Weybridge station the pressure of the whole event was on me to take responsibility for having set the whole thing up – which included my decision to kick-start the interview by showing Lennon John Hoyland’s ‘open letter’ to him in Tariq Ali’s Black Dwarf paper - I knew it would get Lennon’s back up and make him talk about the things I wanted to hear about! What happened that day had a subsequent and big impact on my life – as will become clear when my book on Lennon’s music finally appears." Maurice Hindle (1968)
“It’s a shame that the so called ‘Black Dwarf letters’ story didn’t get across correctly in the Forever: Keele magazine edition in 2013. I made it clear in my New Statesman piece that there would never have been any letters story (or indeed interview in the way it actually developed) if I hadn’t drawn Lennon’s attention to the letter in Black Dwarf, which he had never seen until I showed it to him. But the story as conveyed reads as if he had been a reader of the ultra-left paper and ‘wrote back immediately and angrily’ – that is not what happened. The key point is that the Black Dwarf episode and response by Lennon could not and would not have happened if I had not taken the initiative by setting up the interview, quite alone, with John Lennon.” Maurice Hindle (1968)
Photo left: Maurice Hindle, author of "Singing his Heart and Speaking his Mind: the Songworld of John Lennon”
Read UNIT magazine January 1969 (reproduced with permission of Keele Students' Union): UNIT January 1969 with (amongst many other gems) a Pink Floyd feature and a Lennon / Ono Cartoon.
What do other Keelites remember - Notes from the Keele Oral History Project
“Yes, I remember it well - at least, I think I do. I'm pretty sure this interview was in the utterly excellent Keele Magazine "UNIT", which carried some pretty astonishing interviews in those days. John railed against some comments - I think they would have been in Melody Maker, possibly by their journalist Chris Welch - suggesting that the Rolling Stones were left and ‘street’ with songs like “You Can't Always Get What You Want” and “Street Fighting Man”, whereas the Beatles were more complacent or even reactionary, with songs like “Revolution”, which appeared to ‘count me out’. Lennon's point was a valid one: if you look at them closely, the Stones’ lyrics were far from revolutionary ("In the streets of London Town there's just no place for Street Fighting Man") but specifically (and Lennon made great play of this) the White Album version of Revolution which sings "You can count me out - In!" - his point being that it is not a simple matter of blind faith signing up to a cause, but that each situation requires discernment. He never, ever, recanted on "If you want money for people with minds that hate, then all I can tell you is brother, you'll have to wait". I recall vividly interviews in UNIT with Yoko Ono and R D Laing. The latter would certainly deserve re-printing, because it contained allegations of the Security Services’ attempts to bring down the Wilson Government, a story only recently publicly acknowledged to be true – and a sure-fire case of Keele being way ahead of its time.” Martin Williams (1972)
“I remember Dan Wiles very well and the article caused quite a stir. We were all very impressed that the two of them had managed to get access to the great man. I think it was published in a magazine put out by fellow student Tony Elliott.” Geof Branch (1971)
Tony Eliott was editor of Unit issues 8, 9 and 10, and contributed other sections for a longer period. He went on, after Keele, to found the hugely successful and influential "Time Out" magazine.
“Several momentous things happened in the year I spent at Keele, one of which was profoundly influential: I set up and conducted a taped interview with John Lennon at the Weybridge home he was now sharing with Yoko Ono. Joining the staff of the contemporary arts magazine UNIT based at Keele, I had wanted to make an impact with my first feature. So I wrote to John Lennon expressing interest in his political views and in the art projects he was undertaking with Yoko - earlier in 1968 they had planted acorns for peace at Coventry cathedral. We might now call this a piece of installation art 'with a future' (much installation art has a limited life). I've no idea whether the acorns grew, but the piece obviously embodied conceptual and performance elements - from little acorns are oaks meant to grow. It was from such beginnings that the peace movement John and Yoko pursued from 1969 onward began. The interview I did with them on December 2nd 1968 (aided by my friend Daniel Wiles) also played a part in helping their peace plan moves to evolve - but that is a story, as yet untold, for another time.” Maurice Hindle (1968)
Image Left: Daniel Wiles' cover of the "Two Virgins" album autographed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono as a souvenir of the visit.
“Daniel Wiles was a fellow pupil of mine from Bryanston School in Dorset. We started at Keele in October 1966. We were both placed in Lindsay M block. Dan was amongst the cultural ‘avant garde’ of his day, and was always keen on film and related media, though he was never political. Latterly he has been associated with the ITV South Bank Show as Director.” Tim Patrickson (1970)
“I certainly remember Daniel Wiles - his room was near mine and he was quite a character in a grey world. I do not remember the interview causing a stir but that may be because it rated less as a topic for gossip than Daniel's other activities…. If he has any photos of himself from the time they would be worth publishing as an icon of the late 1960s!” Frank Davies (1970)
“I was at Keele in December 1968 and interested in the music scene. But I don't remember this interview or recollect either of these interviewers. I wonder in what journal the interview was printed? I think I would have been impressed by two Keele students interviewing John Lennon at the time. But being a fresher - maybe they were out of my league.” Ilze Mason (Ulmanis) (1972)
"Bill Bryson met Daniel Wiles and he tells the John Lennon story in his latest book "The Road to Little Dribbling", pp131-p132. It's funny!" Robin Cross, Alumni Team 2007-2013
A Good Story never goes away: reprise of the Lennon interview
The two audio tapes of the John Lennon interview sold at Sotheby's on 5th August 1987 to the proprietors of The Hard Rock Café, who said whoever visits the restaurant would have a chance to listen to the interview. However, the newspapers that retold the story of the UNIT interview in 1987 reflected from different perspectives. They focused more aggressively on the suspicion that John Lennon had said he "hates being a Beatle". They also tell how John Lennon picked up Daniel from Weybridge station in his black Mini Cooper and drove to the house where he was living with Yoko Ono and how they started the interview after eating a home-baked loaf together for lunch.
NOT QUITE THE BEATLES BUT MEMORABLE NONETHELESS
"Am I to assume no-one was listening to Sounds of the 60s last Saturday? You all missed the request and the mention of George Pratt?" John Meager (1968)
"I was listening and did catch the request for the Peter Sellars version of the Beatles "A Hard Day's Night" and the mention of George Pratt providing the organ backing." Merrick Howse (1968)
"The 'backing' came from four voices, the Master Singers. John Horrex, countertenor I, myself, countertenor II, Mike Warrington, tenor, Geof Keating, bass - all schoolmasters. George Martin, no less, created the hymn-like score. Happy days!" Professor George Pratt
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