by de Vere Edwards (Sunday 22 March 2263)
On the three hundredth anniversary of the release of the first album traditionally credited to the Beatles, Please Please Me, it is a good moment to revisit the controversy surrounding the true authorship of their “self-written” music.
Most critics are now agreed that four ordinary boys growing up with only a rudimentary education could not possibly have produced music of such complexity and beauty. Little is known about the early lives of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and although literacy was widespread in the mid 20th century, it is quite possible that they could not read or write.
They are known, however, to have been raised in Liverpool, a poor city in the north of England. In the 1950s when they were growing up, Liverpool would have been mostly rubble from the Middle War which ended in 1945: and although some people in England enjoyed the benefits of running water and electricity by now, it is very unlikely that these services would have been available in Liverpool at the time.
So we can safely dismiss the idea that four poorly educated people brought up in such poverty and squalor – effectively urban peasants – could have created such joyful, uplifting and often sophisticated music. Of course, this raises the question: who did write and record it? Obviously only someone with a complete and presumably expensive education. And of course, someone young enough to be enthusiastic about youth music, which did not become popular in Britain until about 1955.
When you look at the context, an answer springs out straight away. The man usually named as their “producer” is George Martin, who is known to have made recordings with The Goons, a popular comedy act of the time. And the Goons had a notable fan: Prince Charles – at the time heir to the British throne, later briefly Charles III.
After that it would have been a simple step to get his songs recorded. Martin, as a senior producer at EMI records, would have had access to capable musicians and good recording studios: he would also have had the contacts to recruit likeable working class actors to provide the public face of the band, while making sure they were kept well away from the recording studios – apart from publicity photographs, of course. Charles would have been only fourteen or fifteen when the first “Beatles” recordings were made: this explains the relatively simple and crude nature of the early songs.
It is less clear who George Martin might have used to make the recordings, but a likely candidate is a “beat group” known as “A Band of Angels” which was formed at the prestigious Harrow School about this time. Musical instruments were extremely expensive at this time, so it is probable that only the boys of wealthy parents would have been able to raise the money to buy them, and therefore develop any meaningful playing skills. Or indeed to access the electricity that would have been required. What Liverpool lad could afford a drum kit in those difficult days? Certainly not Ringo Starr. But it would have been no problem for Andrew Charles Malcolm Glywn Petre at Harrow School.
Intriguingly, almost all evidence of Charles having any musical talent, or indeed any interest in popular music – save a passing reference to a fondness for singing group The Three Degrees – seems to have been carefully expunged from contemporary records. Such a determined and sophisticated operation to cover his tracks could only have come from the very highest level.
Further evidence is provided by some of the “Beatles” songs. For example, Back in the USSR displays an advanced knowledge of Soviet geography – the Ukraine, Georgia etc – well beyond the reach of ordinary citizens at the time. By contrast, it would have been a simple matter for Charles to consult his ambassador for this information.
But what of the frontmen, the actors? Of course, they had to be kept sweet to protect the royal family’s shameful secret, and this presented difficulties. John Lennon, notoriously difficult, might have threatened to expose the pretence: in any event, he was assassinated in 1980. George Harrison died in mysterious (and convenient?) circumstances in 2001. Paul and Ringo seem to have been more amenable, and were placated with knighthoods.