TONY BROADBENT answers Ten Questions that just might explain why he had the nerve to write a mystery novel based on the early days of The Beatles. And why 'The Word' is 'Love'.
Q | YOUR PREVIOUS MYSTERY NOVELS DEAL WITH THE ADVENTURES OF A COCKNEY CAT BURGLAR AND JEWEL-THIEF IN POST-WAR LONDON. WHATEVER MADE YOU WANT TO WRITE A MYSTERY STORY ABOUT THE BEATLES?
A | The Beatles were one of the defining pop-culture events of the second half of the Twentieth Century. They helped shape the hopes and dreams—and aspirations—of millions of young people in the UK, the US, and all around the world. They certainly helped shape me. England made me? Yes—but so, too, did The Beatles. So you could say they’ve always loomed large. They’ve certainly given rise to countless thoughts, ponderings, and reflections in my life—and not just to do with their extraordinary music. Their story is truly one of the great folk tales of our times, worthy of being a grand opera, but as my talents don’t at all extend to that, I chose to look at the early days of The Beatles unfold in the form of a mystery novel.
Q | SURELY THE BEATLES HAVE BEEN MORE THAN WELL SERVED BY THE HUNDREDS OF BOOKS WRITTEN ABOUT THEM—NOT TO MENTION THE DOZENS AND DOZENS OF FILMS AND DOCUMENTARIES?
A | Some sources put the number of books published about The Beatles, worldwide, over the last fifty years, as being closer to two thousand. But even with all that, ‘the birth of The Beatles’ is still very much shrouded in controversy—mystery, even—and the traditionally accepted story of those early events has been questioned increasingly in the last 10 years or so. It’s the speculation that continues to swirl around the true beginnings of the band that gave rise to the novel.
Q | CAN THERE REALLY STILL BE ANY MYSTERY ABOUT THE BEATLES—EVEN IF ONLY ABOUT THEIR VERY EARLY DAYS?
A | The One After 9:09 touches upon a number of mysteries. Perhaps the most notable arises from the meeting that history tells us took place around 3 o’clock, on Saturday, 28th October 1961, at NEMS record store, in Liverpool. When an 18-year-old teenager, named Raymond Jones, asked Brian Epstein, the manager of the pop music department, if he had a copy of a disc called ‘My Bonnie’. “I’m afraid not,” Epstein replied, ”Who’s the record by?” “A group called The Beatles,” said Jones. That fabled meeting is said to be what prompted Brian Epstein to seek out the then relatively unknown Liverpool beat group, The Beatles, and become their manager, and steer them on to worldwide fame and fortune. So you see the meeting was very much key to the whole Beatles’ story.
Q | IN THE BOOK’S PREFACE YOU SAY IT WAS BRIAN EPSTEIN WHO INTRODUCED THE WORLD TO RAYMOND JONES. BUT YOU THEN GO ON TO SAY THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE WHO NOW CONTEND THAT HE NEVER EVEN EXISTED. WHAT’S TRUE?
A | People have said for years that Raymond Jones was nothing but a figment of imagination—invented by one of Brian Epstein’s assistants simply as a means of getting ‘My Bonnie’ onto NEMS record store’s order books. But there’re an increasing number of people who now claim that Raymond Jones really did and indeed still does exist and that he really did go into NEMS to ask for the Beatle’s record. There’re even photos of him, apparently, from the Sixties and today.
I find both versions very compelling, but am still undecided about it all. I feel some questions—mysteries—motives—hopes, dreams, and fears—are perhaps better explored in a narrative form. It’s not that I’m trying to get away from Beatles’ history—far from it. Whenever The Beatles appear in the novel, the times and dates, almost every incident and event, are taken directly from research done by a huge number of people over the past 50 years. Primary sources for me being Bill Harry and Mark Lewishon. Followed by Philip Norman, Ray Coleman, Bob Spitz and others. My debt of gratitude to all of the many individuals concerned is total.
Q | SO DID RAYMOND JONES EXIST OR DIDN’T HE?
A | He does in my book—although I also give him a nickname to help muddy the waters even more. The funny thing, though, once you start looking for Raymond Jones in The Beatles’ story, the name pops up in the most unexpected places. I all but fell out of my chair when I found out the bass player in The Dakotas (Billy J. Kramer’s backing group) was called Raymond Jones. Small world. And as to why Brian Epstein would think it necessary to introduce the world to Raymond Jones—real or imaginary—in his autobiography A Cellarful of Noise—well that’s much of the story of The One After 9:09
Q | IN YOUR BOOK YOU DON’T SHY AWAY FROM THE SUBJECT OF BRIAN EPSTEIN’S HOMOSEXUALITY. WHY INCLUDE THAT?
A | It goes directly to who Brian Epstein was and why he did what he did. Not to deal with that part of his life would have been to render a great disservice to an extraordinary man trying to exist—and succeed—in difficult, very much more bigoted and blinkered times. Homosexuality was a very serious criminal offense in Great Britain during Brian Epstein’s lifetime—punishable with prison. How he dealt with it all—shaped him—and in turn helped shape The Beatles as a hugely successful band. I don’t believe for one instant that his prime or only motive for him wanting to manage the group was because he fancied John Lennon. That’s far too simplistic a reading. The Brian Epstein story is far more complex than that. And I truly believe that without him and all he did for the group, we would never have heard of The Beatles. The band would have broken up and gone their separate ways. As individuals—John and Paul—even George—might well have succeeded to some degree, but it wasn’t at all guaranteed and unlikely to have been anything like the worldwide success they went on to achieve as The Beatles. Ringo Starr, justly famous as a drummer all round Merseyside, was already looking for new and greener pastures and was even thinking of emigrating from the UK to Texas.
Q | HOW IMPORTANT WAS GEORGE MARTIN’S INVOLVEMENT TO THE SUCCESS OF THE BEATLES?
A | Huge. I can only repeat what I said about Brian Epstein. Without George Martin—and the unique support and creative license he gave the group—however brilliant their potential—individually or collectively as a band—we would simply never have heard The Beatles as we all came to know, know, know them—and love, love, love them. George Martin’s input—his musicianship, wit, wherewithal, and style—was unique among London record producers at the time. Everyone else would have tried to remake The Beatles into something they were not. And even George Martin was on the verge of making such a mistake at the beginning of their artistes-producer relationship. Lucky for all of us that he sensed ‘the something very special’ waiting to rock the world.
Q | WHY DID THE BEATLES GET RID OF PETE BEST AND HAVE RINGO STARR JOIN THE GROUP AS THEIR DRUMMER?
A | That’s another one of those mysteries that Beatles’ fans are still arguing over. Even people, who were there, in Liverpool, at the time, have different theories as to why it happened. And again, The One After 9:09 allowed me to explore the event—not The Beatles’ finest hour—within the larger context of the times—the motives—the moods—hopes and dreams—of all the many characters involved. And—no—I don’t put it all down to George Martin deciding that Pete Best wasn’t good enough to drum on any future recordings made by The Beatles. Again, I believe it to be a more complex story—and one much influenced—for good or ill—by the mores and moralities of the times.
Q | ONE OF THE PEOPLE YOU DEDICATE YOUR BOOK TO IS SAM LEACH. WHO WAS HE? WHY DO YOU CONSIDER HIM IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED ALONG SIDE SUCH BEATLES’ LUMINARIES AS BRIAN EPSTEIN AND GEORGE MARTIN?
A | Sam Leach played a hugely significant role in helping to establish and extend the success of The Beatles in the early years. John Lennon and Paul McCartney said as much on different occasions. It stuns me that, other than for a few relatively well-informed Beatles’ fans, he still remains largely unacknowledged for all that he did. There’s hardly any mention at all of him in The Beatles - Anthology. Bill Harry—the founding editor of Mersey Beat—invariably features Sam in all of his many encyclopaedic works on The Beatles, but you have to know exactly who to look for and why. Ray Coleman featured him, prominently, in Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles. (The book that first alerted me to the importance of Sam Leach.) And—as you’d expect—Sam and all his magical, madcap doings are faithfully recorded in the many works of The Beatles’ historian Mark Lewisohn. But Sam Leach is missing-in-action almost everywhere else, which is a crying shame. .
Q | YOU NAMED YOU BOOK AFTER ONE OF JOHN LENNON’S SONGS, WHAT’S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THAT?
A | Yes. Almost. John’s song is actually entitled: ‘One After 909’. It was one of his very earliest compositions—even though it only came to light much later—and almost as a throwaway—in the Savile Row rooftop concert filmed at The Beatles’ Apple London headquarters for the documentary ‘Let It Be’—later included on the album of the same name. Written very much in the style of American railroad songs. (Johnny Cash did as much with ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.) And if you were a teenager in England, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, you couldn’t but fail to jive to Lonnie Donegan—the King of Skiffle—and his version of ‘Rock Island Line’—the song by the great bluesman, Huddie Ledbetter—also known as ‘Lead Belly’.
And so if John’s song ‘One After 909’ was the genesis of the book—then one of Paul McCartney’s first songs, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, was what in the end gave it its tone and form—and heart. And, hopefully, if I’ve achieved nothing else, it’s a way for me to give ‘heartfelt thanks’ to two extraordinary men—John Lennon and Paul McCartney—for their sublime body of work and all that they—and George Harrison and Ringo Starr—have meant in my life.
More about the author's other works:
'Dear Sir or Madam will you read my book…'
Tony is the author of an award winning series about a Cockney cat burglar and jewel thief in austerity-ridden, black-market-riddled, post-war London who gets blackmailed into working for MI5.
Tony’s been a fan of The Beatles since The Sixties…when he first heard and saw the group play on their first UK Tours and other concerts. They rocked his world then…and they still do today.
He sang and played guitar and harmonica in a number of beat groups when he was a teenager… and was in The Ivy Leaves when the group was resident for a time at Windsor’s famed Ricky Tick Club.
He was an art-student in London, in the late Sixties—from ‘Revolver’ to ‘Let It Be’—and was an award winning copywriter and creative director at advertising agencies in London, New York and San Francisco. Today—when he's not working on a new novel—he writes, consults, and lectures on ‘Creative Thinking’.