Pop Culture

'When They Were Boys': A look back at the early days of The Beatles

In "When They Were Boys," veteran journalist Larry Kane recounts the humble origins of The Beatles, from their rough-hewn beginnings to their stratospheric rise to greatness. Here's an excerpt.

The Milkman
When he acted like that, sometimes I wanted to give him a smack.”
—Colin Hanton, Quarrymen drummer

“He was just a little boy . . . who was saddened that his mom was not around and his dad was not around.”
—Yoko Ono

“He tried to hide his pain, but he had a lot of it, especially after what happened to our mother.”
—Julia Baird, John Lennon’s sister

The milkman was a dreamer. Without his dreams, the band might have never been.

The sun’s rays, on a lucky day, are making their way through the rooftops of Liverpool. The solitary figure moves quietly over the sidewalks, dropping off the fresh milk at his appointed rounds. He is hungry and, as always in the morning hours, filled with anxiety, a smidge of anger, and a touch of day- dreaming—the kind of fantastic dreams that fill us with hope as teenagers. Chances are that he is thinking about music and creating a reasonable amount of mayhem during the day ahead. In young John Lennon’s mind, the milk delivery is a necessary means to an end, a few extra pounds, a pur- chase here or there of American records, a chance to chart his future, undaunted and barely affected by the doubts of the adults in his life. Above and beyond everything he was—friend, lover, son, nephew, brother, student, milkman—he was an incessant dreamer and devilish manipulator.

Violentbeginning of end for original drummer Pete Best
As the girls surrounded the exits, the staff quickly carried out the bin with Pete inside. In the desperation of the crowd, one fan tried to get a piece of Pete’s shirt, and in the process, penetrated his skin with a pair of scissors. He was cut and bleeding when he finally trudged into the coach. The mood was icy. Paul’s affable dad, Jim, went right up to Pete and said, “Are you happy with your- self?” According to Roag’s account of the night, passed on to him as an adult, Pete was bleeding and terrified after the wild exit. And he was shocked and despondent about what happened next. There was silence on the trip back— a lack of concern for Pete, and what appeared to be a simmering jealousy.

Bill Harry says he and girlfriend Virginia Sowry, also invited on the trip and riding back in the chartered bus, were stunned.

“When [Pete] got aboard, Jim McCartney was furious and accused him of trying to upstage the other members of the band,” Harry recalls.

Lifein Hamburg
Paul has assorted memories of the storeroom that they called home. “It was awful . . . you might say. No heat . . . some basic beds with no sheets. We were . . . frozen . . . and the room was at the toilet. . . . You could always smell them.”


George was stunned and unhappy. “We did most of our washing in the washbasin in the bathroom. I think that’s why we always felt dirty.”

John shared this grotesque memory with me in the mid-seventies: “Knowing that we had to go back to that f…ing little house was enough to make you stay and work. Sometimes, after all those little pills, I would be wide awake staring around, wondering if the dirt would cake up inside of me. Sleep was an escape. You shoulda been there, Larry.”

Firstmanager - Allan Williams - The pox doctor in Hamburg
All the girls who went out with them . . . most were prostitutes. It was a red-light district and the girls used to sit in the window and you just pick a woman and you know there’d be a back room where you’d do your shagging. And these girls, of course, loved the Beatles. Most of the groups came back from Hamburg with a dose of gonorrhea. . . . I was called the pox doctor. They used to come and say, “Look, I’ve got a dose; you So I’d make them p… into a glass and look at it, and if it was like shredded wheat, I’d say, “You better get down to the doctor; you’ve got a dose. . . . ” One shot .. and they were okay.

Forgottenhero - Ringo's mentor Rory Storm - A sad ending
September 1972 was not a good month, as Storm was experiencing a severe chest infection. On most nights, to get through the night, he would take sleeping medication, and a touch of scotch. One morning his mother found him dead. The bodies of both Storm and his mother were found on September 28. Police ruled his death an accident. But speculation remained that his mother took her own life after finding him, although that has never been proven.

The funeral cortege occurred on October 19, the two caskets side by side, the ex–band members playing as his friends sang his favorite song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Secretsto success
A little help from their friends. Faithful Mal opens up in the Bahamas. Tears. Who’s the smart and pretty girl in the office? She’s the secret- agent girl. Sister love and the Harrison hug invade America. Theboys pick their shoes—Brian gets the best of the rest. Give a hand to Kingsize, and Johnny Hutch, who has the Big Three. Billy Kinsley, Mr. Unselfish, rules the day. Paul the leftie gets up close and personal with Johnny Boy. Raw goes away. Animal magnetism gets a new suit of clothes and the three buddies, Neil, Tony, and Mal, “pave” the way. Hold the lamé, will you, and the lapels: it’s time for the makeover. For the boys—it’s some- thing borrowed and something new. And all the while, the body shakes and Britain quakes!

Brian Epstein – Silky soft whispersin thedark
Epstein reached for some records. The first album was a symphony. I wasn’t paying attention when Epstein opened a bottle of red wine and poured two glasses. After a few seconds, he raised his, I raised mine, and he said, his eyes staring into mine, “Here’s to you and me.”

Theday that Paul met John
“He was so handsome, that black hair, always in place.”
— Julia Baird, sister of John Lennon.

Rumor has it that the oldest son of Jim and Mary McCartney was able to comb his streaking black hair with one hand as he held the handlebar of his bicycle with the other, all the while anticipating his arrival at the church in Woolton for the historic first meeting with John Lennon. James Paul McCartney had just turned fifteen. It was only eight months since the death of his mother. Life had been cruel to the music-loving cyclist with the locks of black hair, the slim teen body, and the hopes of becoming a professional musician.

Excerpted from WHENTHEY WERE BOYS by Larry Kane. Copyright © 2013 by LarryKane. Excerpted by permission of RunningPress, an imprint of thePerseus Book Group. All rights reserved.