WRIGHT THINKING: The Fifth Beatle

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I suspect that the picture in the column today will produce a pretty sharp generational divide between regular readers.

 People of more mature years will recognise the face of Stuart Sutcliffe, often referred to as the “fifth Beatle” and younger, less blessed, people will be thinking “who’s that then?”

 The photograph is a copy of an original which I bought some years back, and there are waves and waves of history in it, and the story of how it came to be taken way back in the early Sixties.

 The tale of how I came to be the owner has its own tiny footnote in the legend of the Fab Four too!

 A brief outline for the younger congregation first – and I’ve extensively double checked my own memory as I know that one tiny error in Beatles chronology will bring correction from around the world. Stuart Sutcliffe played bass guitar with the early Beatles and that photo was taken in Hamburg during one of the band’s well-documented periods when they played for long hours in some pretty sleazy locations.

 It seems incredible now, but Stuart left the band because he was more interested in pursuing his artistic career.

 The lady who took this, and many other, Beatles pictures was Astrid Kirchherr, and her influence on world culture was amazing.

 If that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s not.

Before the Liverpool phenomenon burst onto the scene, we all wanted to look and sound like our dads – from the early Sixties, how that changed – and the impact is still around today.

 In a few months, the explosive impact of the Beatles was universal – even reaching the Headland in Hartlepool.

 If you look carefully at the photo, you’ll see that Stuart’s hair is flicked back in the teddy boy or American rocker style.

 Soon after Astrid pointed her camera in the woods on the outskirts of Hamburg, she re-styled her boyfriend Stuart’s hair into the moptop look which she’d picked up from other students.

 The other Beatles followed suit – as did the rest of the young male world.

 My Henry Smith School photo of 1963 shows me, and all of my friends, with flicked back, brylcreemed hair.

 One year later and our last class photo has us all with hair combed forward looking like cut-price wannabee Beatles.

 Sadly, Stuart Sutcliffe died very young as the result of a brain aneurysm, but his legend is still very much alive.

The reason why I now treasure a bit of Beatles history is a story in itself.

 In 2003, I was in London for a few days and saw in the morning paper that Bonham’s the auctioneers were selling Stuart Sutcliffe memorabilia that day.

 My wife and I went along out of interest and I saw this iconic picture in star position in the catalogue.

 The plan was that, for a bit of fun, I’d bid up to £250 and then drop out when the serious bidders started the real action.

 Early on, it was well out of my league, as old Sutcliffe exercise books and so on were going for four figures.

 Along comes the star picture and bidding set off like a rocket.

 I raised a nervous arm and said “Two hundred and fifty.”

The bidding stopped.

When I was handing over the loot later, the expert auctioneer said that I looked so matter-of-fact that the old hands thought I would go on bidding for ever, so they dropped out.

 And so, dear reader, that’s why it’s all mine, and I’ll be telling the story when I’m speaking in Hamburg soon.

 And I’m hoping to meet Astrid Kirchherr – at the end of a Long and Winding Road. (Beatles joke).