Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Before The Beatles Were Famous

Before The Beatles Were Famous
If you’d like to experience the Liverpool landscape in post-war years, then Alan’s autobiography should fit the bill, presenting tales of the people and places with stories and anecdotes recreating the atmosphere of the time. In his vibrant memories of growing up in Liverpool he recalls: “Inside Lewis’s Department Store, the Father Christmas in the grotto scared me. He smelled of stale ale and his eyes were bloodshot. I recoiled then squirmed away when my mother tried to place me on his knee. A real dwarf dressed as an elf glared at me, frightening me even more. I held on to my mother like a tree monkey”.

It’s true when they say that the past is another country. Even post-war Britain was a foreign place compared to contemporary times. As Alan continued his Liverpool Christmas memories he writes: “A heavy freezing rain fell on the streets of Liverpool a few days before December 25th, 1956. I listened as my mother told a neighbour that she and my father could not afford a Christmas tree this year and that the gifts for the children would be limited to small boxes of fruit and nuts”.

He then recounts how the family had their tree, which apparently fell out of the sky! Despite poverty, Liverpool people remained generous. In 1956 refugees from Hungary arrived in England and two double-decker buses stopped at St Bernard’s school. Alan remembers
“They were filled with men, women and children – Hungarian exiles looking more impoverished then we did”. He further recalled, “As the big lumbering buses came to a halt at the corner, a young child in pajamas sprinted from a nearby house carrying a baby doll dressed in red. Running up to the side of the bus, she handed the doll to a refugee child of about the same age before disappearing into the thick gray fog. The child grabbed the doll and held it close. Her eyes were wide with excitement as the buses rolled away vanishing into the same cold, pea-soup thick fog”.

Q: The book is sub-titled ‘An Autobiography’ because Anna and others encouraged you to put down your memories as they believed you had a story to tell? What parts of the story did you most enjoy writing – and why?

"I actually simply wrote the way I talked so it was always like telling stories as I lived them, and the most enjoyable part was when people would laugh out loud and ask me to 'tell another one'. I have told those stories for many years and it was always Anna who urged me to write them down, but I never did until many years later after Jim died that I put pen to paper, even now there are so many more memories I have not yet written about”.

Anna of course was the American girl he met and married in London and features in the second part of the book, while the ‘Jim’ referred to turned out to be Jim Morrison.

Q: In your book Liverpool seemed replete with colourful characters who could have walked out of a Damon Runyon story or ‘Under Milk Wood’ - Teddy ‘Cossie’ Cosgrove, Bobby ‘Bocker’ Exxin, Ferry Boat Freddie, Eric the Red, Outlaw Black Al, Tommy O’ Mara and Ronnie and Bobbie Bold?

"To me, everyone was comical, everyone was heavily influenced by American movies, so there were always characters who acted like wannabe tough guys such as Teddy Cossie".

Q: When you settled in the Smoke, were you surprised to find that your Scouse accent had suddenly become fashionable and what benefits did that have?

"When I landed in Earl's Court I was the only Scouser and it would be a year or so before I met anyone else from Liverpool. I was very popular especially with American girls who adored The Beatles. I was often pleaded with, to sound like John or Paul and did so with much relish. I was also taken to meet other Americans who had never heard the spoken Scouse in real life and would just love every word as they tried to mimic the accent. Of course, before The Beatles were famous snooty Londoners were prone to look down their noses at the rough spoken brogue. It became highly advantageous to a lad like me on the adventure of my life which was what it felt like to me".

Q. It’s certainly true that the past was a different country. You were later to return to Liverpool on three occasions. Did you compare contemporary times to your experiences in those post-war years, and why did you think the violence these days had increased in the 'Pool?

"Each time I returned it seemed to be more and more like the USA and once you could tell people apart from their fashion, English, French, German, and Americans looked starkly different from each other. Today most men wore jeans, tennis shoes, or in the very least dress similarly in all countries so there is a sort of homogeny or universal sameness. I believe that American violent gang/drug culture has now spread across the world not just in Liverpool".

Q. The Liverpool section is mainly about other people, the second part, in Swinging London, is more about you and I found it more involving, particularly your romance with Anne. In nostalgic terms did you find London more interesting than Liverpool?

"For me London was summed up best by the Roger Miller song 'England Swings' (like a pendulum do) which is a lovable song about the way Americans saw the British and their jolly attitude. I found swinging London to be greatly different from Liverpool, a much happier place with far more opportunities for a likely lad. If you want to read more about these fascinating recollections, don’t hesitate because there is a limited edition of only 1,000 copies".

Read some excerpts from the book here

Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

Article Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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