Where I came from, you were a Beatles girl or a Rolling Stones girl. Just as, a few years earlier, you were a Connie Francis or a Juliette Gréco girl: white shoes and a beehive hairdo or black roll-neck, kohl and flatties. Mecca Locarno or basement jazz room, Pepsi-Cola or whisky sour: queuing at both. This was Hull, 1963, before it had culture and a marina, when David Whitfield covered “Cara Mia” in a blazer made by my dad and Philip Larkin darkly traversed the university library.
I was 17 years old, working on my English, art and history A-level syllabus and mooning around my bedroom listening to Doris Day and reading The Golden Notebook. I was a good enough actress to do a convincing squirm at Elvis’s gyrations, but frankly I had less idea what “sent” my gang of schoolfriends than I had of the unification of Italy 1871.
Every end of term Paddy, Ann, Marilyn, Janet, Leonie, Kay, Jennifer and me – the arty girls – led the whole school out on to the playing fields and performed an entire Sunday Night at the London Palladium show. Marilyn Atkinson’s “Cliff”, with tight trousers and lacquered quiff, drew more screams than the real thing. Crushes abounded. I had gaggles of fans who waved autograph books at me. We were legends.
One of my “crushees” had a dad who worked at the Regal Cinema and therefore had access to free seats at the forthcoming Beatles concert. A giggling posse of navy blazers asked me if I would like to go along and, out of pity, I agreed – after all, it was only 18 months since I had stalked Pauline Melville after her performance as the maid in Cranford. As far as I was concerned, the Beatles were a nice-sounding group of young men with shiny hair and no lapels. Nothing to sing about.
At the concert, the music was completely drowned out by the screaming. It was tribal, and I viewed my fellow mortals from my balcony seat with the same amusement and disdain I felt when audiences rose and lumbered out before the end credits ran on Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8 – which I saw 15 times. So unprofessional!
Then I reached my road to Damascus. In the second half, John Lennon stepped forward to the mike, thighs straining against his shiny and confining suit. He shook his locks, lowered his eyes, put his overbite delicately in place and let me have it:
The best things in life
But you can keep it for the
berds [sic] and bees . . .
Someone very close to me screamed the most piercing of screams, a primal mating call. I looked around peripherally without losing sight of the tiny demigod in front of me:
I want mo-o-o-ney.
Thass what I want.
My Cornetto dangled. Sweat ran across my upper lip and down my virgin armpits. The screaming was increasing in volume and intensity. Someone was about to implode. I realised with an electric shock that the screaming someone was me. I continued to scream for the next 40 minutes. The rest of the concert is a blur. As is the smug excitement of my fourth-year fans, and the moment their heroine was dragged away from the stage door by her dad to his Morris Oxford.
“Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three,” Larkin wrote. He wasn’t far wrong. The next day, I had a voice like Eartha Kitt; the manager of the Regal told my dad they’d cleared away 40 pairs of abandoned knickers at the cinema; and life, as I knew it, was never the same again. I still thank John Lennon from the bottom of my heart. From that day on, I understood what Martha Quest in The Golden Notebook was actually doing it all for.