Friday would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday and BBC4 marked the occasion with a night of programmes including a repeat of the Fab Four’s brilliant movie debut A Hard Day’s Night, reminiscences by Yoko and an excellent documentary on Lennon from 2011.
I’ve seen A Hard Day’s Night at least three times but it was as much fun as ever, and I tooknote more than usual of the prominent supporting role of ‘Shake’, the long-faced assistant to the boys’ manager (on screen), played by Norman Rossington.
That’s because John J, a familiar face on TV in the 60s and 70s, was embarrassed by my mum in some London night spot many moons ago. He was one of a number of celebrities who were pally with a wealthy, Anglophile American called Sol Leader. who had a factory in Jermyn Street assembling rotary machines to roast chickens (the ‘Rotissomat’).
Dad’s company sold these machines, very cussessfully, throughout the Midlands and when in London dad and Sol would frequent the clubs and drinking dens of London – Gerry’s Club (run by Gerry ‘Billy Bumter’ Campion), the Pigalle, the Embassy Club, the Talk of the Town… On one occasion my mum, Daisy, joined dad Les on a trip and they spent a boozy evening with Sol and JJ. Dickie Henderson, Ronald Fraser and even Tony Hancock (who sent me a signed photo) were other members of this hard-drinking clique but I don’t know who else was there on the night in question.
All I do know is that the lanky, balding John J said something self-deprecating about his looks, probably in jest or perhaps in an effort to prompt polite denials. My mum, somewhat tipsy and never tactful at the best of times, blurted out what I’m sure she hoped was some consolation: “I don’t mind that you’re not good-looking,” she said, generously. I’m not sure whether Junkin was really offended or just pretended to be for comic effect, but it went down in family folklore as a classic mum faux pas.
I had my own embarrassing moment with Sol himself a decade or so later, at the wake held at our house after my dad’s funeral. He kept asking for whisky and, at 19, being inexperienced in spirit servings I gave him about half a centimetre of the hard stuff each time. The bottle was in the sideboard, in front of which sat my virtually tee-total Auntie Norma and Uncle George on dining chairs. Each time Sol needed a refill, which was often, I had to displace Norma and George and get the bottle out again. Seeing his serving, Sol kept loudly repeating the mantra “THIS GUY GIVES BAR MEASURES!!”
I would grin back awkwardly, having no clue what he was getting at. Years later I was mortified to realise that he wanted his tumbler filled, not dripped into, or better still I should have handed him the bottle help himself. He must have thought me surpassingly mean. If only he’d said ‘Fill the glass!” I would have done so. Instead, I’ve lived with the mortification of denying him long after Sol also shifted off this mortal coil. If there is a barman in heaven, I do hope he is more generous with the spirits.