Thursday, October 19, 2006

Foyle's Literary Luncheon

On 23 April 1964 John Lennon's book "In His Own Write" was honoured with a special literary luncheon at the Dorchester Hotel, organised by Foyle's bookshop. These luncheons were an annual event begun in 1930 by Christina Foyle, so that members of the public could listen their favourite authors speak and then have the chance to meet them afterwards.

As well as John and Cynthia Lennon, and Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, the other celebrity guests at the luncheon included Yehudi Menuhin, Alma Cogan, Harry Secombe, Wilfrid Brambell, Lionel Bart, Helen Shapiro and Mary Quant. The chairman was the cartoonist Sir Osbert Lancaster.

"On the day of the lunch, John arrived at the Dorchester in an affable mood. He thanked Christina Foyle for hosting the function and all seemed well. He made no mention of of not wishing to speak but during the meal he confided to the chairman that he did feel nervous. Sir Osbert made his introductory speech as planned... John Lennon then half-rose from the chair, murmured, 'Thank you and bless you' to the audience and sat down again. There was some slight feeling of bewilderment but the toastmaster quickly called upon Brian Epstein to speak.

"It said a great deal for John Lennon's charm and charisma that he fully retained his audience's affection."

[Above excerpt from Ben Perrick's account of "Lennon's Literary Lunch," ('The Lennon Companion' by Elizabeth Thompson and David Gutman)]

"What neither of us had realised was that the media would be there in force and that John was expected to give a speech.

"...I looked at John and my heart went out to him. He was ashen and totally unprepared. Never lost for words in private, a public speech was beyond him - let alone to a crowd of literary topdogs, with a hangover.

"As John was introduced silence fell. The weight of expectation was enormous. John, more terrified than I'd ever seen him, got to his feet. He managed eight words, "Thank you very much, it's been a pleasure", then promptly sat down again. There was a stunned silence, followed by a few muted boos and a spatter of applause. The audience was disappointed, annoyed and indignant."

[From "John" by Cynthia Lennon]

Q: A lot of the literary toffs here today, John, were disappointed you didn't say a few words. Why didn't you speak?

John: Because I daren't, you know. I'd be scared stiff.

Q: So would you prefer to be remembered as a writer or a Beatle?

John: I don't care whether I'm remembered or not, you know. After I'm gone I don't care what happens.

Q: How do you set about writing?

John: Well, it depends. Sometimes one of the others'll say something, you know, like Ringo thought of this title "Hard Day's Night" for the film - well, I used that in the book about somebody who had a hard day's night. You know, from that, or somebody's name or somebody that I think is funny.

[From an interview immediately after the Foyle's Literary Luncheon, 23 April 1964]

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