On this day in history….25th March 1969

On this day in history : 25th March 1969 – Newly married John Lennon and Yoko Ono begin their ‘bed-in’ at the Hilton in Amsterdam – to convey a message of Peace to the World….

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Dutch National Archives – Public domain

John and Yoko had married five days before; they knew only too well that their ‘tying the knot’ would cause much interest amongst the media and public – and so decided to use this publicity to promote world peace…. War was raging in Vietnam at the time and the Cold War was ongoing….

Their idea for a ‘bed-in’ was inspired by the ‘sit-ins’ often used by protesters….literally sitting in an establishment or outside it to cause obstruction – until their demands are met or they are forcibly removed….

The couple booked into the Honeymoon Presidential Suite (Room 702) of the Hilton and invited the world’s Press to join them everyday, for a week, between 9am and 9pm….

At first the Press had probably been expecting to find John and Yoko making love…. Controversy had surrounded the release of their album ‘Two Virgins’ in November 1968…. Both had posed naked on the cover and had caused outrage…. So much so, that EMI refused to distribute it….other distributors were found for both the UK and US but the album had to be sold in a plain brown wrapping…. As for the title, that came about as the couple felt they were ‘two innocents in a world gone mad’….

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Image credit : Vinylmeister via Flickr

So the Press may have been a little disappointed to find John and Yoko sitting up in bed wearing pyjamas….in John’s words ‘like angels’…. Above their heads were signs reading ‘Hair Peace’ and ‘Bed Peace’ – when asked about the ‘hair’ John replied that they both intended to grow their hair even longer for the Peace Cause….and that everybody should do the same…. He also added that the world needed to laugh more…. When questioned as to why Amsterdam his answer was simple “it could have been anywhere really”….

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Dutch National Archives – Public domain

John and Yoko flew to Vienna to give a press conference on the 31st of March….a further bed-in was arranged. The original intention was to hold it in New York – but because John had a cannabis conviction from the previous year he was denied access to the US…. So instead it was decided to hold it at the Sheridan Oceanus Hotel in the Bahamas…. John and Yoko arrived on the 24th of May 1969 – but because of the intense heat after just one night the couple left for Montreal. Here they set themselves up at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel and invited the Canadian Broadcasting Company to conduct interviews from their room….. They received a very mixed reaction from the American Press….

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Dutch National Archives – Public domain

On this day in history….4th March 1966

On this day in history : 4th March 1966 – John Lennon gives an interview in which he states the Beatles are more popular than Jesus Christ – it causes outrage in the United States….

Image : YouTube

The interview was for the Evening Standard….it was the first in a series of articles entitled “How Does a Beatle Live?” Each member of the group was individually interviewed – starting with John Lennon at his home in Weybridge….

“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me”….

His words provoked no reaction from the public in the UK…. However, in July 1966 it was quoted in a US teen magazine and was received in America in a very different manner….

The publication that had been granted rights to all four interviews was a magazine called ‘Datebook’. Being broad minded – covering topics such as the legalisation of marijuana and inter-racial relationships – it was considered the most suitable for publishing the interviews…. Datebook teased its readers with the snippet “I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity” printed on the front cover….

Tommy Charles a DJ for WAQY, a radio station in Birmingham, Alabama heard of the comments – and was furious…. “That does it for me. I am not going to play the Beatles any more”…. The listeners were asked for their opinions – and they were less than favourable….the people were beginning to show their contempt….

The ball started to roll….more than twenty other radio stations followed suit and banned Beatles music…. The public were keen to show their anger – in the South especially – demonstrations were held, bonfires lit, Beatles memorabilia and records burned…. Soon the protests crossed over to Mexico and on to other particularly religious countries – such as Spain and South Africa…. The Vatican issued a public denouncement of Lennon’s comments….

Unfortunately the controversy coincided with the upcoming US tour scheduled for August and the recent release of the album ‘Revolver’….

Fair use

Lennon apologised for his comments, cheekily saying “If I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it”…. The Press were somewhat sympathetic….

However, it was touch and go as to whether the tour would go ahead – but it was decided that it should…. Overshadowed by disturbances and protests – even being picketed by the Ku Klux Klan – some dates were cancelled, such as Memphis – because the Beatles were not welcome in town….

There was some support for the Beatles though…. One Kentucky radio station said it would play Beatles music in order to show its “contempt for hypocrisy personified”…. And a Jesuit magazine – ‘America’ – wrote that “Lennon was simply stating what many a Christian educator would readily admit”….

On this day in history….26th October 1965

On this day in history : 26th October 1965 – The Beatles visit Buckingham Palace to be awarded with their MBE medals by Her Majesty the Queen….

The band had been notified four months before that they were to be the recipients of the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire award, when their names had appeared on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in the previous June….

There were those who did not agree with the decision to honour the Beatles – rock and roll music was still rather distasteful to some…. A few previously decorated individuals even returned their medals in disgust and protest….

However, honoured they were – as Britain’s greatest musical ambassadors…. They received their awards that day alongside 185 other people…. They were taken to one side before the ceremony and coached in the protocol for meeting the Queen…. The boys were so nervous, even popping to the loo for a calming smoke before the proceedings…. But all went smoothly – they even shared a joke or two with Her Majesty….

Ironically, four years later, just as there had been those who returned their medals in protest at the Beatles being honoured, John Lennon was to do the same with his…. “Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts. With love, John Lennon”….

In 2009 his medal was discovered lying in a vault in St. James’ Palace….

On this day in history….24th April 1906

On this day in history : 24th April 1906 – The birth of Mimi Smith – the maternal aunt and parental guardian of Beatle John Lennon – and who thought his music would never amount to much….

Mimi Smith – Fair use

Mary Elizabeth ‘Mimi’ Smith (nee Stanley) was the eldest of five sisters and from an early age had to help look after her younger siblings…. The family lived in a small terraced house in Newcastle Road, Liverpool – not far from Penny Lane…. On leaving school Mimi trained as a nurse (later in her working life she was to become the private secretary of businessman Ernest Vickers)…. When her mother died Mimi took on the matriarchal role in the family….

She met George Smith, a milkman who delivered milk to the hospital she worked at, in 1932…. He and his brother ran the family dairy and shop – Mimi would have considered him a good catch…. After a seven year courtship the pair finally married on the 15th of September 1939 and bought a semi-detached house – ‘Mendips’ – in Menlove Avenue, a middle-class area of Liverpool….

‘Mendips’ – Image credit : Havaska – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

Mimi’s sister, Julia – younger than her by eight years – had married Alf Lennon on the 3rd of December 1938 and baby John was born on the 9th of October 1940…. Julia phoned her sister from the hospital and Mimi rushed to see her and the new arrival in the midst of an air raid….

Not long after Julia and Alf separated – she took John with her and moved in with her new lover…. Mimi undoubtedly would have been appalled by her sister’s behaviour – and even more so about the living arrangements…. Twice she contacted social services because the child was sleeping in the same bed as the adults…. Eventually Julia was persuaded to hand John over to Mimi and George – who incidentally were never to have any children of their own….

In July 1946 Alf Lennon took his son on an extended holiday to Blackpool – only his real intention was to emigrate to New Zealand with him…. It was Julia who managed to get John back and return him to Mimi…. After that he was to spend the rest of his childhood at ‘Mendips’….

John Lennon at home with Aunt Mimi at Menlove Avenue – Image credit : Eliodue via Flickr

As a guardian Mimi was strict…. She could be stubborn, impatient, unforgiving and didn’t suffer fools lightly…. Money and keeping up appearances were important to her…. That said she had a good sense of humour…. Often when she was chastising John he would crack a joke and the two would end up in fits of giggles…. He thought the world of her – even so she was a little jealous of the relationship he had with his Uncle George….

With Uncle George – Image credit : Eliodue via Flickr

John’s mother bought him his first guitar, although Mimi was to claim it was her…. She and Julia saw him first perform with The Quarrymen – who over time evolved into The Beatles…. Mimi gave the impression of being shocked by his performance – but secretly she was probably quite proud….

George died of a liver haemorrhage in 1955…. Not long after Julia was killed on Menlove Avenue, after being knocked down by a car being driven by an off duty police officer….

John was to attend Liverpool College of Art – as Mimi insisted that he get some academic qualifications…. “Music’s all right John, but you’ll never make a living out of it”…. She was dismissive of his friends – calling Paul McCartney ‘John’s little friend’ – and disapproving of him because he was working-class…. Mimi was never ashamed of showing her snobbery…. She was equally disapproving of John’s girlfriends – and later even more so of his wives….

When John married Cynthia on the 23rd of August 1962 Mimi refused to go to the wedding and pulled out all the stops to prevent the rest of the family from attending either…. She blamed Cynthia for falling pregnant and trapping John into marriage – but when Cynthia nearly lost the baby she agreed to rent them a downstairs room at ‘Mendips’…. By this time John’s career with The Beatles was taking off, which meant he was often away – leaving Mimi and Cynthia alone…. Mimi made her life unbearable – and shortly after the birth of Julian she could stand it no more and so in November 1963 she went to live with her mother….

Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1963 – Public domain

In 1965 John bought Mimi a £25k bungalow in Poole, Dorset…. He also gave her a weekly allowance of £30…. However, on discovering Cynthia’s mother also received the same allowance she was furious…. John, Cynthia and Julian visited her at the bungalow in the summer of 1965 – it was the last time she would see the three of them together….

John and Yoko Ono married on the 20th of March 1969…. Mimi happened to bump in to Cynthia at a funeral – she criticised her strongly, for divorcing John and letting him start a relationship with Yoko….”making a fool of himself”…. But she was later to admit Yoko was a good wife and mother….

Yoko Ono and John Lennon, March 1969 – CC0

After John’s death Yoko took their son, Sean, to visit Mimi – who said “Sean is like John in every way – looks and manner – and he has got John’s sense of humour. As long as he keeps away from music he will be alright”….

Yoko was later to buy ‘Mendips’ and donate it to the National Trust…. Mimi died at her bungalow in Poole on the 6th of December 1991….

Image credit : Eliodue via Flickr

On this day in history….8th December 1980

On this day in history : 8th December 1980 – John Lennon is shot dead outside his New York apartment…. He was 40-years-old….

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John Lennon in 1980, shortly before his death – Jack Mitchell, derivative work CC BY-SA 3.0

Just before 11pm John and his wife Yoko Ono arrived at their luxury apartment building, the Dakota, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side – opposite Central Park…. They were returning home after spending several hours at the Record Plant recording studios….

Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York City
The Dakota, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York City – Ajay Suresh CC BY 2.0

Earlier in the day Mark David Chapman, a 25-year-old security guard from Honolulu, Hawaii, had asked John for his autograph…. John obliged by signing the copy of the album ‘Double Fantasy’ offered to him…. Chapman then made his way to the former Beatles’ apartment building to wait for him….

As John and Yoko approached the building Chapman fired his Charter Arms .38 Special revolver five times, from a distance of 9 or 10 feet away…. John was hit in the back 4 times…. He staggered up the steps to the building before collapsing…. Jay Hastings, the building’s concierge rushed to help him, yelling at Chapman – “Do you know what you’ve done?” – to which Chapman calmly replied – “Yes, I just shot John Lennon”…. Chapman made no attempt to escape….he removed his hat and coat, having dropped the gun, in preparation for the arrival of the police…. Two police officers arrived within a couple of minutes, having heard shots…. Chapman put up no resistance to his arrest…. Two more police officers arrived and seeing the severity of John’s injuries decided not to wait for an ambulance – but carried him to the squad car and drove him to hospital…. John Lennon was pronounced dead at the Roosevelt Hospital….

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Main entrance of the Dakota, where John Lennon was shot – David Shankbone CC BY-SA 3.0

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Police artist sketch of the murder – New York City Police Department – Fair use

Chapman claimed he had heard voices in his head telling him to kill John; in 1981 he was imprisoned to a life sentence in Attica Correctional Facility, Buffalo, New York…. He first became eligible for parole in 2000 – since then parole has been denied ten times…. His 11th hearing is scheduled for 2020….

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Mug shot of Mark David Chapman – Fair use