Another excerpt from my book-in-progress: I Read the News Today: The Beatles Phenomenon 1963-1970.
On April 23 – the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth – John was celebrated as the guest of honor at the Foyle’s Literary Luncheon, an esteemed event hosted each year by one of London’s oldest booksellers.
Christina Foyle, herself, had extended the invitation for John to attend and the event was packed with reporters, camera men and celebrities, including John’s movie co-star Wilfred Bramble, fashion designer Mary Quant (promoter of the increasingly popular mini-skirt), classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin and former Goon Harry Secombe.
The expectation, of course, was that John would give a speech that reflected the sharp wit on display in his book. Perhaps he’d provide another news-making, class-busting remark along the lines of his “rattle your jewelry” line during the Royal Command Performance, or his joke about “purple hearts” in the presence of Harold Wilson. As he stood up to acknowledge the room’s applause, everyone was anxious with anticipation.
Glancing across the crowd, John gave a nervous wave and said, “Thank you very much. God bless you.” Then he quickly sat down, adding, “You’ve got a lucky face.” There was an uncomfortable pause and then the bemused audience clapped. And that was that.
This time, John had made news by saying virtually nothing. Afterward, humorist and former Member of Parliament Sir Alan Herbert leaned over to Brian Epstein, who was seated next to him, and said: “A shameful affair, he should most certainly have made a speech.” But recollecting the incident later in his own book, Epstein said, “John was behaving like a Beatle. He was not prepared to do something which was not only unnatural to him, but also something he might have done badly. He was not going to fail.”
In her memoir, Cynthia Lennon recalled that John was severely hungover during the luncheon due to partying the previous night with friends at London’s Ad Lib Club. He could barely make it through shaking hands and making small talk at the event, let alone giving a speech – and he had had no idea that a speech was expected.