John Lennon? Philip Norman? Bill Harry? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Today paparazzi stalk celebrities, and gossip websites shriek about every misstep or manufactured scandal. But the struggle of living in a fishbowl is not new for well-known individuals. In the 1960s after the Beatles became famous, John Lennon reportedly feared that he would cause pandemonium if he returned to a favorite pub of his youth called “The Philharmonic” simply to have a drink with friends. These words have been attributed to Lennon:
The price of fame is not being able to go to the Phil for a quiet pint.
Did Lennon really say this? I have not been able to find any solid citations.
Quote Investigator: The earliest relevant evidence located by QI appeared in the 1981 band biography “Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation” by Philip Norman. John Lennon told one of his old friends about his desire to visit a pub according to Norman in a chapter that described events in December 1966. In the following excerpt, Brian referred to the manager of the Beatles, Brian Epstein: 1
Liverpool was one more embattled dressing room. John confided to his old Art School friend, Bill Harry, that he’d give anything to go into a pub like the Philharmonic or Ye Cracke, and stand under the chandeliers, or the Death of Nelson, just having a quiet pint.
They didn’t go to the Cavern Club, although John begged Brian to allow it. “Couldn’t we do a few numbers down there,” he pleaded, “just for old times’ sake?” Brian said that if word got out, they would be crushed to death.
The phrase “quiet pint” was used in the passage above and in the common modern quotation. Yet, Norman mentioned two pubs and did not present a direct quote. Interestingly, Norman visited this topic again in the revised 2005 edition of his book and altered some details. See the citation and excerpt given further below.
QI conjectures that Bill Harry was the source of this quote, and Harry has written extensively about the Beatles. It is possible that he presented a version in one of his books or in an interview; however, QI has not yet found it.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1992 a book examining the phenomenon of celebrity titled “Starstruck: Celebrity Performers and the American Public” mentioned the remark attributed to Lennon: 2
When John Lennon returned to Liverpool to play a concert, he confided to an old chum that he would love to be able to go out to a pub and have a quiet pint.
In 2000 a travel guide called “Let’s Go: Europe” included a section about Liverpool that discussed the pubs of the city. The editors presented the remark by Lennon in the form of a direct quotation that included the nickname “Phil” for “The Philharmonic”: 3
John Lennon once said that the worst thing about being famous was “not being able to get a quiet pint at the Phil”; the rest of us can sip in solitude at The Philharmonic, 36 Hope St.
In 2005 a revised edition of Norman’s “Shout!” was released. The identity of the pub was narrowed down to “Ye Cracke”, and “The Philharmonic” was excluded: 4
John felt particularly enraged at being unable to move about as he pleased even in his home city. He longed to meet Bill Harry and his other art college cronies again at Ye Cracke and have a quiet pint or two under the mural of Wellington greeting Marshal Blücher at the Battle of Waterloo.
In 2008 the U.K. periodical “The Observer” published a set of short profiles of historic pubs including “The Philharmonic Dining Rooms” in Liverpool: 5
From its Art Nouveau wrought-iron gates to the mosaic floors and carved wooden panels, the Phil has to be the grandest pub in the country. This Grade II listed pub’s enduring appeal was summed up by John Lennon when he said that the price of fame was not being able to go to the Phil for a drink.
In conclusion, there is some evidence that circa 1966 John Lennon made a remark about the difficulty of experiencing a “quiet pint” in a favorite Liverpool pub. The phrasing of the comment and the identity of the pub were uncertain. The testimony about the quotation apparently originated with Bill Harry. Currently, the earliest citation known to QI was published in 1981 which is rather late. Perhaps future research will discover superior evidence.
Image Notes: Photo of Philharmonic Hotel by Tom Pennington with source listed as geograph.org.uk; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Photo of John Lennon from Beeld en Geluidwiki Gallery of The Beatles with author VARA; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands license. Both images obtained via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.
(Great thanks to Ray Bailey whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey run the website “Boak and Bailey’s Beer Blog” and they wrote an entry on this topic and a follow-up comment.)
- 1981, Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation by Philip Norman, Chapter 14: December 1966, Quote Page 260, A Fireside Book: Published by Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1992, Starstruck : Celebrity Performers and the American Public by Jib Fowles, Quote Page 138, Published by Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2000, Let’s Go: Europe, Edited by Kate McCarthy, Section: Liverpool, Subsection: Pubs, Quote Page 183, Written by Let’s Go Publications, Published by St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 2005, Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation: Revised and Updated by Philip Norman, Quote Page 294, Fireside Edition: Simon and Schuster, New York. (Google Books Preview) ↩
- 2008 August 30, The Observer, Beer girl: Squeeze the last drops out of the summer with a lazy afternoon spent in a cosy inn by Melissa Cole, Guardian News and Media Limited, London, United Kingdom. (Website of The Guardian and The Observer; accessed August 3 2014) link ↩