John Lennon left the filming of A Hard Day’s Night in the morning to attend a literary luncheon held in his honour at the Dorchester Hotel, London.
There was a literary lunch to which I was invited and at which I couldn’t think of anything to say – I was scared stiff, that’s why I didn’t. I got as big a kick out of seeing that book up there in the writing world’s top ten as I do when The Beatles get a number one record. And the reason is that it’s a part of a different world.
The event was hosted by Foyle’s, and was chaired by Osbert Lancaster. Other guests included Arthur Askey, Harry Secombe, Millicent Martin, Joan Littlewood, Helen Shapiro, Marty Wilde, Yehudi Menuhin and Mary Quant. The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein was also in attendance.
Although the luncheon was held in celebration of Lennon’s recently-published In His Own Write, he didn’t realise he was expected to make a speech.
John was guest of honour at a Foyle’s lunch to mark the success of his splendid book. And made no speech. In answer to the toast, John stood, held the microphone and said, ‘Thank you all very much, you’ve got a lucky face.’ 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.
The ‘you’ve got a lucky face’ comment was actually made by Lennon on 28 April during filming for the television special Around The Beatles. His actual words at the Dorchester were: “Er, thank you all very much, and God bless you.”
In an attempt at damage limitation, Brian Epstein stepped in to say a few words to the diners.
Cynthia Lennon, who was also present, later claimed that she and John were painfully hungover.
We did our best to make ourselves presentable, but the bloodshot eyes and shaky hands were a bit of a giveaway. We told ourselves that the event would soon be over and we could go home to collapse.
What neither of us had realized was that the media would be there in force and that John was expected to make a speech. Doyens of the literary establishment rubbed shoulders with upmarket Lennon fans and everyone was waiting with bated breath to hear the words of the ‘intelligent’ Beatle.
As we were ushered through the lobby of the Dorchester, hordes of press and TV crews following us, I knew John wanted to turn and run, but we had to keep smiling. We couldn’t even see what was going on properly because neither of us was wearing our glasses.
When we walked into the enormous dining room hundreds of people stood up and applauded. We fumbled our way to our places and found we were at opposite ends of the top table, denied even the reassurance of squeezing hands. I was sitting between the Earl of Arran and pop singer Marty Wilde, who was almost as nervous as I was. I was terrified, until the earl put me at ease with a string of witty stories and friendly chat. I even began to enjoy myself – until we reached the last course and dozens of TV and press cameras were pointed in our direction. “What’s going on?” I whispered to the earl.
“I believe your husband is about to give a speech,” he whispered back, and politely averted his eyes from the horror written on my face. 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 top dogs, and especially 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 smattering of applause. The audience was disappointed, annoyed and indignant. Both John and I wished we were on another planet. John tried to make up for it by signing endless copies of the book afterward.
John’s Foyle’s “speech” went down in history as a typical Lennon gesture, a snub to the establishment from a pop-star rebel, when it was anything but. He had panicked.
Afterwards, Lennon regained his composure when a woman, while asking for an autograph, remarked to her friend: “I never thought I would stoop to asking for such an autograph.” Lennon shot back: “And I never thought I would be forced to sign my name for someone like you.”