He is very keen on books, will always ask what is good to read. He buys quantities of books and these are kept tidily in a special room. He has Swift, Tennyson, Huxley, Orwell, costly leather-bound editions of Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde. Then there’s Little Women, all the William books from his childhood; and some unexpected volumes such as Forty-One Years In India, by Field Marshal Lord Roberts, and Curiosities of Natural History, by Francis T Buckland. This last – with its chapter headings ‘Ear-less Cats’, ‘Wooden-Legged People,’ ‘The Immortal Harvey’s Mother’ – is right up his street.
He approaches reading with a lively interest untempered by too much formal education. ‘I’ve read millions of books,’ he said, ‘that’s why I seem to know things.’ He is obsessed by Celts. ‘I have decided I am a Celt,’ he said. ‘I am on Boadicea’s side – all those bloody blue-eyed blondes chopping people up. I have an awful feeling wishing I was there – not there with scabs and sores but there through reading about it. The books don’t give you more than a paragraph about how they lived; I have to imagine that.’
He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England. ‘Physically lazy,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more.’ Occasionally he is driven to London in the Rolls by an ex-Welsh guardsman called Anthony; Anthony has a moustache that intrigues him.
The day I visited him he had been invited to lunch in London, about which he was rather excited. ‘Do you know how long lunch lasts?’ he asked. ‘I’ve never been to lunch before. I went to a Lyons the other day and had egg and chips and a cup of tea. The waiters kept looking and saying: “No, it isn’t him, it can’t be him”.’
He settled himself into the car and demonstrated the television, the folding bed, the refrigerator, the writing desk, the telephone. He has spent many fruitless hours on that telephone. ‘I only once got through to a person,’ he said, ‘and they were out.’
Anthony had spent the weekend in Wales. John asked if they’d kept a welcome for him in the hillside and Anthony said they had. They discussed the possibility of an extension for the telephone. We had to call at the doctor’s because John had a bit of sea urchin in his toe. ‘Don’t want to be like Dorothy Dandridge,’ he said, ‘dying of a splinter 50 years later.’ He added reassuringly that he had washed the foot in question.
We bowled along in a costly fashion through the countryside. ‘Famous and loaded’ is how he describes himself now. ‘They keep telling me I’m all right for money but then I think I may have spent it all by the time I’m 40 so I keep going. That’s why I started selling my cars; then I changed my mind and got them all back and a new one too.
‘I want the money just to be rich. The only other way of getting it is to be born rich. If you have money, that’s power without having to be powerful. I often think that it’s all a big conspiracy, that the winners are the Government and people like us who’ve got the money. That joke about keeping the workers ignorant is still true; that’s what they said about the Tories and the landowners and that; then Labour were meant to educate the workers but they don’t seem to be doing that any more.’
He has a morbid horror of stupid people: ‘Famous and loaded as I am, I still have to meet soft people. It often comes into my mind that I’m not really rich. There are really rich people but I don’t know where they are.’
He finds being famous quite easy, confirming one’s suspicion that The Beatles had been leading up to this all their lives. ‘Everybody thinks they would have been famous if only they’d had the Latin and that. So when it happens it comes naturally. You remember your old granny saying soft things like: “You’ll make it with that voice.”‘ Not, he added, that he had any old grannies.
He got to the doctor 2 3/4 hours early and to lunch on time but in the wrong place. He bought a giant compendium of games from Asprey’s but having opened it he could not, of course, shut it again. He wondered what else he should buy. He went to Brian Epstein‘s office. ‘Any presents?’ he asked eagerly; he observed that there was nothing like getting things free. He tried on the attractive Miss Hanson’s spectacles.
The rumour came through that a Beatle had been sighted walking down Oxford Street! He brightened. ‘One of the others must be out,’ he said, as though speaking of an escaped bear. ‘We only let them out one at a time,’ said the attractive Miss Hanson firmly.
He said that to live and have a laugh were the things to do; but was that enough for the restless spirit?
‘Weybridge,’ he said, ‘won’t do at all. I’m just stopping at it, like a bus stop. Bankers and stockbrokers live there; they can add figures and Weybridge is what they live in and they think it’s the end, they really do. I think of it every day – me in my Hansel and Gretel house. I’ll take my time; I’ll get my real house when I know what I want.
‘You see, there’s something else I’m going to do, something I must do – only I don’t know what it is. That’s why I go round painting and taping and drawing and writing and that, because it may be one of them. All I know is, this isn’t it for me.’
Anthony got him and the compendium into the car and drove him home with the television flickering in the soothing darkness while the Londoners outside rushed home from work.
12.00pm, Friday 4 March 1966 (48 years ago)