Inspired by a story in the Daily Mail about a teenage runaway, ‘She’s Leaving Home’ was described by George Martin as “not, strictly speaking, a Beatles song at all,” and “pure McCartney, from start to finish”.
In February 1967, Paul McCartney read about Melanie Coe, a 17-year-old A-level schoolgirl from Stamford Hill, north London. She went missing without her car, cheque book and spare clothes. Her father was quoted as saying, “I cannot imagine why she should run away. She has everything here.”
This one is based somewhat on a newspaper report of a missing girl. The headline was something like ‘A-Level Girl Dumps Car and Vanishes’. So, I set out to imagine what might have happened, the sequence of events. The detail of leaving a note that she ‘hoped would say more’ is one of the strongest moments in the song…
In addition to the newspaper report, I’m pretty sure another influence was The Wednesday Play. It was a weekly television play that often addressed ‘big’ social issues. It’s the kind of thing people would be discussing at the bus stop on Thursday morning. It was a very important part of the week. One of the most famous of these plays was Cathy Come Home, directed by Ken Loach. It’s a play about homelessness that a quarter of the UK population watched the night it was broadcast in November 1966.
When we recorded ‘She’s Leaving Home’ it was almost like a shooting script for The Wednesday Play. ‘Clutching her handkerchief/Quietly turning the backdoor key’. On one hand we have the narrator who’s describing the action (‘She’s leaving home’), and then there are a couple of people in the spotlight, a mini Greek chorus, who fade in and out (‘We gave her most of our lives’). There was a line in that style – ‘Is this all the thanks that we get?’ – which somehow didn’t make the final cut.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
Melanie Coe briefly rented a flat in Paddington with a croupier she had met in a nightclub, and returned home around 10 days after the newspaper report was published.
McCartney wrote the music and the initial lyrics, which were later completed with John Lennon.
The amazing thing about the song was how much it got right about my life. It quoted the parents as saying ‘We gave her everything money can buy,’ which was true in my case. I had two diamond rings, a mink coat, handmade clothes in silk and cashmere and even my own car.
Then there was the line ‘After living alone for so many years,’ which really struck home to me because I was an only child and I always felt alone. I never communicated with either of my parents. It was a constant battle…
I heard the song when it came out and thought it was about someone like me but never dreamed it was actually about me. I can remember thinking that I didn’t run off with a man from the motor trade, so it couldn’t have been me! I must have been in my twenties when my mother said she’d seen Paul on television and he’d said that the song was based on a story in a newspaper. That’s when I started telling my friends it was about me.
A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner
Coincidentally, Coe had met The Beatles some time before. On 4 October 1963 she won a miming competition on the TV music show Ready Steady Go!. The Beatles were making their first appearance on the show that day, and Paul McCartney presented her with the award.
A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner
The ‘man from the motor trade’ in ‘She’s Leaving Home’ was taken by some to be Terry Doran, Brian Epstein’s partner in Brydor Cars, an automobile company operating from Hounslow. Others took it as a euphemism for an abortionist. In fact it was neither of these.
It was just fiction, like the sea captain in ‘Yellow Submarine’; they weren’t real people. The man from the motor trade was just a typical sleazy characer, the kind of guy that could pull a young bird by saying, ‘Would you like a ride in my car, darlin’?’ Nice plush interior, that’s how you pulled birds. So it was just a nice little bit of sleaze.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles