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Victorcrop2 Yesterday he watched Ringo nearly drown, and his New York fanclub recruit the Beatles. Now we follow Victor Spinetti – Help! co-star and world class spinner of yarns – into the the high echelons of Bahamanian political society, where he witnesses John Lennon put the boot into the colonial snobs. But what exactly was Spinetti’s role in the John v Paul rift, and did John really “marry a privet hedge”?

Click MORE for the answers, as told to Danny Eccleston...

Could you tell me about your experience of writing with John?

The Old Vic were going to do a production on stage of John Lennon’s In His Own Write [this would eventually open on June 18th 1968], and this young girl playwright [Adrienne Kennedy] came to see me and asked if I’d be in it. And she’d taken the pages of John’s books and rearranged them into another book, with stage directions that read things like, ‘Christmas tree turns into a horse and gallops off.’ I asked them if they had John’s permission and they said they hadn’t, so I rang him up and asked him what he thought. “They must be fucking mad,” he said. I told him I’d thought of a way how to do it, and he said: “Well, I’ll give you the rights, then you can do it.” I said, “Wait a minute, we’ll do it together.” And we did.

So we got together and started to write it. I was in a flat at the time on Manchester Street [London] and John and I worked on the script one morning, quite late, near the end of ’67. John said, “Let’s go somewhere warm.” I thought he meant another room – we ended up in Africa (laughs). We got hold of a car and ended up in Marrakech, North Africa. And that’s where we went to continue writing.

What was he like as a collaborator?

The genius of the man was that he had no ego. People think of John as this egomaniac; well, he was arrogant, but he did not have ego. I asked him once: “Will there by a drawer full of songs discovered when you’re gone?” He said: “No, I just ring up Paul and say I think it’s about time we wrote another hit, and we’d get together and write one.” Picasso said, “I do not seek, I find,” and John was the same: he found things, and out of that a song came. He didn’t have a preconceived idea about things – which is ego. Ego means you can’t make a mistake, and that’s what kills most people or makes them brittle, like china.

John was able to find a thought when he got there, or something would strike him and he’d put it down. There was no question of pre-planning, like with some composers. Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, whom I worked with, I asked them what came first, the music or the lyrics? And they said… the cheque! (Laughs.)

Did you not see John as troubled?

Well, Help! was the song. Those lyrics, “I need somebody, not just anybody…” He really was desperate.  He said: “I married a fucking privet hedge”, not about Cynthia, he meant the house. It’s all in the song I Am The Walrus – that’s a man sitting in the middle of life thinking, Is this it? Sitting on a cornflake? Getting breakfast? It’s all in there. That’s what that song’s about. Dissatisfaction. Is this it? Where do I go now?

You had a brief role in Magical Mystery Tour, too. By then, you must have noticed even more changes. They’d packed in the touring, and…

(Interrupts) They were in the studio. I remember John saying to me, “Come up to the studio, we’re recording”, and I said “John, I don’t want to bother you.” He said: “That’s alright Vic, only the fucking bores turn up”.

You said that you’d talked to them briefly before they went off to Rishikesh; did they ever talk to you about the experience afterwards?

No, never. They did introduce me to the Maharishi, though, at the Plaza Hotel in New York. They said to me, “You’ve got to meet him, Vic,” so I went along. All these New York ladies were there to see him. He was on the stage giggling away as they threw flowers in front of him. This one woman said to him, “Tell me, your Highness, how does one teach children the principles of transcendental meditation?” And he fell about laughing and said: “My dear lady, they invented it!”

And what did you think of Magical Mystery Tour?

Now, this is the thing that annoyed me. It had dreadful press, but if you look at it, Magical Mystery Tour predates Monty Python. It must have been something that gave Monty Python the idea of doing what they did. Look at it again. The guy shovelling spaghetti into someone’s mouth with John Lennon as the waiter? That ridiculous sequence coming down the stairs singing Your Mother Should Know? All that stuff was pure surrealism.

Of course, it was all attacked because we like to knock them down. I was asked “What do they talk about, these pop people?” I said, “Well, on the set yesterday, we discussed the Freudian interpretation of dreams, as opposed to the Jungian interpretation.” If they’d been to Oxford or Cambridge and had decided to do their rooms Chinese for a year, and dress in Chinese clothes, and eat only Chinese food, then that’s OK. But if The Beatles did that, who the fuck are they? It’s a class thing, and it’s still prevalent today. I can’t bear it.

Were you at that dinner party with the Governor of The Bahamas? Did you hear John’s outburst?

I remember everything. That morning, we were filming in what we thought was a disused army barracks. John said to me, “Hey, Vic, come and have a look at this,” and he opened this wooden shutter in this corrugated iron-roofed building. The smell in there was awful, and they’d thrown all the ill and old people in there. We were shocked because we thought it was a deserted building.

That night, at a dinner given by the Minister Of Finance in his marvellous house, with plates of caviar and gold service, John said: “Hey, excuse me, we were up at what we thought was an old army hut and it turned out to be full of old people and children with disabilities – how do you reconcile that with this?”

Well, the next day in the press it was all: Beatles Insult Governor. But, I mean, these people were appalling. They’d say stuff like, “Which one’s Ringo? Oh, it must be you – you’re the one with the nose,” and, “Is that hair real?” It was awful. We started playing up to it, saying things like, “Oh, what are these? Knives and forks, you say?” Then the governor’s wife would say, “Look, they don’t even know about knives and forks!” but we were putting them on. But that’s the remark that John made and I’ll never forget it.

I’m looking after Paul next week, at the Q awards. Any message you’d like me to give him?

Well I used to take messages to John from Paul when they weren’t speaking. But please give him my love and tell him that I’m still alive! I wrote to him after the business of the divorce and I got a sweet letter back. Of course, I don’t say, ‘Here I am!’ but certainly say that I said hello.

“Vic says hi…”

Tell him I’m still in love with them more than I ever was.

Victor, so much for talking to us.

A pleasure. Now I’ve got to go to speak to a guy who’s writing a book about [legendary London theatre impresario] Binky Beaumont. Cheerio!

Posted by Danny Eccleston at 05:48PM | Categories: Interviews