The Beatles’ Press Officer Was ‘Nervous’ John Lennon Would Turn ‘Nasty’ on Journalists
Of all The Beatles, John Lennon had the most caustic personality. He frequently got into arguments and had little issue with speaking badly about his group or his bandmates. Because of this, Beatles press officer Tony Barrow had to be careful about the interviews he scheduled for Lennon. He knew that if he didn’t pick the right kind of reporter, Lennon might turn on them.
The Beatles’ press officer had to be careful when sending John Lennon to interviews
Barrow knew that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr came across as charming and likable. George Harrison, while less chatty with the press, was always polite. Lennon was a different story. He could be outright rude to people he didn’t like, making Barrow worry about introducing him to strangers.
“I was sometimes nervous of what impression he would make upon third parties, rather in the same way one sent home sensitive aunts and uncles if John Lennon was due to drop in,” Barrow said in the book Lennon: The Definitive Biography by Ray Coleman.
Lennon didn’t mind doing interviews, so Barrow didn’t worry about facing his wrath when asking him. Instead, he worried Lennon might turn on the interviewer. As a result, he had to pick people he knew Lennon would like.
“I wasn’t wary of asking him to do interviews,” he said. “He was cooperative, although he’d grumble and curse if it wasn’t convenient. But I was selective about the journalists I sent to him. It had to be someone sufficiently worldly, or sophisticated, with a decent and preferably way-out sense of humour, to accept John as he was. The journalist didn’t have to be offended by the guy.”
He spoke about the types of journalists Lennon particularly disliked.
“John was always asked for someone who shared his outrageous sense of humour, who would come back at him with something as nasty and cynical as he gave them,” he said. “Otherwise he might just turn a bit nasty on an ill-informed or inexperienced journalist. Or he’d particularly turn on one who thought he knew too much or knew all about the Beatles.”
The musician liked arguing with people
Barrow’s biggest problem was that Lennon liked arguing with people. He fought physically while growing up and enjoyed verbal sparring as an adult. He particularly liked getting into debates after a few drinks.
“A favourite habit when he was lubricated was to seize one person for a verbal hammering and not let go until that person was utterly exhausted by the sheer persistence of John’s argument,” Coleman wrote. “There was a streak in John that could not bear to lose a battle.”
John Lennon sometimes got The Beatles bad press because of his interviews
Lennon’s acidity often came through in interviews. Occasionally, he targeted it at The Beatles. Toward the end of the 1960s, Lennon complained to Coleman about their work with Apple Records. He believed the company was ill-run and burning through money. His bandmates — especially McCartney — were horrified.
“‘What did you want to go and use all that for?’ [McCartney] snapped. ‘You know this is a small and young company, just trying to get along. And you know John always shoots his mouth off. It’s not that bad. We’ve got a few problems but they’ll be sorted out. I’m surprised it was you — we thought we had a few friends in the press we could trust.”
After the band broke up, Lennon spoke with the reporters he liked about his various problems with The Beatles.