Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Beatles Diary by Alf Bicknell: A review

Welcome to another edition of Wednesday Reviews on Meet the Beatles...For Real.    The book I have today is Beatles Diary by Alf Bicknell.      I bought it off ebay because I realized I didn't have that exact book and because it was autographed by Alf.  I never got this book before because I think it came with one of those cheesy VHS that Alf put out. 

Alf and Mal on the plane to Japan in 1966--photo by Robert Whitaker

Alf was the Beatles' chauffeur beginning in October 1964.   At first his job was just to drive the Beatles places and to get the Beatles meals and things.    He hit it off pretty well with the boys and John Lennon asked him to go on tour with them.    He wasn't the chauffeur on tour, but was a roadie along with Mal and Neil and helped with the equipment.    He was with the Beatles on tour in Europe, United States, Japan, Germany and the Philippians.    He was right there in the thick of Beatlemania and survived it all.  He was there during  some of the making of the film Help.  He was with the Beatles in the recording studio and played chess with Ringo as well as dropped the anchor in the song "Yellow Submarine."    Alf was one of those background guys that say a lot while he was with the guys.    He took them to nightclubs and concerts and plays.   He also sat with them in their homes.

The book is in the format of a diary.   Not every single date has an entry, but most dates from October 1964-August 1966 have something to say.    I have to question if Alf didn't go back when this book was being put together and "pad" his diary entries.    There are some little things in there that made me go, "really??"   For example, Alf talks in detail about how he thinks George Harrison felt scared to present songs he had written to Lennon and McCartney.   I am not sure if Alf really had that foresight to see that way back in 1965, as we know it was a concern of George's later in the Beatles career.   There are other things as well that makes me think Alf went back to add to some of the entries to make it a more exciting book to read.   However, no one will ever know for sure.

One thing I was surprised in the book was how devoted to his wife and child Alf was during all of this.   I guess you sort of have this mindset that to be with the Beatles, your wife and children are on the backburner, but throughout the book Alf is talking about how he misses his wife and how he bought presents for his son.   Apparently his wife, Jean and Maureen Starkey became quite good friends and Jean even helped Maureen when Zak was born (which concerned Alf that it would give his wife ideas of having another child).

This book left me with a big question.   Alf states that after Candlestick park, he knew it was the Beatles' last concert and that he would have to find another job.   Why??   Mal and Neil didn't have to find other jobs and Alf's main job was as  a chauffeur.   By 1966, John had his own private chauffeur, but the other three didn't.   Why couldn't Alf just stay on and be a private chauffeur for say Ringo?   It just didn't make sense to me and made me wonder if Alf quit or was fired under bad terms.

It was lovely that in 1990 Alf and met up with Paul when he was touring .  And there are reproductions of letters sent from George Harrison, Cynthia Lennon and Paul McCartney giving the book their stamp of approval.

This is a good book---it wasn't shocking or anything, but it is one of the few places where I found information about the 1965 European tour and the 1965 UK Winter tour, so for that alone makes it invaluable for Beatle fans.


  1. Hey, interesting review, thanks!

    Obviously I have to read the book - and I was thinking what you said about going back and adding stuff to his diary- I was wondering about that when I saw that was what the format was, and then you went ahead and mentioned it!!

    However....just thinking about what you pointed out....George still did present songs to the band between June and February of 64/65: "You Know What To Do" (which is really not very good), "I Need You" and "You Like Me Too Much"...I've been in bands, written in bands, and it is ALWAYS nerve-wracking to present your material to your bandmates, much less Lennon&Macca....even though music, and songs, touch on inner emotions, musicians (at least groups of guys) tend to be more like a little "gang" - your bandmates usually won't beat around the bush, they'll just say "that sucks"..... hence, showing your "baby" can be nervewracking.

    We can hear John openly making fun of "I Me Mine" on the "Let It Be" tapes, it's absolutely painful to listen you can imagine what it was like in 1965! (take the "Think For Yourself" session tapes, also not very respectful of George's composition!)

    So....if Alf was observing a rehearsal or session or a backstage scene - venues where you'd break out the guitar and debut a new song for your bandmates .... it's not far-fetched to think he could have witnessed George's insecurity.

    (For the record, on the Let It Be sessions, George bravely plays song after song in front of Lennon/McCartney, day after day, and has the thickest skin when his material is derided, even sabotaged.... he just soliders on, water off a duck's back. He gives the air of "couldn't care less".)

    On the other hand, whether or not Alf had the insight in 1965 to recognize all this - like you said - we'll never know!

    What we do know is that Alf was indeed there! He talks about the Philippines, right? He couldn't leave that out!

    1. Oh I know that Alf was there and I would bet these are his diaries for sure. I just question on a few things if Alf would have the insight to write them at the time. I don't know. But it was interesting. I didn't add, but besides his diary, he also puts more information in dark print from whenever he wrote the book.

  2. PS: Alf looks cool in that press conference picture! Alf's the man!

    1. That wasn't a press conference. Was on May 19th, 1966, watching playbacks back of the “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” promos in Studio one at EMI Studios.

  3. I think John only had a chauffeur because he couldn't drive well, despite having a license. Paul, George and Ringo could drive. John was too reckless.

    1. But George and Ringo had drivers later. I guess what I don't understand is that one of Alf's biggest jobs was that of the "designated driver." After a late night recording session, he would take the guys out to a club and drive them back to their homes safely. Surely that service was still needed in 1967? I wonder if Alf just quit after the touring was over and thought they were breaking up. Maybe they asked him back when they started recording Sgt. Pepper but he was doing something else?

  4. Sorry sara, but you should learn correct writing the Names he called Alf Bicknell not Bicknell .

    1. Ummm...thanks for clearing that up?

      Really the issue is that for some reason the topic name and the tags the past few days have been extremely lagged. I type and then wait 2 minutes for it to show up on the screen. I am so frustrated that I just click send without double checking those. sorry for my typing errors in the title, but I have fixed them, I believe.

    2. Sorry Anonymous, but you can't even write a coherent sentence.

      "Sorry sara, but you should learn correct writing the Names he called Alf Bicknell..." Are you kidding me? You have to be kidding.

      This blog is something a person does in her spare time; there's going to be typos. Deal with it, people. It's so funny, the mealy-mouthed slugs who populate the internet, never contribute anything, but are quick to take everything......

      Sorry Anonymous, but you should learn how to write a sentence in English. Then you can start correcting everyone else. (is this Dibo?) (oh nevermind)