Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Meeting John, Yoko and Kyoko and how it cost me a friend

A few days back I posted a story about Gail Renard, author of the book Give me a Chance and how she spent time with John and Yoko in Montreal at the Bed-in.    She was not there alone, and so here is the other side of the story by her companion, Thomas Schurmacher.     

This story can be found in the Montreal Gazette.   I am posting it here for historical and educational purposes since things often disappear from online newspaper sites.   

(all photos from Thomas Schurmacher)

Meeting John, Yoko and Kyoko and how it cost me a friend
By Thomas Schurmacher
May 27, 2019

When the Beatles came to Montreal in 1964, the date they chose for their matinée and evening concerts at the Montreal Forum coincided with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Needless to say I did not even have to ask my father if I could go; I knew it was totally out of the question. Besides, tickets were selling for the outrageously high price of $5.50. Not being able to see them live was a huge disappointment as I was such a dedicated Beatles fan. (I was beside myself when the upstart Dave Clark Five momentarily pushed the Fab Four out of number one spot on the Top 40.)
But five years later, I saw another chance to see at least one Beatle in person. One sticky, hot afternoon in late May 1969, I heard CFOX radio deejay Charles P. Rodney Chandler mention that John Lennon and Yoko Ono and her six-year-old daughter Kyoko were holed up in town having a Bed-In for Peace at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Wow! A Beatle in Montreal?  I never particularly liked Lennon’s long hair and I confess he was only my third favourite Beatle, but hey, he was a Beatle nonetheless. It would be fun to go downtown even to catch a glimpse of him, so I called my good friend Lilian to join me. She turned me down because she was too busy doing biology homework. Then I called my Northmount High classmate Gail. I was impressed with her because she used to write letters to the TV studios in California asking for the autographs of people like Carol Burnett and Tommy Smothers. We had worked together writing and even sold a couple of comedy scripts to the CBC radio show Funny You Should Say That.
Gail patiently explained to me there was no point in going downtown as we would never get anywhere near the guy. She predicted a scene with thousands of crazed fans held back by dozens of well-armed security guards. Undaunted, I insisted we give it a shot. I told her I had already gone to the trouble of forging a fake press pass and I even had a set of coloured crayons for Yoko’s daughter Kyoko.
“What do we do if we can’t get in?” Gail was still not convinced.
“We come home, but at least we can say we tried.”
It took me a full 15 minutes of waxing enthusiastic about what a magnificent addition a John Lennon autograph would be to her collection before Gail finally relented and agreed to come along.
We met on the 124 bus heading south on Victoria Ave. We transferred to the now-defunct 65 bus on Queen Mary Rd. and then it was just a brisk five-block walk to the Queen E.
Gail’s power to peer into the future was nil; I was the one who had it pegged. Not a single teenager in front of the hotel. Not one! Gail had been convinced that the lobby would be mobbed. Wrong again … not a single kid there either.
We made it to the bank of elevators and still not a teenybopper in sight.  No security guards. No one so much as gave us a second glance. Since we had heard on the radio that our prey was on the 17th floor, Gail — the amateur — wanted to push the 17 button. I   brushed her hand aside and pushed 18.  I am no fool. Two kids getting off on the bed-in floor? That would be too obvious even to the most dim-witted security guard.

Gail, Kyoko and  Thomas 
The two of us got off on the 18th floor and took the stairs down to the 17th. We peered to the left. Nothing. We peered to the right and noticed some commotion near Room 1742 which had some empty room service trays outside.
We rushed over and knocked on the door; two things happened simultaneously. One — a tall lumbering security guard appeared out of nowhere and had his hand on the back of my collar; and two — the door opened. Standing in the doorway were Yoko and her daughter, who looked like her “mini-me.”
“I am so sorry, madame, I don’t know how these two managed to get up here, but not to worry. I will throw them out right now.”
While this exchange was taking place, little Kyoko was eyeing the shiny box of crayons I had in my hand. She took the bait just in time.
“Can I have the crayons?”
“Not if we are being thrown out!” I said. Gail looked sheepish and said nothing.
Yoko — ever the peace lover — decided to chime in.
“No one will be thrown out. These are our friends. Please come in.”
We were not in the suite 30 seconds when she invited us to meet her husband. “Would you like to meet John? He is in the next room.”
We remained glued to the spot. Meet John? Meet a Beatle? A real Beatle? Did this woman know what she was saying? We both nodded and said yes at the same time. We met John Lennon, we talked to him — no one asked us to leave so we stayed. Not just for the day. For the entire week, they were here. I ordered Pouilly Fuissé white wine for Tommy Smothers; I saw visitors like Petula Clark, Timothy Leary, Dick Gregory and Li’l Abner cartoonist Al Capp.
It was great fun hanging out with all these notables, but the reason we were invited to stay was because I started to feel sorry for little Kyoko cooped up in a hotel room. She looked so sad. I knew she was the exact same age as my kid sister, Cynthia, and I mentioned this to Yoko.
“Perhaps we can take her to my house so she could play with my sister.”
Yoko thought this was a capital idea and off we went with Kyoko in hand. They did not ask us for ID; they did not take our phone numbers. They did not even know our names.

We stayed for an entire week as her unofficial babysitters. Gail and I would go to the hotel room to pick up Kyoko in the morning and bring her back in the evening. We went for lunch at my house. Mom served us chocolate milk and we played in the park across the street. No security … nothing. One afternoon, we took her on a calèche ride at Beaver Lake and I asked Kyoko to tell us about Uncle Paul. Gail told me to shut up or Kyoko would tell her mom about us asking personal questions and we would be turfed as babysitters.
When John and Yoko left town, one of their minions paid us $150 for babysitting and we were given an autographed album each; I was given an autographed picture. Gail departed with the handwritten lyrics to Give Peace a Chance, which had been left on the wineglass-strewn table after John, Yoko and a few dozen hangers-on had recorded the song in the hotel suite.
We left and that was that.  Gail moved to England where she carved out an impressive career writing for British television, writing some film scripts and winning a few BAFTA awards.
The two of us would keep in touch and meet whenever she came home to Montreal to see her parents. When I was in London, I stayed at her beautiful home in Putney.  One evening, we had dinner with her guests who just happened to be Mr. and Mrs. John Cleese. I have no recollection of our conversation. I only recall Gail telling me to behave myself and refrain from making any jokes about her.
Fast forward to 39 years later when something happened that ended our friendship …

In the spring of 2008, the kicker item on the CJAD noon hour radio newscast was the announcement that the handwritten lyrics to Give Peace a Chance were about to be sold at auction in London. I chatted about the sale with my program director.
“My luck. Gail and I spent an entire week together with John and Yoko at the Montreal Bed-In. She has the lyrics in Lennon’s handwriting and I have a glossy photo with a faded autograph. Oh well.”
“You know what? You are a sucker. You should sue her.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“You are a radio talk-show host. If you are not going to sue her, you should at least do a show on the subject and ask callers if you deserve a share of the proceeds. I guarantee you most of them will say yes. For heaven’s sake, if not for you, she would never have met the man.”
I did do a show about it and my boss was right about the caller reaction.
Later that afternoon, Gail and I chatted live on air. She said that after the lyrics were sold, not only would she treat me to a cappuccino, but she would even buy me a piece of cake as well. That was just fine with me. That is, until I made the mistake of having dinner with my friend Richard, a hard-nosed lawyer in the music industry.
“You should sue her, you know.”
“I don’t want to sue her. I got a photo — she got the lyrics. That’s life.”
“You don’t think you’re going to regret this later on? This whole amazing adventure was your idea in the first place and you are the one left out in the cold.”
“I will not regret it, Richard. Had I been meant to be the owner of the lyrics, I would have them. I don’t. Gail does. End of story.”
And so it went for the entire duration of the meal … until we got to the sorbet.
“This is such an obvious case of unjust enrichment. Both of you were babysitting Kyoko, right? Do you think that John and Yoko would have wanted her reward to be so much more valuable than yours? Of course not … I feel strongly about this; I am ready to handle this case for you pro bono. You don’t have to pay me a cent. I just think it is so grossly unfair.”
Against my better judgment, and owing in part to a double dry vodka martini with olives, I reluctantly agreed to have him look into it further.
Richard called officials at Christie’s auction house and told them the story. They listened intently and asked if I had any plans to contest the sale.
“Absolutely not. I will not claim the lyrics belong to me. While it is possible I may have some moral claim to part of the proceeds, I certainly have no legal claim. I also have no intention of preventing Gail from selling what belongs to her.”
Richard did not give up. After the lyrics were sold at auction to an unknown buyer for some 420,000 pounds or more than $800,000 Canadian, Richard wanted to ask the auction house to put a lien on the proceeds until we came to some kind of compromise. He was absolutely convinced that I was being ripped off.
“Richard, I am sure Gail is convinced she is entitled to 100 percent of the proceeds.”
“Why? I mean you were partners in the entire escapade. I did some research and saw both your names listed as the writers of the Beatles Monthly magazine bed-In article, Eight Days with John and Yoko.”
“Nonetheless, Richard, I am telling you to let it go. Leave it alone.”
After Gail sold the lyrics, she turned the whole incident into a second career. She wrote an entire book on our special week with not a single mention of me. Is that fair? That is for her to figure out.
There was a very important lesson for me to learn from all this — I made a mistake because I did not follow my original instincts to let it be. As a result, I have lost a longtime good pal. Gail even unfriended me on Facebook. But I do own a signed glossy photo with a small doodle by John Lennon. I also have the satisfaction that I managed to avoid a war over Give Peace a Chance.


  1. My thoughts on this: Thomas has no rights to Gail's earnning from the sale of the lyrics. If he chooses to sell his John autograph, Gail would have no rights to whatever he made from that. It is shame that he listened to his lawyer friend at all and should have just dropped the matter as soon as it was brought up. I have spoken to Gail a few times and she seems very nice.

  2. She should have given him some of that fortune she made from that auction. It would be only fair. That was a hell of a lot of money(MarkZapp)

  3. Agreed...there was a time to make a claim prior to the sale but not afterwards. Gail has no moral obligation but that she can sleep at night is another question.

  4. Stories like this are absolutely fascinating. Thanks immensely for posting this.

  5. I’m with Mark. If you won the lottery because a friend chipped in 3 of the winning numbers, wouldn’t that friend be entitled to some of the winnings even if he didn’t pay for the ticket? After all, you wouldn’t have won without the friend. That some sort of compensation is due is without question IMHO. The only question is how much? Gail didn’t even make an offer and minimized Thomas in her retelling of the story. Based upon the information presented here, I don’t think too much of Gail.

  6. quess the lyrics were Gail's sole property UNTIL she sold them - unreal

  7. what really upsets me is how that child was passed off by yoko and john to strangers

  8. wish I had that glossy photo w/a faded autograph and the memory of John - oh well

  9. bitterness and peace?