Wednesday, May 29, 2024

George Harrison The Reluctant Beatle - a Book Review

 There is a popular trend on social media where you see a person walking, and they say something along the lines of "I'm a Beatles fan... of course, I watched Let it Be on Disney +" Or "I'm a Paul McCartney fan... of course, I spent half of my months' paycheck on Soundcheck..."     

While I was reading Phillip Norman's latest Beatles biography, George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle.  I kept thinking of him saying, "I'm Phillip Norman...of course, my book is full of errors.  Or ....of course, I make strange comparisons. Or even .... of course, I dislike George Harrison."  

I try to keep an open mind and read all Beatles books that are available, even the ones by notoriously bad authors, because 1. How would I know that a book is bad if I had never read it? 2. You can learn something even from a bad book. 

However, this book really did not have any new information. Most of the was taken from Norman's Beatles biography, Shout.  One interesting piece of information that I don't recall ever reading before came from George's old girlfriend, Iris Caldwell.   She stated that George actually auditioned for the Quarry Men at her home and not by playing Raunchy on the top of a bus.   This was her recollection of events.  She doesn't doubt that George played Raunchy on the bus, just that it wasn't the auction because he auctioned earlier.   Norman then goes on to say how playing that song would not have impressed John because it was such an easy song to play.    

Of course, I paid attention the most to my favorite topics when it came to George, and I was highly disappointed.   The first was when it came to George's trip to Benton, Illinois.   In one part, he states it happened in 1963 and in another in 1962.   He glossed over most of the trip and didn't even mention being interviewed by the radio station. But what really was odd was that he told a story that I shared on this site in 2013 after I went to Benton and interviewed a man who went by the name "Honest Don."  Don told me a story about when he worked at the A&W in town, and he and a female worker delivered food to Lousie's house. George asked the female out on a date, which she turned down.   Norman tells this story almost exactly how I shared it on this site (and in my first book), except he made the food delivery people from a pizza place and not the A&W.   Why?   I don't mind that he used the story, but why change it?   Is it because A&W typically doesn't deliver food, and pizza does?   Don explained that to me as well, but I didn't share it because it didn't seem important. 

The other issue is my dear Apple Scruffs. Norman used Carol Bedford's book extensively as a major resource for the book. He retells her stories and even calls her the "head" of the Apple Scruffs. If you look into Carol at all, you will quickly discover that her stories are not believable and reliable.  Yet Norman re-told the juiciest parts of the book as if it were the truth.  He claimed that George gave the Apple Scruffs their name THREE times in the book.  He says that no one knows Scruff named Lucy's last name and then gives her last name later in the book.  I could go on and on about all the misinformation he gave on the topic. 

The part of George's life after The Concert for Bangladesh was not very detailed and contained nothing but basic information that you already know. I guess the one thing I read that was news to me was that George went to a George Formby convention, entered a sound-alike contest, and lost to a 7-year-old.  

A great biography about George Harrison needs to be written, but this book isn't it.  Is Phillip Norman currently working on the Ringo Starr biography?   What will he get wrong next?

I am not sure who would be interested in purchasing this book (I would suggest borrowing it from the library if you are interested in it), but just in case, I am leaving my affiliate link for Amazon.  Any purchase made through this link will allow this site to make a small amount of money that is used to help offset the cost of keeping it online.   (P.S. Thank you to whoever bought some slippers through the link last time.  I made a whole $1.00 from those!) 


  1. A strong recommendation: George Harrison Behind the Locked Door by Graeme Thomson. Detailed, thorough, insightful, honest about what a paradox George could be.
    Blows Norman's effort out of the water.

    1. Once again, I recommend, with backing from a high rating.

  2. You decide:

  3. I had a look at this book in the bookshops as I didn't want to give any money unnecessarily to Philip Norman. This looked a really lazy book. He could at least have employed a couple of researchers to find out a bit more information about key periods in George's life. He also has a very jaundiced view of George as a miserable person - but George wasn't so one-dimensional. To understand George, you need to appreciate there's a certain culture of deadpan Northern humour which can easily be perceived as simply being a 'miserable old git' - and you need to drill into George's religious, musical, gardening interests and his friendships. Finally, George often had a very astute observation and a sense of humour about events that often went right above Philip Norman's head.

  4. >>I guess the one thing I read that was news to me was that George went to a >>George Formby convention, entered a sound-alike contest, and lost to a 7-year->>old.

    I haven't read this account in the book, but I understand that this is an exaggerated account of an event that George told as a joke against himself... Not something he had a long-standing grudge about - or took seriously.

    1. That pretty much sums up this book for me. The one little story that was new to me and I found interested isn't even true.