Teenage teds without a care in the world ...
Oct 3 2007
by Paddy Shennan, Liverpool Echo http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpoo ... -19888187/
Chief feature writer Paddy Shennan speaks to John Lennon’s childhood pal Nigel Walley about a very special lost photograph – and a very special lost friend
THE date is Monday, May 5, 1958. The place is Lime Street, Liverpool. And the teenage teddy boys in the picture are Nigel Walley and his friend . . . an art student called John Lennon.
Described by the BBC as a “world exclusive”, this elusive photograph will feature in this evening’s edition of Inside Out (BBC1, 7.30pm).
When talking to the ECHO about the photograph, Nigel, now 66 and living in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, gave a fascinating insight into his friendship with the late, great Beatle – and revealed how he was present when John’s mum, Julia (pictured with John as a baby), died in a road accident a little over two months after this photograph was taken.
John’s life was sent into turmoil on July 15, 1958, when his mother was in collision with a car being driven by an off duty policeman in Menlove Avenue. The accident also haunted Nigel terribly.
He says: “I went to call for John that evening but his Aunt Mimi told me he was out. Mimi was at the gate with John’s mum, who was about to leave. We stood chatting and John’s mum said ‘Well, you have the privilege of escorting me to the bus stop!’ I said ‘That will do me fine. I’ll be happy to do that.’
“We walked down Menlove Avenue and I turned off to go up Vale Road, where I lived. I must have been about 15 yards up the road when I heard a car skidding. I turned round to see John’s mum going through the air. I rushed over but she had been killed instantly.”
Nigel, who moved with his family to New Brighton later that year, adds: “I had nightmares about it for years. I can see it today – Julia lying there with her hair fluttering over her face.
“I didn’t see John much after that because he became a bit of a recluse. It worried me because, deep down, I wondered whether he blamed me for the accident and was thinking ‘If only Nigel Walley had stayed a minute longer talking to my mum’. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
Julia Lennon’s death is a tragic, terrible and utterly shocking memory, but Nigel also has many wonderful memories to call upon, and many of them have just come flooding back.
To help mark this summer’s 50th anniversary of the first meeting between John and Paul McCartney at the Woolton village fete on July 6, 1957, BBC1’s Inside Out programme initially began looking for more photos from that history-changing day, in the hope of adding to the one of the Quarrymen on stage which has been reproduced around the world on a regular basis.
They didn’t find any, but they did unearth an extremely rare picture taken in the city centre the following spring of John and childhood friend Nigel, a tea chest bass player in the group between 1956 and 1957 and their manager until some time in 1958 (after this photo was taken).
In the programme, viewers will see a stunned Nigel, who was nearly nine months younger than the late Beatle, being shown the photo for the first time since the early 1960s.
He recalls: “My brother took this and some other photos to show his friends at school when John became famous, and they were nicked from his desk.”
The photo was loaned to Inside Out by someone who bought it at auction and who wishes to remains anonymous, and Nigel has now been presented with his own, enlarged copy.
He believes the picture was taken by a professional photographer who used to offer to take pictures of passers-by in the city centre. The man who gave up the Quarrymen to become the youngest golf professional in the country adds: “When the BBC showed the blown-up picture to me after all these years I was absolutely flabbergasted, because of its quality and clarity. Then, after we finished filming, I was astonished to see the original picture had my handwriting on the back of it.
“There was a professional photographer who took pictures of people in town, but I can’t remember this actual photograph being taken. Perhaps if I’d known then that the friend I was standing with was one day going to be the most famous man in the world apart from the Pope I would have noted everything down!”
He adds: “If the date is right then John must have been at art college while, as it was a Monday, I would have been on my normal day off from my job as an assitant golf professional at Lee Park golf club in Gateacre.
“I’ve no idea what we would have been doing, but looking at those camel coats (I wish I had one now) and how smart we looked, perhaps we were trying to attract the girls!
“At one time we were thinking of joining the Merchant Navy and we’d talked about joining a catering college in Hampshire to get trained up. Perhaps we were making inquiries about that.”
Of his and John’s childhood friendship, he says: “We knocked around together from the age of four. We then went to Mosspits primary but John was expelled for being disruptive when he was just five or six years old – I remember he bullied a girl called Polly Hipshaw.
“He then went to Dovedale primary and, later, Quarry Bank high school while I went to the Blue Coat, but we remained friends as we lived so close to each other. I’d say Pete Shotton was John’s closest friend, with me next.
“John always had a mouth organ in his inside coat pocket and then his mum taught him how to play the guitar, although at no time back then did I think he would go on to become famous. The Quarrymen must have been one of 100 skiffle groups in Merseyside and we went into loads of competitions and didn’t win one.
“But things developed, John and Paul eventually got the Beatles together and Brian Epstein saw something in them, which he was able to get out of them. And he was right.”
In 1961, Nigel was a golf professional in Austria, and he was working at Chippenham golf club in Wiltshire when the Beatles had their first hit in the autumn of 1962.
But he occasionally met up with John during the 1960s, latterly during the making of the Magical Mystery Tour film, while the pair exchanged Christmas cards during the 1970s when John was living in New York.
He can still remember how John, his big pal, stuck up for him during a financial dispute – after Paul McCartney joned the Quarrymen.
He says: “Paul and I didn’t get on very well in those days. I was receiving the same money as the band when I was manager but Paul thought I should be getting just 10%. But John supported me saying ‘You’ve got to look at it this way, Paul – if we didn’t have Nige, we wouldn’t be getting half the engagements we are getting’.”
Neither Nigel nor John – in their wildest dreams nor wildest nightmares – could have forseen what would happen in the months and years following the taking of this innocent photograph on that spring day in 1958.
Nigel says: “It’s a lovely photograph and I think it shows how close and happy we were. And when I look back now and think about John, I don’t look back and think of him as a world-famous musician. I just see someone who was a close mate.
“ I’d feel out of place with him if he was still alive, but in those days he was just a buddy and we were just ordinary lads.
“And I’ve got no regrets. I ended up married and having two children and two grandchildren and being the youngest golf professional in Britain – I even got to work in golf clubs in Peru, Nigeria and the Bahamas.
“I wish I’d been a pop star, though!”