When Mick and Brita Manning wrote their biography of Dickens a few years ago, they have learnt that when visiting the US in the 1840's, the monumental writer had caused unprecedented fan hysteria that wasn't repeated until The Beatles arrival in 1964; a remarkable factoid that gave birth to their book The Beatles.
Despite the couple being already contracted to produce a biography of William Shakespeare, "it was decided the 'upstart crow' (as Will' was referred to in his day) would have to wait in line for the bards of Liverpool!"
Mick and Brita's children's books are magical. From space to the food chain, recycling to what lurks underground, every day life is explained is a captivating way; I urge every parent to get a copy of Yum Yum, Yuck or What's up and see their child's curious eyes fill with pleasure.
I ask Mick and Brita about how in Beatles, they successfully captured the magnificent four's genuine love of music, humble beginnings and those 'work of art' illustrations.
Q How did the illustration and writing split between you?
A In this book, I wrote the text and Brita made the artworks; the result of months of hard work preparing the rough layouts; looking at film footage and photographs. Brita's artworks of the band in their evolutionary phases are totally original images, rather than copies of photos.
Q Was the chronological order decided on from the start?
A It is always very important to us in biographies to focus on childhood and children obviously enjoy seeing 'famous' people as children, identifying with their trials and tribulations of childhood. This year-by-year approach to the page-turn gives us a platform to talk about the social and political events that were going on at the time too beginning with the rise of youth fashion in the 1950s and including heroic political moments in the band's history such as when they refused to play at a venue in the USA because the audience were racially segregated, or how they kick-started and led from the front in the rise of flower-power and anti-war protests.
Q How did you research the book? Did you visit Abbey Road ?
A I drew on my memories of them as the soundtrack of my own Yorkshire childhood and my sister playing singles on a scratchy little blue portable record player that looked like a small suitcase, in our book we explain what a 45 was and an LP and a stylus. We did visit a beautiful Liverpool pub called the Phil', John Lennon's reply when he was once asked what he missed most about being famous was, 'not being able to have a pint in the Phil'.
I think my muse was waiting in John's favourite pub with a few 'early doors' beers rather than lurking in Abbey Road. Liverpool was my inspiration and I would recommend anyone to go there and walk the streets and see it for themselves.
Q I love that you managed to convey the four's genuine love
for music so perfectly. You get a sense of them being consumed
by music and that this is their 'destiny'
A Wordsworth summed it up when he said 'The child is father of the man'. We have shown that sense of destiny before: in a young Darwin bunking off school to collect beetles and being told by his dad he will never 'make anything of himself' (What Mr. Darwin Saw). In Dickens working as a 12 year-old in a blacking factory to support his family when his dad is put in Debtor's prison. (Charles Dickens - Scenes from an Extraordinary Life) and of course we see it in The Beatles; their childhood's and adolescent years listening to skiffle and rock n roll, learning to play guitars, and, as mates, overcoming problems together. That rapport and deep friendship, established early on as The Quarrymen, The Silverbeats and The Beetles, was the spark that made a chicken pie catch fire in John's oven and in the light of that sacrificial flame they became 'The Beatles with an A'
A Pete was a great drummer who was fired to make room for Ringo. Both were good drummers at the time, but Ringo shared their zany humour on camera while Pete was the cool moody one. Pete actually had the largest fan following in Liverpool at the time which caused fans to give George a black eye and to chant 'Pete forever; Ringo never!' Stu' Sutcliff is also in the book. He was John's dear friend but left the band after deciding to go back to art school