More Nowhere Boy
gossip: New film explodes Lennon mythsBeatle's 'missing' mother actually lived round the corner ... and taught him George Formby songs on the Ukelele
By Brian Pendreigh
JOHN LENNON owed his interest in music not to early American rock and rollers, as popularly believed, but to British music-hall entertainer George Formby and to his mum, according to a new feature film that will shoot next spring.
The wayward Beatle is the latest in a series of British national icons to come under the microscope of Douglas Rae, the Scottish producer whose screen career began in the 1970s presenting the children's programme Magpie.
He had a big hit with Mrs Brown (1997), which looked at the relationship between Queen Victoria and Highland ghillie John Brown. He tackled Jane Austen's love life in Becoming Jane (2007) and he has even had the audacity to remake Brideshead Revisited as a two-hour film, opening in British cinemas next month.
"The John Lennon story has never been told before on film and it's going to be quite a controversial movie," said Rae, whose company Ecosse Films, also made the long-running TV series Monarch Of The Glen.
It is widely known that Lennon was brought up by his Aunt Mimi. It is generally believed he was abandoned by his mother and that her absence throughout his childhood and her early death traumatised him and inspired the Beatles ballad Julia and the later solo recording, Mother.
But in Rae's film, entitled Nowhere Boy - after one of the Beatles' most famous songs, Nowhere Man - Lennon discovers on his 15th birthday that his mother is living round the corner. He visits her in secret and she teaches him how to play the ukulele and then guitar.
They practise with songs from the repertoire of George Formby, the Wigan-born singer, musician and comedian, who enjoyed a successful career in music hall and films in the 1930s and 1940s.
Formby popularised the song When I'm Cleaning Windows, but his simple-minded songs, squeaky singing voice and juvenile sense of humour have few followers today. Glasgow skiffle star Lonnie Donegan was another favourite with the teenage Lennon and his mum.
"A 15-year-old John Lennon sitting down in the front room with his mother teaching him to play the ukulele and singing George Formby - that was the forerunner of John Lennon the Beatle," said Rae. "And that's quite an interesting story to tell."
Rae insists the film will be the true account of Lennon's formative years. "We have got sources who will confirm everything," said the Edinburgh-born producer.
"We researched the John Lennon story and there was this extraordinary revelation of rediscovering his mother and her nurturing his talents as his first kind of musical mentor."
One key source for Nowhere Boy was Julia Baird, Lennon's half-sister, who wrote a book called Imagine This. She claimed Aunt Mimi more or less took Lennon way from his mother, because the family disapproved of her lifestyle, "living in sin" with another man in the absence of Lennon's seaman father.
"There are lots of people who were at school with him that we're talking to as well, who remember those days very clearly," said Rae.
He said Lennon had not seen his mother since he was five when a schoolfriend told him she was living round the corner. "He starts a kind of relationship with his mother that he keeps quiet from the aunt.
"Because Lennon met her again and rediscovered her, it allowed that communication between them in a way that we wouldn't have had with the normal angst-ridden teenager, who would be rejecting his mother around 15.
"It's that extraordinary circumstance that allows her to pass on her enthusiasm for entertainment and musicianship."
The relationship, however, lasted only a couple of years. Julia Lennon was killed crossing the road when Lennon was 17.
Pete Nash, of the British Beatles Fan Club, said the relationship between Lennon and his mother has been the subject of discussion and conjecture and there was certainly potential for controversy.
"There was a very strange relationship between John and his mother, which is alluded to in Lennon's diaries," he said.
The film is causing great excitement in the industry, with Kate Winslet and Emily Watson touted as Julia and Mimi. The role of Lennon himself is likely to go to an unknown.
It will be directed by video artist Sam Taylor-Wood and is scripted by Matt Greenhalgh, who wrote Control, the biopic about ill-fated Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.
Lennon had family in Scotland and as a boy went on holiday to Edinburgh and to the village of Durness in Sutherland, though the film will shoot entirely in Liverpool.
Asked if Lennon would have become a star and the Beatles the greatest pop phenomenon of the 1960s without the contribution of Julia Lennon, Douglas Rae responded: "Who can say."
In contrast to Julia, Mimi tried her best to discourage Lennon's interest in music. "The guitar's all very well, John," she told him, "but you'll never make a living out of it."http://www.sundayherald.com/news/heraldnews/display.var.2450045.0.0.php