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John Lennon's Speech at the Foyle's Literary Luncheon -

What did John really say?

There may or may not be a surprise here for you, but even getting to a no-surprise answer might be kind of fun. Although the advertised subject of this page is simply what John Lennon said at the luncheon, I hope no one objects to taking a more leisurely, broader look at the Foyle's literary luncheon story. It's a neat little part of Beatle history.

The basics are given by our main man, Beatle scholar Mark Lewisohn, in these entries from The Beatles - 25 years in the life (1987):

March 23 1964. John Lennon's first book, In His Own Write, is published, the initial print run of 50,000 copies being an instant sell-out.

April 23 1964. John Lennon attends a Foyle's Literary Luncheon in his honour at the Dorchester Hotel. His speech, supposed to be the highlight of the occasion, lasts less than five seconds: 'Thank you very much, and God bless you'.

Writing not long after the event, Brian Epstein records his eyewitness account in A Cellarful Of Noise (1964):

[John's song lyrics] represent only a fraction of his real aptitude for words.

For John, the pop-singer from Liverpool, was the guest of honour at a Foyle's lunch to mark the success of his splendid book, John Lennon in his own Write, an extraordinary collection of verse, prose, and drawings, done by him off-the-cuff, without training or guidance. It sold more than 100,000 copies in Britain, topped the best seller list and was marvellously well-reviewed.

I was not the least bit surprised but I was deeply gratified that a Beatle could detach himself completely from Beatlism and create such an impact as an author.

And made no speech.

In answer to the toast he stood, held the microphone, and said: 'Thank you all very much. You've got a lucky face.' Sir Alan Herbert, who was sitting beside me, said later: 'A shameful affair, he should most certainly have made a speech.'

But here John was behaving like a Beatle. [...] After the luncheon he commented: 'Give me another fifteen years. I might make a speech. Not yet.'

A few years after the fact, Hunter Davies tells us in his authorized biography of The Beatles (1968):

John's first book came out in March. It was called In His Own Write, a title suggested by Paul. They discarded another idea, In His Own Write and Draw, because most people would miss the pun. Most literary experts and most publishers said it was a stunt that would fail; how could a beat group player write anything that was any good? It went to the top of the best-seller list, beating James Bond. The Times Literary Supplement said: "It's worth the attention of anyone who fears for the impoverishment of the English language and the British imagination." John was invited to be the guest of honor at Foyle's literary lunch. He didn't speak and got a few boos for not doing so, but Brian Epstein did.

Nicholas Schaffner provides this account in his excellent The Beatles Forever (1977):

On the occasion of Shakespeare's 400th birthday [b. 1564], John Lennon was feted at the prestigious Foyle's literary lunch. But the assembled literati found the guest of honor's speech - in its entirety: "thank you very much, you have a lucky face" - disappointingly brief. The author of In His Own Write was roundly booed, and Brian Epstein attempted to make a longer speech on his client's behalf.

Cynthia Lennon, in her book A Twist of Lennon (1978), devotes about three pages to John's book and the Foyle's luncheon.

By the time A Hard Day's Night [filming] was in full swing John had collected a great number of his weird and wonderful stories and poems together. With the help and encouragement of Bob Freeman [photographer of numerous Beatle record covers], he compiled his first book, In His Own Write. John spent hours and hours during his free time completing the illustrations for his stories. [...] The first copies were immediately snapped up by avid Beatle fans, indeed it sold so well, and its success was so remarkable, that a Foyle's luncheon was arranged in John's honour. This accolade given to an author by the literary society was indeed a great honour. On the eve of the event John and I, and a few friends, went out for dinner and eventually landed up at the Adlib, a club very popular with pop stars and celebrities. Totally ignorant of what was to be our fate the following day, we drank, danced and enjoyed ourselves with gay abandon until the very early hours of the morning. [...]

When the eating and drinking [at the luncheon] finally came to a halt, the television cameras and incredibly hot bright lights were once again pointed in our direction and nerves overtook me once more. [...] Panicking slightly I asked the Earl of Arran what on earth all the fuss was about and what we were to expect next on the agenda.

'My dear girl, don't you know? Your husband, as the guest of honour at this luncheon, is expected to give a speech,' he explained. [...]

The cameramen and technicians were ready; the audience were pregnant with expectation, silence was called for, and poor John was toasted and introduced. The literary Beatle. [...]

'Ladies and gentlemen,' he muttered. 'Thank you very much; it's been a pleasure.' And that folks was that! [...] He just couldn't sit down quickly enough, much to the disappointment and disgust of all who were gathered there. The looks of amazement on everyone's faces was comical. [Remember that Cynthia was without her glasses at this, her first real experience in the limelight. She had already recounted that being "blind to all the stares and curiosity" at the luncheon had helped her nerves a great deal.] They were totally nonplussed. Slowly, following a smattering of puzzled applause, the silence was broken by the increasing volume of conversation. We were surrounded by indignant people, realizing that that was all they were getting for their money and annoyed by the lack of expected entertainment. Nevertheless they had their pound of flesh when it came to autographs. John and I spent hours signing first copies of his first book. It was an enlightening experience for me and I was showered with very nice compliments[...] It wasn't really such a disaster. The following day the daily newspapers carried a photograph of me watching John making his non-speech[...]

Philip Norman makes use of Cynthia's recollections in his book, Shout! - the Beatles in their generation (1981):

In April, a literary luncheon, more heavily subscribed by any that Foyle's Bookshop had run since the age of Shaw and H. G. Wells, commemorated John Lennon's entry into authorship. The little drawings and verses he used to doodle under his Quarry Bank desk - and still did at odd moments backstage - appeared as a slim volume entitled John Lennon In His Own Write. [...]

It was thought shocking, but forgivably so, when the Foyle's luncheon received no speech from the guest-of-honor. John, who arrived with Cynthia deeply hung-over after a night at the Ad Lib, had not realized he was supposed to say anything. Urged to his feet, he could only mumble, "Thank you. It's been a pleasure." An obliging press translated this into the more Beatlelike, "You've got a lucky face."

In The Love You Make - and insider's story of the Beatles (1983), Peter Brown and Stephen Gaines start with Philip Norman's account, slather on some unsavory details pulled out of their own hats, and supply a cinematic finale:

It seemed like such a giggle to the Beatles and their girls that a celebration was held at the Ad Lib club. But what was planned as a small party ended up as a long drunken bash that didn't wind up until five in the morning. John and Cynthia had only a few hours sleep and were so hung over and bleary eyed at the awards luncheon at the Dorchester Hotel ballroom that they could hardly keep their heads up straight. [...]

After a queasy lunch, during which Cynthia watched in awe as John drowned his hangover in white wine, he was asked to make a speech. Now nearly as drunk as the night before, he stumbled to the microphone, mumbled, "Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure," and went back to his seat.

There was a shocked stillness in the room. "What did he say?" a lone voice finally asked aloud.

Another guest suggested, "He said, 'You've got a lucky face.'"

News of this witticism, this Lennonesque gem, raced through the room as the cream of the literati repeated it from table to table: "He said, 'You've got a lucky face.'"

"What did he say?"

"He said, 'You've got a lucky face!'"

In a few more seconds the room burst into applause, enthralled by John's obscure brilliance. Once again the king wore no clothes but never caught cold.

Ray Coleman may have gone just as far in the opposite direction covering for John in his biography, Lennon (1984):

John's first book topped the British bestseller list. It sold more than 100,000 copies in its first printing, and he was feted at a prestigious Foyle's literary luncheon at London's Dorchester Hotel. [...] The lunch itself was animated enough, with a high attendance of the literary establishment, but John was not to be drawn into making the customary speech for a guest of honour. He rose and said: 'Thank you very much, God bless you.' Many were disappointed, but he explained later that he did not feel up to it. 'Give me another fifteen years, and I may make a speech. Anyway I daren't today. I was scared stiff.'

The scriptwriter for Ringo's Yellow Submarine radio series (1983) appears to have turned mainly to Peter Brown's The Love You Make as a reference source. Click on the text to listen to Ringo.

Christina Foyle of Foyle's Bookstores in London held a special luncheon for John, expecting him to make a speech. But no one told John about it so when the time came for John to make his remarks he just stood up and said, "Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure," and sat back down again. Well the press couldn't let him get away with that, so they quoted him to say, "Thank you very much. You've got a lucky face!"



In my own capacity as a good, little Beatle scholar, I entertained no doubt that John positively did not haul out the "lucky face" quote at the Foyle's luncheon. Exactly how I could be so sure has gotten a little vague. I suppose it had a lot to do with the credence I gave Philip Norman's fascinatingly detailed Beatle biography. I don't think I ever fully bought the story about newspapers making up "lucky face" out of thin air, but I figured that as the years went by, careless Beatle writers had somehow gotten what John said five days later during the filming of the Around The Beatles tv special bungled up with his Foyle's speech.

On April 28 1964, John introduced the song Shout as follows. (Click to hear it.)

John on Around the Beatles: "Thank you very much, and God bless ya. You've got a lucky face. The end."

In any case, 'long about the early 1990s, The Lost Lennon Tapes radio series, and its follow-up, The Beatle Years, produced the smoking gun - a recording of John's speech at Foyle's! Here it is. I leave half a sound bite of Elliot Mintz at the end to make sure you know I got the whole thing.

John at Foyle's: Uh, thank you all very much. God bless you.


*** Case closed!!! ***

So, when I whipped up a book report in 2003 for Nicholas Schaffner's classic The Beatles Forever, I included a section gently correcting his account of John's appearance at the luncheon.

Nicholas: But the assembled literati found the guest of honor's speech - in its entirety: "Thank you very much, you have a lucky face" - disappointingly brief.

Me (know-it-all): The reality was even briefer - and even more disappointing. We've now heard the tape of the...

Whoops, not so fast!


*** Case re-opened!!! ***

Then, 'long about the end of 2005, a well-produced series of audio shows called "Beatleg Podcasts" appeared on the internet. ("Beatleg" is a coupling of "Beatle" and "bootleg", an indication that much of the material was not commercially released.)

Listen to this mp3, from Beatlegs Podcast #13 (Nov 27 2005):

John at Foyle's: Uh, thank you all very much. God bless you. You've got a lucky face!

And until someone steps forward with an even more complete speech from John, or someone can demonstrate that this is a skillful forgery, I'm finally satisfied that this is finally the final word, finally.

Sorry, Nicholas! You had it right all along!


*** Mop up ***

The Beatleg show segued directly from John's speech into a snippet of interview material from the Foyle's luncheon. Compare it with what Ray Coleman wrote above.

Interviewer: A lot of the literary toffs here today, John, were disappointed you didn't say a few words. Why didn't you speak to them?

John Lennon: Because I daren't, y'know. I was scared stiff, that's why.

I'm no expert in such matters, but does John really sound drop-down drunk in these recordings? Also note the chuckles and applause from the Foyle's audience. (What, exactly, is so hilarious about, "God bless you"?) Of course, that can't be used as proof that they weren't hit with "shock" and "disgust" a few seconds later.

Before we wrap up, let's take a closer look at "you've got a lucky face". It turns out that it's not an original Lennonism at all. I don't know about you, but after decades of never imagining it to be anything else, that came as a big surprise to me.

It can just about be heard between the tracks Watching The Wheels and I'm Your Angel on the Double Fantasy album. A lot of the recording studio dialog from those sessions was aired on the Lost Lennon Tapes radio series. When they were working on that connecting sequence of street sounds, with coins dropping into a beggar's cup, an engineer (Jon Smith?) asked John what he was going to say.

Engineer: You gonna say, thank you, thank you, God bless?

John Lennon: The one in England, they say, God bless ya, sir, thank ya very much, you got a lucky face.

In a later interview, John explained further:

One of the voices is me going, "God bless you mon, thank you (growl), you got a lucky face. Which is what the English sort of guys that beg or want a tip do. You know, they turn their back to you, put their hand like . . . God bless you, mon, thank you, thank you . . . God bless you, sir, or God bless you, mon, thank you, dad, you've got a lucky face, when you give 'em money . . . Cross my palm with silver [siller?], you got a lucky face.

And I'm left wondering, how can it be that none of the writers quoted above, all but one of whom are British through and through, show any awareness of this tidbit of British lore?


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