Saturday, 4 September 2021

Which Beatle came from the poorest background?

All four Beatles had what Mark Lewisohn calls ‘unvarnished working class roots’ in an industrial city that had seen better days. Two (Paul and George) lived in social housing, but neither believed themselves to be poor. Paul was astonished by what he perceived to the the poshness of John's home - marvelling that John called Mimi rather than the 'Auntie' he was used to.

John famously underwent emotional disturbance in early childhood - an unseemly battle for his custody involving Mimi, his biological mother Julia and his much maligned biological father, Freddie. Paul often points out that this contrasted with his own experience: 'the kind of happy home I thought everyone had'. Nonetheless this happiness was also marked by personal tragedy - the death of his mother in his early teens.

George also came from a close family but did not experience early bereavement. From Aunt Mimi's perspective he was very much from the wrong side of the tracks and she spoke disapprovingly of his strong accent ('he's very 'dose', John). By more objective measures he came from a modest but impoverished working class home.

The one future Beatles who experienced a Dickensian childhood combining poverty, ill health and paternal abandonment was not around to visit Mendips in the late 50s. Had he done so Mimi would doubtless have hidden the spoons.


Richard (Richie) Starkey was born on July 7, 1940 in the Dingle, a very poor area of Liverpool. In material terms, he had a seriously deprived childhood, but he has always stressed the love and support he received from him mother (Elsie) and step-father (Harry Graves).

While his biological father (Richard Starkey) effectively disappeared from his life in infancy, Elsie worked tirelessly as a bar maid and cleaner to support her son. Ringo has said of his step-father, 'I learned gentleness from Harry'

A sickly child

Ringo's childhood was marked by very serious ill health At six complications from appendicitis left him in a coma. In his early teens he again nearly died, this time from tuberculosis. After missing years of school, the young Richard Starkey had serious gaps in his education. He struggled to read and write. He sat in classes with much younger children. Little was expected of this sickly child. But young Richard demonstrated a remarkable resilience and spirit. And a present of a toy drum gave him a dream to work towards.


Recovering in the sanatorium he received his first musical education :
once a week, they'd have lessons: occasionally, it was music. And they'd bring in tambourines, triangles and little drums.

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