“Before the Beatles recorded, Pete was inclined to be more popular with the girls than any other member of the group. There were several reasons why I believe he was so popular. Girls were attracted by the fact that he wouldn’t smile, even though they tried to make him. They also tried to attract his attention on stage, but he wouldn’t look at them. When he left the Beatles there were exclamations of surprise. ‘the Beatles will never be the same without him’…’He was the Beatles’…’They’ve taken away the vital part’, were comments I heard.”
When Brian Epstein took over the management reins, it was Pete who discussed gigs and fees with him. The two men had an amicable relationship, although Pete was to point out that Brian once attempted to seduce him and had asked if he would come to a hotel and stay with him overnight. Pete politely told him to forget it – and nothing further was said.
I961 was an event-packed year, in which the group’s Cavern bookings increased. They went on another trip to Hamburg, during which Stuart Sutcliffe left the band. The Beatles also recorded in Hamburg with Tony Sheridan and Bert Kaempfert. Astrid Kirchherr fashioned Stuart’s hair in a style that was developed by Jurgen Vollmer for John and Paul in Paris and later became known as the ‘moptop.’ Astrid never offered to style Pete’s hair, saying that his hair was too curly, and no one ever asked him to adopt the hairstyle.
They began 1962 with a Decca recording audition and were confirmed as Liverpool’s No.1 group in a January issue of Mersey Beat. On 7 March 1962 they made their broadcasting debut on ‘Teenager’s Turn’ in Manchester. When they recorded their second radio appearance on 11 June, Pete was mobbed by the Manchester girls, while John, Paul and George managed to make their way to the coach. When Pete finally managed to break free and join the others, he was reprimanded by Paul’s father, who accused him of hogging the limelight.
That month, Pete learned by accident that Decca had rejected the group. The other members knew about it, but no one had bothered to inform Pete. He said: “I was hurt because I was the last to know about it. The others knew a couple of weeks earlier. They let it slip out in a casual conversation one day.”
Pete was also to comment: “When I did eventually learn our fate, their lame excuse was that they had all thought I would take the result extremely badly.”
When news of the Parlophone deal came through, Mersey Beat ran the story on the front page, featuring a photograph of Pete Best with the caption: “Congratulations to Pete, Paul, John and George.”
The Beatles were now on the brink of success, but a number of incidents hinted at a covert plan to get rid of Pete. Apart from the fact that the others had not immediately informed him of the Decca audition result, a similar situation occurred regarding the Parlophone contract – they just didn’t bother to tell him.
When Pete was chatting with Paul and mentioned he was considering buying a Ford Capri, Paul told him: “If you take my advice you won’t buy it, that’s all. You’d be better saving your money.”
On Wednesday 15 August 1962, following their lunchtime gig at the Cavern, Pete asked John what time he and Neil Aspinall would collect him for the customary lift in the van the next day. John said: “No, don’t bother. I’ve got other arrangements,” and rushed away.
Brian was still in the Cavern and asked Pete if he could come and see him at the office the next morning. Pete saw nothing unusual in this – he was the one who met with Brian regularly to discuss forthcoming gigs. He arrived at NEMS the next day, driven by Neil, and went to meet Brian in his office.
The manager seemed unusually flustered and blurted out: “The boys want you out and Ringo in. They don’t think you’re a good enough drummer, Pete. And George Martin doesn’t think you’re a good enough drummer.”
When Pete asked him: “Does Ringo know yet?” Brian told him that he was joining the band on the coming Saturday. Then the phone rang – it was someone asking if Pete had been given the news. Brian asked Pete if he could
fulfill the remaining three bookings until Ringo replaced him.
Stunned, Pete said “Yes”, then left, in somewhat of a daze.
When Pete rejoined Neil downstairs he told him the news and the two retreated to the Grapes pub in Mathew Street to discuss it over a drink. Neil was furious and threatened to resign as the Beatles’ road manager, but Pete told him to stay with the group as they were about to become successful.
When Neil phoned Mo, she was furious and spent the afternoon trying to contact Epstein by phone – in vain. She then managed to talk to George Martin on the phone and he denied that he had ever suggested sacking Pete. All he would say was that he would prefer having a session drummer that he was familiar with in a recording studio. In fact, this was confirmed when he used a session drummer even after Ringo had joined the group.
Martin actually told Mo: “I never suggested that Pete Best must go. All I said was that for the purposes of the Beatles’ first record I would rather use a session man. I never thought that Brian Epstein would let him go. He seemed to be the most saleable commodity as far as looks went. It was a surprise when I learned that they had dropped Pete. The drums were important to me for a record, but they didn’t matter much otherwise. Fans don’t pay particular attention to the quality of the drumming.”
At that point in time it was not uncommon for A&R men to use session drummers. Ringo was to experience something similar when he arrived at the recording studios on Tuesday 11 September 1962. A session drummer, Andy White, was present. White also played drums on ‘P.S. I Love You’, while Ringo was handed a pair of maracas.
Martin told Beatles’ biographer, Hunter Davies: “He (Ringo) couldn’t do a roll – and still can’t – though he’s improved a lot since. Andy was the kind of drummer I needed. Ringo was only used to ballrooms. It was obviously best to use someone with experience.”
Ringo himself was to tell Davies how shocked he was to arrive at the session and find another drummer there: “I thought, ‘that’s the end’, they’re doing a Pete Best on me.”
The decision to sack Pete was not a sudden one. It had been claimed that Paul and George had been overheard talking to Bob Wooler in the Grapes about sacking Pete, once they had John’s approval. Their next step was to approach Epstein and tell him.
Epstein then considered Johnny Hutchinson as the best replacement and contacted Hutchinson to offer him the job. Hutchinson turned him down – he didn’t have a good opinion of the group.
Years later, Hutchinson was to tell broadcaster Spencer Leigh: “Brian asked me to join the Beatles and I said, ‘I wouldn’t join the Beatles for a gold clock. There’s only one group as far as I’m concerned and that’s the Big Three. The Beatles can’t make a better sound than that, and Pete Best is a very good friend of mine. I couldn’t do the dirty on him.”
On the evening of Best’s sacking, Epstein was surprised to find that Pete didn’t turn up for the gig at the Riverpark Ballroom. Neil told him: “What do you expect?” Brian got Hutchinson to fill in the three bookings until Ringo was able to join. That evening when Neil questioned Paul and John about it all, he was told: “It’s got nothing to do with you. You’re only the driver.”
The story in Mersey Beat read:
“BEATLES CHANGE DRUMMER!
“Ringo Starr (former drummer with Rory Storm & the Hurricanes) has joined the Beatles, replacing Pete Best on drums. Ringo has admired the Beatles for years and is delighted with his new engagement. Naturally he is tremendously excited about the future.
“The Beatles comment, ‘Pete left the group by mutual agreement. There were no arguments or difficulties, and this has been an entirely amicable decision.’
“On Tuesday September 4th, the Beatles will fly to London to make recordings at EMI Studios. They will be recording numbers that have been specially written for the group, which they have received from their recording manager, George Martin.”