The Beatles’ comment, issued by Brian Epstein, was false. Pete was to tell Mersey Beat: “The news came as a big surprise to me as I had had no hint that it could happen and didn’t even have the opportunity of discussing it with the rest of the group.”
Local fans went wild with fury and hundreds of letters and petitions of protest were sent to Mersey Beat. When the Beatles were due to appear at the Cavern with Ringo on Sunday 19 August 1962, the Best fans were out in force. Ray McFall arranged for Brian Epstein to have a bodyguard and, during scuffles, George Harrison was given a black eye by Bruno, one of Pete’s fans. Other fans were chanting “Peter for ever, Ringo never” and “Pete is Best.”
However, the protests didn’t last long. George was to write to a fan: “Ringo is a much better drummer and he can smile – which is a bit more than Pete could do. It will seem different for a few weeks, but I think that the majority of our fans will soon be taking Ringo for granted.” To his credit, John Lennon was later to say: “We were cowards when we sacked him.”
Added to the devastating news for Pete Best that after two years’ unblemished service with the band, he was unceremoniously sacked when they were finally about to achieve success, was the fact that his name was tarnished.
Epstein attempted to soften the harshness of the group’s decision by implying that Pete wasn’t a good enough drummer. The fellow Merseyside musicians disputed this as did fans who actually heard him play. He genuinely contributed to the Beatles’ success and was an integral part of them as they established themselves as the No I band on Merseyside. There had never been a single complaint about his drumming and he had developed the ‘Atom Beat’, which other drummers had copied.
In 1984, Geoff Nugent of the Undertakers was to tell Spencer Leigh: “Pete Best put the Beatles on the map. You’d see two or three girls around Paul and George and John, but you’d see fifty around Pete. I very rarely saw him smile and yet he was always pleasant. If you look at any of the Beatles photographs with Pete Best, the first face you’re drawn to is Pete’s. I don’t care if you’re a man or woman.”
Instead of seeking to investigate the real motives behind the sacking of Best, writers have merely continued to perpetuate the lie that ‘he was not a good enough drummer.’ If a lie is repeated enough, people will assume it is the truth.
Pete was to say, “I wouldn’t rate Ringo as a better drummer than me – I’m adamant about that – and when it happened I felt like putting a stone around my neck and jumping off the Pier Head.”
Mo told Epstein, quite frankly, that she believed the reason Pete was sacked was due to the fact that he was so popular locally and would probably have become the most popular Beatle when they achieved success. She put it down to jealousy by the other members of the group – particularly since a lot of people in Liverpool had been calling the group ‘Pete Best and the Beatles.’
She said to Hunter Davies: “They were jealous and they wanted him out. Pete hadn’t
realized what a following he had till he left. He was always so very shy and quiet, never shot his mouth off, like some people I could mention.
“He’d been their manager before Brian arrived, did the bookings and collected the money. I’d looked upon them as friends. I’d helped them so much, got them bookings, lending them money. I fed them when they were hungry. I was far more interested in them than their own parents.”
In some quarters of Liverpool at the time, people suspected that the Beatles wanted to get rid of Pete because his mother was such a strong personality that she would continue to make her presence felt, even though Epstein was now managing the band.
Another reason was that Pete just never quite fitted in personality wise with the other three members of the group. He was taciturn and didn’t have the same wacky sense of humour. He didn’t even adopt their hairstyle, although he says they never asked him to and he would have done so, if requested. The truth probably lies in a combination of these theories.
Still upset by the turn of events, Epstein, who had had a sleepless night prior to sacking Pete, then told him that he wanted to continue managing him and would place him with another band – the Mersey Beats. Pete didn’t want to remain with Epstein after what had happened and certainly didn’t want to start at the beginning again with an unknown group.
Behind the scenes, Epstein arranged for Joe Flannery to approach Pete about joining Lee Curtis and the All Stars. Pete had had numerous offers to join other bands, but decided to give the All Stars a shot and made his debut with them at the Majestic Ballroom, Birkenhead on Monday 10 September 1962. On Saturday 24 November, Pete was again appearing at the Majestic with the All Stars and also celebrating his twenty-first birthday.
Compeering the show, Bob Wooler read out a telegram that had arrived for Pete: “Congratulations. Many happy returns. All the best, John, Paul, George, Ringo and Brian.”
Epstein probably sent this as the relationship between Pete and his former colleagues was now a difficult one. Pete commented: “We played on the same bill as the Beatles on two occasions. One was at the Cavern when we were second on the bill to the Beatles. The other was in the Mersey Beat Pollwinners’ concert. On both occasions we were on just prior to the Beatles, and we had to pass one another face-to-face, yet nothing was said.”
In fact, Lee Curtis & the All Stars were voted into second place in the second Mersey Beat Popularity poll – and this was entirely due to the fact that Pete had joined them.
Lee Curtis & the All Stars comprised Lee Curtis (vocals), Tony Waddington (rhythm), Wayne Bickerton (bass), Frank Bowen (lead) and Pete Best (drums).
Pete began to pick up the pieces of his life and in August 1963 he married his girlfriend Kathy.