Friday 16 September 2011

Imagine This - Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon

In 2007, Julia Baird published a book called Imagine This - Growing up with my brother John Lennon, describing her childhood and her memories of John.  She also spoke with the BBFC's David Bedford about her book, and her memories of her family.

Interview and editorial comments by David Bedford

Tell me about your mother, Julia

"Wonderful - what would you expect me to say? I remember her going everyday to the hospital to see Jackie, who had been born premature. I wonder how much the stress of not seeing John affected her. I've not put it in the book because it's a medical question, but she'd had John, she'd had a baby taken away, and then me, and then with all the problems of arguing with Mimi and Pop and then moving house; Pop died, my father had to find a house, and physically doing the move - I remember carrying things out of the house, and my father carrying everything. They moved all the furniture out and the baby was due at Christmas and maybe it was not a surprise that she was born two months early.

"Mum was a great wordsmith extraordinaire. She would have you rolling in the aisles about anything: she was very clever. She's had to be dismissed by so many writers as a nincompoop who gave her children away so how can you then say she was a highly intelligent, articulate woman who was witty, dry, funny, everything. How can you then say she gave her children away?"

This is why it has never seemed consistent for me. The affection that the other lads in the Quarry Men had for her, and have been happy to retell isn't consistent with Aunt Mimi's stories. Why is that?"She lived long after John had died. Mimi reinvented herself, but after John had died she could say anything she liked, without anyone to contradict her. She sideswiped Jackie and I for years."

How did you first hear about Victoria/Ingrid"That was Bill Smithies from the Liverpool Echo, the features editor then. He was trying to set the story straight, and within a short time he mentioned about the four children, and I just looked at him, and straight away he said, "you don't know, do you?" I said "No, what are you talking about, are you saying there are four of us?" He said, "Julia, your mother had four children, and I can see you don't know. I'm going." He was a lovely man, and gave me his number to ring him when I was ready to talk. I went straight out of the house, grabbed the little fella and had to do three visits to Nanny in Rock Ferry. I said, "Nanny, I'm going to come again and again until you tell me the truth. I've been told by a complete stranger."

You met Ingrid, didn't you?"It was so strange when she turned up. Stan (Julia's cousin) and I were at Mendips putting up the Blue Heritage Plaque. It was a really nice day and he turned round and quietly spoke - we were concerned he was going to fall off the ladder - "I think I can see Ingrid". "What?", I said. "Ingrid, she's over there". We got down the ladder and there she was walking up the road with a friend. The first thing I did was look at her. John and I look alike, my sister and I look alike - some people even think we're twins - so the genes are really strong. Green or brown eyes: my father and mother had brown eyes - I don't know about Alf - and we're a redheaded family, and we also look like John. I thoroughly and absolutely expected Ingrid to look like me John and Jackie, but she looks nothing like us. She has pale blue eyes and fair hair, so I was scrutinising her right off, and I was in a state of shock: she doesn't look like me, she doesn't look like John. You build up a mental image, because of the "halfness" of John and Jackie and I, and yet we look the same, the strong gene. Obviously, Ingrid must favour her father more. Our father was very dark, so different."

John started school in November 1945 at Mosspits on Woolton Road. Julia took a job at a café near the school, working around school times, so she could take John to school and pick him up again. A regular visitor to this café was John Albert Dykins. He was a salesman who lived at home with his family. They began a love affair which was to last. The Stanley family would not accept this relationship, and would have nothing to do with John Dykins. Julia was open with him and had told him about her son John and her baby Victoria who had been adopted. This only attracted him more - he was her knight in shining armour!

Julia called John Dykins "Bobby" - there could only be one John in her life. It was her term of affection, and for a while, their daughter Julia thought that he was actually called Bobby - short for Robert. Bobby found a flat in Gateacre, a small place, but at least it was home. It was a big house, of which they only had a small part. There was a small kitchen, bathroom, living room and one small bedroom. Julia, Bobby and John moved in.

Julia, tell me about John's childhood"One of my older cousins says, "John was as happy as the day is long". Rubbish! John once called himself a "social and psychological cripple" because he was torn away from his mother to live with Mimi. John's own words. When I heard that I was in tears. This family! Where are these people mentally? They're in cloud cuckoo land. All that too-ing and fro-ing. It is unimaginable to these people because it didn't happen to them so it must have been ok. You can't go though all that and not be affected. All those things that he wasn't supposed to know or notice. Kids don't talk to the oppressor. I know that from my own history and children I have worked with because if you tell the oppressor they oppress you even more. You tell anybody that's not close.

"My father managed to find this flat in Gateacre, probably on Gateacre Brow that were always to rent, and when my mother died my father was the manager of the Gateacre Hall Hotel and they had been talking about moving us in there, and John would have come with us. There was a huge space, because we used to eat where he was working, and there was a big conversation because he now had the managership of this place so we could move in and we would have all lived there."

The steps Mimi took to get John are almost beyond belief. What did she do?"She saw a window of opportunity, and if she'd have let that go, there wouldn't be another chance. She was like a bulldog, wasn't she? Like a mastiff or a rottweiler? The first time she came round my father put her out. The second time she came with a social worker who said, "No, it was fine." She then took the director of Public Services - as far as I know - and brought Pop. She was determined. He agreed with Pop and Mimi that John should go and live with George and Mimi at Mendips.

"My 'family' say that she loved 'Judy' (Julia Lennon's family nickname). Did she? I don't call that love. I call that jealousy, spite, and opportunism. I don't call that love, when you take them at their weakest point. Talk about kicking a dog when it's down!"

Mimi changed John's school to Dovedale from Mosspits, and took over running his life, or should that be ruining his life?

It was obvious that Julia and Bobby needed a bigger place, where John would have his own bedroom. Julia and Bobby moved back with Pop at Newcastle Road, where there was enough room for John to have his own room. That would solve the problem, so Julia went to Mimi to get John back. Mimi turned her away at the door.

How would you describe Mimi?"Hypocrite. To the core, flawed. Unbelievable what she put my mum through. I mention in the book that she had set her heart on having John, no matter what the price to pay, no matter what my mother thought, she was just swatted away. This was her opportunity to have a child."

The big surprise was that her marriage to George Smith was not consummated."I've not long found out. We knew she hadn't had a child but never knew this."

And then Michael Fishwick turned up (Michael had been a lodger at Mendips). Tell me about him and his story."The hypocrisy is too big to take on board, and I've known now for 2 years and can still go into shock. I had it in my head that Mimi had had an affair after what Nanny had suggested. She thought it was 'George' and 'New Zealand', but that's all I had. There is an expression that "all the world loves a lover." She'd picked up that something was going on and only started to tell me about it in her last 18 months - 1996/7. She knew that Mimi had talked about New Zealand - I don't know how she knew all this, as I never questioned Nanny: you didn't question her. You asked questions: conversations happened and I used to try to move it in one direction, but she often wasn't having that, because she wasn't really talking to me, she was talking to the sky, I was just the one that triggered it. Not just me, but I was the one that was interested and I knew this was it, so when she said something was going on; Mary was going to New Zealand with George. The actual facts were wrong but the feelings were right.

"When I was getting in touch with Michael Fishwick, it was to find out: what did he know, did he see anything? At that time, the flats hadn't been built (at the end of Menlove Avenue), the other semis hadn't been added on, and there were about 12 houses and the tip. There was wasteland next to Mendips - and then this bungalow appeared belonging to one of George Smith's family - another Smith who Mimi didn't get on with - surprise, surprise!

"So it can't be there, and I looked next door and there was Mr. and Mrs. Caplan. She didn't like Mrs. Caplan, but Mimi was not a woman's woman, she was a man's woman. She didn't like the female race! I thought it must have been Louis Caplan, who was once Lord Mayor of Liverpool, but everything is possible. You see, Mimi didn't go out, she never went anywhere, so it had to be close to home because you could go round, any day or evening and she was there. The only place she went was to Woolton village to get the cat some fish. Where was she? It had to be within walking distance. I might have put it the other side of Calderstones Park, maybe.

"He didn't have to tell me anything; it was his decision. I tracked him down. I wanted to talk to him because we were just visitors to Mendips but if anyone could unlock the secrets, he could. It would have to be one of the students who were there through thick and thin. That's why I set out to contact him, never thinking that it would be him. Never in a million years would it have entered my head that it was him.

"When I spoke to Michael Fishwick, I just said, "Who was Mimi's boyfriend?" I didn't say did she have one. If he'd have said to me, "good grief, Mimi didn't have a boyfriend, what are you talking about?" I would have thought, "Nanny was wrong on that one". She wasn't wrong on much: she'd picked up some feelings but that was all. I would have left it.

"He said, "What made you think Mimi had a boyfriend?"

"I knew right away that Nanny was right, as it wasn't a denial. We met the very next week. He must have made a decision during that week. Maybe this was to size me up first, I don't know. Within 5 minutes I knew it was him. He had made that decision to tell me because I would never have guessed because of the age difference and knowing what Mimi was like. It was his decision, and I don't know why he made that decision. I am very grateful to him for it.

"They began an affair that started in 1956. Michael had lived at Mendips since September 1951 and finally left in 1960. He had originally left, but came back after George had died in 1955. Mimi at this point was 50 years of age, and Michael was 24. And, it turns out, Mimi was a virgin: her marriage was never consummated. At the Christmas of 1956, Mimi had taken John to Scotland to see her sister's family. Michael telephoned to say that he was ill, and was staying at Mendips. Mimi left Scotland early without John and went straight back to Mendips to be with Michael. Michael was offered the chance to go to New Zealand on a project and he and Mimi considered leaving Liverpool and moving to New Zealand with him to get married. Michael was worried about "Living in Sin" in Mendips with John in the next room. How ironic is that? How hypocritical!

"However, the funding for the trip fell through, and Michael had to stay here. He was soon called up for national service and in 1960 the relationship was at an end, and Michael married another girl."

It has helped me to understand Mimi more. Tell me about "The House of Correction.""Mimi called Mendips, 'The House of Correction' and when John was going back there he said, "I've got to go back to the House of Correction" and we were the 'House of Sin'. Society has changed a lot since then, but the hypocrisy hasn't.

She destroyed my mum's life, and the rest of our family, just to get the child that she never had. Here was a ready-made child. I think she was an opportunist. I don't think by any means that she had planned it, but as it became more obvious, it was an opportunity not to be missed. Leila, my cousin told me that when they (John's mum Julia and Bobby Dykins) had moved back to Penny Lane - Newcastle Road - that Julia went to Mimi to ask to take John home where he would have had his own bedroom, Mimi flung John behind her and said to my mother, "Get Away" - it's a lot stronger than I put in the book - "Get out of here, you're not having him, you're not fit to have him, get out of my house". Leila was at the back of the room and witnessed it all.

When I think of Mendips, I always think of it as an unhappy house, and people go round there on the tour and say, "Isn't this wonderful, isn't this lovely", but it's not a happy house. After Ernest died - the owner of Mendips who was a lovely man - Cynthia said, "Do you want it?" I said, "No Cynthia, what are you suggesting?" "I'll put it to Julian, do you and Jackie want the house?" I said, "Cyn, thank you, but no thank you." Cynthia knows what type of house it was, and I know before I knew the whole story that John was living in that house as a child because he had to live there, not by choice or that my mother had given him away. It was the house where my mother was turned away from."

Your mum must have been distraught?"We now know she had post-natal depression. Mimi couldn't have children for whatever reason, but one thing I've tried not to do in the book is surmise anything. To say I think this, I think that. We always knew that there was something wrong inside Mimi all her life; I've never tried to write about it before because I couldn't prove it. Once I knew about the student, then everything fell into place. She ruined my mother's life."

When I was with May Pang recently, she said that she had a sense that John had been told that Julia was dead, when clearly she was living close by. Do you know anything about that?"I don't know that, but it's entirely possible. I know for a fact that Mimi said to John that she didn't know where his mum was, because Nanny told me this and also John told me in his conversations. He said, "I didn't know where you were, I was told that mummy had gone away with Bobby, and Mimi didn't know where." At the same time, she told my mother, "You keep away, he is really unhappy when he sees you, and he has to settle into his new life.

"Mimi lived for 11 years after John and she reinvented herself. She said, "I knew I wanted John from the moment I first saw him." We all like our sister's children, but she made all that up! Give her another 50 years and she'd have claimed she had John herself!

"There had always been an atmosphere between Mimi and me that never ever went away. Though, at the end of her life, it was me that she sent for."

I was surprised by that. Why did she do it? "I don't know, but I never didn't go. When she came out of hospital after the operation that she should never have had, but Mimi wasn't in good health. I don't know how she had that operation; she was told that someone from the family had to be there so she phoned me. Why me? I think already Mimi had realised that she had to talk to me, and I am surmising here because she never said anything.

Mimi died in December 1991. Her last words were, "I'm terrified of dying, I've been so wicked". Did she want to apologise and heal the wounds?"I wish she had have done years ago because I would have said to her, "It's alright Mimi, I don't think you're going to be judged anywhere and I'm not going to judge you. Be happy. It's totally forgiven." Do I have the right to forgive on behalf of my mother? Maybe I do. I would have told her, "It's alright, no one is going to judge you, be happy, and be peaceful now." I would have said it to her without a shadow of a doubt, but she didn't give me the opportunity to, and we were too frightened of her, even at this stage, to say anything. She was an absolute figure of fear to me."

What happened after your mum was killed?"It was nothing short of child abuse. The family fobbed me off and they're annoyed that I've done this book. "That's how it was in those days". That is their justification! What about me and Jackie? Are we not allowed to have an opinion? It's not how it was?"

How long were they planning to keep your mum's death a secret?"Forever? We came back to Liverpool, the first week in September. My mother died on 15th July, and we were sent away on the 16th July, so we were away for about 8 weeks, and even when we came back they still didn't tell us! Were we not to ever mention our mother again? They were mad if they thought that we were never going to talk about her. They were mad, empty-headed nitwits."

It's like there is a conspiracy between the whole family: you're not part of the family."We heard that forever. If they were alive we'd still be hearing it now."

It must have affected you and Jackie and still does for your whole life?"It still affects us. They didn't care, that is the truth. It was a duty to look after us. There was talk of an orphanage but my father went ballistic. My father kept us the whole time. I don't know what the agreement was, but he kept the family, as he should have done, but it wasn't a duty, he paid for everything and more for us. He bought the beds, the washing machine, and the school shoes: he bought everything. He was never a father who decided not to pay. There was money going into the house all the time for us."

You were made wards of court, weren't you?"We knew nothing about this. When I was 21, I just got this letter, which had been opened, and I said, "What's this"? I was told to go down to this place in Water Street (Liverpool City Centre) and they'll explain it to you. So I went down and I said, "What's this?" My mother apparently had an insurance policy that was bought from the man at the door, and it was worth £300 when she died, to be paid out when we were 21, split between her 3 children. John got £100 when he was 21."

(This must have been the money that John and Paul used to go to Paris. They left Liverpool in October 1961, just as John was reaching his 21st Birthday. It was always said that it was a present from an aunt, but it was from his mum. I wonder if he was told?)"When I was 21, I went and I got £200, and when Jackie went it was about £320, because of the interest that had built up. I just said, "What is this about the ward of court, I don't know anything about this." I was told, "Sign this, and you're not a ward of court any more." But I said, "What does it mean?" "It means that you're uncle and aunt became your guardians." But my father was keeping us. We knew nothing about it."

It's something else from your childhood that's been taken away from you?"Exactly. When we had our school reports, my uncle always signed them as guardian. My father could have done that. Why did they do that? We were raging inside but you daren't ask any questions."

Norman and Harrie became their guardians. Their father, Bobby, was not married to Julia, and so had little or no rights. Some books have portrayed him as a drunk, an incompetent father incapable of looking after his daughters. This was not true. He was not allowed to look after his daughters, and legally could do nothing about it. He was allowed to visit them once or twice a week. Bobby couldn't cope with living in Springwood, and so he found a new house near Woolton Woods, close to the cottage. Unbeknown to Harrie and Mimi, Julia and Jackie found the house and would go to see their father for quick visits in secret.

I really get a sense of feeling so bad for your father. How did he cope?"He was weak in the opposition of the family, caught in the teeth of the tiger. There was no respect for his feelings. Because they weren't married, he had no rights. They didn't have the right to do what they did, but they did it. They were like bulldozers. We lost our mother, and they took us away from our father and our grandmother because she was too "common" to be allowed to visit."

In the summer of 1959, Julia and Jackie were told they could go and spend a week with their father, whose mother had come to live with him too. "Nana" was able to take care of them when their dad had to go to work. This one-week became two weeks and then the whole of the summer holiday. Bobby had a new job in the New Bears Paw pub in town, and arranged a part-time job for John there with him. It was all going well, when, in the summer of 1960, Nana was ill, and it became clear that she couldn't continue to look after the girls, and they moved back in with their Aunt Harrie.

In December 1965, further tragedy struck when their father, Bobby, was killed in a car crash at the bottom of Penny Lane. John didn't know for months: he didn't need to be told, as it was nothing to do with "the family".

John by now was a Beatle and the contact between him and his 2 sisters became more rare, and they didn't hear from him. They made contact again in the 1970s, and had many conversations. Julia would talk to John about their mum and they would laugh and cry. John said that, "You had her, I didn't", a lyric reflected in his song "Mother": "Mother, you had me, but I never had you". He became nostalgic, and asked Julia to send over lots of his old things over to America. Julia sent lots of photos, his school tie from Quarry Bank, and the clock that was in the living room at Mendips, with his uncle's name on it, "George Toogood Smith".

John talked of wanting to come home to Liverpool to see everyone, and surprised Nanny by ringing her up on her birthday and told her how he planned to come to Liverpool in the New Year. He never did, because as we know, he was murdered in December 1980.

John bought a 4-bedroom house in Gateacre Park Drive, which was intended for his two half-sisters, Julia and Jackie. John's Aunt Harriet and Uncle Norman had assumed the responsibility for John's half-sisters after their mother Julia had been killed, and it was they who moved in to live there. After John's death and Harriet died, with it being still in John's name, Yoko planned to evict them. However, following a protest, she allowed Norman to stay. The house according to John's wishes should have been passed on to Julia and Jackie, John's sisters. This house became an important place to Julia and Jackie - this was John's gift for them. In a letter, John wrote, "I always thought of the house he's in (Norman) as my contribution towards looking after Julia and Jackie. I would prefer the girls to use it."

After some letters and phone calls between Julia Baird and Yoko, it became clear that the house was not going to be given to the girls, though Yoko did offer them money if they needed some. That was not the issue: it wasn't about money.

The house was handed over to the Salvation Army on 2nd November 1993 as a gift from Yoko. After being empty for a number of years, the Salvation Army has now used it as a retirement home for their officers.

This house in Gateacre Park Drive became very important to you, didn't it?"That house is a symbol of John's love and care for Jackie and me, and it was taken away from us. It's like it didn't finish, and it will never finish. When Norman died after being knocked down by a car in October 1991 - a horrible reoccurring theme with car accidents - his son David was asked to clear the house within weeks. He emptied it in a weekend. It was special to us. Yoko then donated it to the Salvation Army, so it was never ours.

"Mimi then found out that the house John had bought for her in Poole, Dorset, was not hers, but also owned by Apple. Mimi became ill, and Yoko paid for private nursing care for Mimi. At the funeral, Cynthia was there with Yoko and Sean in attendance also: not Julian. Cynthia spoke to Yoko about Mimi's house, as apparently John had intended for it to be used as a family retreat too, as well as being Mimi's home. However, the house had already been sold."

I now say, "Forget what you've heard about Mimi from those early books, like Hunter Davies' authorised Beatles biography." People keep repeating untruths, don't they?"Why didn't he come and see me? I was an adult and I could have told him that Springwood (where Julia and her family lived) was where it all happened. Why wasn't that in?"

All these books with myths and stories must hurt you?"I've been quoted in books as contributing when I haven't given interviews, like Goldman's book! I could have sued, but I don't let it bother me because I know its rubbish. That's why I say at the beginning of my book that these so called "experts" are someone who knew someone who knew someone else or maybe they didn't, so here's the truth. I don't read these books, but I do read newspaper articles. This was one of the reasons I started this book. I challenged Philip Norman over what he had written in an article when he contacted me and after initially denying it he rang back and to his credit apologised. That article left me searing and it was just a bunch of rubbish but written by the well-respected author Phillip Norman, so people accept it. He has now said that he accepts he was wrong and now knows the truth and will correct this in his book.

"So I said, I'm going to do this; I'm going to write this book. This was one of the reasons - there were many reasons - that I decided to write this book."

It must be so strange, directly or indirectly, to have people writing about you and your family constantly?"All the time. When the "family" don't gainsay it, that's almost a taciturn acknowledgement that it is true. When I speak to my cousin Leila she says, "You know it's not true.

"That is not good enough. When we go, it will become the truth."

Your mum has been described as this happy go lucky girl who gave John away and it didn't matter.

"That's why I've done this book, to put my mother back where she belongs. One of my cousins said that its an assassination of Mimi, but believe me it could have been a lot worse. I've done the bare minimum because there is enough in there."

It could have been a tabloid-style sensationalist book, couldn't it?"It was never my intention to do that, even though there was enough scandal to do that. It's a serious book about really serious matters. People have written these accounts without speaking to me or to Jackie and then these researchers just look at the research done before and refer to that without doing their own investigation. As an academic I know that won't do. Go back to source. You wouldn't get away with it in school. I've been to see the house where my mother was born, the plot at 8, Head Street - now demolished. I've seen them all with Stan, and I've been to see the farm in North Wales.

"My mother's house has been torn down, and I don't know if I'm pleased about that because I'd have had to go and buy it and live in it as a tangible association with her."

You mention about your mother's grave. "I've been looking to do this for some time, and it turned out that my Uncle Norman had paid about 13 shillings for the plot. I don't know where the money came from or whether they clubbed together or how it happened, but he paid for it. Therefore, my mother's plot belonged to him. It's just that they didn't care, and what did it matter to us? After all, she wasn't there and we weren't at the funeral and were never told where she was buried. So that passed, when Norman died, to my cousin David. He has been really great in going through the paperwork and probate so very soon we can look at a proper headstone. He's now phoned me to say that it is all sorted and I can go ahead. It's going to be for us, and not the public, and I hope it never will be."

How do you deal with it?"The last two and half years have been consumed with the book, and it has been a cathartic exercise for me. I will be promoting the book for the near future to get the truth out there. After that, I don't know. We still don't have an American publisher, and I don't know why, it is very strange.

I'm thinking of putting my book into poems. This is about the tenth draft, and when I started writing it - Hodder (the publisher) might not be interested, I don't know - but when I first wrote it, because it was an affair of the heart, I was researching and making notes and when I started writing it, it came out like modern poetry. I've done one about John. My mother wanted John to know that he was the one and only John, and why she called my father Bobby."

Julia Baird is an extraordinary woman who has faced unbelievable torture from a family in the name of morality. Through Mimi, Julia and Jackie were disowned, dismissed. They were not considered part of the family. Over 50 years later, she has found out that Mimi, the moral voice of the Stanley family who destroyed Julia Lennon's life, who forcibly took John away from his mother out of some misplaced moral crusade, was herself having an affair with a student half her age in her House of Correction! Hypocrisy at its worst!

What makes it worse still is that her life has been constantly paraded in the public eye for the last 40 years, and totally misrepresented. Her precious mother who was not alive to defend herself has been reviled and ridiculed for too long. I for one was too prepared to believe what I had read from so-called reliable sources, for which I feel ashamed.

I have had the privilege of meeting many people during the research for my book, but I have never felt such anger as I felt, and still feel, after hearing this story. The way the lives of Julia Lennon and Bobby Dykins, Julia and Jackie and John have been destroyed by an uncaring family is heart breaking and has to stop. The truth has to be told, now.

Now I know why John had so many demons, and I understand the man more than ever before. Julia Lennon was an inspiration to her son and daughters, and should now be given the credit for what she was able to achieve, in spite of a conspiracy by Mimi and her family to tear the family apart.

© Copyright David Bedford - taken from his book Liddypool, Birthplace of The Beatles

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