The Talented Pete Best Part Four
Difficulties between Mona Best and others
Before Brian Epstein took the Beatles on, Mona Best had been handling most of the management and promotional work. According to promoter and manager Joe Flannery, Mona had done a great deal for the band by arranging a number of important early gigs and lending them a badly needed helping hand when they returned from Hamburg the first time, but this came at the cost of having to contend with her overbearing nature. At this crucial time in the history of the Beatles, John Lennon confided to Flannery that he considered Mona “bossy like [his aunt] Mimi” and believed that she was using the Beatles only for the sake of her son, though this should be weighed against the fact that the Beatles’ cordial relations with Mona would soon resume. She often met them while visiting Neil Aspinall at his London home. On these occasions, the Beatles often had small gifts for her which they had acquired on their travels. For her part, Mona allowed them to use her father’s military medals in the photo shoot for the Sgt. Pepper album cover.
Although Brian Epstein’s publicly stated reluctance to fire Best quickly became a matter of record in the early biographies, he had found Mona Best to be the cause of mounting aggravation. Brian’s distaste for her interference in the Beatles’ management, including her “aggressive opinions about his handling of her son’s careers”, was obvious to everyone, and he also reportedly considered Mona Best a loose cannon who must not be allowed to interfere in his operations. Moreover, the very recent birth of Roag further complicated matters. Although Best himself was not personally responsible for this development, it would still have caused a grave scandal had it become generally known, and Epstein may have been horrified at the prospect.
After the Beatles
Soon after Best was dismissed, Epstein attempted to console him by offering to build another group around him, but Best refused. Feeling let down and depressed, he sat at home for two weeks—not wanting to face anybody or answer the inevitable questions about why he had been sacked. Epstein secretly arranged with his booking agent partner, Joe Flannery, for Best to join Lee Curtis & the All Stars, which then broke off from Curtis to become Pete Best & the All Stars. They signed to Decca Records, releasing the single “I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door”, which was not successful.
In 1968, Best settled a libel lawsuit he had initiated against the Beatles, Ringo Starr and Playboy magazine that centred on comments Starr made to the magazine about Best’s alleged drug use. The conditions of the settlement prevented disclosure of the amount.
Best later moved to the United States along with songwriters Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington. As the Pete Best Four, and later as the Pete Best Combo (a quintet), they toured the US with a combination of 1950s songs and original tunes, recording for small labels, but they had little success. They ultimately released an album on Savage Records, Best of the Beatles; a play on Best’s name, leading to disappointment for record buyers (who neglected to read the song titles on the front cover and expected a Beatles compilation). The group disbanded shortly afterwards. Bickerton and Waddington were to find greater success as songwriters in the 1960s and 1970s, writing a series of hits for the American female group the Flirtations and the British group the Rubettes. In 2000, the record label Cherry Red reissued the Pete Best Combo’s recordings as a compact disc compilation. Richie Unterberger, reviewing the CD, stated that the music’s “energy level is reasonably high,” that Bickerton and Waddington’s songwriting is “kind of catchy,” and that Best’s drumming is “ordinary.”
Best on 30 October 2005
Best decided to leave show business, and by the time of Hunter Davies’ authorised Beatles’ biography in 1968, he was not willing to talk about his Beatles association. Years later he stated in his autobiography, “the Beatles themselves certainly never held out a helping hand and only contributed to the destruction with their readily printed gossip that I had never really been a Beatle, that I didn’t smile, that I was unsociable and definitely not a good mixer. There was not a single friendly word from any one of them”. This culminated in a Beatles’ interview published in Playboy magazine in February 1965 in which Lennon stated that “Ringo used to fill in sometimes if our drummer was ill. With his periodic illness.” Starr added: “He took little pills to make him ill.” Best sued the Beatles for defamation of character, eventually winning an out-of-court settlement for much less than the $18 million he had sought.
Hunter Davies recalled that while working with the Beatles on their authorised biography in 1968, “when the subject of Pete Best came up they seemed to cut off, as if he had never touched their lives. They showed little reaction … I suppose it reminded them not just that they had been rather sneaky in the handling of Pete Best’s sacking, never telling him to his face, but that for the grace of God, or Brian Epstein, circumstances might have been different and they could have ended up [like Pete].” During the height of Beatlemania Best attempted to commit suicide, but his mother, Mona, and his brother, Rory, talked him out of it.
In 1963, he married Kathy, who worked behind the biscuit counter at a Woolworth’s store. Their marriage has lasted for 50 years: they have two daughters (Beba and Bonita) and four grandchildren. Best did shift work loading bread into the back of delivery vans, earning £8 a week. His education qualifications subsequently helped him become a civil servant working at the Garston Jobcentre in Liverpool, where he rose from employment officer to training manager for the Northwest of England, and, ironically, remembered “a steady stream of real-life Yosser Hughes types” imploring him to give them jobs. The most he could do, he recalls, was to offer to retrain them in other fields, “which was an emotional issue for people who had done one kind of work all their lives.”
In time, Best began giving interviews to the media, writing about his time with the group, and serving as a technical advisor for the television film Birth of the Beatles. He found a modicum of independent fame, and has admitted to being a fan of his former band’s music and owning their records. In 1995, the surviving Beatles released Anthology 1, which featured a number of tracks with Best as drummer, including songs from the Decca and Parlophone auditions. Best received a substantial windfall—between £1 million and £4 million—from the sales, although he was not interviewed for the book or the documentaries. The collage of torn photographs on the Anthology 1 album cover includes an early group photo that featured Best, but Best’s head was removed, revealing a photo of Starr’s head, taken from the Please Please Me cover photo (the missing section of the photograph appears on the cover of the album Haymans Green). A small photograph of Best can be seen on the left side of the Anthology cover. Best appeared in an advertisement for Carlsberg lager that was broadcast during the first commercial break of the first episode of the Anthology TV series on ITV in November 1995. The tag line was “Probably the Pete Best lager in the world”, a variation of Carlsberg’s well-known slogan.